After forty years at the same church and forty-two years in the pastorate, I know something about ministerial stress. It comes in many forms—weariness, burnout, frustration, feelings of failure, discouragement, red ink, blue moods, and wolves and skunks who dress up like sheep and slip into the fold. What amazes me is how God anticipated all these problems and wrote about them in advance.
Several heroes in the Bible nearly unraveled; and at one time or another I’ve found each of their stories invaluable.
Take Habakkuk, for example. He’s among the so-called minor prophets, but there is no “preaching” in his book. It’s essentially a counseling session in which Habakkuk complained to God about his discouraging situation. The Lord responded, and they reasoned through it. The final chapter of Habakkuk is a hymn of victory, saying that even when the fig tree didn’t blossom, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord… The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:18-19).
Nothing about Habakkuk’s situation had changed, but He was rehabilitated by God’s nearness. Many times when I’ve been wrung out in ministry, I’ve spent time in Habakkuk’s three chapters and realized afresh that the just must live by faith.
I’ve also spent time in Jonah’s book, which is remarkable similar. There’s little preaching in Jonah. It’s the record of his own testimony regarding two great emotional problems he encountered in ministry—lack of submission (chapters 1-2) and lack of compassion (chapters 3-4). God used a whale to deal with the first problem and a worm with the second. From the watery depths to the burning desert, Jonah learned the importance of God’s nearness in his work, and he prayed prevailingly even as all God’s “waves and breakers” swept over him (Jonah 2:3). His four chapters have been a tremendous help to me.
Elijah’s famous breakdown has also been an uplift whenever I’ve needed it. The rugged prophet was physically, mentally, and emotionally spent; but on Mount Horeb he experienced God’s nearness and responded to the Lord’s still small voice, which came like a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Elijah’s session with the Lord fueled the last stages of his ministry and has comforted me during my own near-breakdowns.
Jeremiah’s happiest days in ministry occurred in his early years, when he began preaching during the revival of King Josiah; but when the king died, the revival died with him. During the remainder of Jeremiah’s long life, there were no more revivals. He saw his nation implode around him, and few listened to his sermons. Reading through Jeremiah is a tonic for me when I grow weary, because the Lord kept Jeremiah going through thick and thin. Jeremiah said, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16).
One last example—the apostle Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians. Years ago while battling adversity and adversaries, I started reading 2 Corinthians again and again. This was Paul’s most autobiographical letter, and he was surprisingly transparent about his struggles and pressures. Yet, he said, “…we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
From one pastor to another, may I suggest you can only sustain your work by treading the heights by faith even when the fig tree doesn’t blossom; praying prevailingly when the waves and breakers roll over you; listening to God’s gentle whisper when you’re near collapse; eating His Word when the culture implodes around you; and determining to never lose heart, for God is in the business of renewing us day by day.
Yes, of course, I know sometimes we also need a long break, a wise counselor, a good friend, or a doctor’s prescription. But most of all, we need to remember we’re not the first to face the soul-breaking stresses of divine service. We have five friends to encourage us – Habakkuk, Jonah, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Paul.
Most of all, we have Jesus, who is nearer than we know and stronger than we realize. Let’s press on in the power of His Name.
After forty-two years, I’m just getting started.
How about you?
How To Use This Book
God is both everywhere and always near, yet we often miss Him. In our ever-on, busy world, it requires intentionality to encounter God and learn to enjoy Him.
In a fast-paced, perpetually distracted society, we often feel alone, outmatched by trouble, and overwhelmed by life. Bestselling author and pastor Robert J. Morgan recognizes that the very core of personal spirituality is knowing Him in whose presence we travel and in whose light we continually dwell. Learning to train our souls to awaken to the simple pleasure of being present with our Savior relieves what all-to-often overwhelms us. In Always Near, Morgan provides 10 ways we can cultivate the blessings of God’s presence. It is time to nurture a sense of the abiding nearness of Him who is closer than a brother so that you’ll know more of His joy, strength, and comfort. Experience a relationship with the God who made you, who loves you, and desires for you to enjoy His presence. Seek the Lord and soon discover He was, is, and always will be Always Near.