Do you ever get discouraged?
Do you ever get weighed down with the burdens of ministry?
If you’re in ministry, the answers to both of those questions are identical and obvious.
Why, then, do we find it so easy to criticize others who become discouraged in the ministry, rather than coming alongside and lifting their burdens?
There’s something about discouragement and depression among pastors that makes it easier to critique than to jump in and help. It’s interesting how people judge when another pastor is going through a hard or stressful time. Accusations that they were working in the flesh or are insecure often rise.
Those components may be true—sometimes none are, and sometimes all are—but the proper response is to lift others burdens, not to analyze the cause of their load.
Some of the greatest leaders in Scripture and in history struggled with severe discouragement or depression. Even a surface read of the Psalms reveals David’s emotional ups and downs. Moses became so overwhelmed with his responsibility that he wanted to die (Numbers 11:15). Job was nearly swallowed up in hopelessness. Elijah became full of self pity. But he was also a great prayer warrior. (See James 5:17–18.) I’m thankful the Lord dealt gently with these men. Spurgeon endured frequent seasons of depression. As did Hudson Taylor, John Bunyan, William Carey, and others.
Discouragement is common to all for a variety of reasons including medical, emotional, and spiritual. But there is often an added dimension of physical and emotional exhaustion and spiritual warfare for those whose lives are centered around ministry.
What can we do to lift their burdens?
1. Give Grace
You may not know the full story or ramifications of what someone is going through. All too often, we set opinions based on a snapshot from social media or some other limited frame of reference. Why not instead simply assume there is more to the situation than we can know?
Charity…beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.—1 Corinthians 13:4, 7
Genuinely spend time interceding on their behalf. You may not know the full scope of what they are going through, but the Lord does. Ask the Lord to uphold and help them and to give you opportunity to be a minister of His grace to them.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.—Colossians 4:12
3. Reach Out
Send a note of encouragement. Perhaps a letter or an email. Perhaps make a phone call. Rather than talking about someone to others, talk to them about your care and prayer. Ask how you can best pray. Share a word of encouragement. Be a minister of grace with your words to them.
Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.—Proverbs 12:25
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.—Ephesians 4:29
4. Give Something Tangible
Send a book that has been an encouragement to you. (One of my favorites to send for those going through a difficult season is The Promise by Robert Morgan.) Send a gift card or a gift. It doesn’t have to be extravagant—just something to show you care.
But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.—Philippians 4:18
5. Offer Physical Presence
There is something about being physically present with someone that means more than an email can. Maybe you are within driving distance and can stop by their church with a note or gift. Maybe you can invite them to come to your couples or pastors retreat. God may use your presence to bring His comfort.
Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus;—2 Corinthians 7:6
When someone is going through a difficult time, they need us to come alongside and lift their burden.
Rather than philosophizing from a thousand miles away about if they are under stress because they are working in the flesh or made poor previous decisions, ask what can I do to be a burden bearer?
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.—Galatians 6:2