Philippians 4:4-7 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Sounds easy, right?
“Don’t be anxious, pray and give thanks and God will give you peace.” It sounds simple until you find yourself in a very dark place, and it can be especially hard when that dark place happens to happen while serving God.
So, how do you give thanks when ministry hurts? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can share some of what I’ve learned.
Ministry is not easy
Unfortunately, most of the hurt we experience in ministry comes from the people we minister to–either indirectly through helping them through their own painful life experiences or directly from conflict or personal attack. First, ministering to people through their pain can be incredibly difficult. In fact, there is a very real condition called secondary traumatic stress that can be experienced by those ministering to others.
When we walk with others through their pain, we often can’t help but experience a little of the trauma ourselves.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of ministry is when you receive direct wounds from those we are called to serve or serve alongside. As someone once said, “Sometimes sheep bite!” I have more than a few teeth marks and scars from the flocks where I’ve served. After 26 years of local church ministry and numerous “bites,” each one hurts more than the last. Psychologists and counselors tell us that trauma is cumulative. So, after time, ministry hurts compound unless there is an opportunity for healing.
Rejoicing is vital
This brings us back to Philippians 4:4-7. Paul urges us to rejoice. When? Only during the good times? No–we should rejoice always.
It is so important for us to recount the many blessings that God has showered upon us. The very breath in our lungs is a gift from God! And this God who gives us life has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him by sending His Son to take the payment of our sins on the cross. Maybe healing begins by listing the mighty acts of God that you have observed throughout your life and taking time to rejoice!
Do not be anxious about anything… This is a tough one! There is so much that we could be anxious about!
I used to hear about people who struggled with anxiety and depression and I didn’t understand it. Then, a little over four years ago, I woke suddenly in the middle of the night with paralyzing anxiety. Immediately, I began to pray. Nothing changed. No peace. I took out my Bible and tried to read, but the anxiety was so overwhelming that my mind could not process the words I was reading. It escalated into a downward spiral. There wasn’t an obvious trigger for my anxiety so I became even more anxious that perhaps it wasn’t going to go away. I remember thinking, “I wonder if this is chronic anxiety!?”
Since it was all “in my head,” it also meant I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t run away from it. Finally, a doctor friend was able to give me something to relieve the anxiety and help me get back to sleep. On a few occasions, I have had similar episodes–some more intense and others not as much–usually in the middle of the night.
What I have learned in dealing with relatively minor, random, and intermittent anxiety is that those moments of anxiety can be extremely dark.
When we cry out to God, He may not immediately give us the peace that surpasses all understanding–at least not that we can feel. He may allow us to spend a sleepless night wrestling with our anxieties. What I have learned is that this is when faith is most important.
It’s not a formula
Now, when I have anxious moments, I can look back to my previous anxious moments and see that that anxiety didn’t really affect me. Nothing about me changed. God had sustained me. He had guarded my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. I can say to anxiety, “Do your worst!” and then remind myself that God had sustained me through my previous episodes and He will do so again!
Even if following Jesus in the most difficult ministry experiences means the “worst case scenario”–our physical death–we can say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” Most of us won’t likely experience death as a result of following Jesus, but we will likely experience pain from ministry.
When I was asked to write on this topic, this passage from Philippians was the first passage to come to mind. But, I’ve come to know that it is not a formula: prayer + thanksgiving = peace. The peace of God that surpasses all understanding may not feel very peaceful at the moment. In the middle of the hurts and pains of ministry we won’t likely feel very peaceful.
The peace comes from rejoicing over God’s faithful and sustaining power in our lives and in thanking Him that He will keep His promises. He will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and one day, we will spend eternity with Him and He will wipe away every tear.
Pastor Kevin Haglund
PASTOR OF WORSHIP & OUTREACH MINISTRIES
Kevin came on staff in 2017 and enjoys the great outdoors—hiking, biking, camping, etc.—family movie and game nights, and all things music, as well as putting mission and discipleship back in the hands of ordinary people.
Don’t miss Pastor Kevin’s interview from The Alongside Podcast: