One of the things about Christian ministry, especially if you are in a leadership position, is it requires you to pour out your heart and soul into the work you are doing. We do this because we believe God has called us to our task. We view what we do through a spiritual lens, believing what we do, our work, is an expression of our commitment and worship of God (Romans 12:1).
The reality is, what we do isn’t just a job. It is a spiritual work engaged in a spiritual battle. We take our work seriously because it is a task with eternal consequences. But one of the consequences of this task is it often leaves people emotionally and at times physically depleted. The focus and burden can be overwhelming.
Elijah is an example of someone called by God whose efforts led him into a downward spiral of depression. He was a prophet with the ability to discern God’s voice and direction as well as be a conduit of His power. In 1 Kings 17, he predicted a drought, provided for the needs of a widow and raised the same woman’s son from the dead. All of this was in preparation for his confrontation with Ahab and the prophets of Baal.
No doubt this confrontation took its toll on Elijah. But when this epic battle was done, Jezebel confronted Elijah with this warning, “May the gods punish me and do so severely if I don’t make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” (1 Kings 19:2)
Here was Elijah, the powerful prophet who prayed down God’s consuming fire on Mount Carmel became afraid and immediately ran for his life. In his flight, he came to a city called Beer-sheba where after leaving his servant, went on a day’s journey off into the wilderness. Finding a broom tree, he sat under it and called out to God.
So what did Ellijah ask for? He asked God to die. He said, “I’ve had enough. Take my life. I’m no better than any before me.”
In many ways, that prayer, ‘I’ve had enough.” is something many servants of God feel. Like Elijah, many of us who serve feel spiritually and emotionally drained. He had faced spiritual battle after spiritual battle – predicting weather, providing for the poor, raising someone from the dead and battling false gods. Through all this, he became drained. I think all of us can understand that.
Another indicator of his mental state was when he left his servant behind. When we become drained, we often will seclude ourselves from others because we don’t want anyone to see us in our pitiful state. In that loneliness we see a pattern many of us who have given it all have experienced.
After working hard, expending spiritual energy, encountering overwhelming challenges, dealing with the harshest critics can result in a serious depression so deep it can lead one to wish they may die.
Christian service and Christian leadership are hard work. It is spiritually and emotionally exhausting. It requires diligence, a willingness to sacrifice probably more than you might have felt comfortable with and it requires compassion for people who may not appreciate all you give and do.
Along with all the responsibilities and stress, the one thing we often forget is there is a spiritual battle that underlies everything. Paul writes in Ephesians 6, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
The truth is, Christian service can leave you feeling empty, vulnerable and convinced it would be better to die than continue another day. When you depleted from giving your all in work, the result is you can feel lonely and depressed. It is a natural result of giving yourself wholeheartedly to fulfilling the calling God has given you.
So what should we do when we feel this way? I think there are two building blocks on which we need to put in place when we serve. The first is focusing on our primary relationship and that is with God. I think we often try to do things in our own strength and skill set rather than relying on the Holy Spirit’s gifts and power working in and through us. We need to spend time in prayer and in the Word in order to cultivate and strengthen our internal resolve.
Jesus tells us in John 17, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” God is our source so continually strengthening that relationship is so important for long-term and fruitful service.
The second is to develop meaningful relationships with those who will support you through prayer, encouragement and as need be, rebuke. The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, penned these profound words many years ago: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Building interpersonal relationships are so important for support through the struggles and challenges of serving.
So if you are in a place where your serving is taking its toll on your emotional and spiritual health, I would encourage you to take the time to work on these two areas. In the long run, they will both sustain and enrich the ministry you do for God.