Preventing Leadership Exhaustion: Handling a Crushed Spirit!

I recently conducted a survey with those in pastoral ministry asking what topics they would be open to discuss in a group coaching experience. Over 42% said ‘overcoming ministry hurt’. Being involved in ministry as a full-time profession is an amazing calling, but it can also be a demanding and painful one. Those we try to help sometimes bite hard, those we work alongside sometimes stab us in the back and even more painful is when those we serve under have jagged edges that pierce right through us. So what do we do when our spirit is crushed and we don’t have the energy to keep going? Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” Matt. 5:3 (NIV) The word for ‘blessed’ here literally means fortunate, blissful. Hmm, not exactly the emotions we feel when the pain of ministry is overwhelming us. Eugene Peterson, in the Message Bible says it like this, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.” The truth is, it’s when we are down, hurting, crushed under the weight of heavy emotions we fully understand our need for Jesus! Anytime we give God our full attention, we’re blessed.

In mountain top experiences when we’re being patted on the back and told, “thank you so much, you’ve helped me”, we rarely feel a need for our savior. Our human nature is such that we can forget about our Lord when we’re delivering a powerful message to a crowd of people who are hanging on every word. It’s hard to remember how desperately we need Jesus when the ministry is growing, our spouse is happy, our kids are serving and not in any trouble. It’s in our sorrowful moments, when all ‘hell’ is breaking loose, our kids don’t seem to remember anything we taught them, when our spouse says enough, or the board says they’re calling for a ‘vote of confidence’ meeting, that we become desperate for a rescuer.

The beatitude is saying it’s blissful to broken because not only are we aware of our need, but the Lord comes close in those moments. Just as a mother can hear the slightest whimper from her own child amongst hundreds of children at a park, the Lord hears even the faintest cry from one of His kids. “When I was in trouble [distress], I called to the Lord, and He answered me”. Psalm 120:1 (EXB) “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Psalm 34:18 NLT. The question really isn’t whether the Lord is close. The question is will we take our painful hearts to Him, trust Him to heal us and then walk out what He asks of us? When we choose this path, the pain my not lift immediately, but in time the healing comes and we’ll have the strength and joy to continue the journey God has for us.

Emotional health comes by choosing to focus our thoughts on the things of the Lord; because where our thoughts go, our emotions will follow.  “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. 7 If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7 (TLB)

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