What thoughts do the words printed in the title stir in your mind? Some would imagine a poor soul who is discouraged and ready to quit. Others would envision a quitter who does not like to sweat or endure hardship. The less compassionate would envision a person who is soft. Some would picture a person who is beaten into submission. When I was a child we played a game of conquest in which the loser must cry “uncle.” That was the humiliating word spoken by a child who reached the breaking point. A common tactic (among boys) was to pin the arm of another playmate behind his back until he cried “uncle.” I know such games are belittling and unkind, but no one ever said children are kindhearted.
We can identify with the words in the title until we discover they come from the lips of “a man of God.” They were not spoken by ‘just’ any man of God, but by one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah. Elijah, this cannot be! He is the prophet who raised a dead child back to life (I Kings 17:17-24). He is the prophet who prayed an extended drought into existence, as punishment on the house of Baal (I Kings 17:1-6; 18:41-46). He is the prophet who miraculously fed a widow and her son with bread and oil (I Kings 17:8-16). He is the prophet who single-handedly defeated four hundred fifty prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:20-40). Elijah…crying out in defeat! How can this be?
What can we learn from this lesson? It reminds us that those who serve God have feet of clay. This is true of those who serve in vocational ministry, but also of those who volunteer. None of us are immune to discouragement, depression and downcast days. It seems to violate our convictions to realize that God’s servants are (pardon the expression) “human.”
It reminds us of foolish pride. As a young preacher I could not understand the concept of burn out, until it struck me. I later wrote a post trauma article entitled “Burn Out, Not Me!” As servants of God we sometimes think foolish thoughts such as: I do not need a vacation, I can manage the stress, I will never have a heart attack, I can work sixty hours a week, I do not need a Sunday off and life’s irritations do not bother me. These thoughts represent foolish pride. Peter once said he would never deny Jesus…but he did!
We are reminded to be understanding and supportive of others who serve in the trenches. If it can happen to Elijah it can happen to any pastor, worship leader, staff member, deacon or Sunday school teacher. I recently recommended, to the churches of Beauregard Baptist Association, that they give their staff members a refresher Sunday once a year, in addition to their vacation time. A refresher Sunday is a Sunday to attend a conference, observe another church, or go hear a favorite preacher. Churches should be understanding and supportive of those who serve in ministry.
On the fly leaf of her book, What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew, Denise George shares some disturbing facts.
- 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention.
- 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
Hey church staff member, servant of God—Elijah was not so weird. He faced a problem that still lurks in the hearts of God’s people.