Areas of Adversity in Spiritual Leadership -Part 1October 22, 2013
The frontlines of any battle are subject to the most heated warfare. In the fight of faith, spiritual leaders are enlisted as first-infantry soldiers in the army of God; so to expect anything less than a battle is a misnomer. Wrestling with principalities and powers is never easy business, but it is part of the preacher’s calling; it is part of his development. The more adamant we are to the things of God the more adverse the affliction can be. In his book, The Discipler’s Manual, F.E. Marsh states, “Great characters and great souls are like mountains-they always attract storms; upon their heads break the thunders, and round their bare tops flash the lightening, and the seeming wrath of God. Nevertheless, they form a shelter for the plains beneath them.”
Effective ministry always comes at a cost, and that cost usually requires adverse circumstances. Let’s admit it, no one likes to live with adversity, but consider the alternative: a life without adversity is void of triumph; it requires little faith because it knows of little struggle. Without adversity we plod along our course without resistance, doubt, or discomfort. We may miss out on heartbreak and hardships, but we equally miss out on triumph and victory.
If you haven’t already, you can expect to experience some of the following challenges as a spiritual leader:
This is one of Satan’s greatest tools against preachers, primarily because it stands in direct opposition of faith. If he can make us doubt our calling, our salvation, our convictions, our vision, or our Lord, he can, in effect, cripple our ministries.
John the Baptist touched the Lamb of God in the Jordan, heard the voice of God from the heavens, and witnessed the Spirit of God in flight; but just a few chapters later he questioned if Jesus was the true Messiah. This doubt was fueled by his change of circumstance. John was thrust into prison for proclaiming the truth. He heard how Christ delivered the demoniacs, the deaf, and the diseased; so why wouldn’t Jesus deliver John from Herod? John never doubted if Jesus could deliver Him, he only questioned if Jesus would deliver him.
Henry Drummond sheds light on this subject, “Christ never failed to distinguish between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is can’t believe. Unbelief is won’t believe. Doubt is honesty. Unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt is looking for light. Unbelief is content with darkness.” In other words, when we have doubt, it is typically over God’s will, not His power. Like John, we rarely wonder if God can do something in our lives, we only wonder if He will do something. Such doubt keeps us locked in spiritual prisons.
In 1956, Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador, was murdered by the very people he was sent to reach. Left to serve God without a husband by her side, Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Loneliness comes over us sometimes as a sudden tide. It is one of the terms of our humanness, and, in a sense, therefore, incurable. Yet I have found peace in my loneliest times not only through acceptance of the situation, but through making it an offering to God, who can transfigure it into something for the good of others.”
Loneliness is indeed “one of the terms of our humanness.” Loneliness is more than seclusion or isolation, it is inner emptiness. It is the inability to connect or commune with others regardless of their proximity. You can be in a kitchen, cathedral, or coliseum full of people and still feel alone.
One only has to read through a few of the psalms to discover that King David was not only depressed, but at times suffered from severe anxiety and panic attacks. Yes, the divinely-anointed, giant-slaying, warrior-king of Israel dealt with depression. To say that depression is only for women or wimps is a fallacy. Some of the strongest, sturdiest, most spiritual men I know deal with this adversity.
Consider Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers. He notoriously dealt with depression for most of his adult life. It was at the height of his success that he struggled with it the most. He often spoke of the subject, “Fits of depression come over most of us. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” In another place, Spurgeon wrote, “Excess of joy or excitement must be paid for by subsequent depressions. While the trial lasts, the strength is equal to the emergency; but when it is over, natural weakness claims the right to show itself.”
Fighting depression does not make you any less of a man, or a preacher for that matter. On the contrary, it proves your susceptibility as a human and identifies your need for a loving, caring God.
Humility is a key virtue to successful ministry, insecurity is not. Though often packaged in the same wrapping, insecurity and humility are two very different mindsets. The difference is this: humility is the loss of pride, the denial of self; while insecurity is the loss of confidence, the obsession of self.
Insecurity comes from several sources: repeated failures, personality types, aggressive competition, family history, and poor decisions. Preachers especially deal with insecurities. Most preachers are driven, zealous people. It is in the spiritual DNA of a man of God to thrive, succeed, and excel. However, I have noticed over the course of my ministry that some men are never satisfied with their “successes.” No matter how large their congregation, no matter how polished their sermons, no matter how many degrees they obtain, they always feel like they have something else to prove. Insecurity will rob us of our contentment, and deplete us of our joy. Until we realize that our ability is in Christ we will always try to outdo others and ourselves, feeling less than adequate in the process.
Just because you have a vision, just because you have a dream, just because you have the favor of the Father does not mean you will be exempt from adversity. On the contrary, such blessings actual bring adversity…consider Joseph.
Can you image how he must have felt? God promised that he would rise above his brothers in position and power, but from the bottom of the pit, Joseph was actually looking up at them. How could it be? How did this dream turn into a nightmare? How could his own brethren betray him and sell him out?
Ministry is difficult. Period. But it is especially difficult when we are betrayed by our own family and friends. Sometimes those closest to us will cause us the most pain. There will come a time when you experience betrayal, and when you do, it will hurt like no other type of adversity. A knife in the back by a friend is a deeper and more hurtful wound.
WOW! I think that is enough for today…check back tomorrow for the final list.