Long-term Missionaries to Muslims all have one thing in common: They have found victory in Christ over discouragement
All missionary efforts can be very discouraging but the Muslim world stands out as a place of exceptional loneliness where the Devil uses his most masterful enemy of the cross, Islam, to thwart the efforts of the preacher in the hearts and minds of the Muslims (or at least so says Missionary of 40 years to the Muslims Eric Fisk in his book The Prickly Pear).
So, here I am posting something I am going to share with the men tomorrow in our leaders meeting as they face difficult times of discouragement in their individual ministries:
What to do when feeling discouragement:
1. Pray for those who despitefully use you
Realize that you did not have with you who you thought you did before. Many times discouragement happens because of an inflated view of loss. The truth is that those who left were not previously with you, they were just visiting to see what they might gain from you. Consider them like guests at your house who were not committed to working for the good of the home, they were only interested in seeing what they could get. This can be seen in that they quickly left when they did not receive some certain thing from you.
Pray for those people. They do not need to always be that way. They can change. But how? But showing them love and doing good to them. When people do evil to us and we respond with good then we are being like God our Father. This is God glorifying and is God’s will in bringing us into this difficult situation with people. Has not God himself been often rejected and forsaken by his own? Should we expect to be any better?
2. Retreat and regroup with the faithful
There are always a faithful group when we feel like we’re alone. This group is the group to get around because they did not come to take but to give. They want to work. They have a similar heart and vision. They care about you. They seek your good.
So come away with them and realize that they are all you really ever had anyway. They are the core. Tell them that. Tell them that you don’t care if everyone leaves. You are happy in them. Tell them you love them no matter who else is there.
If you get sad when others leave and they see that in you, then they are going to think: “I don’t make this guy happy. Crowds make this guy happy.” Don’t send that message. Say, “I love you and I’m thrilled with this team (or family) God has given us.”
3. Then Retreat even further into your quite place with God
There is never a time when we are totally alone with a faithful few who love us. Elija thought he was alone but he had 7,000 who had not yet bowed the knee to Bail. Sometimes we feel alone but we are not. Just look around, think, and communicate with people and you’ll find them.
However, we cannot find our foundational happiness in men, even faithful men because faithful men can fall and become unfaithful. We need to go back all the way to our foundation with is Christ. We drink from a rock and it is Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). I have been made a child of God and that is the only thing that will matter when I am no longer on this earth (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1). Remember how God loved you when you brought nothing to Him but your sin. Do you think he loves you less now that you bring a smaller harvest than you imagined in your own human thinking?
Habb 3:17-19 gives us the secret: Joy in the God of your salvation when there is no fruit for your labor.
Come to God in grateful, worshipful prayer. What do I bring to God? Can I really bring to him fruit that I harvested? No. He gets the harvest and he knows when he has prepared that harvest for all that you have sown. So what do you bring to God? You bring the sacrifice of your lips. (Heb. 13:15) You praise Him and that is what He delights in. You thank Him and that shows faith. You are confident that He loves you and is pleased with you and that is what He delights in. I am the happy, redeemed result of the work of His cross (Is. 53:10-11). I am His workmanship created in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:10) Does God, the great Potter, have any works that were a failure. No. And I am not a failure. I am a success story of the cross!
4. Confide in a counselor
In battle, it is no strong man who refuses to admit a wound. That man will grow weaker and weaker until he dies. What we need to do is find some godly man who loves us (someone in addition to your wife or mother) and tell them of your wounds. Where does it hurt? How are you dealing with it? Ask them for advice. Ask them for prayer. Let them pray with you and over you. Listen well to what they say and do it. Don’t lean on this person, lean on Jesus. But do confide in this person and receive encouragement from him.
5. Rally the troops
This time with God in His Word, his confidence in prayer is the fountain of strength for all of those around you. When you are discouraged, others are as well and they need the confidence that the Word of God and your faith in it brings to them. Begin to encourage and you’ll see how you are encouraged. Spend real time with people and speak to them all the Words of God. They will grow in that. They may not seem to listen at the moment but it is working in their hearts.
6. Schedule your time for strategic advancement
The most natural response to discouragement is despondency. We go to bed early or maybe stay up to late watching useless movies. We get up late. We spend hours on Facebook, emails, etc just letting our mind do circles around the discouraging thing we are focused on.
It is better to get with your family and team and make plans and schedules. Plan events designed to bring people into church. Plan new ways that you can build excitement. Schedule your work tighter for more teamwork and intentional evangelism. Make sure you are getting up early, preparing for the day, and planning out your week to be proclaiming the Gospel. I personally feel so good going to bed at night if I have shared the Gospel with many people that day. If I was lazy and never got out my door and didn’t accomplish anything for the sake of the Kingdom of Christ it only adds to my discouragement.
7. Ask God and trust Him to work through your work
Apart from God’s Holy Spirit, what chance has the Christian worker of accomplishing anything of eternal value though he might be able to embellish the account of his service with thrilling stories and move with motion the sensitive feelings of the human heart?
To exercise influence by life and lip is all that the worker for God can hope to do, whether the worker is a missionary living in a foreign country, or a worker in the homeland. If the influence is energized by the Holy Spirit, the result will be glory to God and Christ will be exalted; if it not Holy Spirit energy the motive power will be self and the result disastrous, for the self life of the man is obnoxious to the God of all Grace. -Eric Fisk
8. Admit to yourself and others your failures and weaknesses
It’s hard to swallow but sometimes difficulties in ministry were either caused by me or could have been prevented by me if I had been more prepared. This is not the end of the world, my life, or my ministry. In fact, this is a great stepping stone for future success. If I had not tried and failed now then I would have never gained this valuable experience that I now have. My failure is the foundation of learning and experience for my success. This is not only unavoidable it is good.
This sort of humility has to happen with yourself first. You have to know in yourself that you do not “do all things well”. God only does. Then, this sort of humility needs to be expressed to others. Let people know of your failures and where you have messed up. Tell them you are sorry and ask for their forgiveness.
This humility is not self hatred or self loathing. It is not saying, “I AM a loser. I stink.” Humility rather says, “I have done wrong. I am sorry. I am growing. Please have patience with me. I love you and want to improve.”
9. Sharpen your sword for the fight
We can’t stop growing. We tend to stop growing and reading when we get hurt. We need to spend time with people who are experts (and thus have written books) in areas that we need help. We need to read books about the Lord and his Word. We need to read books about skills for the battle. We need to read books about how to grow personally as leaders.
10. Rejoice as you sow
Faith says, “I am rejoicing as I sow in the spring knowing that God will bring a harvest in the fall.” It is enough of an honor to serve the Lord that we need no more reward.
Eric Fisk, missionary to Morocco, wrote: “If only the missionary candidate could be persuaded, before setting sail overseas, that his calling is a stupendous honour for which he can never thank God sufficiently, and that apart from the help of the Holy Spirit all his efforts will be in vain, he would the more easily detect the cunning of the evil one when he is tempted to make capital out of the sacrifices God has called him to make.“