I finished delivering my sermon for the second service that Sunday, and headed back to my seat. Before I could sit down, church member Vicki grabbed me, hugged my neck tight, and whispered: “Woman, you were on fire today!”
I smiled and sat down, feeling exhausted, but satisfied. God had accomplished yet another miracle. After the horrific week I’d had, as discouraged as I’d been recently, somehow he managed to give me the strength to preach his Word with passion, conviction, and fire.
Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:2—“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season”—had been repeating in my head for the last few days. I knew I was “out of season” recently. I hadn’t felt filled or led by the Spirit. I was walking more by the flesh than by the Spirit.
No, I wasn’t clinically depressed, nor was I burned out. Nothing was falling apart. The church that God had me plant a decade earlier was growing at a healthy pace. We had baptized 15 adults just a few months prior. There was much fruit to thank God for and be excited about. Yet, even though things were going well, I still found myself in a season of discouragement and in need of an attitude adjustment.
I have come to understand that seasons of discouragement are a fact of life in full-time ministry. I expect them at regular intervals. At times, it’s a result of circumstances in ministry or my personal life, but other times they seem to occur at random and without reason.
There are times when pastors and church leaders need help and immediate intervention. But there are also many times when we simply need help to normalize our seasons of discouragement and spend extra time with the Lord to process. How do we combat discouragement in healthy ways?
Time for a Pep Talk
The letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus teach us the basic attitude of a spiritual leader. Paul was mentoring the young Timothy, and he taught him how to carry on serving the kingdom of God despite any difficulties or discouragement that he might face. Paul tells Timothy, “For this reason I remind you to fan into the flame the gift of God. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6–7).
Paul had certainly learned to pull himself out of times of discouragement. He had suffered much persecution for his faith and even wrote the letter of 2 Timothy from a prison cell in Rome. Paul tells Timothy, and now all of us, that there is something we must do in order to keep the flames of faith burning hotly, especially through times of discouragement: We are to fan the flame. But what does that mean?