Discouraged Leaders

There’s a well-known chain restaurant in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee that is closed now, but was once thriving and busy..   It sits high on a hill and has a beautiful view of the surrounding area.  When I drive by it I always remember a special moment in my life.

Vacations with my family have always been a value to me.   Paula and I have tried to take our children somewhere each year to spend extra time with each other.   One year we were in Pigeon Forge before any of our children were married, all of them school age and under.

Paula knew, but the kids didn’t, that I was carrying some incredible burdens from my work.   Just because you “vacate” your typical schedule it doesn’t mean your problems stay behind.   A change of venue doesn’t change reality.  

We drove up the long hill to the restaurant and were seated before a large window with a spectacular view.    I wasn’t very talkative as I was preoccupied with the pressures at home, over 200 miles away.

I felt guilty for not being fully present with my family and weary from the financial battles at work.   It was a small window of opportunity to have fun with my wife and children and I was wasting it.

Seated to my right was my daughter, Ashley, a young teenager.  Without saying a word she rested her head on my shoulder and rubbed my back.    Though she had no idea of what was wrong with me, she just loved her Dad.

That’s why I always glance at that restaurant when we are in the area.  It reminds me of a simple, but kind act from my sweet daughter.

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We all deal with discouragement, but it is an occupational hazard for a leader.   As responsibilities increase so problems do exponentially.    However, that doesn’t give a leader the right to complain about or become disabled by discouragement.

It’s not wrong to become discouraged over trials, but it is to wallow in it as a victim and expect others to pull you out of it.   When my family ministered to me in the restaurant it was very special and meaningful, but if I consistently responded that way to adversity I would forfeit my influence.

The most important leadership occurs in the home with the father being the shepherd of the family.  (Some ladies reading this are leading in your home alone and the following principles apply).  God didn’t give us a place of influence to have those that follow us to prop us up on a consistent basis.   We are there to encourage and strengthen them.

So, what is a discouraged leader to do that they might not burden others with their own burdens?    God gives us an example in the life of Jeremiah, a prophet who ministered in a very difficult time, to ungrateful and unresponsive people.

We read that Jeremiah’s discouragement was so great that it skewed his perception of God.   Here is his very honest prayer to God about how he felt.

“O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.  For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily.  Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay”.   (Jeremiah 20:7-9)

His faithfulness to speak God’s truth made him “a reproach” and caused him to be in “derision” on a daily basis.   People were mocking him and he felt God had “deceived” him.   (This shows that his expectations and definition of success had not been met).

Jeremiah had enough and decided to quit – “…I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name”.  He was tired of preaching to people that didn’t appreciate his ministry and made fun of him. 

Have you ever hurt so deeply or been so empty emotionally that you wanted to quit?    The discouragement was so heavy you lost hope.   I have on several occasions.

You’re not alone.  Jeremiah was one of the greatest men that ever lived and he wanted to quit.   Discouragement, if not tamed, will spiral into despair.

How did he reverse this desire to quit that would have been destructive not only to those to whom he ministered, but to himself?   It’s very simple.

The Bible says that Jeremiah was able to come out of his despondency because God’s “word was in (his) heart” and it was like a “burning fire shut up in my bones”.   The reference to a “burning fire” is a metaphor that speaks to giving off heat that can be felt and ultimately complete consumption.   This reference to it being “in (his) bones” carries the idea of being in his innermost being.

Simply, as he pondered God’s Word it began to speak to him and warm the coldness of his spirit.  This is crucial for all leaders, wherever their sphere of influence.

Overcoming discouragement starts in the place where it began – in the heart.   Trying to “fake it til you make it” will not work as the problems are sometimes too heavy and last too long.   Trying to treat an internal problem through the means of an external solution will not sustain over the long haul.

For Jeremiah it was the Word of God that kept him from quitting in the depths of his discouragement.   The same will be true for you, too.   

Here are some questions to ask to help you determine the bottleneck in your being unable to come out of a discouraged spirit.

  • Are you taking time to read the Bible to hear from God?   I believe the most important spiritual discipline is reading the Bible.   Having a meaningful time alone with the Lord is essential.   It not only gives you spiritual strength, but also gives you a perspective of your problem relative to God’s ability to solve it and to mature you through it.
  • Are you meditating upon what you have read that you might learn it fully?    This assumes both the reading and memorizing of the Bible.   Take a line and as you go to sleep at night turn it over in your mind, emphasizing each word and allowing God to minister to you.
  • Are you applying what you are hearing God speak to you from His Word?   This is where discouragement begins to flee.   Hearing God speak in His Word, allowing it to
    become a part of your mind, and then to act upon it.    D.L. Moody wrote, “The Bible was not written for our information, but our transformation”.    We are transformed (even from discouragement) as we obey it.

These three simple words are the keys to bringing you out of being low in spirit: reading, meditating, and applying.    As you practice them on a daily basis, your discouragement will lift.   It was true for Jeremiah and it will be true for you. 

Deliverance from discouragement will not be through the strength of your resolve, but the encouragement of the power of God’s Word.    Allow it to burn in your heart and see if it is not so!

I knew I was in trouble in the restaurant that afternoon with my family.  I had to do something quick to restore strength in my heart.   During those days I was reading the Bible each day and it was beneficial, but I had to go further and begin to meditate upon it and let it’s words sink deep in my heart.  Then, I had to apply the truths that were burning in my heart from reading and pondering God’s Word.

Our vacation was salvaged, but more importantly I was salvaged.  Though I was already a Christian, I was allowing discouragement to hinder my testimony, effectiveness and influence with my family.

Perhaps as you read this you are overwhelmed with discouragement to the point of wanting to quit.   If you have never come to Christ He will forgive and cleanse you of sin, but will also begin a personal relationship with you.  He can give you the desire and ability to overcome discouragement.   Trust Him as your Savior and He can make a difference.

As a child of God you may be neglecting the daily reading, meditating upon, and obeying His Word.  Until you do, discouragement will defeat you.

Parents, I know seasons of discouragement are a part of life.    It’s part of being a fallen person in a broken world.    The problem is not occasionally experiencing melancholy and disappointment, but staying in that condition.    If we do, we forfeit our ability to lead and influence.   And that is too high a price to pay for our kids.

I’m grateful for my sweet daughter for blessing me in a time of a deep valley in my life.   She was a teenager, but she lifted the heart of her Dad.    I love her, and other members of my family and friends that have done that for me.

However, over the long haul it must be the daily appointment we have with God in His Word that will burn in our bones that will keep us from quitting.   The Lord will use people to strengthen your spirit, but it is His presence through the Bible’s ministry to your soul that will enable you to break through that burden of discouragement.

A simple story to illustrate the power of God’s Word to strengthen those that are disheartened and hopeless.   In the early years of my pastorate our church was experiencing some severe financial challenges.   I was in my late 20’s and weary of the struggle.

On one morning when the challenge was especially deep I walked into my office past my secretary and gave her a cursory greeting.   I wasn’t rude, but I wasn’t warm either.   My spirit was tired of dealing with a battle that I didn’t see ending.

It had been a discipline of mine to start the day with God in His Word for many years.  That morning I hadn’t done so yet.   Out of habit I grabbed my Bible and began to read in the Psalms.

Nothing really made me pause until I arrived at Psalm 118:14 – “The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation”.    It felt like a sledge hammer to my heart.   I read it slowly again.    The truth was, for me there was no strength, song or salvation (the word means deliverance).

I began to pray and confess my broken state, “Lord, I have no strength now, I’m very weak; I have lost my joy and song because of my trials.  I know you’re my Savior, but I am in bondage to complaining rather than being delivered from it.    Please forgive me.   Be my strength, my song and my deliverer.  I rest in You”.

That morning the Spirit of God used the Word of God to confront and encourage me.   When I made my heart right with Him my spirit felt lighter and I knew His joy again.   The financial burden hadn’t left, but I had His strength to help me.   He was my deliverer from my discouragement.

Several years after this happened I shared this story with our church in a message.   After the service was over my secretary came up to me and said, “Rick, I remember that day.  When you walked in your office you were so burdened it was evident in your face and posture.    A while later when you came out of your office you were totally different and I could see the joy in your face”. 

Is your family and spouse having to tolerate your negativity, complaining and discouragement because of a neglect of a daily feeding upon the Word of God.   If you’re discouraged take time to get a word from God.    It will make a difference – and establish your leadership.

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About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 37 years with seven children and six grandchildren.
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