Drawing from a dry well
I stared out my office window. In 3 hours my congregation would be filling the auditorium to receive watering for their souls and seek direction and inspiration. The prospect used to snap my adrenaline to attention and send me bounding through the sanctuary straightening chairs, adjusting microphones, and checking thermostats. Anticipation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry would stir fly faith with expectation. It was my favorite time of the week — then.
Now despair and panic coated my soul. How could I water my sheep when my well was dry? Spiritual, emotional, and physical exhaustion had dogged me for several months. Somehow 1 had been able to stay a step ahead of their snapping jaws. However, this morning the fangs found their target. Contemplating the responsibility of directing a morning worship service and preaching a message that would meet the expectations and needs of the people triggered a whirlpool of inadequacy that threatened to drown me in a sea of anxiety.
The dryness and depression stayed with me for several weeks, perhaps months. I wasn’t interested in logging “time of depression” in my weekly planner. Weakness and despair filled most of my waking hours. I often felt like crying and fought sleep during my prayer times. My studies magnified feelings of inadequacy.
1 managed to continue preparing messages, but careful planning of the services overloaded the limits of my emotional energy. I winged it more Sundays than I care to admit. Routine pastoral tasks were postponed or neglected. Knowing I wasn’t giving the pastorate my best effort nagged my conscience and compounded my distress.
Thankfully, I survived. Ministry once again puts a bounce in my steps. My devotional life has regained its pulse. Vision and purpose flow through my veins. I’ve come through to the bright side of the “valley of the shadow of death.”
Here are some things I learned about surviving when the well runs dry.
Recognize the Adversary
According to 1 Peter 5:8, we have an adversary who seeks to devour us. Satan’s strategy is seen throughout the Scriptures — to strike shepherds and scatter the sheep.
For instance, he assaulted Timothy with insecurity and inadequacy. I was a Timothy. Satan harassed me with thoughts: You’re a failure. You’re a terrible pastor. You aren’t good enough. The church would be better off without you. You’ve missed your calling. They hounded my mind continually, and I began to believe them.
At first I resisted the prospect of a spiritual attack as too simplistic, but then I came to identify the source of the thoughts as the “accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12: 10). Light began to pierce the darkness. Faith was my main weapon. Over and over I went back to what I knew God had led me to do.
Did He want me to start this church? Yes. Had He told me to leave and go elsewhere? No.
Then I had to trust that He would equip and enable me to get the job done.
I went to the Scriptures that speak of endurance and perseverance. Deep down I knew I had to press on, and God would see me through. He did. I’m thankful 1 didn’t quit.
Settle the Commitment Issue
Another breakthrough came by committing myself anew to the call of pastoring. Discouragement caused me to entertain ideas of quitting the ministry and pursuing other professions. Mentally I packed my bags daily. The fantasies provided brief oases in my desert, but ultimately they sucked me down into deeper depression.
Indecision frustrated and complicated my state of mind. I became angry that the ministry forced me to say “No” to other options. Then Jesus’ words began to impress my thoughts, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25, NASB). I was trying to save my life. Leaving the ministry would be a cop-out and would cost me long-term blessings and character development. Therefore, I determined to stick with it and be faithful to the call. Even if it killed me, I would give myself to the ministry. It was a turning point. The distracting, conflicting desires faded. Contentment came, followed by genuine joy.
Help From Others
Another turning point came when my wife and I sought counsel. We had talked about the need to seek help, but I was reluctant to bother others with my problems. So I kept putting it off.
On one of my particularly bad days I was helping dress my children. As they struggled to find their shoes and socks, my frustration breached my walls of composure. I castigated them for their incompetence. Then I knew it was time to get help.
That week we made an appointment with an older pastor couple in another town. As I spilled the sewage of my soul, they listened with nodding heads. Although they didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t already heard, being able to unburden my mind gave birth to a new perspective. To nurture that freshness I joined a men’s support group.
Having the prayer and emotional support of others has effected definite change in my life. My wife, though, was the most important source of support I discovered.
Although we’ve always had good communication, learning to express my weakness to her and receiving her encouragement and prayer support deepened the value of our relationship and cut through my jungle of darkness. (See Proverbs l&22.)
Distinguish Between Yourself and Your Ministry
I learned, however, that such sharing needed some boundaries. The strain of church conflicts wore on her, too. Consequently, we allowed the conflicts to dominate our conversations and invade mealtimes, days off, and family trips. They began to rule my private life and consume my prayer life. Their relentless presence created a weather pattern of hot, dry air in my soul. Drought resulted.
I had to learn to confine the situation to its appropriate territory, including disciplining my thoughts during off hours, resisting the temptation to discuss matters at home, and developing a pattern of prayer that focused on personal and family issues rather than church business.
Keep the Momentum
Each of these disciplines has served as underground water sources to replenish my well-nothing spectacular by themselves, but together they’ve provided refreshment to me and to those I pastor. They don’t change circumstances or shelter me from problems. However, as I maintain them as an ongoing part of my life they bring me into contact with God’s strength-the only reliable well from which to draw.
Jeff King is pastor of Twin Lakes Christian Fellowship (Foursquare), Osage City, Kansas.