Take Heart, Weary Servant

The battle is real – compassion fatigue, backstabbing, lack of breakthroughs. And that’s just on Twitter. Ministry life can be even more brutal.

Especially if you’re engaged in ministry amongst people who are hurting – which is almost anyone in ministry, right? They hurt. We get hurt helping them. We hurt ourselves – and others. And by the time you’re a few years in, it’s like Michael Stipe sings, Everybody hurts!”

And sooner or later, you begin to ask if it’s all worth it.

If that’s you today, take heart weary servant. We’ve all been there and I’d like to offer you some sustenance for the next stretch of road.

I’m no armchair counsellor. I’ve lived in slums for more than a decade, in the midst of devastating poverty. I’ve been through the collapse of ministries I pioneered. I’ve been ripped off, cheated, maligned and mistreated. And that’s just by the Christians.

I have a few scars.

So, let me sketch a picture for you, a true story of a man.

He’s a weary servant, ready to give up. Oh he’s had his victories – even major triumphs in ministry. But the latest clash has sent him scurrying away to lick his wounds. He wonders how one man can face so much conflict and opposition, all on his own. So he takes a long aimless walk, and wanders a few miles out of town, to a place where nobody knows him. And eventually, when the burden of lifting one foot after another gets too much, he lies down under a bush, ready to give it all up.

The man’s name is Elijah (1 Kings 19).

And God extends three invitations to Elijah. The same three invitations He extends to us.


Invitation #1: Open your eyes
So Elijah is lying there feeling like absolute crap. Feeling like death warmed up. Wishing he could just end it all somehow. And eventually he falls asleep.

Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”  He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. (1 Kings  19:5-8)

Notice how little effort Elijah is putting into pursuing God at this point. He’s not keeping up his quiet time. He’s not bothering to fellowship with other believers. He’s not reading his Bible. Elijah is spent. Done. Ready to throw in the towel.

And still God pursues him.

And still God pursues you.

It’s nothing spectacular, this provision from God. The blessing is not another mountain-top experience or ministry highlight to write home about. It’s the simple provision of some bread and water.


Do you see that? God provides for his basic needs not once, but twice. And notice how tender is His care. The angel touches Elijah, awakens him from his slumber of self-pity, and asks him to receive what God is giving. It’s like a gentle nudge from God to notice what he has right in front of his eyes.

“Do you have eyes to see, Elijah?”

This is an invitation for all of us, in these times of darkness and conflict. An invitation to notice what’s right in front of us. To open our eyes. And be grateful, first for the simple things. Shelter. Food. Family. God’s provision.


Invitation #2: Open your ears
But Elijah isn’t done with his dark night of the soul yet. He gets up from under that tree and embarks on a 40-day journey of darkness (1 Kings 19:8). If you’ve read the Bible enough, you’ll know that 40 of ANYTHING is usually a baaaaaad omen. 40 years in the wilderness. 40 days in the desert. These stretches of 40 are usually dry, dark and depressing.

By the end of this trek, Elijah finds himself in a cave on the side of a mountain. It’s a reminder that oftentimes our dark times stick around – way beyond the point where we’d like to be done with them.

At this point, I’d say Elijah is not just discouraged. He’s probably depressed.

And still God pursues him.

And still God pursues you.

And I love how wonderfully consistent God is in his treatment of Elijah. God still offers Himself to Elijah in tender, gentle ways. And to bring this point home, God does a bit of a demonstration.

There’s a mighty wind – a storm that blows a chill right through the mountain. But God isn’t in the wind (v 11).

Then the earth trembles and shakes with a violent earthquake. But God isn’t in the earthquake.

Finally, a raging fire burns out of control – destroying all the vegetation around the cave with thick blue and orange flames. But God isn’t in the fire (v 12).

Those of us who have been through the dark night of the soul know well the futility of trying to find God in the noisy celebrations that used to give us an emotional high. The soaring worship. The eloquent preachers. The Christian conferences. The hype. The noise. The frenzy. Those things that used to do it for us, leave us cold and empty. We’ve seen too much.

But then God comes to Elijah with a gentle whisper (v 12).

A gentle whisper.

Let that sink in.

And ask yourself. Do you have ears to hear that gentle whisper?

Many of us who have spent a long time in places of pain, have found God in the gentle whisper. The old ways no longer help. In fact they hinder. And so we find Him in new, quieter ways. Contemplative prayer. Listening. Silence. Solitude. Stillness.

The gentle whisper.


Invitation #3: Open your arms

What God says to Elijah at this point is not what you might expect. He doesn’t say “You’re free to go. Good work Elijah, now go and retire. Or get a job in a quiet library.”In fact, God sends him back into the fray. “Go back the way you came” (v 15).

But God sends Elijah back with an important reminder. You see all along Elijah has been complaining that he ALONE is faithful to God. “I am the only one left,” he laments (v 10).

Now God sends him back to complete the task but reminds Elijah that there are still 7000 faithful servants in Israel – contrary to what Elijah has been saying. There are others out there who are also faithful (v 18).

You’re not alone. You may not see them in this desert place. You may not see them in this cave. You may not be aware of them in this dark night of the soul. But you are not alone.

Take heart weary servant.

Just as God pursued and cared for Elijah with the tenderness of a nurse, he pursues you.

Just as God provided the basic necessities of life for Elijah, inviting him to open his eyes and notice. So, he invites you to open your eyes and see what you have right in front of you.

Just as God speaks in ever more gentle and quiet ways to Elijah, so He invites you into solitude, silence and stillness.

And just as God provides sojourners to walk the path with Elijah, so I pray that you will find those like-minded souls.

Take heart weary servant. Your labour is not in vain.

photo credit

originally published here


Craig Greenfield is the founder and director of Alongsiders International and the author of the recently published Subversive Jesus. During more than 15 years living and ministering in slums and inner cities in Cambodia and Canada, Craig has established a number of initiatives to care for vulnerable kids and orphans, as well as formed Christian communities for those marginalized by society. His postgraduate research in International Development led to the publication of his first book, The Urban Halo: a story of hope for orphans of the poor which is currently available for free on Craig’s website. He loves God, the poor, and fish and chips. He’s on Twitter and Facebook too.

5 Things You Can Do When You Feel Like a Failure

In January of 2013, after 6 years of running a nonprofit, I moved off the field in Uganda back to the USA and struggled terribly with re-entry. There were many good, wise reasons for this move, but none of them seemed justifiable enough to qualm the voice in my head that echoed with the fact that in leaving I had somehow failed.

It seemed like so many things had gone wrong. And I blamed myself.

When I left Uganda, I wondered if God still had a plan for me or if I’d somehow messed up His will, gone off track. 

I couldn’t understand why in the middle of one of my hardest seasons, it felt like God had abandoned me. I felt like maybe I deserved it because I had failed Him too. I hadn’t measured up to His expectations of me.

Even though my husband and I felt confident that God had asked us to leave, there was still expectation I had on myself that to be a successful missionary meant I was supposed to stay there forever. Anything less felt like I hadn’t finished the race.

In my coaching ministry with global workers now, this theme of feeling like a failure is always surfacing.

I’ve learned some things that have helped me not feel like such a failure.

1. Evaluate your metric for success

I believe many of us hold this faulty belief in missions and aid work, that the length of time we stay on the field is our greatest measure of success. I don’t believe this is true. We don’t measure the CEO of a company by the length of time in his job, but by how his company performed, by his output. Even Jesus’ ministry years were short in comparison to the number of people he helped. Yes, there is something to be said about how much time you’ve invested in learning a people, and a nation and the experience that comes from those years.

But I believe when we look at whether or not we’ve been successful, we need different metrics. Did people feel loved when they were around us? Did we give our best? What is the legacy left behind? Were deep relationships built? Were we obedient to what God asked of us? How is our relationship with God and those closest to us? Are we able to still move from love and compassion to those around us? Sometimes leaving is the most loving thing we can do, for ourselves, and for others.

The truth was, it was a lie that I had failed. I hadn’t. I had loved and I had loved deeply, and that can never be a failure.

2. Let go of the fear of man

When people parade your picture around church talking about all the “good works” you’re doing, it’s easy to feel like everyone has expectations of you that you can’t meet. It’s easy to feel like you’re not measuring up, or that if people knew your real struggles they’d be horrified. It’s what makes us feel like we have to plaster on a fake smile and a fake face. Or that we have to hide from people. Or that we have to perform so people will be happy with us. In order to save my own soul, I had to stop caring as much what people thought of me. I had to let go of the fear of man, and care only about what God said about me. This can be a painful death when we are used to operating to please others. But there is so much freedom in letting go and just being where we are and being honest about it.

3. Remember that imperfect can be beautiful

The Japanese art of kintsugi, which means “golden journey,” is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. It is all about turning ugly breaks into beautiful fixes. It’s an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. There can be beauty in brokenness and in repair. Not only that, but it these “cracks” in our journey that can lead to the most beauty. The idea that something or someone could be more beautiful not in spite of their brokenness but because of it. What I’ve learned is it’s in brokenness where intimacy with God and with ourselves is truly birthed. I see my brokenness now as an opportunity, an opportunity for growth, for redemption, for wisdom, for the chance to practice self compassion and know God’s goodness. I ask myself now, “What can I learn from this, what is this teaching me?”

4. Learn to practice self-acceptance 

This is the notion that we can let go of the idea of who we think we “should be” and accept who we are here and now. It’s knowing that God created you how you are and has unconditional love for you even in the midst of your failures. He isn’t expecting perfection from you, just a full and present self. He’s not holding up the measuring stick and finding you wanting. Jesus died not just for our past mistakes, but your future ones as well. When Father looks at you He sees His child in whom He is well-pleased.

When we feel like a failure, we let shame in, and shame destroys our sense of self worth. I’ve spent many hours in therapy working through my shame. When I feel shame coming, I like to imagine Father God’s heart for me. I like to ask Him how He sees me. I find that He isn’t pulling away from me, but rather that I was hiding from Him.

Sometimes instead of negative self talk I ask myself if I can find one thing I’m doing well? Can I see one gift God has put inside me?

5. Let your greatest setbacks become your greatest comebacks 

I wholeheartedly believe that our areas where we feel we’ve failed the most or had the biggest setback, can be our area of greatest triumph. What we learn in these dark moments might be the very thing that defines our life in a new way. What if what I thought was failure, was my greatest launching pad? In fact, what looked like failure ended up leading to my greatest calling. If I had never left Uganda, I never would have found the healing my heart so needed.  If I hadn’t found that healing I wouldn’t have found the work I love to do now in journeying with others as I coach them. I now don’t just touch Uganda, but I touch nations through the lives of those who serve there. God completely redeemed my story.

What have you learned from what you thought was failure?


Sarita Hartz is a writer, life coach, and former humanitarian worker who writes about wholehearted living and healthy missions in her blog Whole at www.saritahartz.com. She loves helping people transform their lives. You can download her free eBook A Self-Care Plan for Global Workers (Learn to Prevent Burnout) at her blog.

Out of the Pit and Back Again


What is a psalm but a human emotion, poured into words? Perhaps it is a heartbreak, as in Psalm 137; or a rage, as in 109. Perhaps it is a teaching, as in 119, or a shout of praise, as in 145. But perhaps it is a desperate wail from the pit, as in Psalm 40. In the beginning, David speaks:

“I waited patiently for the LORD, and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a terrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and trust in the LORD.”

The terrible pit is a sort of cistern —a low place, in the dark, with a thick, viscous layer of sludge at the bottom. It is the “miry clay.” The clearest Biblical description of this kind of mud tells us that it took 30 men to hoist Jeremiah out of the muck of the king’s cistern. It was a trapping, cloying, sucking mud that left its victim suffocating and immobile in the darkness.

David sees his struggle like this. He feels helpless, lost, forgotten, stuck, walled in, surrounded, in the dark, sinking, trapped and smothered, with no way out. No one knows what David is struggling with, and he feels forgotten. Basically, he’s a missionary.

God doesn’t forget David, however; instead He bends down, hears David’s cry, and descends to the pit. God hears David in the place of forgetting and reverses his situation. Instead of a cry for help, a new song bursts from his mouth—praise to his God.

The psalm soars higher and higher as David reflects on God’s goodness, the incredible number not only of His works on his behalf, but also His thoughts toward him (4-5). He steps out and shares who God is and what He has done, and he makes an incredible claim:

“I do not restrain my lips . . . I have not hidden Your righteousness in my heart; I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great assembly” (9-10).

What a crescendo! What a testimony! But then the psalm takes a sudden turn. In verse 11, David pleads for God’s mercies. In verse 12 he says, “My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me.” Wait, what? What happened? How is David drowning again?

What has happened? Now David is so ashamed that he can’t even pick his head up. He wallows in the guilt of uncountable sins and feels that he has to beg for mercy. He describes himself as “poor and needy” (17). He’s back in the pit, waiting again, right where he started. He cries out for deliverance and ends not on a resolution but on a prayer for God to hurry up and rescue him. Again.

This universal Christian experience can be especially intense for foreign workers and ministry leaders. The horrible isolation rings true; it’s easy to feel forgotten in a foreign land, alone with the terrible responsibility of presenting a good testimony—perhaps the only testimony people will ever see. On the other hand, sharing the gospel is a high. Proclaiming who Jesus is, and seeing a glimmer of understanding in someone’s eye, provokes an incredible feeling of joy, awe, and humility at being included in God’s work to touch souls.

But. What happens when the new believer returns to old habits, or you discover that they had just gone underground with their sin, instead of repenting, or when the Bible study you’ve invested in falls apart, when your children hate the new country, or when illness takes your parent, and you can’t go home to say goodbye? What happens when you find yourself totally discouraged, not knowing why you bother leaving the house? What happens when a sin you thought you had kicked rises up to bite you again? What happens when you know better, but you still end up in the pit?

There’s no resolution in this psalm. David feels no joy or gladness. In verse 16 he can only talk about other people magnifying God: “Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let such as love Your salvation say continually, ‘The LORD be magnified!’”

Isn’t that so often the story? You know that someone, somewhere, is starting churches. But it isn’t you. Somebody’s seeing people respond to the gospel and make genuine life changes. Some other missionary catches the language quickly and goes zipping along, making relationships, and then there’s this other missionary who gets along famously with everybody on the local team, and you’re left out. You see small gains, but it’s definitely two steps forward, one step backward, every day.

Thus, David is poor and needy. He’s a king (exceedingly well-funded from the home country, as it were), but he lacks. The need is in his heart, not in his pockets; but who sees that? The one thought he clings to is, “Yet the LORD thinks upon me” (17a). God sees. God really does see.

More than that, He empathizes. And it’s only in the quiet place, alone like Hagar with the Lord-who-sees-me, where this really hits, because the truth is that David’s God stepped one day into David’s shoes. He worked for three years with incredibly thick-headed national partners who just didn’t get the mission. He endured the brokenness of this world, the betrayal and loss, the misunderstandings, and the being put onto a pedestal one minute and crucified the next. He dealt with scheming, jealous religious leaders and all the irritations of a foreign bureaucracy.

He knows what the pit feels like. He gets it, and He “thinks upon” His struggling children who also deal with it. The temptation in the pit is to give up and go home, to assume that you are useless and will never touch people for God’s kingdom, because you struggle. I can only echo Paul, from 1 Corinthians 4:3-5—today is always too soon to judge.

Like David, we all live in the unknown of the present. David didn’t know his legacy would include Jesus. He didn’t know that people across the world would be reading translations of his poetry. He had no clue what an encouragement he would be in his own transparency. God has a wonderful way of turning the craziest parts of our life into something good. We just can’t evaluate that today. Instead we must hang in there and trust Him, even in the pit.


jmayAn inveterate adventurer and acceptable-risk-taker, Jennifer May grew up as an MK in Zimbabwe, Africa, and migrated with her family back to the United States at 11. “I’m sorry, I grew up in Africa,” is her favorite excuse for not getting pop culture references from the 90s. A lifelong passion for missions brought Jennifer to Canada for three years, and now has her serving in Mexico, where she occasionally rides bulls. She has co-written a book that uses Chronological Bible Storying to help young people understand their identity according to the Bible, available here. You can reach her at jenniferrmay@gmail.com.