“I alone am left.”
Those are the words Elijah spoke to the Voice he heard while hiding from Jezebel in a cave on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:10, 14). And they are words with which every ministry leader I know can identify.
No one is with me.
No one understands.
No one really cares.
I’m the only one willing to take this costly stand.
And yet, God’s reply to Elijah is this:
Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.
~ 1 Kings 19:18 NRSV
Pastor, you are not alone.
When I was serving as the Pastor of a local congregation, I often felt alone, as if I was the only one who cared about a particular issue, or I was the only one who understood the burden of carrying the spiritual and emotional burdens of a local congregation of people.
This always seemed especially real to me when attendance was down, when volunteers were short, or when giving was low. In my mind, people simply didn’t understand the urgency and the need for a passionate response to the spiritual lostness of the world around us.
What I love about the passage in which this exchange with Elijah takes place is that, after Elijah complains the first time that “I alone am left,” the Voice ministers to his heart quite gently in a still, small voice. And then Elijah’s response to the Voice is like, Yeah but… I alone am left.
When we’re in the pit, it’s hard to climb out. It’s even hard to recognize the lifelines God keeps throwing our way. So it’s quite possible you’ll read this brief article and brush it off as another mere whisper. But let me at least attempt to give you some food for thought concerning those feelings of isolation. Here are a few things I’ve learned about this feeling of aloneness in ministry.
1. You’re one of many, many leaders feeling this.
God’s response to Elijah was that he had at least 7,000 other prophets feeling similar feelings. Remember that, when you feel completely alone, you’re one of many who feel the same way. God has many, many shepherds amongst his lost sheep and they all minister in one degree or another of loneliness.
2. You’ll never be as burdened as God is about humanity.
As much heaviness as you may feel about the painful plight of people who are lost in sin or in suffering, Jesus always carries the bulkiest burden of all – so much so that he was willing to die on a Roman cross to bring about the redemption that humanity so desperately needed.
3. Your worth isn’t determined by how burdened you feel.
As shepherds, we often fall into the trap of believing that our burden of heaviness is somehow impressive to God. We buy the lie that carrying the weight of the hurts of humanity earns us a special role in God’s Kingdom. But God isn’t looking at your brokenheartedness as a sign of your worthiness.
Your worth is the result of being created in the image of God and purchased by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. It is never the result of your good performance or of your heavy-heartedness.
4. This is the calling of a shepherd.
Shepherding carries with it the necessity of this burden we feel for the people who struggle under our care. What makes you effective as a minister isn’t your giftedness in communicating, your eloquence in preaching, or your expertise in the art of organizational leadership. It’s your heart, broken and poured out, for people who need to experience the love of God.
You’re not alone. You never were and you never will be. Jesus stands beside you. Thousands of other shepherds join arms with you. Your brokenness over the spiritual condition of humanity matters to God, and your response in continuing to love and serve people makes a difference whether you are able to see it from one week to the next or not.
The bottom line is this: You’re never alone as you feel like you are.
Photo by Arthur Mazi on Unsplash.
- Willimon, William H. (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 400 Pages - 02/16/2016 (Publication Date) - Abingdon Press (Publisher)