When You’ve Hit Your Limit in Ministry


Hands on the wheel, head pressed against the headrest, I sighed, “How much longer can I really do this?”

I’d just spent the day running around to various government offices to bolster security for our team after receiving word about some threats being made on our ministry location. Instability had been growing in our country for the past few years, but the last six months had been the worst.

The cumulative effects of the fatigue were beginning to show. I was also feeling the tension of wanting to fully engage in the ministry opportunities all around me but needing to invest time and energy in security measures. In fact, right before receiving this latest news, I was preparing to visit ministry colleagues in a rural location, a trip I was greatly looking forward to.

Can I continue to hang in there in this tension? I wondered.

From there it snowballed: Can I maintain the flexibility necessary to live in this ambiguous and uncertain moment? Do I really have the courage and wisdom it takes to lead a team through such risky times? Can I really lead this crazy life God is calling me to lead? Can I bend any more before I break?

The answer came back, “I can’t. I . . . simply . . . cannot.” With that realization, my mind flashed back to a recent trip home to the States.

Going Up?

I was visiting New York City with my sister, her husband, and their four kids. We had decided to go up the Empire State Building, but as we entered the lobby, the second oldest, Carl, 11, began to cry, saying he simply could not go up. He was melting down and making a small scene.

My sister and brother-in-law bent over to talk with him, trying to comfort him—in vain seeking to reason with him. Despite their efforts, Carl clearly wasn’t changing his mind. My brother-in-law offered to stay with him outside, but my sister was adamant that he go up with us.

I admire the wisdom my sister shows in being a mom, but I was a bit shocked at how categoric she was. In the end, she won the argument, but I wasn’t convinced she was right.

We piled into the elevator going up to the 80th floor, Carl wilting against his mom. The doors opened, and I took the other kids to the large bay windows. We toured the floor with Carl and my sister lagging behind. She tried to no avail to convince him to enjoy the view.

I Can’t

Then we went to the 86th floor’s observation deck. I was sure this would be a disaster. Near the doors to go outside, there was a small bench against the glass wall. My sister told Carl he could sit there and wait for us while we went out. He sat sullenly as we exited.

We’d spent no more than two minutes looking over the city when from nowhere I heard Carl’s voice cheerfully pointing out landmarks. I looked at my sister, who smiled and winked. He spent the rest of our time on the observation deck as if the whole thing had been his idea. At the end of our trip, I asked the kids to name their favorite part. Carl’s? The observation deck of the Empire State Building.

I later asked my sister how she knew. She told me that Carl is her “I can’t” child. If he gets it in his head that he can’t do something, he quits. He will mentally block himself from all further effort in that direction, even if he knows he’ll enjoy accomplishing it.

In One Spirit

I wonder how many times in telling God, “I can’t,” I’ve missed the highlight of the trip. The best was yet to come, but I stopped short because I let fear or fatigue dominate my thoughts.

As Paul talks in Philippians 4 about knowing “what it is to be in need” or “to have plenty” and having learned “the secret of being content in any and every situation,” he arrives at the oft misquoted verse 13: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

I am learning anew to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in all my moments and circumstances. I am learning to be empowered by Him to do the mundane, the difficult, and non-triumphant. And I am rejoicing as I see the ways in which we proclaim His truth here despite our limitations.

At moments, I catch a glimpse of what He has for our team at this time: We “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose [us]. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God” (Phil. 1:27–28). 

What’s your “I can’t” in this season of life? Putting up with one more day of ambiguity? Waiting patiently in less than ideal living situations? Taking the next step of obedience in response to the Spirit’s whisper?

May you daily feel the strengthening of our Savior. May we be known as people who know “the secret” of living with everything or with nothing.

FROM ISSUE: May/June 2018, Vol. 153 No. 3, Pg 28, “The Best Is Yet to Come”

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