Joy in the Storm
By Shelly Esser
It was a few weeks before our annual mission’s festival when the chairman and his family decided to abandon ship, leaving the church. My husband, who oversaw this area, was left scrambling to pull things together in the waning hours before one of the biggest events of the year. Shortly afterwards, we experienced another major ministry disappointment, then another, and yet another. Disappointments were raining in on us from all directions. Caught without my umbrella, I was getting wet - no drenched - in the ministry and I didn't like it. Without warning, huge ministry-threatening waves of discouragement engulfed me and I, too, wanted to jump ship.
Six months later discouragement was still following me around as I mechanically and methodically went through the ministry motions. There was no joy in the ride, no delight, no excitement as there had once been. I was sinking lower and lower into the discouraging waters below, so I began crying out to God, “Lord, renew this cold heart of mine, along with David in Psalm 51:12 I earnestly prayed, ‘Restore to me the joy of your salvation.’” How often I have echoed that prayer for personal renewal along the course.
Now I was realizing that there was a need for another type of renewal: ministry renewal and restoration. So here I began, just the Lord and me with a very simple heartfelt prayer and desire, “Restore again to me the joy of serving You.” Interestingly, personal renewal and ministry renewal are linked. There cannot be restoration of the ministry without, first, restoration of the soul. When I began to fix my eyes on the lover of my soul, ministry restoration slowly began to occur.
The ministry storms had come, as they always will, but I had made the mistake of fixing my eyes on the people and events of ministry instead of the Lord. All of my attention was directed to the torrid waters raging around me, instead of the only One Who could offer me stillness in the eye of the storm. Like Peter walking on the water to Jesus, I too, began to sink when the stormy winds struck - my eye on the storm and not the Lord. I, too, wanted to run back into the safety of the boat instead of walking through the storms with simple faith.
Ministry will be full of ups and downs; storms of all magnitudes are always going to rage and sometimes it’s going to feel like we're regressing on the course instead of forging ahead. But as long as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we won’t drown. Yes, we will get wet - even soaked - but underlying it all will stand the unchanging God who will see us through every wave. He promises, afterall, not to let us drown, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you (Isa.43:2a).”
Real joy comes only as we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. He is the reason we keep on keeping on. He is the reason we don’t lose heart and abandon ship. Serving God, afterall, is being faithful when your flesh wants to run the other way. He is the reason we can have genuine joy in service even in the midst of the storm.
I had it all backwards - I was focusing on the crew instead of the captain, and any time you do that you're bound to grow discouraged. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
“Yes, that's it,” I thought. It is the Lord Christ I am serving. The emphasis in this verse is on who - the Lord Christ, not men. How exciting! So often we get our priorities all mixed up.
It's when we begin to serve men instead of God that we lose heart, we lose our joy, we become discouraged. Why? Because men will always disappoint us at one time or another. Our service must always be motivated from our love for Jesus, and it's in loving Jesus that we will discover joy in our service for Him for it's out of our love for Christ - not men - that we do what we do. Yes, we love the crew along the way, but not more than the captain. Paul said of his ministry, “it is the love of Christ that compels me,” and so it must be for us. That's where genuine, lasting joy will be found. Oswald Chambers said, “The thing that tells in the long run for God and for men is the steady persevering work in the unseen, and the only way to keep the life uncrushed is to live looking to God.”
Discouragement, if left unchecked, will eventually threaten our ministry and usefulness to God, and it will certainly destroy our joy. In fact, one of the results of discouragement is the temptation to keep ourselves isolated inside the boat, never trusting, never risking, and never getting out into the water. But we must learn to walk in obedience with Jesus through the storm, doing His will, His way. Otherwise, we may miss some of God's greatest surprises in ministry.
One of the ways God answered my prayer for ministry restoration came through a member of the crew. A friend was sent into my little boat who needed to be discipled. Being quite wet, I didn't know if I wanted to set myself up for another disappointment, but I trusted God anyway. As I got out of the boat, in obedience, and began to trust again, He began to use this woman powerfully in my life. As I watched her growth and excitement, my own joy began to return. “This is what it's all about,” I thought, God working and transforming lives and allowing me to be a part of it.” Through her life, God has reminded me what walking and serving Him is all about - doing His will in the eye of the storm, and it's as we obey that He surprises us with joy and His unchanging presence and peace.
No matter how rough the waves and how bumpy the ride, we can still experience a deep inner joy that comes from loving and serving God. Sure there will be down days, wet days and dark days, but genuine joy isn't tossed to and fro by our feelings.