Handling Stress in Ministry
By Becky Tirabassi
I arrived at the opening session of the youth workers' convention when the evening speaker boomed out his first words: "If you think it's time to quit, it's too soon."
"No," I groaned to myself, "he didn't say that. That's not what I came to hear."
I had planned to attend the convention in order to wish my cohorts in ministry a wistful bon voyage. After six years of a life packed with appointments, meetings, physical and spiritual responsibilities for teens, and fundraising, I was simply burned out.
Sensing that the speaker's comments were not a coincidence, I quietly asked God to speak to me, change me, and get me back on track. Somewhere I had lost my voracious hunger for the Word, infectious joy, and eagerness to pray for others. I began to get the feeling that whatever was lacking in my life prior to this convention would be replenished by the time I departed.
One thread wove itself through each speaker's message. Though they hadn't been urged by the convention's organizers to speak on prayer, each keynote speaker did just that, using Scripture and illustrations and tears to convince and convict us of prayer's immeasurable power. One man of God told how India was opened to the gospel only after an all-night prayer meeting reversed the Indian authorities' decision to prohibit the gospel. I could hardly imagine staying up and praying for that many hours!
Another evangelist tearfully shared how many miraculous conversions to Christ were the result of daily, persevering prayer. He urged us to take Jas. 4:2 literally: "You do not have, because you do not ask God." I was taken aback by the simplicity of the powerful promise to me in just that one Scripture on prayer. I was challenged to take an honest look at my personal spiritual disciplines.
What had appeared to be merely external fatigue and burnout was now coming into a new light. My dissatisfaction and restlessness might just be prayerlessness.
I already had a daily quiet time. I read my Bible every day. I led two to three Bible studies a week. But a painful look at the past few years exposed a prayer life that consisted of bedtime prayers, miracle prayers, and parking-space prayers. No longer was it a natural habit to whisper, "God, what would You like me to do right now? How would You have me deal with this?"
As each convention session unraveled, my convictions deepened and my inside cried out for direction. So, I did something totally out of character for someone with my outgoing, "Type A" personality: I attended an optional seminar on prayer. Even a close friend joked about my attending a "prayer meeting" as we parted ways outside the room.
As the session passed, I was humbly reminded that a closer walk with God meant spending time with Him – and not just casually chatting when I needed help or approval for my ideas, not making a bunch of decisions first and then asking for His blessing during my evening prayer. I caught a number of verses and principles about prayer that the speaker was explaining. Not a single verse was new to me. Yet for the first time, it seemed, they were alive and fresh and inviting. As I toyed with actually believing them, they stunned me with their power.
"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?' or ‘What shall we drink?' Or ‘What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:31-34).
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7, 19).
The seminar room emptied. I stayed glued to my seat, not wanting to lose the insight or spiritual momentum I had gained. After a few minutes of silence and sorting my thoughts, I understood where I had been and where I needed to go. Convinced that I needed to take a radical step, the simple prayer that deliberately passed through my lips was that I would be granted the discipline of prayer, coupled with the time commitment of one hour a day for the rest of my life.
I reasoned that all other appointments were a minimum of an hour – why not this one? After flailing around on the fringes for too long, it seemed the only action to take if I really wanted to increase my knowledge of God, hear His voice more consistently, and be in tune with His daily plan.
I had to take the plunge. If I allowed myself a trial period and if it got tough, I'd drop it. I needed a non-negotiable, no-turning-back decision to have a daily, meaningful appointment with God.
Repentant, refreshed, and refueled, I left the "prayer room" with the irrepressible urge of an evangelist to tell others about my life-changing prayers and miracles. I knew deep inside that I had made a decision to give God my time so that He could counsel, convict, control, and challenge me daily – and that I would stick to my decision.
A Healthy Addiction
I chose to write out my prayers for that hour each day. Writing kept me focused and helped me concentrate on my conversation with the Lord.
My hours of prayer must come in the earliest part of my day, or else I am inevitably interrupted or distracted. That meant no more sleeping in. Since I had an appointment to keep, I had to plan for it on my calendar. And on those inevitable days when things just didn't go by the book, my decision kept me accountable – I either stayed up late or holed away during midday. I was determined!
Results surfaced immediately. This hour of prayer transformed my days and produced such positive differences in my character and lifestyle that even my family noticed. Not only did I crack the dawn, but I could hold my temper in check, especially with my toddler. And there were the undeniable answers to specific requests that concerted prayer produces. Prayer was no longer a discipline that I considered boring or for the elderly. It was becoming attainable, an addicting spiritual discipline I had never taken time to pursue.
But the most surprising manifestations of my hour in prayer were the personality flaws it uncovered in me, flaws that had been swept under the rug, weaknesses that had remained untouched by correction or conviction. What once seemed too painful or personal to deal with was now approachable. And when I exposed them to a loving Father and disposed of them with His help, my friendships blossomed, my unhealthy inclination to compete and compare diminished, and my self-image vastly improved.
Staying Hungry, Getting Holy
Those busiest in ministry fight the hardest to salvage their own personal time with God. Urgent needs and constant demands easily push aside our own relationship with God. What more than three years ago seemed contrary to my nature – sitting still, reading, meditating, praying diligently – has resulted in a renewed hunger for the Word, a deep desire to be holy, and a quest for integrity in my personal, family, and ministry decisions.
It's still hard to believe that this beach-going, fun-loving socialite, this numbers-counting youth worker, still prays an hour every day. I don't believe one hour is a magic number, but I'm convinced that a commitment of specific time to a daily appointment with God can become a stress-reducing, joy-producing hour in anyone's life. What could it mean for yours?
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