“Occupational hazard” is a very common expression in our society that refers to potential risks, dangers, or perils associated with one’s job or profession. For example, people who work with asbestos run the risk of developing lung cancer later on in life; roofers run the risk of falls and injuries. Most professions, if not all, have associated risks.
So are there associated risks with Christian service (ministry)? The answer is yes! There are associated risks for just being a Christian; Jesus warned, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV). The early church was bitterly persecuted. The hymnist captured it this way, “Mocked, imprisoned, stoned, tormented, sawn asunder, slain with sword.” The Church today still faces persecution in horrible ways, including isolation and being disowned by loved ones. Persecution and the like in themselves, as harsh as they sound, are really not the worse hazards associated with Christian ministry.
The worst, I believe, is DISCOURAGEMENT, which can happen to any Christian, no matter how spiritually mature. How does one arrive at discouragement? Discouragement creeps into our lives for various reasons and at different times. Discouragement can ensue when there’s not enough support or cheering on (encouragement), not enough supplies to work with, obstacles and threats in the way, and the absence of fruit. Discouragement, if not appropriately addressed, can lead to despondency and throwing in the towel.
First King 18 recaps for us the contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call on Baal to send down fire to consume their sacrifice, which of course didn’t happen. On the other hand, God answered Elijah! When he called, fire came down from heaven, burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. After demonstrating that “The Lord-He is God! The Lord-He is God!” (1 King 18:39 NIV), Elijah had the prophets of Baal killed. King Ahab’s wife Jezebel swore to kill Elijah in revenge. So what did Elijah do? He ran for his life; he went into hiding! He was so discouraged, he wanted to die. This was his prayer: “I have had enough, Lord, take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 King 19:4 NIV).
Elijah was exhausted, persecuted, and afraid, which led to discouragement, to the point of wishing he were dead (maybe he had no prayer support). Before his discouragement, he was fine. He had challenged the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is god follow him” (1 King 18:21 NIV). He had also challenged the king without fear of punishment, telling him that he and his father’s house had made trouble for Israel (see 1King 18:18). He then taunted the prophets of Baal about their god who could be asleep, deep in thought, busy, or travelling (see 1 King 18:27). Discouragement, however, changed everything for Elijah; he threw in the towel!
Discouragement can be a serious occupational hazard in Christian ministry. Let us remember to pray for one another, for our missionaries, and for our pastors. Let us cheer them on, and if at all possible, make sure they have all they need to get the job done.