One of the most common experiences in the life of Christian service is not love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, or any other fruit of the Spirit; it’s frustration. Sometimes this arises from ungodliness in the servant; sometimes it is a genuine response to a situation that makes you feel like crying out, “God, what are you doing here?”
I’ve learned a few hard lessons from Scripture, and have experience on how to cope with frustrations in ministry. I hope they help you in the way they are now helping me.
1. Get humble
It’s not just a matter of ‘eating humble pie’; it’s a matter of being humble. Firstly, we are humble before God, which means that no-one else has power over us or our reactions. Him we serve. Then, we are humble like our Lord: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). It’s worth remembering that the Bible says we’ll all be humble eventually—every knee shall bow. It’s either humble now, or humiliated then. Better to get in ahead of time. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (Jas 4:10).
2. Pray for patience
Like forgiveness, this is one of God’s ‘big’ miracles. In Colossians 1:11, Paul asks for “all power according to his glorious might” in order to become patient! It’s obviously not an easy ask, so don’t be surprised when you struggle. We need all types of patience: patience with each other; patience with our own growth; patience as we await the Lord’s return.
3. Trust in God’s sovereignty
Joseph must have wondered at times, but he saw it all in the end: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20). This attitude of accepting the long-term, long-distance interpretation of events is very useful when coping with real human frustrations. It helps us to see them in light of God’s cosmic plans, and it de-centres our involvement in it all. God is good; he is powerful over all; he has plans that he is fulfilling. Why worry?
4. Suppress megalomania
Don’t think that everything you do has to be history-changing. Something you do may be. Esther spent a lifetime being prepared for just two meals and two requests. Through them God’s chosen people were saved. As wise Mordecai said to her, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this” (Esth 4:14). Again, we must leave the writing of church history to God, or we’ll always be acting in order to be remembered.
5. Develop a bad memory
Likewise, it is good to let the past be the past. God’s better way to live is to forgive. It’s a divine activity, and it’s the way to avoid bitterness. Loving amnesia regarding the sins (and the petty objections, even more so) of others is a very useful means of maintaining fellowship. “Above all, love one another deeply, for love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8).
6. Be prudent
Try to not get yourself into unsustainable situations. Try to remember this point—especially at your optimistic yearly planning meetings. Don’t make vain promises; make sure you can “keep your oath, even when it hurts” (Ps 15:4).
7. Do not assume responsibility for what is not your responsibility
Again, this means avoiding megalomania. You can’t solve all the world’s problems. You are not the messiah. Trust in him who judges justly, and do the tasks you have been given to do.
8. Have a Plan B … and C
Frustration nearly always comes from ‘unrealized’ expectations. Don’t marry your expectations. Keep them in their place. They’re something you’d like, not something you need. Keep your options open.
9. Don’t assume that everything will go well or get better
Why should it? If you lower your expectations, that means you can rejoice when things go well. This is particularly good advice for perfectionists. Look for God’s hand at work, even in small things, and be encouraged by them.
10. Never stop appreciating the good
Always being critical is a trap for high achievers. We must remember to celebrate God’s work in us and through us. Look for encouragement, for God knows how to give us what we need: “… if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 4:8).
And one bonus thought …
11. Remember that your frustrations really will end
As James exhorts us, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming” (Jas 5:7). After that, there will be no need for patience.