Ministry Discouragement and the Power of God’s Timing
By: Gabe Martin
Thank God for delayed results.
As I watched a newly-baptized Christian man baptize his wife, I was more aware than ever of the wisdom of God’s timing and also extremely thankful for His grace in teaching me patience.
To explain, I’ll need to back up over seven months.
Since we planted our church in San Diego in 2020, pandemic-related restrictions meant our church had very little opportunity to make a public connection with our community and also get invites and information about our church into our neighborhoods. When the restrictions eased we planned our first “Grill-&-Chill”–Hot dogs, hamburgers, snow cones, games, and a bouncy house–to introduce the community to our church and invite guests to attend a service where they would hear the life-changing Gospel of Jesus.
The event went well and we were certain that our church would see a huge attendance of guests the following day. We didn’t. However, it had barely been 24 hours and people need time to plan a trip to church so they would definitely be there the next Sunday. They weren’t. Nor were they there the next, or any of the Sundays in the months that followed. For over six months, we did not see one guest show up at church as a result of the Grill-&-Chill. Subsequent grill-&-chills and other outreach initiatives yielded similar results.
What kind of church planters were we? The books and the podcasts said this should work. Other church-planters said this would work. We had prayed and planned and yielded zero results.
We tried to remain optimistic but when the leaders of the church would meet to discuss community outreach, there was always a bit of cynicism under a cloud of discouragement. Should we continue trying these things that God was not blessing? Is God not at work in our community? Do we pack up and move to another community? These were questions we asked over and over.
Almost seven months later, a couple walked into the church on Sunday morning who we did not recognize. When the service was over, the husband approached me and told me that after hearing the message that morning, he was convinced he needed the forgiveness that Jesus offered. I went through the Gospel, asked questions, and before long I was convinced he had placed his faith in Jesus for salvation. I then asked him how I should be praying for him, hoping to hear him acknowledge the temptations and struggles in his life but what I got was better. He asked me to pray for his wife and told me that he wanted her to believe these things too. I said, “Brother, that’s the greatest prayer request I’ve ever heard,” and led us in prayer for his wife.
He was baptized the following Sunday.
One week after his baptism, I saw his wife after service, looking at me nervously and I heard her husband say, “You have to do it. I can’t do it for you.” She slowly walked up to me and said, “I want to be saved.” After I presented the Gospel, she professed her faith in Christ alone as her Savior and I invited her husband to join us as we all prayed together.
One week later, her husband – having been baptized only two weeks prior – baptized her in obedience of Jesus.
You’ve probably already put this together but when asked what brought them to our church, this couple said they had stopped by the “cook-out” the previous year. They kept the flier and for some reason lately, he had been feeling like they needed to come visit us. Now he knows the reason.
The grill-and-chill that was such a failure was now a soaring victory and will remain a highlight in my memories of ministry. The most obvious reason is because God used it to bring two souls into His Kingdom. Another reason, however, is because God used it to teach me the power of patience over discouragement.
My discouragement came because I wanted and expected immediate results. I made my level of encouragement dependent on a time limit I had thoughtlessly put on God’s work. When my time frame had expired, I assumed God had moved on, and the discouragement set in.
If I had been more mature in my patience, rather than being discouraged, I would have been optimistic and on the lookout for God to bring about fruit from the ministry. But I lacked patience – and God knew I lacked patience – so in His wisdom, He decided to grow me.
This is what I learned from this experience. The difference between encouragement and discouragement is often related to the maturity of my patience.
The Bible tells us that patience is a fruit of the Spirit but we often forget that practicing patience is a discipline that we must grow in. A season of discouragement over delayed results may be how God intends to grow us in this ever-important discipline.
As we mature in our faith, we must always be reminding ourselves and reminding others of God’s own patience that we are to imitate. We must ask, “Am I discouraged because God is not at work, or am I discouraged because I am impatient with God’s timing?”
Discouragement happens when I look back at what I believe God has not done. Patience, fueled by hope, allows me to continue looking forward to what God will do.
I still have much more room to grow in my practice of patience but I am thankful to God for the delayed results He used to teach me the power of patience over discouragement.
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:8-9).