Weary Warriors

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Please prayerfully answer the following question: What circumstances in my life make me tired and weary?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at how demonic forces attack us and studying the weapons the Lord gives us to withstand these attacks. While the Bible says we will ultimately have victory, we can still get tired from being in the battles. The devil tries to take life’s difficulties and wear us down. What do we do when this happens?

In the Old Testament, the Israelites had been constantly warned to repent of their sins and turn back to God. They wouldn’t listen so God sent foreign armies to punish them and get their attention. The prophet Isaiah addresses this in Isaiah 40:27-31. He writes, “27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?

The Israelites were in a very difficult situation. Their country had been overrun by the Babylonians. Friends, neighbors and family members had been killed. They were enslaved. And, worst of all, their temple was ransacked and its treasures looted. Now many of them were exiles in Babylon. It appeared God had forsaken them. They were tired, weary and on their own.

Then Isaiah questions them about something they seemed to be forgetting.
“28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.”
Why are you complaining? Why are you acting like you don’t know what God is like? He knows where you are and he will give you what you need.

Isaiah continues. “29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;”
God knows you are tired and weary to the point you feel like you can’t go on.

Then Isaiah gives them God’s solution to their problem.
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

God gives his people strength to face whatever challenges are in front of them. But only after they hope in him. If we want to apply this verse to our own lives, we have to deal with three questions that we get from this passage:

What makes us tired and weary?
How do we hope in the Lord?
How does God give us strength?

Let’s look at them one at a time beginning with the first one – What makes us tired and weary?

The reason the Israelites were tired and weary is obvious. Their nation was in shambles and they were prisoners.

Our answers to that question might not be as obvious. We still need to answer it. Many Christians have trouble doing this because they grew up being told, “Get over it.” or “Suck it up.” whenever something caused them emotional pain. This means they’ve never learned how to process their emotions. This type of thinking hinders us since God created us to be emotional beings.

The Lord’s had me on a journey over the last few months where I’m wrestling with these questions. The problem I’ve discovered is there is no magic wand we can wave and automatically make things better.

I’d like to share my story with you. Please don’t think I’m doing this because I’m complaining or because I want anything from you. I just want you to know that I know what it’s like to be in the spiritual battles that wear you out.

I grew up in a family where we loved each other. Even though we were poor, my parents made sure my sister and I had food, clothing and shelter. In addition to love, my father’s side of the family engrained the value of hard work in us from an early age. As a matter-of-fact, it was the most important thing a person could do. The quality of your work helped determine your worth. Work was also the solution to any mental or emotional problems that came along. You didn’t have to deal with these issues as long as you stayed busy. Even though the profit margin in our family logging business was always slim, we were able to work our way out of any problems that came along.

One area where I was blessed was with grades. I only had to study 10 or 15 minutes for most tests in school. If the subject matter was more difficult, I might have to put in 30- or 40-minutes’ worth of study time. School wasn’t much of a challenge for me.

After high school, I decided to work in the family business instead of going to college. I also married Stephanie and we had two daughters. When I was in my early 20’s, we sensed God was calling me into the pastoral ministry. I went through the TriM program, which is equivalent to three years of college.

For the next fifteen years, I worked as a logger while helping in the local congregation. The combined workload was usually 80-90 hours a week. When I hit my mid 30’s, I realized I couldn’t keep up this pace any longer. One day when I was praying, I told the Lord, “If you want me to stay in the family business, I’m going to quit preaching. If you want me to keep preaching, is there something else you have for me to do?” One thing led to another and we felt called to leave West Virginia and move to eastern PA where I would serve in my first full-time ministry position.

Right as we were leaving, our family business had to file for bankruptcy. Although we worked hard to try and save it, so many things came against us that we couldn’t do it. We couldn’t work our way out of this one.

Within a time-frame of six months, we filed for bankruptcy, sold the only home our girls ever lived in, moved out of the county where we were raised to a new state, left behind all of our family and friends, started a new career and the girls went from a rural school of 400 to a suburban school of 1600.

To say things went well would be a lie. The subculture in eastern PA is vastly different than the subculture we left in rural WV. The girls struggled to adjust. They hated their new school, had trouble making friends and really missed our family back home. While Stephanie adjusted OK, I too struggled with our new surroundings.

The congregation where I served is full of good people and they really love the Lord. When I interviewed there, they told me their desire for their congregation was to see people saved. I believe them. They do want to see people saved.

However, they want to see them saved according to their 1970s version of church. They didn’t want to do the things that were necessary to reach young people with the Gospel in our modern times. On more than one occasion, when I presented an idea to the church board, I was told, “Go ahead and do it if you can find somebody to help you.” Do you have any idea how hard it is to pastor a congregation where leadership has this attitude? This really frustrated me.

I also learned a difficult lesson about being a pastor during this time. We have to be very careful about getting too friendly with anyone in the congregation because it can cause problems. When non-Christians find out you’re a pastor, they’ll be friendly but they don’t want to be your friend. No one wants to hang out with a pastor. It’s a lonely job.

Some very difficult family issues arose when we were there. One of our daughters was diagnosed with anorexia and severe depression. Stephanie’s mom got sick and passed away. Dealing with the bankruptcy was stressful. Some other heartbreaking situations happened that I’m not at liberty to share here. Trying to deal with all of this overwhelmed me. I also developed depression.

Since we were so far away from family, we told some of the congregational leaders about our daughter’s anorexia and depression. They responded with, “We’ll pray for you.” One of them did send us a card but not one of them ever asked us how we were doing. This is how they typically treated us. But if something happened in their families, they expected me to be there for them. I felt like nothing more than a hired hand. After this, Stephanie and I didn’t share any personal struggles with them. Going through them alone is easier than reaching out for help and then still having to face them alone.

Even though I didn’t say anything vulgar, there were also some people in the congregation who would say, “I can’t believe a pastor would say that” whenever I’d say something I thought was funny. It seemed to me that I couldn’t be myself. I had act like a spiritual giant on the outside while knowing it wasn’t true on the inside. But I tried to play the part.

While all of this was happening, I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree and get my master’s. For five years I worked full-time while being a full-time student. It was the best five years of my life as well as the worst five years of my life. God used those years to teach me a lot but they also wore me out.

I realized after graduation that we’d gone as far as we could go serving in that congregation. Although we had done some good ministry together, it was time for us to part ways. But I had to wrestle with a serious question. Should I stay in ministry or get another job?

Since our family business went bankrupt and I couldn’t get that congregation moving, I felt like a failure. I honestly didn’t know if I had the skills or ability to be a pastor. I was also tired of being lonely and feeling like a hired-hand. 50.1 % of me wanted to stay in ministry but 49.9% of me wanted to walk away from pastoral ministry and never look back.

Stephanie and I spend a lot of time talking and praying about our situation. We decided to see if God had another place for us to serve. He led us here to the Snake Spring Valley Church of the Brethren.

I was excited to be part of a congregation that said during the interview process, “We’re looking for a pastor to help take us to the next level – whatever that is.”

When we came here, we’d moved past some of our struggles. I let the bankruptcy go because I knew everything we’d lost was gone for good. Hanging onto it would only make me a bitter person. We got treatment for our daughter so she no longer suffers from anorexia and depression. We’d moved past the other issues I can’t mention as best we could.

However, we brought some of our past with us. We’d been here about two months when I told Stephanie, “They really seem to like us.” I’ll never forget her response. She lowered her head, looked down and quietly said, “Yeah, we’ll see.” I just nodded because I knew exactly what she meant. Would the congregation be here for us when difficult things came our way or would we just be the “hired hand”?

I also needed to see if I was a failure at ministry or not so I put everything I had into being your pastor. I don’t know what all of you think but I believe we make a good team.

Then something happened to me back in the spring. I reached a point where I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. It was a struggle to make it through some days. This forced me to take a long, hard look at life and my relationship with the Lord. I realized something needed to change. The problem was I didn’t know what. I had to turn to the Lord for help. I had hope he could help me.

This leads us to our second question. How do we hope in the Lord?

The word “hope” in verse 31 can also be translated “wait.” The NIV Application Commentary says, “To ‘wait’ (hope) on God is not simply to mark time; rather, it is to live in confident expectation of his action on our behalf. It is to refuse to run ahead of him in trying to solve our problems for ourselves. Thus, just as Isaiah called on the people of his own day to trust God to solve their problems, he calls on the exiles in the age to come to do the same thing. If they are worn out and weary, hardly daring to believe that there is any future for them, the God of all strength can give them exactly what they need at the right time, whether to ‘soar,’ ‘run,’ or ‘walk.’”

As I’ve studied, prayed and sought counsel from others, I’ve realized something. Strength and healing don’t usually come quickly. The Israelites were in exile for decades so they could learn to follow God. It might take a while for me because God is working some things out of me so he can fill the empty spaces with something better. I need the Lord’s strength to do this.

Now I had to deal with the third question. How does God give us strength?

God sustained the Israelites for seventy years until they could return to Jerusalem and rebuild their city. I’ve discovered God is sustaining me while he works in my life. He’s also helping me realize some important lessons. As a result of this:

*God is giving me resources to help. He’s placed other pastors in my life who understand what it’s like and who let me be real. God’s put me in a small group where I can share honestly. We’re currently working through the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. It’s forcing me to take a look at myself. God’s also placed Stephanie and myself in a congregation that loves and supports us. Thank you.

*God showed me “Pastor Dave” has killed David Grimes. Pastor Dave is what I do. David Grimes is who I am. Because of my personality and past, I’ve been so consumed with being a pastor – and playing the part – that I’ve killed some parts of who God created me to be. I’m working at letting David Grimes come back.

*God showed me that I’ve been relying on hard work and natural abilities instead of him. There’s been periods where I’ve gone 3 or 4 weeks without actually having a day off. That’s ridiculous. God’s showing me that he doesn’t expect me to attend every event that happens in this congregation. It’s ok to say “no” to some things. He’s also shown me there are some obstacles hard work and natural abilities can’t overcome. Only God can do this. The Lord’s been reminding me that it’s not about me. It’s about him.

*My faith and trust in Jesus are growing stronger. The more I’m willing to let go of past hurts, my pride and my desire to control things, the more peace and healing God is bringing into my life. I’m not where I need to be right now but I’m moving in the right direction.

So, in the areas where you’re tired, are you willing to give them over to God? He doesn’t typically use our prayers to change our difficult circumstances. He uses our difficult circumstances to change us.

If you’re not willing to surrender your hurts, pain and pride to God, he’ll let you keep going until you are. Believe me, I know.

The problem is most people aren’t willing to give things over to God until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same. If you’re ready to seek rest and strength in Jesus, he’s ready to give it to you. But it has to be on his terms.