RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Sometimes despair waits at the bottom of a deep valley, or in the middle of a parched journey through the desert.
Sometimes it hides atop a glorious sun-washed mountain, ready to ambush you when you reach the summit.
Who can imagine how abandoned Winston Churchill felt when he was turned out of office as prime minister in 1945, right after leading Britain from its darkest depths to victory in World War II? He regained the top post in 1951, but rejection by the British public at his hour of triumph must have been bitter indeed. He already had struggled more than once with depression — the “black dog,” as he called it.
Elijah must have felt a similar sense of discouragement. He challenged the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and believed God would keep His promise to bring rain to a dry and famine-wracked land. The prophets were crushed. The rains came. And what was Elijah’s reward for courageous faith and obedience? A death sentence from Queen Jezebel.
Elijah ran in terror to Beersheba, collapsed under a tree and prayed to die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (I Kings 19:4).
Every servant who seeks to follow the Master will experience such trials. At the moment of apparent victory, enemies multiply. At the moment of supreme joy, the Lord suddenly seems absent — or indifferent. “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” the disciples cried, shaking awake a sleeping Jesus as the waves swamped their storm-tossed boat (Luke 8:24).
He cares — more than we can ever know. He calmed the storm. But He works on His own timetable, not ours. And the world, the flesh and the devil will resist His work by any means necessary. It’s especially important for workers on difficult mission fields to remember these two realities.
On one such field in Asia, spiritual warfare and persecution long seemed to be the only responses to the Gospel. But things appeared to be changing for the better last year — until a new wave of resistance inevitably came.
“There was a long season where the ground was so hard,” wrote a missionary. “We covered the land with prayer that fell like sweet rain to soften the ground. Next, there was a season for tilling and readying the land, and then a season for planting. We feel that now we are in the season where the shoots have begun to come up from the ground. These shoots are tender and delicate, and must be treated carefully. It’s not the great harvest yet, but we feel the harvest is soon to come. In this new season, as the plants are beginning to grow, we have found our enemy is frantic to stop what [God] is doing.”
The enemy’s most effective weapon: discouragement.
“One [local Christian] worker is feeling bitter, angry and negative,” the missionary reported. “Another has found it difficult to remember to do the right thing in multiple instances and has chosen hurt rather than repentance. One man is dealing with a constant temptation to sin and is hurting the ones he loves in the process. Still others are working hard but seeing little or no fruit. Some believers are feeling stranded and alone. Others are under close watch by the government, having been threatened, and even beaten, multiple times. Some workers struggle with language and culture barriers. One woman had an emotional, spiritual and physical breakdown.
“A common thought in nearly everyone’s mind is, ‘I just want to quit.’ Please pray for hope, strength, faith, love and obedience.”
The missionary has heard of similar attacks in many places.
“This intimidation tactic is widespread at this moment throughout Asia,” the missionary wrote. “We have heard from at least 20 discouraged people that they want to quit –- and many actually have. Others have been forced to leave by the authorities of the countries where they live.”
One Asian Christian group struggles with a sense of “spiritual lethargy, distractedness and discontent,” according to another field report. “Many are finding that life seems to have more than the usual number of setbacks, a greater heaviness in the spiritual realm, greater difficulty in sustaining a healthy spiritual life, discouragement and sickness.”
They have set up special days of prayer to combat these feelings and the spiritual darkness that comes with them. “Pray that the clouds of discouragement will be lifted, that the enemy will be opposed and that God’s people will overcome these obstacles,” they appealed. “Pray that God’s people will walk disciplined lives and will stand firm in prayer despite their feelings.”
Let us answer that call to prayer, because God is moving in Asia and in every other part of the world. If He weren’t, there would be no resistance. In time He will bring a harvest, if His workers do not weary in well-doing. We can lift them out of discouragement and despair by standing beside them, serving them –- and, most of all -– praying for them.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” promises the Psalmist. “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” (Psalm 34:18-19).
Erich Bridges is senior writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.