“…Discouragement: The greatest occupational hazard of the believer…”
As I began to read this book for the first time, preparing for my review, I had to stop in the phrase above in total awe of the truthfulness of it! Anyone who is honest about their feelings, especially those in the ministry, will have to admit that an aspect of being a Christian minister that is as connected to the ministry as the calling to minister itself, is the fact that ministers will often be discouraged and unfortunately many, for lack of resources, committed fellowships, etc. will allow the discouragement to become such a heavy burden that they will no longer be able to function as ministers and worst, as Christians!
Thankfully there is this book, written brilliantly and in a way that ministers, specifically, but also the folk in the pew, will understand the reasons for discouragement and hopefully deal with them.
Chapters are subtitled “How to…” which turns the book into an useful “how to” manual. It is always refreshing when an author not merely points to problems but also prescribe valuable and applicable solutions to such problems. Stott does that very well in this book.
THE TARGET AUDIENCE
As I mentioned above, every Christian can find useable information in this book as to how to deal with discouragement. But ministers, those who minister to congregations of any size, bound to a denominational creed, or the self-proclaimed independents will benefit from the “how to” prescriptions offered in this book. If you are not a minister — but have experienced bouts with discouragement, or the euphemistically called “spiritual burn-out,” — do not shy away from reading and applying the “how to” principles of this book. These concepts are easily adaptable to you whether you are a Sunday School teacher, a choir director, a music director, or in any activity in which one may be overcome by this “occupational hazard” called discouragement.
It is not a large book, so in reviewing it I was often tempted to review chapter by chapter, and perhaps allow my feelings and experiences as someone who have been honored by God to exercise the function of a minister in two different countries — as one who could not escape seeing my own personal story written in the pages of this book! Had I done so, however, I would never have finished this review and it would not be as easy for those who are considering reading this book to make a decision about reading it; the review would be perhaps larger than the book!
So, my method here will be to comment on some outstanding portions of the book. Here are them classified not specifically in any order of importance:
- A Personal Ministry to you: When Stott mentions the “Problem of Discouragement – How to Persevere Under Pressure,” he inserts the teaching of the Apostle Paul as a direct mention of discouragement: In “Do not lose heart…” — as if Stott is preaching directly to you — he writes, “I’d like us to turn to 2 Corinthians 4 and I hope you don’t mind if I give you a little Greek lesson” – this type of personal ministry to the reader will make this “how to manual” be a very intimate conversation with the author, whose credentials to provide advice, and “give us a little lesson in Greek” is indisputable. He then proceeds in a brilliant exposition of the text — crowning his arguments by stating to us why we should not “lose heart.” Readers will be glad they are not reading some broad concepts of a haughty author dispensing his erudite knowledge of a particular text, but he is actually ministering to you! That’s the way I felt; as if I were in his office and he was talking to me! Discouraged people, or people struggling with discouragement, need this personal ministry and Stott provides it throughout the book!
- It is a book of personal discipline: Most of us, people in the ministry often struggle to be disciplined and orderly. The book lines up three kinds of discipline that are especially beneficial for those compulsive workers that frequently, in times of stress, are open to discouragement — the need for time off, even an afternoon siesta (God is good after all…) taking the example he learned in Latin America; along with the repentance of the vice of punctuality; the need for hobbies; and, time with family and friends, meaning, friendships. He, as a biblical preacher, applies a text of Paul in 2 Timothy to support to his thesis by mentioning that Paul who was a great Christian was not afraid to admit that he needed friends. Oh, that hurts, I would say, because most of us ministers know very well that we are not supposed to have “close friendships” with no one since that may impair our ability to minister to them, but here Stott says, YES, we need friendships as Paul also needed.
- Time for Devotion: Ministers have to study so much to teach that they deplete themselves of that they need to learn for themselves. I learned that one when I was still in ministry school. This is one of the areas of Self Discipline within the remedies to combat discouragement. In fact, this book is a book in and of itself of Self-Discipline in my opinion! Anyone who needs a “list” of Self-Discipline applicable suggestions will find it in this entire book!
- A book about Respect and trust in Relationships: Throughout the book Stott uses “live” first-hand experiences in his life to teach us some principles. When laying out principles of trust in relationships he tells a humorous one about one of his missionary recruits who responded to “how he was getting along in his new country.” Worth reading and laughing at the response. However, better yet to check it out and honestly conclude that perhaps all of us would have given the same answers and still would not have identified such answers as a problem. I feel tempted in transcribing the story here — but, read the book, read the chapter. Find how important it is to learn how to trust and respect committed relationships, whether they be with your peers or with the people whom you are entrusted by God to work. Furthermore in the aspect of relationships, Stott deals with very simple principles, or mistakes, that we all commit, such as the inability to recognize redemptive worth on people, the incapacity to listen, and all the other aspects that many of us take for granted and consider them to be an “aside” (and why, even an inconvenience) in our ministerial life!
IN SUMMARY, I said that I did not want to make this review larger than the book. Let me just tell you that if you are in ministry you should do what the writer of the Foreword (Ajith Fernando, Teaching Director of Youth for Christ) says: “…I read this book slowly, as part of my devotions…” Yes, this is a devotional book! I loved it, I recommend this to anyone.
Remember, often it is not “if” you will get discouraged, but “when!” Discouragement may not be something that is inherent to your activity as a minister, but rather, I remind you, it is an “…occupational hazard…” This book will, at a minimum, if you are one of the lucky ones whose dangers of discouragement have not yet assailed you, prepare you “when” it comes!