A friend who is a budding preacher wrote me for advice about what to do when you lose your sense of discipline and devotion. It’s a real issue. There are times in ministry when your spiritual vitality is strong, but there are also times when your devotional life is inconsistent, your communion with God weak, and your prayer life empty.
You must not take these times lightly. The heart is the wellspring of life (Prov. 4:23) and the primary instrument of Christian ministry. Your ministerial work is in vain if not done from the overflow of a heart devoted to the Lord. You can become anxious and troubled like Martha if you don’t sit at the feet of Jesus like Mary (Luke 10:38–42).
What should you do when you begin to lose your sense of spiritual devotion and discipline in ministry?
Lesson from Elisha
In 2 Kings 6:1–7, we encounter the “sons of the prophets,” a group of young preachers studying under Elisha. So many lads joined this upstart seminary that they soon ran out of space to house everyone. With Elisha’s permission and encouraging presence, the men began to chop wood near the Jordan River to build a new dormitory.
Imagine the scene. A large group of men are out in the woods, cutting down trees to build a school to train for ministry. Now focus on one young prophet who has borrowed an axe to help with the building project. He’s furiously attacking a tree, one mighty blow after another. But after one particularly powerful swing, the handle suddenly goes light in his hands. The force almost knocks him down. He looks up just in time to see his axe head splash into the river. The river quickly becomes still, but the young man is a raging sea within. He lost his cutting edge, his power element, the thing that made him effective.
Your ministerial work is in vain if not done from the overflow of a heart devoted to the Lord.
This can happen to any of us. It has surely happened to me. There have been seasons when I’ve been so spiritually dry that I could spit dust. And it can happen to you. (Warning: Don’t scoff or dismiss this reality if it hasn’t happened to you yet. Thank God. Be humble. And memorize 1 Corinthians 10:12.)
What should you do when you lose your cutting edge? Here are five suggestions for making a comeback.
1. Practice regular self-evaluation.
This young man chopping wood may have lost his cutting edge because of negligence. I’d bet that axe head didn’t just fly off the handle randomly; it had been loosening over time. Little by little, it was working itself loose. But he was so busy swinging that he didn’t notice. That’s how life is. A flat tire is rarely the result of a sudden blowout; often there’s been a nail in it for some time.
So practice regular self-evaluation to ensure your communion with God is tight. You may not have to recover your axe head if you maintain it properly.
2. Take a break.
When this young man lost his cutting edge, he stopped swinging. This reflects wisdom. Think about it: had he continued swinging, he wouldn’t have accomplished anything. He would’ve only been banging on the wood—only making noise, wasting time, and losing energy without progress. So he stopped swinging.
So should you. If you sense you’ve lost your cutting edge, take a break. Rest. Pray. Reconnect with God. Get back into the Word. Spend time with your family. Clarify your purpose. Return to your first love. For God’s sake, please stop swinging! If you’ve lost your axe head, you’re only getting in the way of the real work.
3. Remember you’re just a steward.
“Alas, my master! It was borrowed” (2 Kings 6:5). That was the budding prophet’s initial response when he lost his cutting edge. He lamented the loss of the axe head because it didn’t belong to him; it belonged to someone else. It was borrowed. A kind neighbor permitted him to use it, but the axe was not his to keep. It would have to be returned. He would answer to the owner for the lost axe head.
Likewise, your gifts, talents, position, relationships, and opportunities are not yours. You are not your own (1 Cor. 6:19–20). You are a manager, a steward, a trustee of that which belongs to Another. And you’ll answer to the Lord for all he’s entrusted to you to manage.
4. Ask for help.
The young man’s lamentation—“Alas, my master!”—was also a cry for help. There was nothing he could do about the situation on his own. He needed help. I’m not sure he expected Elisha to perform a miracle, but he recognized he needed help.
So do you. You cannot recover your cutting edge on your own. Call on the Lord; ask him to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And call on those the Lord has placed in your life for fellowship, encouragement, and accountability. The Enemy wants you to think you’re in the battle by yourself. You aren’t. God has placed people in your life who can help you stay on the right track. Don’t be too proud to seek help.
5. Examine yourself.
Elisha responded to the young man’s cry for help with a question: “Where did it fall?” (2 Kings 6:6). This question required the young man to look back, retrace his steps, and think about his situation.
Indeed, the unexamined life is rarely effective. Take the time and trouble to examine yourself. Where is your cutting edge? Where did you lose it? When did you lose it? What should you do now? How can you retrieve it?
The story of the axe head ends with a miracle. Elisha threw a stick into the water, and the axe head began to float. The iron swam! God sovereignly intervened to restore what was lost.
He can do that for you, too, when you find that you’ve lost your cutting edge.
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