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Six Habits to Help You Hold On in Tough Times

I’ve served in ministry for more than half a century, and I’ve walked with the Lord for over 60 years. I’ve lived through seasons of great joy and great struggle. 

I have no doubt that you, too, will experience tough times as you remain faithful in ministry. Unfortunately, you can count on it. 

Ministry isn’t a 50-yard sprint; it is a marathon. I want you to finish the race God has placed before you. Your faithfulness matters—to your family, to your church, and to God. 

Paul wrote this reminder in Colossians 2:6: “You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following him” (CEV).

I want to empower you—no matter what ministry you’re in—to keep on. Anyone can thrive in ministry for six months or even five years. But I’m praying you’ll stay faithful for a lifetime!

Over the years, six habits have helped me to keep going even when life was difficult. When you’re physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually down, these habits will give you the strength you need to thrive. They aren’t things I pulled from some book; I pulled them from my own life and ministry.

  1. Keep my life clean.

I’ve read hundreds of Christian biographies about men and women God has used over the centuries. And I’ve noticed something: Refinement precedes a new assignment. Before God begins to use someone in a new and greater way, God cleans their life.

Paul showed us this when he wrote to Timothy, “All who make themselves clean from evil will be used for special purposes. They will be made holy, useful to the Master, ready to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 NCV). God isn’t looking for talented people to use for his work; he’s looking for people who desire to live clean lives, free from sin. 

  1. Keep my eyes open. 

It’s easy to get tunnel vision and become self-focused when you’re experiencing a tough time. It’s natural in those times to think about your own problems. But Psalm 105:4 says, “Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works; be alert for signs of his presence” (The Message).

The most misunderstood word in ministry is vision. I hear people regularly say how important it is to be a visionary. Vision isn’t about seeing the future. The last two years have taught us that no one can predict the future. Vision is seeing God at work in your present situation and staying in step with him.

  1. Keep my heart grateful.

Doctors say the healthiest emotion is gratitude. God uses grateful people. God does not use or bless ungrateful people. The Bible encourages us to, “Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ” (1 Peter 3:15 The Message). 

What I’ve learned is people burn out in ministry because they’ve let grumbling replace gratitude. You’ll find plenty of issues to grumble about in ministry. We live in a broken world. You work with broken people, so you can’t expect everything to always go right. Ministry is messy. That’s why gratefulness is the key to longevity in ministry.

  1. Keep my purpose firm. 

To prepare for difficult days, memorize this verse: “You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3 GNT). 

Whenever you’re confused or in doubt about anything in your life, always return to the five purposes found in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission: to know and love God, to belong to his family, to grow in Christ, to serve Christ, and to share Christ. That’s the elemental chart of the Christian life. When you’re in doubt and confused, always return to God’s purposes.

  1. Keep my focus on God’s Word.

When times are tough, you can’t depend upon the news or your social media feed. You must hold on to God’s Word no matter what. Why? Hebrews 6:18 tells us: “These two things cannot change: God cannot lie when he makes a promise, and he cannot lie when he makes an oath. These things encourage us who came to God for safety. They give us strength to hold on to the hope we have been given” (NCV).

You can depend upon God’s Word in difficult times because it’s always true. You never have to wonder whether you will find safety in the Bible. 

  1. Keep my mind on Jesus.

Psychologists talk about two kinds of motivation—internal and external. We are motivated externally when we do something because of the promised reward or the fear of punishment. We are motivated internally when we do something because it makes us feel fulfilled, expresses our gifts, makes people like us, or gives us some other kind of positive feeling. 

But there’s a higher motivation. The impact our ministries are having on eternity is a far stronger motivation than either external or internal. That’s why Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us to “run with endurance the race God has set before us . . . by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (NLT). 

Jesus could put up with anything because he always kept his eyes on eternity. That’s why he could endure the cross. Keeping your mind on eternity will also help you endure the trials of ministry. 

Pastor, you may feel like quitting right now. Don’t do it. Tough times never last. Just remember, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).

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