Encouragements for the Woman Who Feels Sidelined

by Christine M. Chappell
There was a season a few years back when the Lord made it extremely clear (through a series of circumstances and struggles) that it was my turn to sit on the sidelines. I remember the depression that sunk me low because my grasp on ministry activities and service was forced loose. It was as if divine pliers pryed back every one of my fingers to release the clench of idolatry from my sweaty palms. I did not want to step away from ministry or leadership, but there simply was no other choice at the time.

During those months, I forced myself to park on the ministry bench instead of "play in the game". Being a former athlete, it didn't sit well with my nature. The grief I felt in letting go of performance–based tasks and goals was so sorrowful, I entered into one of the darkest periods of my adult life.

Little did I know, the Lord wasn't putting me out of the action. He was rather putting me on the playing field of my heart. God was taking my external activity and exchanging it for a season of internal growth. He wasn't asking what I could be doing for other people, but rather was calling my heart's attention to what Christ had already done for me.

If you are a sister in Christ feeling depressed, anxious, bitter, or angry because you have been sidelined from service, here are some truths that I want you to remember as you take your turn to "sit out."
There are seasons of service and seasons of sitting.
If you are used to serving others rather enthusiastically, seasons of sitting probably don't settle well with you. Realize that the Lord gives us both of these seasons for a good purpose. Fruit doesn't grow on the tree all year long. There are periods of growth in the root system that take place solely underground in off-seasons, where no one can see. The same must be true of us, especially if we are to keep our selfish ambitions from being at the center of our ministry activity. Seasons of sitting are not a waste of time, but instead give you the time you need to to build up genuine, tested faith. If God has purposed you for a break, humbly accept what his hand is extending, and in due time, you will be restored.
"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
– Matthew 23:12
Being busy for Christ is not the same as being transformed by Christ.
We can easily mistake ministry and volunteer activity for spiritual growth, but in reality, there's a risk of being "all-in" for service at the expense of our relationship with God. Surely there are sacrifices to be made for the sake of ministering to others, but giving up time spent drawing near to God through prayer and his word should not be one of them. Given the choice between ministry activity, or sitting at the feet of Jesus in your home, be at peace knowing the latter is always God's desire for you. The former he will commission in due time.
"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
– Micah 6:8
God doesn't need your effort to grow his Kingdom.
This sitting period is a blessing in disguise, designed to not only grow you in ways you cannot imagine, but to remind you that the weight of the world is not on your shoulders. The gospel moves forward and lives continue to be transformed—with or without your service. Of course, we delight to serve. No doubt, God uses our good works to bring himself glory. Absolutely, our sacrifices of selflessness are an important part of living out our faith. But he is never ultimately dependent upon our activity, and we aren't letting him down by keeping still when he has made it clear for us to do so. This is a matter of your obedience. Let someone else carry the load for a time as you recharge, and rejoice that you aren't given the task to save the world on your own. That's a job designated only for One.
"...nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything."
– Acts 17:25
Ministry doesn't stop when it stops being public.
Unless you're completely isolated, there are surely people around you who can still receive the blessing of your personal ministry. Though the scale may be smaller, in the eyes of the Lord, the task is all the more great. Remember that she who is faithful in little can be trusted with much, and even the smallest gestures of charity are seen by a God who delights to give us his kingdom. It may be that this season of sitting serves the likely purpose of calling your attention elsewhere, such as to work intentionally on developing your marriage, discipling your children, caring for a family member, or to focus on pursing a significant period of spiritual growth. Whatever the case may be, don't assume because you are sitting on the sidelines that you have lost all purpose. It is often from the bench we come to understand our true calling–simply because we were still long enough to listen.
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master!'"
– Matthew 5:21
Watching others perform ministry duties as you're watching from afar can be a painful place to be, sometimes. We want in on the action, the teamwork, and the chance to be a part of something big. But friend, you are already part of something big—or Someone big, I should say. In Christ, you serve a gracious Master who knows where your time is best spent. You can trust His providence in this season, and wait expectantly as he reveals where your gifts and service are most needed. Resist the temptation to prove yourself during this season of sitting. Humility is one of the finest ways we can image Christ to the world.

Through the lulls in our ministry service, we can come to a deeper understanding of the assurances to be found in the gospel–of what it means to truly trust God with the fabric of our lives. Submitting to God's plan for our time keeps us humble, dependent upon grace, and hopeful for what lies upon the horizon. Expect this season to reap a harvest as you allow your heart to be wooed by God's love. Lean in, trust him, and take a seat. Let Jesus coach you up in grace as you await his perfect timing to send you back into the action.
Christine M. Chappell
Author/Writer/Speaker
Christine Chappell is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart, and is a guest contributor at Desiring God. She writes frequently about mental health topics at her blog, has completed biblical counseling certificates with the Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, and is currently pursuing certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.
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