This article could be addressed to Christ’s disciples throughout the church. Every person engaged in ministry knows well the discouragement and fatigue that go along with it. How many of us have not taken the towel of ministry in hand, poised to throw it in, walk away, and move on to less frustrating endeavors?
But I write to pastors because I am one and I write first to myself. I have heard of pastors who daily think of resigning, some even having letters of resignation on file. Frustration, failure and fear are wolves lurking outside the study door.
The God we serve anticipates our weariness—and ministers to us in it. I’d like to highlight two passages that offer great encouragement and grace to help us persevere.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1–3).
Facing opposition from the world is one thing, but pastors know that opposition can come from within the church as well. Members who comprise the church militant can be insubordinate to their vows and AWOL in their involvement. Being the face of the church he is, every pastor knows well the brunt of criticism for virtually everything under the big tent of church happenings.
On top of that the machinery of ministry can be unsavory. Pastors can be chewed up and spit out by their ineptness at playing the political game by which things get accomplished in a church culture. The poor, pitiable pastor who thinks ministry of prayer and Word is sufficient, without political savvy and machinations.
Just when we start to feel sorry for ourselves, the writer of Hebrews directs our attention to Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, the One who sacrificed not only His time and comforts but His very life, was scorned and forsaken by men. Even those closest to Him deserted Him in His hour of need.
How was Jesus able to press on? He kept His eyes on the Father He loved, His hand to the plow of His calling, and His heart with those He came to save. He employed the means laid out by the Father and that reflected His wisdom, and promised His success.
So that we do not grow weary and lose heart we want to rivet our eyes on Jesus. He is our strength, who sat down in priestly victory and rules on high for His church. He is our example, who pressed on against opposition and adversity.
Perhaps the best way to put it is that we need to focus and feed our faith. The Old Testament examples of Hebrew 11 that flow into our passage of Hebrews 12 are testimonies of faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith sees the unseen realities of God and operates on the basis of them.
Another passage offers us encouragement.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Sometimes ministry seems like pouring time and effort into a bucket with no bottom. Our faith flags. We come to the point where we say “Why bother? Nothing’s going to happen.” Our initiatives to mobilize the people we serve seem to have as much chance of success as the purchase of a lottery ticket. A chance, yes; a probability, not likely. But we do them because that’s our job.
We wonder why God doesn’t work more powerfully or more conspicuously. After all, isn’t this His work? Doesn’t He tell us in His Word that the things we seek are His will?
Yet the apostle urges us, ordained and non-ordained alike, that there will be something to be reaped from our perseverance in ministry. Appearances to the contrary, God is at work. Again, our faith is addressed to look to the unseen things. There is more to ministry than meets the eye.
Isn’t that just what Jesus did? He entrusted Himself to the Father and committed Himself to His ways. Though He pleaded in the garden for the horrific cup of God’s wrath to be taken from His hand, He submitted Himself to the Father’s will, knowing it to be the way of wisdom and victory. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, dismissing its shame, in the certainty that it would produce the harvest of righteousness.
Sometimes God gives pastors a glimpse of fruitfulness in their ministry. People who long since departed the church reestablish contact to ask forgiveness or to express thanks for the pastor’s ministry to them. But such affirmations are not what fuels persevering ministry. Ministry must be fueled by faith that knows God and trusts God. Such faith believes that God is at work and results will be had.
Pastors need to take the tact of the psalmist in Psalms 42 and 43. The psalmist was distraught. He was taunted by men. God seemed to have deserted him. His tears were his food, day and night. Times of ministry heyday haunted him.
Rather than be swallowed up by despair, however, the psalmist spoke up. Not to God, not to his oppressors. He spoke up to himself.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation (Psalm 42:5).
Three times in these two psalms he rebukes himself and redirects his focus. In same way, we cannot let our unbelief rule the day. Rather, we must fortify our faith with the nourishment of truth, the unseen realities on which our faith is based. We in ministry want to take heed to the words of the prophet Habakkuk.
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17–19).
Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.