The Evils that Befall our Ministry

I was recently reading one of the prayers in Valley of Vision, page 336, as I do each morning with my Scripture reading. This was on the Monday after I had preached twice at our church the previous day. As I read this particular Puritan prayer, he gave some areas that he fell into. It appears that he might have often struggled with these. As I read them, I identified with all four. I was struck by the clarity with which they came off the page. I immediately thought through my last 10 years of ministry, and how each of these “evils” has been a part of my life. Below are the evils he said he faced…maybe you can think of more to add to the list????

The first “evil” he discussed was…

Discouragement and shame – from the coldness of our private devotion. Often we as pastors face discouragement. We can begin to feel inadequate or unsuccessful. These are the moments when we have allowed the false notions about adequacy and success to creep into our minds. We take a worldly approach to both ideas. Shame was the other part to this “evil.” We have shame of failure to produce what we might expect of ourselves. It may be that the congregation looks to us with unreal expectations and when we don’t meet them, shame settles in. Whatever the example or scenario may be, both of these stem from a wrong view of self in the presence of God our Father. We can easily take our eyes off of Him and place them on ourselves. As we buckle down in ministry and seek to persevere through the discouraging or even shameful times, we actually have made a bad decision. Instead of buckling down and focusing more on self, we should turn our focus toward Christ. However easy that may sound, the truth is, we rarely do it. Instead of gleaning faithfully from the Word on a regular basis, we begin to do other “aspects” of ministry and neglect the one quintessential; quiet, alone, and regular time in the Word.

The next “evil” he mentioned was…

Carelessness – natural dullness and dimness of spirit. This is probably a concern for older men in ministry. As young men, it is easier to maintain zeal, passion, and fire. We naturally have more energy to burn the candle at both ends. But as time passes, the natural zeal, passion, and energy fades. Part of it is just the facts of the fall and the deterioration of the physical body. However, another aspect is the desensitization to the need to a faithful walk with Christ. Complacency sets in and the thoughts of retirement and playing golf take over. Before you think I am making this up, I could tell you a personal story where this very truth took place. How do we as younger men guard ourselves from this, and how do the older men avoid or reorient themselves to the zeal of the Word? I think it goes back to the issue above, maintain a real, consistent, quiet, and alone time in the Word.

“Evil” number three…

Infirmities and Weakness – from wanting of spiritual light, life, and power. As I am not the Puritan who wrote the prayer, I can only make assumptions based upon my study of them. It seems to me that many of these men faced extremely difficult health issues. The first would be the era in which they lived. All men faced health issues. Sickness was a real problem, and anyone at anytime could contract anything. But notice what the Puritan added, “from wanting of spiritual light, life, and power.” As I have studied these men, there was a great sense of anxious desire. First, they longed for personal salvation. They agonized over the depths of their personal sin and the redemptive work of God. They also longed for a sanctified/holy life. They didn’t just want to be “good” Christians, they wanted to be holy men of God. Any slight consideration of sin in their inner life caused the deepest sense of excruciating pain in their heart. To take this one step further, they had the same desires for the men and women they pastored. As clergy they saw themselves as spiritual physicians of the flock. While someone may fault them for a morbid introspection, I think we should understand and imitate that immense desire for the work of God in our lives.

We may all have varying opinions of the doctrines of the Puritans, but we should all agree they were mighty men of God who sought to pastor well. There is much we can learn from them here in the 21st century!

Comments

  1. says

    The Puritans were astute students of the Bible and the soul. Their writings have survived the centuries to comfort souls. Among the works that I have most helpful are the following: The Rare Jewell of Christian Contentment, A Lifting Up For the Downcast, and Flavel’s work on Divine Providence. There are others, and I have a number of them in my library. When I was 21 and before I went to my first church (I think it was the same year 1962), I wandered into Amitin’s Book Store in St. Louis. There were two stacks of Nichol’s Standard Divines, both as tall as me – about six feet. I purchased a 3 vol. set for $2 a volume of David Clarkson’s works, and several volumes of Richard Sibbes. I did not know then what an opportunity I had: probably 60-100 volumes of Puritans for $2/a volume. Within a year, Clarkson would change my view of Man’s Fall. Other changes would follow.

  2. says

    Dr. James,

    I really admire the Puritans. They sought to exhaust God’s Word through their lives. I seek to grab all their collections, whenever I can.

  3. says

    Andy,

    Thanks for this. I love to read the Puritans. These words are very wise and we should take them to heart. One of the reasons I think MLJ was so blessed in his ministry and so effective as a preacher and teacher was his saturation in the Puritans.

    Thanks again.

    Les