A follow-up to my previous post, “Counting the Cost of Ministry.”
Here I am, calling people to do hard things when I find myself struggling under the weight of very same hard things that God has called me to do. This week has been particularly difficult – having one of those days where you want to quit everything, but there’s really no way to escape. I find it difficult to bear the weight of being the spiritual leader of a body of believers, extending the call of God to live sacrificially for his kingdom, while at the same time struggling to make it through each day of my own hardships. Don’t get me wrong, there is great joy in the ministry, and I am seeing the fruit of our investment in others, but I struggle when the joys seem to be spread out between the frustrations. There really is a cost to doing what God calls us to do.
I also have entered these hardships with a family. We have chosen these difficulties and share the costs together. Yet, when I see my loved ones struggling under the hardships of ministering to others, even though this is what we collectively “signed on for,” their struggle adds to my own hardship. I feel responsible for the happiness of my wife and children and culpable for their struggle with the hardship. It’s hard for me to find and focus on the JOY of ministry while those I have brought along with me are struggling to keep their head above water. Did we count the cost? – yes, I believe so. Was the cost greater than we anticipated? – yes, absolutely! I could not have imagined the kinds and intensity of the struggles we have experienced. Are we truly in the will of God? – yes, I think my wife and I would both agree that we are. Does that make it any easier? – not really, we still seem to have more “life sucks” moments lately than we have “what an awesome privilege it is to be used of God” ones. Would I make different choices? – No, I would not. I am right where God wants me to be.
I felt a bit hypocritical with the last post, not because any of it was not true – I stand by it. But because the “hard”-ness I spoke of is particularly hard right now. Too hard to really share with anyone. My wife and I even have a hard time sharing it with each other – expecting one another to find their joy in the Lord while we struggle to do so ourselves. Philippians 4 is instructive. It reminds us to rejoice always, learn to be content (and it is indeed something we must learn), to minister in the strength God provides, to think about good things. These are all things God is teaching us. Part of what I meant about the cost of ministry may not have come through in my last post. There is a cost, and I am not delighting in paying it! But without this cost, without this struggle with the hardness of ministry, without truly experiencing the “fellowship of suffering” with and for Christ, I would never have the opportunity to grow in these areas – and I NEED to grow!
See, the hardness of ministry has done nothing for my pride for all it has done is expose my weakness. And I am beginning to understand what Paul meant when he said that he glories in his weakness and that when he is weak, he is strong. You see, doing hard things for the Lord really brings no glory to me. Not that I wouldn’t seek it (my flesh is weak) but because, for whatever reason, no one is impressed. In fact, doing hard things is actually humbling because the truth is I can’t handle it! I’m screwing up more than I’m succeeding and the pressure is often too much to bear. That’s a big part of the cost for me – I can’t do what I am striving to do, what God has called me to do, without total dependence on Him. That’s not just preacher-speak, I’m learning this truth the hard way. God certainly isn’t impressed by my efforts for him and He is more than happy to let me fail. No, the hard things I’m doing are actually turning out to be God’s gift to me, as much as I hate that. The cost is too great if I am left to myself. What I thought was meritorious for me (Look how awesome a Christian Todd is everybody!) has just caused me to realize how incompetent I am at modeling the Christian faith. It has made me go back and realize (Phil 4 again) just how much I DON’T rejoice, how often I am NOT content, how I am trying to do all things through whatever strength I can muster ON MY OWN, and focusing on the negative more often than not. Hi, I’m Todd, and I am failing miserably.
So do I still stand by my challenge to DO hard things and jump in with both feet? Absolutely, but not for the reasons you might think and not with the full confidence of a man who is doing swell. I DO believe God is working through me and my family as we do the hard work of ministry. I am indeed seeing lives changed as a result. But the biggest and perhaps most significant changes are happening in me. If I actually make it through this season of ministry and survive with my faith intact, it will be because the cost of ministry is driving me to the Lord like nothing before. Prayer has gone from being a duty to being vital for survival. Faith has gone from being an abstract concept to being something I fight for and the only thing that gives me hope. The gospel has become something I preach to myself over and over again. I am being reminded how much I still need repentance. The quest for holiness in many areas of life has moved to the top of my priority list. And the lives of my family and the people to who I am ministering have become more important than my own. The Lord’s glory has become more important than making a name for myself. Have I thus “arrived”? Not by a long shot. I wish! In fact, to be honest I revert back to my old patterns far too often. But God is changing me, little by little, and is using the struggles that have come from our choice to do hard things for Him.
So, even as I have these “second thoughts,” I am thankful for the hardship in my life even as I sometimes wish I could escape it. I am thankful that God is allowing me to struggle through what it really means to follow Him. I am thankful that he is allowing me to see some of the fruit of ministry and the evidences of His grace in the lives of the people to who we are ministering. I am thankful for that same grace in my own life. I am confident that God is at work in me and through me, even though I really don’t fully understand His ways. And I am praying for strength for the journey because I still am confident that being a follower of Jesus, with all the hardship included, is indeed worth it! That’s my heart. On second thought, I still choose to follow Him!