Do you know what it is to lose heart and become discouraged in your ministry?
A few weeks ago I took my mother to Arkansas for the funeral of her brother. The funeral was in Monticello, Ark., a place that we used to go often when I was growing up. (Lots of good memories there.) To look at a map, it seems to be pretty easy to get there (coming from central Texas). You exit off I30 at Hope, Arkansas and then take Highway 278 all the way there. Sounds easy enough except along the way, the road occasionally changes directions and one sometimes has to make a left or right in order to stay on this road. At one point, I apparently missed a turn. We came to a stop sign and 278 was nowhere to be found. I turned my telephone on and looked at the map. I pushed one button and a blue light began flashing, showing me where we were on the map. We were not far off at all. It is amazing that a satellite can find me in my car in southern Arkansas!
John Ortberg has written: “… the irony of our day is that while maps have given way to global navigation systems; while a satellite can pinpoint our location and direct us from thousands of miles away, we have a lost a sense of moral or spiritual bearing. We have exponentially increased our ability to locate our bodies, but lost confidence in the capacity to locate or direction our souls.” (John Ortberg, Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, 2 (2009) p. 247)
Sometimes we just get lost in our ministries. We lose the sense of what God is doing in us and among us. We look at what is happening (or what doesn’t seem to be happening) in our ministries and wonder if any of this really matters. Am I doing any good here? Do my efforts matter? Why do I put myself through a ministry like this? Is anything happening here that in some way is contributing to God’s kingdom vision?
I recently read 2 Corinthians 4:1-7. Note for a moment these words in 4:1:
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
This is a wonderful verse but a terrible chapter break. This verse is actually a continuation of the argument that is going on in chapter 3. He has just spoken about the work of the Spirit in new covenant ministry. Notice how he closes chapter 3:
And we with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever – increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Because God is transforming our lives (3:7-18) and because we are in his mercy, we do not lose heart. God has begun this work in our lives. He is transforming people and is at work through his Spirit. We might have given up on the Corinthians. After all, think about this mess! Rampant immorality, division, and now there are opponents who say that Paul just doesn’t measure up. Yet, he doesn’t throw up his hands and say, “It is hopeless.” Rather, he says that we have been given this ministry by God’s mercy.
There are many reasons in the life of a church that might contribute to discouragement. Think about your own ministry at home, at work, or in the life of the congregation where you are. Do you ever wonder if you are doing any good as a wife or parent? Do you ever wonder if your witness at work really counts for anything? Do you ever wonder if your ministry in the congregation is making a difference?
I have become discouraged and disheartened at times. There are times when outwardly, I just haven’t seen much to be encouraged about. Yet, perhaps the point here is that in spite of the way things may appear, God is at work mightily, through his Spirit, transforming people. He has not stopped working in spite of the way things may appear. We have this ministry by the mercy of God (4:1). This is a good reason for not becoming discouraged.
The good news: God has given us a ministry in which he is at work, through his Holy Spirit, in a powerful way, transforming people into his likeness. Believing this can not only keep us from losing heart, but will keep our eyes on the one who is really making a difference.
What sometimes discourages you in your everyday ministry? How does God’s promise of transforming people through his Spirit encourage you?