The pastorate is a wonderful office. That’s shared with Timothy when he wrote, “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1). The work before you today is a “good work.”
Pastor, Paul selected two key words to describe your ministry. The word “good” kalos, means “excellent, precious, beautiful, or magnificent.” To complete the thought, Paul uses the word “work” which is ergon. This is the word for “that which one undertakes to do, to labor, one’s occupation.” Quite literally, my pastor friend, you are called to a “magnificent and precious labor!”
Probably sometimes it doesn’t feel so magnificent, does it? In fact, sometimes it may feel like it is only labor, very hard labor. There are messages to prepare, people who need a visit, administrative work to oversee, counseling appointments, and a dozen other things that are pressing hard upon your life and schedule. Many pastors wrestle with guilt because they are not spending time with their family like they know they should. Sometimes there is resentment because a few believers can be so picky about seemingly unimportant things. Every day feels like a mad dash, and it is going faster and faster as your energy level is waning lower and lower.
Stop! I know you are thinking, “I don’t have time to read this. I’ve got to get back to…” Let me share from my heart. It won’t take long. I’ve been a pastor for decades, and I know what it is to be in the situation about which I am writing.
A little over forty years ago, while still a student at Practical Bible Training School, I had the great opportunity to preach every Sunday night at a downtown Binghamton church. The salary was $15 and one tank of gas per week. Sometimes the gas tank was pretty low by the end of the week. In fact, on one occasion I remember driving on fumes as my little car sputtered and stalled.
I had run my 1963 Ford for a full morning while the gas gauge on the dashboard registered E. That big, bold letter on the gas gauge did not stand for Entertaining, Exciting, Expecting and not even Exceptional! It stood for Empty. To the other motorists around me, everything looked “fine,” but I knew I was on borrowed time. I could not go on much longer if things continued as they were. The weekly $15 and gas allotment came just in time for me. I was off to fuel up. Though my car stalled, fortunately I was going fast enough to coast into the station. That was way too close for comfort!
Sometimes we as the Lord’s servants have a lot in common with my little Ford running on E. To everyone around us, things look rather normal. It is ministry as usual. Everything appears as dynamic as ever. However, we are running on fumes. It takes the Lord’s servant from a Mount Carmel ministry (1Kings 18) to a juniper tree, sputtering and stalling out (I Kings 19). Elijah was exhausted and full-fledged discouragement overtook him.
Discouragement seems to be more predictable in at least five common situations.
- When the work is heavy (Numbers 11:10-15).
- When the way is hard (Numbers 21:4).
- When the sickness is serious (Isaiah 38:9-20).
- When the enemy, Satan, knows we are low (Ephesians 6:11). Paul warns about the “wiles” of our enemy. This speaks about his cunning, crafty, wicked style of seeking to hurt us.
- When the ministry is demanding and successful (1 Kings 19).
For me, the discouraging times have hit especially after demanding and successful ministry has taken place. I know you will identify with these dynamics. The already full week becomes even fuller with unexpected needs and demands. Devotions become a little more rushed or missed all together. “I will get back to them later in the day, right now there is no time.” Though I had good intentions, on those days, I never made it back. The pressure mounts, and I have to rush from one commitment to another. The weekend ministry goes very well, and many people comment on how blessed they are. Decisions are made, and apparent victories are taking place. Everyone is pleased, but within me, the tension builds as I know more and more expectations and demands continue. I have less and less time to dedicate to these matters.
Then it hits. In spite of all the good things taking place, someone is critical and complains (1 Kings 19:1-2), and I plummet into discouragement (19:3-4a). My earnestness and passion sputters, and I want to quit (19:4b). I have been running on spiritual E. I have been plowing through ministries in my own strength and power. Now I am facing another day. “How shall I get through it” I wonder.
Am I the only one who has experienced this? How do we get out from under the Juniper tree and back on the track of joyful ministry? The answer is much the same way Elijah did in 1 Kings 19.
- I need to get my rest. I am not a machine that is capable of working non-stop without a break (19:5).
- I need to take time to eat well and care for my physical body (19:6-8a).
- I need to come to the place of personal worship (19:8b).
- I need to allow the Word of God to confront any weakness, failure or sin that is in my life (19:9). When the Word becomes just my tool for study and counseling, I am missing the blessing and power God intends for me personally.
- I need to get over my own little pity–party, thinking I am the only one left that has a difficult ministry (19:10).
- I need to come back to the place of intimacy with God once again. The rush of ministry can never replace the close, quiet intimate moments with the Holy One (19:11-12).
- I need the partnership of another godly man who will share the load of ministry. While never taking the place of my Lord or my wife, men need men who will encourage them and help to shoulder the work and carry the load (19:15-21).
Questions to consider today.
1. Am I so busy at times that I find myself “too busy” to enjoy my marriage, my ministry and my walk with the Lord?
2. Do I find myself dwelling more on the critical remark of a rude person than the blessings that are occurring around me?
3. Am I honestly caring for my physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual life?
4. Is my thought a place that seeks to honor the Lord, or has it become a spiritual wasteland? Do I often find myself thinking unwholesome thoughts?
5. Is my mate truly my best friend? Do we have a growing, vibrant and intimate marriage?
6. As a man, though my mate must be my best friend, do I have any men in my life that are close to me for friendship and fellowship?
7. Do I daily invest time in the Word of God as my personal source of food and direction? Probably it could be asked, “Do I personally follow the same counsel I give to others?”
You have been called to a “good work.” It is magnificent and precious. Be careful that the demands of the office don’t rob you of the joy of intimate partnership with the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4). Ask Him to either restore your strength and joy, or to keep you strong and joyful.