Unrealistic expectations. I am convinced we have them because, at street level, we don't take seriously what the Bible has to say about the condition of this world. Sin has cast this world into trouble. You see the smoke and dirt of this trouble spread throughout the pages of Scripture.
Ministry, this side of eternity, will be marked by moments of grief like Samuel's. Perhaps it will be the death of a vision, the need to discipline a trusted and influential leader, the knowledge of someone plotting against your God-given authority, sinful division among leaders, a resistant congregation, or a catalog of other difficulties that can obstruct and divert the ministry of a pastor and his congregation.
Could it be that there are times when you live and minister as if there is no such thing as forever? Since God's grace guarantees your final destination, it also must guarantee you all the grace you need along the way. We are in trouble when we fail to recognize that future grace carries with it the promise of present grace.
In ministry there are often moments when you are propelled by a biblical vision but called by God to wait. Waiting can be discouraging and hard. So what does it look like to wait in a way that makes you a participant in what God is doing rather than someone who struggles against the wait? Let me suggest several things.
Like David and all those he speaks for in Psalm 122, we cannot – we must not – let the grace we minister to others become commonplace to us. We must keep in view that we are not just instruments but also recipients of daily grace and will never outgrow our need of what grace alone is able to provide.
We must keep in view that we are not just instruments but also recipients of daily grace and will never outgrow our need of what grace alone is able to provide. We must remind ourselves that because of that grace, obedience is a privilege, worship is a privilege, sacrifice is a privilege, and ministry is a privilege.
I would pepper myself with a long list of "what ifs" and "if onlys." This habit never produced greater courage or rest. It only tempted me to wonder if I had what it takes and pushed me to try to control things that I could not control. But over and over again in grace my heavenly Father came to me through his Word and the ministry of others and remind me of the only place rest could be found.
Grace will turn your life upside down while giving you a rest you have never known. Grace will convince you of your unworthiness without ever making you feel unloved.
He had thought that his deep dedication and unending schedule were the result of the motivation and loyalty of faith, but in midst of his exhaustion and his family's protest, he began to wonder. Could it be that this life of frenetic energy and constant ministry focus was driven by something else?
After the Sunday morning service he asked if he could make an appointment with me. I thought he had been touched by my sermon and wanted help in applying the truths to the details of his everyday life. What he actually wanted to do was to tell me how bad — "painful" is what he actually said — my sermons were. He also said he was speaking for others who felt the same way. I was hurt, of course, but I went about preparing as I had the week before.
It took God employing pastoral hardship for me to embrace the inescapable reality that everything I did in ministry was done in allegiance to, and in pursuit of, either the kingdom of self or the kingdom of God. This truth is best exegeted for us in Matthew 6:19-34. I'm convinced that this passage is an elaborate unpacking of the thoughts, desires, and actions of the kingdom of self.
Why do so many pastors report being over-burdened and over-stressed? Why do so many pastors report tension between family life and ministry life? Why does pastoral ministry often seem like more of a trial than a joy? Why is there often disharmony between the private life of the pastor and his public ministry persona?
I was a very angry man. The problem was that I didn't know I was an angry man. My wife, Luella, knew that I was angry. My kids knew I was angry. But I didn't know. Luella was very faithful in bringing that anger before me with its resultant failures to love my family. She did it often and with much grace. But I would not listen.