(Photo: Paul Tripp)
Perhaps our ministry struggles are not primarily about lack of hunger for the gospel, the desire for people to have their own way, the lack of willing leaders, unrealistic demands, or constant financial pressures. Could it be there's something we bring to each of these struggles that makes them harder to bear?
There is something often overlooked that has the power to alter the way you experience your ministry. If you are going to stay sane, thankful, motivated, and hopeful, you must minister with eternity in view. Only here will we be protected by the right values, balanced by proper expectations, and motivated by sturdy hope. Consider with me the effect on ministry of functional eternity amnesia.
1. Living with unrealistic expectations. Why are our expectations unrealistic? Because we often suffer often from an eternity amnesia that causes us to ask this present world to be what it simply will never be. We want our here-and-now ministry to behave as if it's our final destination, when actually what we are experiencing right here, right now is preparation for the destination to come.
2. Focusing too much on self. Human beings were created to live big-picture, long-view lives. We were created to live with something bigger motivating us than this moment's comforts, pleasures, and successes. Eternity confronts you with the fact that you are not in charge, that you do not live at the center of your ministry, that what you have been called to moves by the will and purpose of the one great eternal Pastor. You see, eternity always confronts us with realities that transcend our momentary struggles, dreams, wants, feelings, and needs.
3. Asking too much of people. When we fail to live with forever in view, we will unwittingly and consistently ask the people around us to provide the paradise that our hearts crave. The people around us do not have the ability to give us that constant inner peace and satisfaction that we will only ever experience in eternity. Asking the people in your church to give what they cannot give ends in disappointment, frustration, conflict, and division.
4. Being controlling or fearful. In ministry, why do we tend to swing from fear to control and back again? Because, in our eternity amnesia, we feel as if somehow, some way, life is passing us by. It's important to remember that our unfulfilled ministry longings do not so much announce to us that this world or our ministries have failed us, but that we were designed for another world. Peace in our present life and ministry is found only when we live with the coming world in view.
5. Questioning the goodness of God. Many of us are discouraged. Many of us are bitter. Many of us wonder why God has allowed our ministries to be so hard. When you allow yourself to forget God's agenda, you will begin to question his character. Unless we live in ministry with the daily knowledge that God's promises only reach their complete fulfillment in the world to come, we will feel as if we've been hit with a cosmic bait and switch. The taste we get of God's good gifts in the here and now are meant to keep us hungering for the full meal that is waiting for us in eternity.
6. Living more disappointed than thankful. Unrealistic expectations always lead to disappointment. There are many pastors who are disappointed – not because God has failed them, or because they have suffered much, or the people around them have been particularly difficult. Rather, they have approached life and ministry hoping that they will deliver things that only come on the other side. Perhaps our disappointment reveals more about our eternity amnesia than it does about the church we have been called to serve.
7. Lacking motivation and hope. All of these consequences of eternity amnesia work to weaken our motivation and hope. The reality is that this world is not an endless cycle of dashed hopes and dreams. No, we live and minister in a world that is marching toward a moment when all that is broken will be forever restored. This fact can fill you with a reason to get up in the morning and press on even when life and ministry are hard. Eternity confronts any thoughts of impossibility and futility by reminding me that what I am experiencing is not permanent.
Perhaps our street-level eternity amnesia produces more angst in us as we go about God's work than we have tended to think. Have you forgotten who you are, where you now live, and the destination that is yours by grace? 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. That present and eternal grace is a reason to continue even when ministry is hard.