When Christians become discouraged it should be taken as an opportunity to learn what God is teaching them about their priorities, a prominent Presbyterian minister said before a large crowd of church leaders.
"God wants us to learn things in our disappointments," Ligon Duncan, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss., told some 8,000 pastors and ministry leaders at the Together for the Gospel conference held this week in Louisville, Ky.
"Discouragement is no stranger to the lives of faithful pastors and Christians," Duncan explained. "God wants us to study our disappointments because if we look at our disappointments … when the bottom falls out, you will learn things about what you love that you never knew before."
The whole experience "will not always be pretty," but there is something to learn, the Southern-born theologian said.
"You'll find where you rest. You will find where your security is. You will find where your real treasure is when the disappointments come."
He used the story of Elijah's life as told in the Bible to give "special encouragement to discouraged and downcast pastors."
In his message, titled "The Underestimated God: God's Ruthless, Compassionate Grace in the Pursuit of His Own Glory and His Ministers' Joy," Duncan said, "Even people who believe in God's sovereignty fail to believe that the Lord is God. Even people who fight idolatry can succumb to it."
"In our disappointments and discouragements we are tempted to forget that God is God and that God is good. In every deep discouragement, in every deep disappointment we are attempted to succumb to idolatry," the scholar insisted. "Why? Because in disappointment and discouragement we are tempted to think there is a greater treasure that has been withheld from us, taken away from us, a greater treasure than what God has and can give to us."
Duncan concluded his message by saying that God "gets at our most fundamental idolatry and He ruthlessly crushes it in His unfathomable love and fatherly kindness and inscrutable wisdom and He goes after our greatest treasures and He leaves us with nothing but Himself so that we go limping on our way for the rest of our lives having learned 'My grace is sufficient for you for my power is perfected in weakness.'
"Don't underestimate God. Don't underestimate His ruthless compassion and gracious commitment to His glory or His commitment to your everlasting joy and good."
"He will pursue you graciously and ruthlessly, rip out the idols of your soul that otherwise consume you. He is working for your joy, your good when you can not perceive it or are able to feel anything anymore," he said.
"He has a plan for your everlasting joy. Do not lose heart because at those very moments comes the test. He that endures to the end shall be saved."
Together for the Gospel was founded by prominent pastors and theologians Duncan, Mark Dever, Albert Mohler and C. J. Mahaney. The first T4G conference was held in 2006 with the aim of encouraging other pastors to stand together for the same Gospel. This year's three-day event, which mainly drew those in their 20s and 30s, is the fourth gathering of its kind and concluded Thursday.