Friday, August 29, 2014
Gospel Ministry: To spend and to be spent...
Over my years of pastoral ministry I have gone through brief periods of depression. In Scripture you find many people going through periods of despair, melancholy, and depression. Abraham, Jonah, Job, Elijah, David, and the so-called "weeping" prophet Jeremiah are all examples of people who are on biblical record as having been depressed.
Thankfully, God has given me a sensitive wife who knows when I am in a funk. She challenges me with God's Word and promises. She also nudges me toward some fellow elders, pastors, and godly counselors in our church to encourage, exhort, and sometimes rebuke me. These faithful friends help me get back my gospel bearings, so to speak. Just today one such brother was encouraging me by asking questions and reminding me of God's faithfulness and provision. He asked me a great question- "Tony, when did you know God was calling you to ministry." As I started to answer his question and remembering a very distinct sense of call while in high school, I became enlivened about the reason I do what I do. I want people to know the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want people to know how they are made right with God- through faith in Christ and His work on their behalf. I want to see people who have not previously believed, trust in Christ and be transformed. I want people who have been believers for a long time to be encouraged afresh in the gospel. I want to minister in a church where I have the opportunity to remind the precious Sheep for whom Christ died, of their high privilege in Christ. Preaching, teaching, and promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ is the simplest way to describe my purpose and calling. I fully affirm what is clear in Scripture- the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. Only God can remove the scales from someone's eyes so they can lay hold of Jesus. Still, I am pained greatly when people reject the gospel. I am grieved when believers seem to forget the gospel.
Over the years I have come to realize that Gospel ministry is a depressing calling at times. It just is. I think pastoral ministry is prone to epochs of melancholy and discouragement. I know I am not the only pastor to experience this or think it. Charles Spurgeon, the famed London preacher of the Nineteenth Century, in "Lectures to My Students" warns of the tendency to depression when laboring in gospel ministry:
Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust?
Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin — are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed?
All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work — it is heart work, the labor of our inmost soul.
How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break.
It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail.
So I have come to expect periods like this over the course of my life. Such episodes are used by God to show His power through our weakness, for which I am extremely grateful. Paul said it well- "Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart." (2 Corinthians 4:1)