Serving Christ can be agonizing. Jesus said it himself, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake . . ." (Matt. 5:10).
Especially for those working in called ministry positions, there is a weight. A burden. A cloud of pressure derived from spiritual forces under responsibility which has eternal consequences.
You've asked, "How much difference am I making? Should I go on? Should I give up? "
Here is some help from 19th century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The following is from his Lectures to My Students.
Although he also traveled by water, walking was the primary mode of transportation for Jesus of Nazareth. As a child, we know Jesus journeyed with his parents to Egypt. Outside of that, most of his life took place in a small territory in Palestine. His public ministry spanned a region no further than 100 miles.
I love these four words from John 9:1: "As he passed by . . ." A great many events in the gospels happened, “as he passed by,” along the way. On the road. In the marketplace. Out in the countryside. By the city gate. On the shoreline, by the water. In a home, at the dinner table. Very little of Jesus' ministry took place "at church," in the temple. Jesus’ ministry happened while he walked, “as he passed by.”
Speed is an ultimate asset in our culture. We have a lust for expediency. Orders from Amazon come faster. We eat fast food. Microchips in computers and phones get exponentially faster. (See Moore's Law.) We want to make money faster, retire faster, finish a degree faster, get projects done faster. Life is done in a rush. We get to the end of a day and it’s a blur. We think, “I did a lot today, but what did I do?”
My assumption is that you are hard-working and busy. You like to get things done. You feel good when tasks are accomplished. You take pride in your vocations. You are rarely accused of being lazy.
If this is accurate, you need to work on being unproductive.
My dear friend Mark was ordained into the pastoral ministry on Sunday in the Chicago area. As is the custom, the newly ordained pastor speaks the benediction at the end of the service. Just before that, Mark paused: "I'd like to share a few things."
He proceeded to speak words of love and thanks to family, mentors, and those gathered. He was sincere and heartfelt. And in front of the entire congregation, he cried.
I was watching 60 Minutes on Sunday night. (Yes, I'm an old man.) There was a segment on an upcoming documentary about Pope Francis. 60 Minutes interviewed the unique choice for this project, German “art house” director Wim Wenders.
Wenders is a lapsed Catholic. He’s known for his eclectic body of work which includes U2 music videos and “Buena Vista Social Club,” a documentary about a group of aging Cuban musicians. I was interested in Wenders' perception of the Pope, for he would not be enamored like a devout Catholic. Nor did he seem to bear the stinging criticism of an anti-religious secularist. He made two observations of Pope Francis that struck me.
The reception desk was staffed with a team of bright, smiley 27-year-olds when I walked into Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, CA. They were hip, casual, and optimistic. After receiving credentials, we met Alex, a friend of a friend, and our "in" to FB HQ.
Accompanied by a small team from my church on a mission expedition to the San Francisco Bay Area, we followed Alex to a corral with rows of bikes. To traverse the complex of buildings, we gleefully biked like kids, calling them "Mark's bikes," a shout out to CEO Zuckerberg.
Like it's own city, the Menlo Park hub has everything, and it's all free. An employee will find:
A sense of optimism permeated the grounds. There was a feeling that "we're changing the world." It seemed less a company and more a cause, nearly religious in nature.
A man has risen from the dead, and now all history is altered. Resurrection makes the Christian daring and defiant. We taunt the forces of evil, as Scripture often does. I've brushed off an old poem I wrote for those facing the hellish. Beware of the mighty and risen King.
"Holy Week is when the s#*! hits the fan," a pastor and friend told me. It was not a gratuitous application of a cuss word. He was strategic in his use of a vulgar reference. From a pastoral perspective, it always seems that Lent and Holy Week come with an increase of funerals, crises, and tragedies.
In our church, Holy Week has come with plenty to hit the fan. My colleagues and I are responding to multiple traumas (on top of 14 services). A man in hospice care is breathing final breathes. A young father died of cancer, leaving a wife and two girls. A member was murdered over the weekend, her family left in shock and misery. A young man is in significant legal trouble. Add to these the list of ongoing issues: divorce, troubled youth, addiction, kids without a dad, unemployment . . .
You should never pray the Lord’s Prayer without considering what you're asking. It’s the most dangerous prayer you can pray.
Consider “Thy will be done.” Jesus prayed this in a dark night of agony in a garden called Gethsemane. Staring down the danger of devil and death, he fell to his knees and pleaded, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
We often pray, “God, I want this . . . Now help me get it.” Jesus’ prayer is the opposite, “Father, not what I want. What do you want? You have your way. That’s what I want.”
“Thy will be done.” It’s a most dangerous prayer because Jesus prayed it and it got him killed.
“Short cuts make long delays.” - J.R.R. Tolkien
“Convenience decides everything,” said Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. Modern man is fixated on doing things faster, cheaper, easier, and more efficiently. In his article, “The Tyranny of Convenience,” Tim Wu writes:
"In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience . . . has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. This is particularly true in America, where, despite all the paeans to freedom and individuality, one sometimes wonders whether convenience is in fact the supreme value."
We live in an instant society. The rate of our travel, communication, and access to information spoil us with their immediacy. We’re frustrated with long lines. We’re annoyed with delays. This is a problem for Christian discipleship.