Helpless, Hopeless, and Demoralized

I’m finished. I quit. 22115500142_88894d4894_z

Seriously, I’m not doing this anymore. Why continue doing something which has ceased to be fun, brings zero benefit, and is categorically demoralizing at every level of my being while offering no hope of it ever being anything but. I’m done with the continual humiliation of failure. 

I’ll never forget the moment I said those words in my head over a decade ago while trying to learn to surf. 

At that time, all 3 of my kids were “into” surfing at some level and I thought it would be fun to be able to do that with them. All it took was one painful (physically, mentally, and emotionally) day and I was finished. I never wanted to touch a surfboard again. That I was in too much pain to try even if I wanted to probably didn’t help. I had been using muscles I wasn’t even cognizant of possessing. I decided then and there my time at the beach would be spent with a fly rod in hand plying the breakers for whatever watery creature may be lurking underneath them while my kids enjoyed what I was unable to do. 

I’m not going to lie. There are occasions when ministry feels this way; not just “professional” pastoral ministry, mind you, but day to day investing in people with the gospel as all believers are to do as we follow Christ. Often, I’ve prayed, studied, taught, shared, cared, and cried with little or no fruit to show for it. There are times when, from a ministry perspective, if feels exactly like trying to surf. Why bother? It’s easier, simpler, and much more convenient for me to merely enjoy Jesus by myself without having to worry about the response (or lack thereof) from others. 

So why don’t I quit? I actually asked myself that recently. I knew the answer, but honestly, I needed to ask it, regardless. Here’s my answer… 

1) I can’t follow Jesus without following His life of ministry (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 1:17). 

When Jesus says, “Follow Me” He isn’t merely calling sinners to become morally transformed though that is how people inadequately think about “walking with Jesus”. To follow Jesus is to follow His purpose as well as His morals and views of right and wrong. Jesus came to save sinners. He came to give His life a ransom for many. The over-arching theme of God’s work in this world is the salvation and redemption of sinners as He reconciles the world to Himself (2nd Corinthians 5:18-19) 

When He called the disciples, as recorded in Mark 1:17, He simply calls them to follow Him and as a result He states He will make them to become fishers of men. In what is historically referred to as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives “marching orders” to His followers. Their job (as well as all who would come after them), in a sense their only job, was to “make disciples”. We are to teach people of Jesus as we go through life. Followers of Jesus have a very simple job description. 

2) I can’t help but be a witness (Acts 1:8). 

Acts chapter 1, verse 8 is one of the most memorized and quoted verses in the Bible. Whether as a result of lack of study or simply trying to be motivational, all too often this verse is viewed in terms of an imperative which must be obeyed. As true as it is that being a witness is what we must do, this verse is not written as a command to be obeyed. Notice how Luke has penned these sacred words: 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV) 

Luke didn’t quote Jesus issuing a directive, rather, He was assuring His followers of what would happen. Accurately reflected in the translation of this verse is what is called the “indicative” mood. Simply put, Jesus was both assuring them they would both receive power from God and that they would be His witnesses. It is both who we are and what we are called to by God, with God making provision through His sovereign will and work in our lives to accomplish. More often than not, we have no need to muster up witnessing opportunities. What is required is for us to simply be faithful to our calling as God provides us with quite literally an unending supply of opportunities, which leads to the next point. 

3) My responsibility is faithfulness, not fruit (1st Corinthians 3 and 4; Philippians 2:12-13, and 1st Peter 3:15-16). 

Paul’s lengthy discourse in 1st Corinthians 3 and the first part of 4 contains two very critical truths for believers. He identifies the most critical attribute of servants is faithfulness and the role of the Lord in working through His servants is that He (not them) produces growth. Growth is wholly dependent on God who wills and works in the lives of those He saves (Philippians 2:12-13). 

When we add growth and fruit to our burdens in ministry we easily fall prey to the temptations of compromise and manipulation to achieve “growth” or elicit some sort of positive response. We begin to focus on behavior change rather than devotion and allegiance to the Lord who saves us. When we forget God’s role in the process we become defensive and argumentative rather than being those who make a defense of our hope in gentleness, reverence, and a good conscience (1st Peter 3:15-16). When we begin to believe that results are our responsibility we inadvertently turn our focus inward thus making our motivation our success rather than the glory of God in Christ saving and growing sinners. 

The authors of “Creature of the Word” (Chandler, Patterson, and Geiger, B&H Publishing, 2012) elucidate this profound assurance when they write, “We will all give an account…but we will not be held accountable for being a savior (pg. 169). The work of redemption is all on God’s shoulders. 

4) It is my calling as one of God’s people (1st Peter 2:5 and 9). 

In my opinion, one of the most under-emphasized aspects of life in Christ is the priesthood of the believer. Usually when we think of “priests”, our minds go back to the Old Testament or to various religions such as Catholicism; we think either in terms of an outmoded system of worship fulfilled in Christ or a modern religious hierarchy. Two words implicit with those thoughts are “formalized” and “exclusive”. In other words, quite distant from what we think of ourselves! Either way, the thought of our own priestly responsibility and calling is not necessarily something we are comfortable with. It feels awkward and beyond us. 

Peter, though, is unmistakably clear in the matter when he writes: 

“…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices…” (1st Peter 2:5, ESV) 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthoodthat you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1st Peter 2:9, ESV)  

He first refers to our priesthood by saying that believers are built into a priesthood to offer sacrifices. Inherent to biblical priests is the offering of sacrifices. The sacrifices we offer differ from that of Old Testament priests in that the sacrifices we offer are not for sin. Christ’s offering was once for all, never needing to be repeated (1st Peter 3:18). 

So what sacrifices are the New Testament priests supposed to offer? The New Testament epistles demonstrate the four sacrifices we are to offer. They are as follows: 

1) Our lives (Romans 12:1-2) 

2) Evangelism (Romans 15:16) 

3) Praising God (Hebrews 13:15) 

4) Doing good and sharing (Hebrews 13:16) 

Two of them are directed Godward (our lives and praise) while the other two are specifically directed towards the well-being of others as we serve the Lord (evangelism and doing good/sharing). A priest’s life is set apart to God and for God but that will always involve serving people on God’s behalf. 

A few verses later he once again speaks of our position as priests. In this instance he identifies us as a “royal priesthood”, that is, priests who belong to the King and are in the service of the King. As those who have been employed in priestly service to the King, the purpose for such a prominent role is the public proclamation of the King’s excellencies. 

5) The gospel  bear fruit (Titus 2:11-14). 

Lastly, the scriptures clearly articulate the gospel will prevail, as sinners will respond to the call of salvation and believers will grow into the likeness of Christ. In his letter to Titus instructing him to stay in Crete and finish the gospel work there, he encourages him when he writes,  

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14, ESV) 

Paul assures Titus that while he does have work to do and it will require diligent effort, God is the One who will bring it to pass; saving grace, training in godliness, redemption, and purification are shown by Paul to be the exclusive work of God. 

No, I’m not going to quit. It isn’t an option for me. While I do admit there are times when the pain of ministry exceeds my sore muscles on that fateful day with a surfboard, I know with certainty my efforts have eternal value as I follow Christ and serve Him, all the while knowing one day I will stand before Him in glory. In that day, all tears will be wiped away and I will understand with fullness that the sufferings of my time on cannot be compared to the glory that is to follow (Romans 8:18). 

1 thought on “Helpless, Hopeless, and Demoralized

  1. Linda Olson

    Thank you Dan. You brought up some excellent points that I truly needed to be reminding about. I do appreciate your clear insight that you have shared.

    Linda Olson

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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