Before You Give Up
Wanting to quit when the going is tough is a normal human response, but it is not the response of faith. Too often we are listening to the sultry voice of self-pity instead of the stern voice of duty.
Before you decide to quit, you should consider these facts.
You have been called by the wisdom of God Who does not make mistakes. It is dangerous business to second-guess Deity. We may not think we have what it takes or that the place we are in is the right place, but God knows more than we do and He does what is right.
You are preaching God's Word and that Word will accomplish God's will. The minister who is not preaching His Word had better give up, because he is not accomplishing anything lasting anyway. The harvest is not the end of the meeting; it is the end of the age. We must be patient and trust God to use our ministry in His time to fulfill His purposes.
You are helping to build the Church of the living God, and that takes time. What a privilege we have to be building something lasting in a world in which so many people are busy tearing things down! Only God sees the total picture; we are at work on only one small part of the structure. Trust God to know what He is doing in and through you.
You are seeking to glorify the Son of God. God alone sees all the good we are doing, and we must serve Him by faith. Not everything in the work of the Lord can be measured, and it is especially dangerous to compare one ministry with another. Keep your motives pure. Our calling is to honor the Lord and glorify Christ, no matter what we or others may say about our work.
You are strengthened by the grace of God. That was Paul's testimony: "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (I Cor. 15:10). His throne is a throne of grace (see Heb. 4:16), and it is always available to trusting souls who need "grace to help in time of need." Our seeming failures and defeats only drive us closer to Him, where we can get the grace that we need.
Dr. V. Raymond Edman, for many years president of Wheaton (IL) College, used to say, "It is always too soon to quit!" Charles Spurgeon said in his quaint way, "By perseverance, the snail reached the ark."
Both men are right ! Don't quit !
Minister in a Corner
Every minister needs a corner, a quiet place where he can retreat from the duties of the day, where he can be himself and find himself, as he communes with God.
Not a place for him to study theology or to prepare sermons. Rather, a place, where he can be still enough to hear God speak within, a place where he can get better acquainted with God and with himself, a place where joyful worship can well up within him as he enjoys God.
All of us are too busy. Our bodies run ahead of our souls, and we start to rip apart at the seams. We become so involved in helping others that we neglect the Source of our help-and then we ourselves need help. Slowly, we start to manufacture ministry instead of bear fruit, because the life within us has been neglected.
It's not enough for us to depend solely on our morning quiet time, as important as that is in the life of every believer, and especially the pastor. We need to "take time to be holy" in the midst of the busy day. After all, we take coffee breaks; so why not take "blessing breaks"?
I have a "quiet corner" in our home where I retreat only for prayer, devotional reading, worship and the spiritual nourishment of my own soul. I do no studying there; I prepare no sermon outlines (although I do write down whatever ideas may come); I make no plans; I solve no problems. All I do is invest a few minutes-the length of time varies-centering my thoughts on God and making sure my heart is happy in Him.
This is not my main devotional time. It is an interlude, a "blessing break," a parenthesis that steadies and strengthens me for the work yet to be done. I try to go there at least once each day.
Of course, your "quiet corner" need not be in your home. ("A quiet corner in our house?" I hear some pastor ask.) Perhaps the best place for you is at the church, or the public library, or in the front seat of your car. So be it; but just be sure it is the best place for you. The important thing is that the place be devoted only to the spiritual discipline of communing with your Lord. If you do anything else there, you may rob yourself of enrichment.
Have available the resources that help you the most: a Bible, a hymnal, one or two classic books of Christian devotion. I keep in my "quiet corner" The Imitation of Christ, Fenelon's Spiritual Letters, Joe Bayly's Psalms of My Life, and (from time to time, as I sense the need) a book of short devotional messages. George Morrison is a favorite; so is George Matheson.
The important thing is that I calm my soul before God and focus on Him alone-not on my work, my problems or my needs. I begin with praise, using one of the Psalms and emphasizing the character of God. I lift my heart and seek to express joyful worship in the Spirit.
The great danger is that we use our "blessing break" as an escape from life, when in reality it is a preparation for life. "God is our refuge and strength" (Ps. 46:1, italics mine). We take refuge in Him, not to be sheltered from life, but to be strengthened for life with its many demands and duties. To be "under His wings" does not mean to be out of His work or avoiding His will!
The minister who tells himself that he is "too busy" to invest time in this way is actually confessing that his priorities are confused. His first obligation in life is to worship God and cultivate the sanctity of his own soul. And it is amazing how much easier the "wheels of mortal life" turn when we take time to be holy.
Get into the habit of saying to yourself each day, "It's time to take a blessing break!" Retreat to your quiet corner, commune with the Lord, meditate on His Word, worship Him, and let Him renew your strength.
The Minister Hurts
Somebody said something or did something, and now the pastor hurts. From a human point of view, he has every right to hurt; but he knows that his people won't accept it. For some reason, pastors are supposed to "live above the snake line" and never have hurt feelings or broken hearts.
Quite the opposite is true. The loving "spiritual father and mother" (see I Thess. 27-12) who loves and cares for his family will be sensitive to what they say and do. All of us probably hurt our parents at one time or another when we were children, and the way they felt was an expression of their love. They were hurt.
When our people hurt, they come to us. Where do we go when we hurt?
As difficult as it is, we must take our own medicine and obey Matthew 5:10-12 and 43-48. Let's search our hearts to be sure that we have not sinned and given just cause for some-body to criticize us. Preachers do make mistakes, and they also know how to make excuses for them. Excuses only make things worse. If an apology is in order, take care of the matter as soon as possible. Sometimes the best way to soar like an eagle is to learn to eat crow.
But suppose we discover that our hearts are clean in the matter: Then what? Patience and prayer. And while you are waiting and praying, evaluate the situation and ask God for wisdom.
Some things our people say and do are not worth noticing. If that's the case, the best thing you can do is to commit them to the Lord and forget about them. In his Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon urged pastors to have "a blind eye and a deaf ear," when it came to the common gossip and criticism in the church family. He said:
"You cannot stop people's tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken."
"Judge it to be a small matter what men think or say of you, and care only for their treatment of your Lord."
After all, perhaps the pastor himself occasionally says things he shouldn't say. Solomon may have had this in mind when he wrote, "Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you-for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others"(Ecc1. 7:21-22 NIV). Sobering counsel!
"A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression" (Prov. 19:11 NASB).
But whether the pastor was right or wrong, he must forgive others and make sure his own heart is right with God and with God's people. If others ;won't wash the wounds they caused, let the Lord do it; otherwise those wounds will fester and cause pain and only create more trouble.
Positively the worst thing we can do is to perform a constant autopsy as we review the matter in our minds. This keeps the pain fresh and even adds to it, but it doesn't solve the problem. If anything, it makes it worse.
Fighting an ego problem within robs us of the peace and energy we need to love people and do our work well. Our families suffer, we suffer, and the church suffers. Is carrying a grudge worth all this suffering? The more we ponder the offense, the more we defend ourselves; and the more we defend ourselves, the more anxious we are to prove that we are right. Then, when we least expect it, we launch our attack-and wish we had kept our mouths shut.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't get it out of our system, but we must be careful to explain and not explode. Every pastor needs a friend with an open ear and a sympathetic heart who can listen and give encouragement. If we "talk it out," our hurt feelings will start to heal and our distorted vision will start to see things in perspective again.
President Harry Truman used to say to his colleagues, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!" We may not like it, but criticism is a part of the ministry; and the pastor with a thin skin or a sensitive ego has to learn how to take it.
To quote Spurgeon again: "You must be able to bear criticism, or you are not fit to be at the head of a congregation; and you must let the critic go without reckoning him among your deadly foes, or you will prove yourself a mere weakling."
This leads to another suggestion: Don't take yourself too seriously. A sense of humor is a powerful weapon to defeat the Devil when he sets up a beachhead in your wounded heart. The ability to "laugh it off" has saved many leaders from the folly of trying to kill a mosquito with a cannon. You can do it, but plan to be picking up the pieces for weeks to come.
Yes, we take our office and our ministry seriously; but that's not the same as making ourselves so important that people can't disagree with us or criticize us. Often they don't even know that what they said or did cut us deeply; and when we tell them, they are usually more than willing to make things right.
It seems strange, but in many congregations there is often one member who just doesn't like the pastor. You go out of your way to love that person and try to win him or her over, but it just doesn't work. What should you do? Learn to cooperate with the inevitable and give your best to the whole church, without letting Saint Critic distract or disturb you. If you were an oyster, that abrasive bit of sand would help you manufacture a valuable pearl. You're not an oyster, but perhaps God can do the same for you!