I read about a pastor who loved to hike and camp. That was a love he wanted to pass on to his son, Peter. When his son was just a small boy he planned what he thought would be an easy hike on the northern part of the Appalachian Trail. The journey would take them around the mountain to a beautiful lake in Vermont where they would spend the night.
This dad made thorough preparation for the hike including coaching his son. Over and over he told his son, who desperately wanted to go, ”The hike is going to be tough and it was okay to be tired but they had to keep on walking. No matter what, they had to keep on walking.”
Unfortunately, for both of them the hike was longer and tougher than expected because instead of taking the trail the led them around the mountain they took the trail that led them over the mountain and it was steep and broken.
The little boy repeatedly stumbled on the loose rocks but he kept on walking. The hike became a burden and not a joy but they kept on walking. The dad would occasionally remind the little guy about the lake and the fun they would have and would tell him to just keep walking.
Fun was not the word going through little Peter’s mind. He had fallen so many times he ripped the knees in his blue jeans but to his credit he kept on walking until finally he fell and struggled one too many times and he sat down and started to cry. As he turned around to check on his little man this pastor heard his son say, ”I know, Dad. It’s okay to cry as long as I keep walking.”
We all know how the little guy felt.
1. There are times, for whatever reasons and the reasons are almost infinite, the road we are traveling in life is steeper, more difficult and treacherous than we ever imagined.
2. We have fallen and gotten hurt time and time again and it would be much easier to sit down, give up and just cry. We don’t want the heartache or the hurt anymore.
Even Christians know that feeling. Our faith does not give us a pass on suffering.
1. It is not a ticket to easy street and is not magic bubble that shields us from the inherit unfairness of life and suffering.
2. The journey of faith and obedience can be downright grueling but we have not been called to quit but to keep walking.
From time to time, I need to be reminded why I am doing what I am doing. I felt that with Easter coming up and all that will take place that weekend, Annie Armstrong and VBS coming quickly on its heels and the daily grind of life and ministry that we could use a reminder as to why we do what we do as a faith family – to be reminded of our motivation to keep walking and not quit.
If anyone knew what it was like to keep walking despite the pain, discouragement, difficulties, suffering and tears it was the Apostle Paul. He every reason to quit but he didn’t. In 2 Corinthians 4 we get a close up of Paul’s heart and his motivation for ministry.
2 Corinthians 4.1-18
What was it that motivated Paul to keep preaching and ministering? What did he know that helped him stay the course and not lose heart?
He gave us part of the reason in the very first verse we read. He was involved in something so important that he refused to quit or lose heart.
1. What could possibly be so important that Paul refused to give up and lose heart despite all the heartache he had gone through with this church in Corinth, which was a horrible church, one that had attacked him personally, rejected his teaching and belittled his ministry?
2. Beyond this one church Paul, throughout his ministry, had endured ridicule, abuse, torture, betrayal, shipwreck, imprisonment and had been threatened and driven out of more towns than he could even remember.
What was so important that he refused to lose heart in the face of such hardship?
Paul refused to lose heart and quit because God had given Paul a very important ministry. He had been made a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (a ministry we have all been given – we just fulfill that ministry in different ways, different arenas).
1. Paul had been shown mercy and called to a ministry of mercy – sharing and showing Jesus to others.
2. 2 Corinthians 5.18-20 – Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the ministry/word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ. (Called to represent Jesus Christ and carry His message of forgiveness, hope and reconciliation to others).
3. Warren Wiersbe said, ”He had a glorious ministry, one that brings men life, salvation and righteousness; a ministry that is able to transform men’s lives. It is a ministry given by God’s mercy.”
Paul understand that life and faith was about something much bigger than himself. It was about other people.
I have found in my life, observing my friends in ministry and from listening to, serving with and watching my faith family that we burn out in life and ministry when our focus is on us.
1. We fizzle out before we ever reach the finish because our expectations are not met.
2. We stop on the side of the road and cry a river of self-pity because our plans did not go as planned.
3. We lose heart because our heart is focused on self and not serving others. We are more concerned with getting than giving and being ministered to rather than ministering to others.
4. If we constantly make our faith about us then we have drained our faith of what makes it special. It is to twist the focus inward. We are called to reach, teach, love, minster, serve and help others.
WE MINISTER, NOT JUST FOR OURSELVES, BUT OTHERS
One of the things that kept Paul walking through tears and pain was the anticipation and joy of seeing the difference Jesus Christ makes in the lives of others.
1. He had already received mercy, forgiveness and peace in Christ.
2. He knew the joy of grace and what it meant to be set free.
3. He knew what it was to go from death to life and from spiritual darkness to light.
4. He knew what it was like to be blinded by unbelief (4.4) and to have the scales of unbelief removed from his eyes so that he could see the glory of God in the face of Christ.
He knew all this and He desperately wanted others to know it as well. He wanted others to find that peace, forgiveness, grace, hope and joy he had found. Paul did not want or need certificates, plaques or the applause of man to keep him going and his heart full and validate His ministry.
1. Knowing what God had done in his life, what God had done in the lives of others and what God could do in the lives of others stoked the fires of passion and determination in Paul’s heart.
2. Part of the joy he had in ministry were the people God had used him to touch with the transforming power of the Gospel.
a. 2 Corinthians 3.2-4 – You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
b. 1 Thessalonians 2.19 – For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?
c. Philippians 4.1 – Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
Churches, Christians, pastors, teachers and ministry workers who quit are those who forget that God has called us to a one another kind of life. Those of us who lose joy are those of us who are constantly looking at what we gain or lose and not what we give to others.
1. We minister for others. We are here for others.
2. We are privileged to represent, share and show Jesus to others. When this thought is predominate in our minds we will not lose heart.
2 Corinthians 4.15 – For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.
It was not simply the thought of others and his ministry to them that kept Paul going. It was also the thought that ultimately everything is for the sake of Jesus Christ and the glory of God. We will not lose heart – not for long – if we remember…
WE MINISTER FOR CHRIST. WE MINISTER BECAUSE OF CHRIST.
2 Corinthians 4.5-6 – For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, ”Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
It is almost like Paul gave a little bit of a disclaimer here. I am here to serve you. I minister for other people but ultimately I minister for Christ and my ministry is to Christ. All of life should be about Jesus.
1. Every good preacher preaches for Christ and not for himself.
2. Every good teacher teachers for Christ not for himself.
3. Every believer does what they do for the sake of Christ and the Gospel and not for themselves.
This is important, especially in a world and a church, filled with people who all too often look out for and think only of themselves. It is important because even in our churches we will do all kinds of things to keep people happy and coming even if it is not the best things. We will do whatever we can to keep peace within the church when the kind of peace we seek is not the kind of peace that honors God.
1. I have watched as friendships trump vision, truth and the overall health of a church. We allow friends to damage the church because we refuse to say what needs to be said. We allow fear of losing one relationship triumph over what the entire body is trying to accomplish together.
2. Sometimes we need to speak the truth even to those who are close to us. I have told you before, if someone in this church is doing something detrimental to the cause of Christ and the testimony of this church, you have every right to go to that person and say, ”That’s not who we are as Christians and that’s not how we do things at FBCLP.”
As a pastor – it’s hard for me because I am a people pleaser by nature – my goal is not to keep you happy at all costs.
1. My goal is not to help you be happy but holy. In holiness of life you find something much stronger and more satisfying than fleeting happiness. You find joy.
2. It means that I will not and cannot alter or adulterate the word of God or the Gospel. There are far too many who are willing to do that in order to draw a crowd.
a. Bonhoeffer studied for a year in New York City. He was uniformly disappointed with the preaching he heard there: ”One may hear sermons in New York upon almost any subject; one only is never handled, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, of the cross, of sin and forgiveness.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” Christian History, no. 32.
b. It means there are times you address biblical truth that you know will hurt and sting your people – it breaks your heart to do it but you do it anyway because when everything is said and done I answer to Him.
c. It means there are times you speak truth over the accepted lies of society and break the false narrative of political correctness.
d. It means there are times I will make decisions about direction and vision that you may not understand but they are made with the overall ministry, its future and potential in mind.
It is as if Paul is saying, ”I love you, I serve you, I serve others but ultimately I serve Jesus Christ and my goal is not your comfort or my popularity but the glory of Christ.”
One missionary said, having lived in South America as missionaries, my family and I realized that moving to another jungle location meant a lot of work. We knew the discomforts of such things as snakes and bugs. One morning, a few days after beginning to clean our temporary home, the family and I were taking a short break. While we were drinking tea, a large black beetle suddenly flew through the room with a loud buzzing noise. As it darted between us, my wife let out a startled scream. Astonished more by her scream than the beetle, my youngest daughter cried out, ”For heaven’s sake, Mom!” My wife resolutely replied, ”That’s the only reason I’m here.”
Patrick Jenkins, Kissimmee, Fla. ”Lite Fare,” Christian Reader. | posted 2/01/1997
Those who keep walking and refuse to lose heart remember that it is only for heaven’s sake that we are here. It will help keep us from losing heart.
Something else we need to remember that will keep us from losing heart is….
WE MINISTER IN WEAKNESS
I know that sounds odd but it is true. Most of us think that we always minister from strength to strength but that is not how ministry works. It is not the way the Christian life works. We get frustrated, become disappointed and burned out because we think that we should be some great and perfect paragon of the faith if we are to make a difference in the lives or others. That is not true.
1. I don’t know of many times when I felt in control, on top of things and sufficient for the task at hand – if I did it probably didn’t go well. We are not always calm, cool and collected.
2. More times than not we feel week, out of control and overmatched and that’s okay.
Paul knew what it was to be weak. He knew what it was to be discouraged. He knew what it was to be despised. He knew what it was to be burdened down and feel as if he were at a breaking point. In 2 Corinthians 1.8 – For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.
We are frail. We are fragile on every level. Listen at how Paul describes us in these verses…
2 Corinthians 4.7-12 – But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you.
Paul’s description of us is not very flattering. He describes us as nothing more than a clay pot. He says that we are nothing more than baked dirt that is unrefined, unremarkable, breakable and replaceable. Clay pots were common containers that were used for common everyday uses and were often broken and then easily discarded and easily replaced.
The focus is not on the pot (plain, ordinary, weak and fragile) but on the treasure that God has placed in it. It is not so much the container but what is placed in it that matters.
In one of his books, writer Robert Fulgham tells the story of when his daughter was a little girl and gave him a paper bag to take with him to work. When he asked what was in the bag, she answered, ”Just some stuff. Take it with you.”
When he sat down for lunch at his desk the next day, he pulled out the paper bag and poured out its contents: two ribbons, three stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, used lipstick, two chocolate Kisses, and thirteen pennies. He chuckled, finished his lunch, and swept everything off into the wastebasket.
When he arrived at home that evening, his daughter asked him where the bag was. ”I left it at the office,” he replied. ”Why?” ”Well,” she said, ”those are my things in the sack, Daddy. The things I really like. I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back.” When she saw him hesitate, tears welled up in her eyes. ”You didn’t lose the bag, did you Daddy?” He said he didn’t and that he would bring it home tomorrow. After she went to bed, he raced back to the office.
Fulgham writes: Molly had given me her treasures … all that a seven-year-old held dear. Love in a paper sack. And I missed it. Not just missed it. I had thrown it away. Nothing in there I needed. It wasn’t the first or last time I felt like my ”Daddy Permit” was about to run out. I went back to my office, dumped all the wastebaskets out onto my desk. The janitor came in and asked, ”Did you lose something?” ”Yeah. My mind! It’s probably in there.”
When Fulgham found the bag, he uncrumpled it, and filled it again with his daughter’s items: two ribbons, three stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, used lipstick, two chocolate Kisses, and thirteen pennies.
He took the bag home, sat down with Molly, and had her tell him the story of every treasure in the bag. Then he writes: To my surprise, Molly gave me the bag once again several days later. Same ratty bag. Same stuff inside. I felt forgiven. Over several months, the bag went with me from time to time. It was never clear to me why I did or did not get it on a certain day. I began to think of it as the ”Daddy Prize,” and I tried to be good the night before so I could be given it on the next morning.
In time, Molly turned her attention to other things, lost interest in the game and grew up. Me … I was left holding the bag. She gave it to me one morning and never asked for it back. It sits in my office still, left over from when a child said, ”Here. This is the best I’ve got. Take it. It’s yours.” I missed it the first time, but it’s my bag now.
How much like this father are we? God has given us a wonderful, priceless and amazing treasure (the treasure of Heaven) and we miss it. We miss it because our focus is on the container. Our problem is that we are convinced the value is in the pot itself but it’s not. The value is the treasure.
1. There is nothing special about this old pot, these old bodies.
2. There is nothing special about us except Him.
a. The only thing that separates me from the rest of creation and other creatures that draw breath is that He breathed into us the breath of life and created us in His likeness and His image.
b. There is nothing special about me today as a Christian except the give of salvation that God has given. What makes this vessel, rather large vessel, special is what God has poured into it – Himself.
c. When God accomplishes something through me or you, when He uses us, there is a great joy we should experience but we should also know that it was God who did the work. He just allowed us to be there when He did it.
Why would God use our weaknesses and frailty? Because it brings glory to Him and not us.
1. Paul was saying, I am comfortable in being nothing more than a clay pot.
2. My goal is not to be impressive but to be clean and available. I just want to be used.
3. I don’t care what people remember about my education and expertise but I want them to remember Christ in me,
It is the treasure that makes us strong. Life is hard. We do want to despair. Pressures do come and crash against us but we will not be destroyed. Listen to Paul’s words again…
2 Corinthians 4.7-11 – But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
As the pressure from without builds we would do well to remember that it is not strong enough to overcome what has been placed inside of us. It will keep us from crumbling. It will keep us from falling apart. The one who is in us is greater than that which is in the world.
The question we ask is, ”Why allow the affliction, the suffering, crushing, cracking and breaking at all?” The answer is that we are persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
I ran across a parable of sorts about a servant and a cracked water pot. A house servant had two large pots. One hung on each end of a pole that he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. The other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.
For two years the servant delivered each day only one-and-a-half pots full of water to his master’s house. The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, but the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable over accomplishing only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the servant one day by the stream. ”I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” ”What are you ashamed of?” asked the bearer. ”For these past two years I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way to your master’s house. Because of my weakness, you don’t get full value from your work.”
The servant said, ”As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” As they went up the hill, the cracked pot noticed the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path. When they reached the house, the servant said to the pot, ”Did you notice the flowers grew only on your side of the path, not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your crack, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table.”
God has allowed all of us to experience a cracking and a breaking, we all have crushed but each time – if we remain faithful – something precious and valuable spills out and God uses it to grace the lives of others and bring glory to God.
It is said that Kings and rulers would take their gold and purify it and then place it in these earthen ware parts and forms and allow it to solidify and then in order to see the treasure they would have them shattered and broken.
We are but clay pots in God’s hands. Whatever He chooses and pleases to do with us is up to Him – but know that whatever comes it is an opportunity for God to display His greatest treasure, His Son, in us.
Hudson Taylor, a great missionary in our history, said that ”All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on Him being with them.”
We minister in weakness so that his strength is made known. How can we keep walking when we want to quit? (1) Know that we minister for the sake of others, (2) we do all that we do for Christ and that (3) we minister in weakness and God uses the crushing blows of this world, adversity and failure to cause the light of grace and the Gospel to shine through.
We should also remember that…
WE MINISTER IN HOPE
Look back at 2 Corinthians 4.16-18 – Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
I am grateful, beyond measure, for the grace God has given, the treasure He has placed within me, but I am also grateful for the grace that is promised, the grace yet to be. I minister with hope and in hope because I know God has said that what awaits is better than anything this world could ever imagine. The real prize lay ahead.
That changes everything. It changes how I look at life. It changes how I look at the struggles and adversity I face. If affects the decisions I make.
Suppose you work in a company that is about to make massive cutbacks in its staff. You and your boss are not on good terms. He calls you in for an honest appraisal of his leadership. He is a very poor leader. How confident will you be in telling him he is a poor leader and doing a miserable job knowing that tomorrow you may not have a job?
Now suppose you have already interviewed with another company and been given a better and higher paying job. Not only that, the company that hired you is the one that is buying out your old company and that starting tomorrow you will be the boss of your current boss. Now does this change the confidence with which you would speak to your current boss?
It changes everything. God has a better day coming. This day, this life, is but a moment. Don’t live for this life or this world – live for the next. Let your decisions and you ministry be determined.
Don’t ever give up!! Don’t quit.