Category Archives: suffering

The Discouraged Pastor

I remember hearing in Bible college what many a student going into the ministry has heard. “Look around the room. In five years, half of you will quit the ministry; in 10 years 90% will have quit.” Why? Various reasons. Some would have moral failures. Some would realize that pastoring or the ministry wasn’t really what they were called to do. Some would either burn out or get so discouraged that they simply quit. As is often the case, many have come out of the seminary or Bible college gate running hard. Their plans, their hopes, their dreams, their conquering hell with the gospel spirit following fast behind. Soon though, reality happens. Ministry is hard, hard as a brick wall. People turn out to be stubborn–even Christian people! Preparing sermons week after week is more difficult than expected. Visitors come and go, never to return. Some come for a while, then disappear without a trace or explanation. Church members get angry and hurt. Soon those hopes and dreams turn to despair and discouragement. What does one do at that moment? In that moment, I would give the advice that the writer of Hebrews said, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith,” (13:7, ESV).

So let’s go back to certain leaders in the Bible. As I was studying Deuteronomy this past week, I was reminded about Moses’s not being allowed into the Promised Land. Except somehow I had missed this tiny bit of information: “And I pleaded with the LORD at that time saying, ‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon,'” (Deut. 3:23-25, ESV).  Moses pleaded with God to let him go into the Promised Land. How have I missed that!? He had spent 40+ years with the Israelites and wasn’t able to enter into the land with them. God refused his plea. In fact, God told him never to ask again. The case was settled. His ministry would not turn out the way he wanted or planned.

But it wasn’t just Moses. David also could not do what he so longed and hoped to do. What did he desire? To build God a house, to build Him a temple like no other. And here is the thing. He received encouragement from a godly man, a prophet named Nathan. “And Nathan said to David, ‘Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you,'” (1 Chron. 17:2, ESV). The problem is that Nathan spoke too soon. God was not with David in his plans. Nathan had to take a step back, going to the king with egg on his face so to speak. He had to report God’s message: “When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever,” (1 Chron. 17:11-12, ESV). While God honored David’s plans, thus there was nothing wrong with them, David was not the one to fulfill that dream.

But there is more. Elijah, the greatest prophet outside of Moses, was anxious to see revival in the land of Israel. He had proven that God is God and that Baal was a figment of the people’s imagination. God had consumed the altar, burning even the dust beneath. “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God,'” (1 Kings 18:39, ESV). Revival! Not so fast. Jezebel would have none of it. Her threats sent Elijah fleeing from the place, dejected and discouraged. Upon the Mt. Horeb (the very mountain Moses received the law), God came to Elijah displaying wind, fire, and an earthquake. This was a replication of Moses’s experience. Yet this time, God told him that He was not in those things. In other words, there would be no revival. My favorite sermon of all time is from Ligon Duncan on this passage. I am including it in this post. I would encourage you to watch it. If you’ve already watched or heard it before, watch it again.

Two of these men accepted what God had told them: Moses and David. Elijah did not. Moses continued on, though death was near to lead and to help Israel even though he could not take them all the way home. David continued, making plans for Solomon, leading the kingdom, and trusting in his God. Elijah was dejected and for all intents and purposes quit. Ministry is difficult. Yet, let us trust God and continue on. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his step,” (Prov. 16:9, ESV). It is good to plan within the ministry, but trust God to establish your ministry and plans as He sees fit. I do not pretend to never have been discouraged and downhearted. I absolutely have. I need to remember this just as much as anyone else.

Incidentally, this goes for life as well.

Ligon Duncan: 2012 Sermon from T4G.

Apostolic Faith

I am in the process of reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life  by Dr. Donald Whitney and I was reminded yesterday of the importance of not only Scripture memorization but of meditation as well. I have allowed both of these two disciplines fall by the wayside over the last year and decided that this morning would be different. I would both meditate and seek to memorize Scripture. I’m glad I did because through meditation on God’s Word, I noticed two great truths, one of which I will write about tomorrow. The other is the topic of today’s blog.

The second bout of meditation came because of my attempt to memorize Scripture. My daughter is trying to memorize all of 2 Peter for her Bible Quizzing competition, so I thought why not do it with her. In all transparency, I was supposed to be doing it with her a while ago. So I opened up to 2 Peter 1 to memorize the first verse. Here it is in the ESV: “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” What a verse!

Unlike 1 Peter, we don’t know where this letter was headed. The only addressees are those who have obtained a faith of equal standing. One could rightly say that any and every believer is the recipient of this letter from Peter. There are certain words that need to be focused on in this short verse: 1 – Obtained, 2 – equal standing, and 3 – by.

Obtained

The first word that we need to let sink deep into our souls is the word obtained. It could also mean received. But this is not the usual word in the Greek for receiving something. This word means to receive by lot. As the New American Commentary on 2 Peter states, “Zechariah obtained by lot the privilege of offering incense in the temple (Luke 1:9). Roman soldiers cast lots to see who would get Jesus’ garment (John 19:24). Judas was appointed to serve in an apostolic ministry (Acts 1:17). In each instance receiving something by lot is a give that one receives,” (p. 285). That isn’t to say that it was by sheer luck that this faith came to people. Remember what the Proverb states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD, (16:33, ESV; italics mine).

What does all this mean? That if you are a believer you have become one by divine decision. As Peter Davids wrote in the Pillar New Testament Commentary on 2 Peter, it “thus indicates that faith is something that God has given them, a favor from tehir heavenly patron,” (p. 162). You obtained your faith. You didn’t conjure it up out of no where. While some would find this as bad news, this is absolutely fantastic news. If faith relied upon me to develop, I’d be waiting for eternity. There are so many dry seasons in life, so many painful moments, so many losses and broken dreams that my faith would be non-existent. Yet God has granted me faith. I have obtained it from God, not myself, and for that reason, though storms or droughts may come, my faith shall continue, not because of my strength, but because of His.

Equal Standing

Here is the meat of my meditation. This faith is of equal standing with the apostles’ faith. Another way of saying it is that it is of equal honor. We tend to see the apostles as those with faith that is better or bigger than our own. That may be somewhat true, only in that the apostles faced circumstances that grew their faith that we may not ever experience. But bigger does not mean more valuable. Stronger does not mean more blessings. Peter wanted to assure his readers that their faith was just as valuable to God as Peter’s or Paul’s or John’s or any of the other apostles.

Here is why I think it is just as valuable. The value of faith is not based upon who is believing, but upon who is being believed upon. Since Jesus is the object of our faith and since God has granted the faith to us (thus both originally from and going back to the Godhead), the faith of the believer–an believer–is equal to the faith of any other believer. We shall not receive less blessings or privileges than others. As Tim Keller once said and many before him, “It is not the strength of your faith, but the object of your faith that actually saves you.” And I would add “and by which your receive all your spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” (cf. Eph 1:3).

Do you realize, fellow-believer, that your faith is on equal standing, equally honorable, as that of the apostles. The faith that they obtained was no greater, no more valuable, no more stronger than yours. As Peter wrote in his first letter, “In this you rejoice (that God has given you faith unto salvation), though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV). We see the apostles’ faith as greater or bigger or more valuable, but in reality it is shinier. The dross has been removed and it shimmers and shines. Trials removed the dross and impurities that this fallen world and fallen bodies have mixed within it. We all want the apostolic faith, and we have it, but what we don’t have yet is the shine. Only trials will bring the shine as they remove the dross. But let us remember that the faith we have, they too had, no more, no less.

By

The last word is the word “by.” This faith again comes by our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Specifically by His righteousness. There is debate as to what this phrase means apparently. I originally took it to mean that God’s grace came through the righteousness of Christ and because of His righteousness we were granted faith. That is one idea. The other is that righteousness here means fair or just. Thus in Jesus’ fairness, we are each given an equal standing of faith. I say, why can’t it be both!?

Jesus is equitable; He’s fair, but He is also gracious. He willingly and graciously gave of His righteous standing a equal standing of faith. Because this faith is by His righteousness, we cannot lose it any more than He could lose His righteousness. There may and probably will be times when our faith is weak, but that doesn’t make it less valuable and it doesn’t make it cease to exist. As Paul stated to the Philippians, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (1:6, ESV).

In conclusion, the faith that we have, it is from God by the gracious and fair righteousness of Christ. It is just as valuable and honored as that of the apostles whom we tend to look at as giants in the faith. Let us know that God will be removing impurities and shining and buffing this faith that he has given to us. It is part of the process. Jesus is going to present us, “holy and blameless and above reproach,” (Col 1:22) and “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,” (Eph 5:27). May it be so, and may God grant the strength along with the trials.