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.