I served 28 years in pastoral ministry – in four different countries. Although I had never intended to be a ‘pastor’, it was 28 years I wouldn’t trade for anything. I believe that pastoral ministry is a high and holy calling – and it’s one that I have always taken very seriously. But I have come to realize, that it’s just a calling. Pastoral ministry is never what defines a person. Nor is any other kind of ministry. Nor any vocation, relationship, skill, or hobby for that matter. Our identity is found in Christ, and our highest calling is always to love God supremely with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to have no other gods before Him. We love and serve Him, not because of the role we have in the Body of Christ, but because we are redeemed children of the Most High God; accepted, deeply loved, and cherished by Him, and we gladly acknowledge that we owe Him our very lives.
Over the years I have seen God’s hand at work in many ways. In over 4 decades of active ministry, I have seen lives changed, communities transformed, broken relationships put back together; I’ve seen bodies healed, spirits renewed, and souls restored. I’ve seen people grow in their faith, and I’ve seen churches make a significant difference in the world around them. Praise the Lord! There is victory in Jesus!
But perhaps more often than the victories,
I’ve seen disappointments, frustrations, and defeat.
I’ve seen young men walk away from Jesus when the going got tough or the price was too high. I’ve seen Christian marriages destroyed because of abuse, unfaithfulness, or other reasons. I’ve seen bitterness, hatred, and strife emanating from the people of God. I’ve seen otherwise great leaders halted in their tracks because of burnout or serious mental health issues. I’ve seen God’s work thwarted by chronic unbelief and sinfulness. I’ve listened to the heartfelt prayers of saints, only to see their situation grow exponentially worse. Like Asaph, in Psalm 73, “when I tried to understand all of this, my heart was grieved.”
Does it mean that God is unfaithful? Does it mean that He doesn’t hear our prayers? Or worse, that He doesn’t care? Or that He’s unable to deliver? That’s often the way it seems, but, No! God forbid! His character is true, and His Word is sure! In Asaph’s case, when he ‘entered the sanctuary’, he began to see things from a different perspective, from a higher plain. And consistently throughout my own life and ministry, I have found that ‘in the secret place’, the sanctuary, when I have truly sought the face of God and humbly tried to understand His ways, He has filled me with a deep and inexplicable peace, and a comforting assurance that I don’t have to understand it all. I began to see things from a different perspective, from a higher plain.
I discovered “the secret”!
I no longer saw the pain, the agony, the brokenness, the heartache, the frustration, the disappointment, or even the defeats as the ‘end of the story’. I realized that it’s all part of an incredible journey; a journey that always culminates in a deeper revelation of Jesus Christ. Many of our Bible heroes personified this: Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Daniel and many of the prophets. Millions of others have discovered the same ‘secret’! The discovery of this ‘secret’ has been my greatest joy, not only as a pastor, but as a man of God. I have sat beside people whose lives were racked with continuous excruciating pain, yet they never stopped looking to Jesus … who for the joy set before Him endured the agony of the Cross. I’ve accompanied people in the valley of the shadow of death who continued to gaze lovingly upon their Shepherd, the One who led them there, gave them life, and never abandoned them. I’ve cried with distraught parents brokenhearted over the waywardness of their children, who trusted implicitly that one day, the Good Shepherd would bring them home. I’ve heard people pray without ceasing, with tears and anguished hearts for the salvation of their loved ones, even when it seemed impossible that they would ever come to faith in Christ. I’ve prayed with people for healing, anointed them with oil, trusting wholly in the name of Jesus for physical healing and it never happened – in this life.
But God is good! (Psalm 100:5) He is sovereign! (Jeremiah 32:17) His thoughts are not like our thoughts, and His ways are far beyond anything we can imagine. (Isaiah 55:8) His nature and character are unparalleled. (Jeremiah 10:6) His knowledge is beyond finding out. (Romans 11:33) His love and grace are immeasurably rich. (Ephesians 2:7) The purpose of God in everything is that His glory would be displayed for now and for all eternity; from the lives of every individual to the collection of individuals in the Church, everything exists for the glory of God, (Isaiah 43:7; Ephesians 3:21) and I am totally ok with that!
For you, it may seem that all is lost, all is broken, all is dark, and you are defeated. It may seem that all your efforts over the years were in vain; and that the good things, all that God has done, never really happened. Brothers and Sisters, that is exactly the lie that Satan wants you to believe, and nothing could be further from the truth. If you have been faithful, then be assured that God has accomplished great things – in and through you – in ways you will never imagine, and that may never be revealed this side of eternity. Branches that are organically connected to The Vine always produce fruit, even when it’s not visible to human eyes. You have grown in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ! Others “will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” as a direct, or indirect, result of your faithfulness. That is something to rejoice about!
And now God is doing a new thing! It’s already beginning to spring up, can you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19). God is not finished working in us and through us. In this world we will have tribulations – but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world, and He is with us! He is good, He is sovereign, and He will reign forever!