Lots of things in life are uncertain.
Ministry can sometimes feel that way, that is for sure. Like, for example, in our church, we don’t have a building and honestly, it’s hard to exactly know when we will ever be able to get one. And there’s some instability in that. At least, it feels that way to me and I can complain about it, mostly to myself and to God.
I want to just to get to the point where we have a facility, and I can just know, that whoever comes after me, whenever they come after me, they will have a place to meet and worship and serve God. Sometimes, I can find myself even thinking, “if only we were able to have a building of our own,” and while that is not always a wrong desire, sometimes, it is evidence I am not thinking completely straight about the nature of gospel ministry.
That became more obvious to me as I spent some time this week reading 2 Corinthians and looking at the way Paul described his ministry. To help me remember, I jotted down a number of the different descriptions of what his ministry was like.
He describes his experience as,
Full of affliction
Sharing abundantly in Christ’s sufferings
Being utterly burdened beyond our strength
Having the sentence of death on himself
Facing deadly peril
Writing out of much affliction and anguish of heart with many tears
Afflicted in every way
Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus
Always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake
Death being at work in him
By great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger
Treated as impostors
Treated as dying
As having nothing
We were afflicted at every turn
Fightings without and fears within
His bodily presence was weak
Afraid that his work with the Corinthians was going to go the wrong way
Considered unskilled in speaking by some
Far greater labors, far more imprisonments, countless beatings, often near death
Five times received thirty nine lashes
Three times beaten with rods
Three times shipwrecked
Night and a day adrift at sea
In frequent journeys
Danger from robbers
Danger from his own people
Danger from Gentiles
Dangers in the city
Dangers in the wilderness
Danger at sea
Danger from false brothers
Through many sleepless nights
In hunger and thirst
Often without food
In cold and exposure
Anxious for churches daily
Being given a thorn in the flesh, described as a messenger of Satan to harass him
Ministering in the middle of weaknesses, insults, persecutions and calamities
Fearful of being ashamed by the Corinthians when he visits
If you are still reading at this point, there’s one thing that must have become clear reading all of that, and that is that many of the circumstances of Paul’s life, were very uncertain. Not having a church building wouldn’t even make his list. What’s more, it makes me wonder if having the goal of getting to the point where everything feels stable and sure when it comes to ministry, at least in this life, might just be missing the point. If God grants stability, certainty, great, but that kind of certainty certainly doesn’t define success, otherwise Paul would have been in trouble.
A better goal of course, is faithfulness.
Am I doing what God has called me to do?
If so, while one might feel uncertain about the circumstances surrounding their ministry, they should feel very certain the ministry they have been given is a privilege, a reason for joy, and a demonstration of God’s mercy, regardless of whether the circumstances are easy or not.