Do you get it yet?!

I’ve always found it funny the way that the Lord sometimes takes the opportunity to beat a truth into my head repeatedly over a few days in different ways. Perhaps I’m just proper thick, but it seems to be that often, when I really need to learn a lesson, the Lord really hits me with it a few times in a short space of time.

That’s been the case for me over the last week or so. As I’ve pointed out a couple of times recently, the slog of church planting in an ‘average place‘ can feel like walking on through the drizzle. The temptation to lose heart can be strong. To get down about the slowness of the work, or the lack of quality, or perceived effect, of my preaching. The temptation to want to be anywhere but plodding along in the never-ending rain. To look for joy elsewhere than in daily denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus. To dream of sitting in the sun with a book and a glass of Hoegaarden. Even to wonder very (very!) briefly if teaching really was that bad after all. (It is, by the way!)

But the Lord knows what he’s doing…

Last Wednesday I sat and listened to Andy Prime’s banging sermon on 2 Corinthians 4 at the FIEC Leaders Conference. Andy reminded us that while there are many reasons to lose heart in gospel ministry, there are more reasons in Christ to keep going. To keep trusting in Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection. To keep finding joy, in the midst of difficulty, in God’s mercy and the beauty of his glory displayed in the face of Jesus Christ. To minister on, to plod on, in the all surpassing power of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus, by the power of the Spirit. To be reminded that the slog is not to be despised but is the normal pattern of ministry, because then God is glorified, not us. All stuff I knew, right? But summat I was in danger of forgetting as the rain seeped into my shoes…

Then, as I got back into real life last Thursday, I came across Luke 10.20 in my personal Bible reading. It hit me like a train. The reason the slog of ministry so often drags us down and steals our joy is because we’re trying to find our joy in it, rather than in Jesus. We lose heart because we rejoice that our ministry is awesome, or that we’re amazing preachers, or that God is using us to save people, or grow Christians to be ‘super-awesome effective disciples-making disciples’. But the problem comes that in the slog and the drizzle those things aren’t always happening. And because my joy is invested in those things being true, when they’re not I’m gutted. But Jesus reminds me, like he reminded the disciples, that joy is only found in him and his gospel, in the love the Father has lavished on us in him, through the Spirit uniting us to him. Whatever happens that ain’t going to change. Again, it’s not like I don’t know that. I preach it to our folks pretty much every week, in and out of the pulpit. But just perhaps the rain was in danger of washing my clarity on it away…

And then I turned up the passage for Sunday. Guess what? Psalm 131. Read it. Go on. Take some time and luxuriate in it. I’ll wait… Can you see why I laughed as I read it?! Why I told the Lord, ‘Enough. I get it!’ It’s not my job to know why ministry and life is great, or why it’s pants. It’s not my job to know why so few people have joined us. It’s only my pride that makes me think I can look down on the situations the Lord has given me for my eternal good, and the extension of his kingdom. It’s simply my job to rest in the hope I have in Jesus. To trust my heavenly Father and enjoy his embrace, as I rest in his goodness to me in Jesus, like that weaned child with its mother. To find my joy in the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, as the Spirit shows him to me. And to call others to find this same joy as they hope in Jesus, both now and forevermore.

Perhaps you’re not the same as me. Perhaps this obvious lesson doesn’t need beating in to your head every day. If so, congratulations. But I reckon, for most of us, especially those in full time ministry, this is a lesson we need to learn afresh every day. To confess before the Lord, every day, that we have lost heart because we are proud, haughty, and think we deserve to know everything. Because we have failed to trust the Lord and find our rest in him. Because we have invested our joy in the spirits (or our church members, or unbelievers, or the culture) submitting to us, and therefore throw a pity party when they don’t. Because we’ve failed to delight in the glory of God in the face of Christ, failed to depend on the Spirit to empower us. Perhaps you, like me, need to repent of that, every day, and come afresh to the cross of Jesus. And ask the Spirit to give us afresh the joy of our Father in the face of his Son. And then, to get off our knees, and out into the world to show them a joy that cannot be defeated. Because Jesus really, truly, is alive…