Yesterday I preached from 2 Timothy 4 where Paul lays out the final instructions to his protege, Timothy. One of the things he told Timothy to do as a pastor was to "endure suffering." One of the unmistakeable realities of ministry is that it's hard. Whenever you deal with people and live in between the heavenly and the temporary, it's messy. You'll be heartbroken when people you love mess up, you'll be discouraged when your best ideas are duds, you'll be frustrated when week after week you labor faithfully and don't see any visible fruit.
Why? Because if God's the one who called you to ministry, God's the one who will see you through your difficult days. He'll see you through when you want to walk away. He'll see you through when you're laboring and not seeing any fruit. He'll be there on Monday morning when you want to just walk away because the weekend went flat. Anyone else had one of those Mondays? Most of the time the suffering we deal with isn't the obvious, it's the cumulative effect of the daily labor.
What does it look like Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually to endure?
Physical Suffering - Sometimes your body will remind you it's not perfect. Yesterday I had the joy of preaching with back spasms. If you've not done that before, it's not fun. Other times you'll fight having the stomach bug, flu, twisted ankles, or major sickness. For most of us we get too little sleep, exercise too little, and eat too much. Remember, in your weakness God is most strong. And in the meantime, dust off your running shoes, eat a salad, and go to bed before midnight.
Emotional Suffering - When we suffer emotionally it's often because we're at the point where we find ourselves carrying so much from others that we can't process it anymore and our emotions are spent. Not surprising, it's connected to our physical suffering. Because when we're tired and anxious we're more likely to be affected emotionally. Even Jesus pulled Himself away from the crowds to recharge the batteries. If Jesus needed to, so do you.
Spiritual Suffering - Ministry is tough. And it's even tougher when we're wandering away from God by not making sure our own souls aren't nourished. It can be so easy to take what we do vocationally and overlook the fact that first we're adopted as God's children. So our spirit suffers because we're squeezing every bit of us out into our work, while not coming back to the source ourselves. We find ourselves resenting our time with God because it "interrupts our productivity" or we forget what it's like to marvel and delight at the presence of God. This happens when we neglect to take our day off, we neglect to use vacation days, or we neglect getting away for conferences/retreats.
Ministry is tough. That's why it's not for the weak of heart. But for those called, they're carried by the strong arms of the God who loves them.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.