A word of hope
Weary ministers need a word of hope....
I have been ordained nearly 37 years but I do not think I can remember any period quite like the past year. The impact of the pandemic has been relentless on every area of personal and church family life. For me perhaps the hardest element has been the continual twists and turns, the inability to plan ahead, and yet the obvious need to persevere in the basic tasks of a Christian pastor. No wonder we weary ministers need a word of hope.
We know where to look for hope but the simplistic quoting of Bible verses will not do much for us at this time. As in many areas of our lives this pandemic makes us reflect on our spirituality and ministry, and perhaps about why we are tired. Tiredness can be physical, mental, and spiritual. There can be good reasons for being tired as well as bad ones. We are being forced to ask hard questions about our motivation and expectations in serving Jesus. That is a good thing which can bring hope as part of the Lord’s sovereign purposes.
If we seek ‘success’ in ministry, then the pandemic has probably been frustrating. Our plans at the very least have had to be severely modified. However, such ‘success’, whether in terms of congregation numbers or our celebrity, is a foolish path. It is far better to think about faithfulness to the priorities of gospel work and being alert for gospel opportunities as our aim. Even in our current challenges it is worth setting aside time to reflect on our priorities in ministry. If covid forces us to do that then that is no bad thing. What is the best use of our time rather than what is merely good?
Weariness can also arise from our reluctance to truly entrust matters into the Lord’s hands. Consider how your days off have been over the last year. Perhaps the pandemic has exposed some workaholic tendencies. The Lord is capable of piling on the pressure so that we are forced to stop and cast ourselves on the Lord. It is often the dealing with people that makes us weary and there are limits to how we can help those we serve. A tired minister should think whether he or she is really willing to leave people and situations with the Lord.
It is when we have appreciated how our weariness can be an opportunity to reflect on our spirituality and our ministry priorities that we may be better placed to look more directly at a Scripture passage. Consider Isaiah 35:3-4 “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘be strong, do not fear; your God will come…” This verse is echoed in Hebrews 12:12 within a passage which urges us to run the race marked out for us with perseverance (fixing our eyes on Jesus) and encourages us to see difficult experiences as part of the Lord’s discipline for those he loves.
Back in Isaiah 35 we note that vv3-4 set out the proper response to the rest of the chapter. 35:1-2 speak of the amazing transforming power of the Lord. Vv5-7 do the same but have a focus on the grace work of the coming Messiah whom we know to be the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, vv8-10 describe the highway to Zion and how the redeemed enter the new Jerusalem with singing. They are singing with joy because ‘sorrow and sighing’ have finally fled away.
Perhaps our weariness is expressed in sorrow and sighing. That is why the response in 35:3-4 of steadying the knees that give way and not being afraid is so important. It is a response to what God has promised and indeed now secured through Jesus Christ. It is the Lord’s promised vision of the new Jerusalem which is the only real hope that can be given to those who are weary. It is probably no accident that Isaiah 40:30-31 also reflect on this theme. Even youths grow tired and weary but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.