Grave Dwellers

My Dear Pastors,

A record number of pastors have thought about quitting over the last year. No wonder. It’s been a killer season. I surely don’t need to reiterate the reasons. Recently I read and reread the litany of Paul’s soul-crushing trials in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10. Good grief, did that man suffer! But he just couldn’t quit. He wrote, “Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” How was that possible?

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

Adam was nothing but lifeless clay until God breathed into him the breath of life. No watching angel would see him inhale and remark, “Wow, that’s some clay!” No, that’s some Breath! So it is with us. Whereas Moses once veiled the fading glory of God after he had been in the Tent of Meeting, the glory of God in Christ radiates permanently and increasingly from within our pottery selves. It’s just that we feel so … clay-ey.

Paul knew the feeling. He said he was hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. He said, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus.” I wasn’t really prepared for that part of ministry: the killer pressures, the confounding expectations, the toxic critics, the demoralizing failures. I didn’t factor in my own old nature undercutting me and my weaknesses hobbling me. But that is what dying is like. Believe it or not, those times are how God stages his resurrection power in us. He schedules us for frequent visits to Jesus’ tomb.

While despair sometimes accompanies dying (it did for Paul), we are able to be death-to-life models.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body(vv. 8-10)

The secret of turning from our tomb is to look again on the glory of our resurrected Christ until our faces shine and our clay inhales Spirit. In his sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:18 over 100 years ago, Alexander Maclaren said, “It is not mere beholding, but the gaze of love and trust that molds us.” He continued, “You have been trying, and trying, and trying half your lifetime to cure faults and make yourselves better and stronger. Try this other plan. Let love draw you, instead of duty driving you. Let fellowship with Christ elevate you, instead of seeking to struggle up the steeps on hands and knees. Live in sight of your Lord, and catch His Spirit.”

Pastor Josef Tson, a Romanian pastor and educator, suffered terribly under the Communists before the fall of the Iron Curtain. After one particular cruel bout with an interrogator he was very discouraged. Then the Lord met with him giving him a Christlike perspective. The next week the interrogation began again but everything was different. His interrogator stopped and said, “Mr. Tson, who visited you this weekend? I have in front of me a different person than the one who left here. Somebody came and changed you completely. I have to know who came and visited you.”

“Jesus visited me,” said Pastor Tson, “and made me ready for the battle again.”

Be ye glad!

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