My Dear Shepherds,
A man, dead to rights, three days buried, walked into the city of the dead and said, “Repent!” Revival—resurrection—broke out. That’s “the sign of Jonah” (Luke 11:29-30). Jesus fulfilled that sign, and now, so do we who represent his gospel message. The preaching part isn’t nearly so hard as our death in the belly of the beast.
Did anyone prepare you in seminary for the routine rigor of dying? Even when we occasionally heard that pastoring would be hard I don’t think we got the message that it was lethal. And repetitive! Jesus said that all his followers must take up their cross. All Christians must engage in dying when we walk with Jesus. But I think ministry leaders, if their souls are sensitive, are subject to more dying, deeper dying, than many others. Paul spoke for our company when he wrote,
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Cor. 4:10-12)
Recently, some of God’s people have been especially cruel to their shepherds. Some shepherds have watched their sheep leave. Some of you grew so weary or discouraged that you felt like your own gravedigger. Perhaps some of you have looked into your souls and seen a dangerous virus breeding there. Or maybe you just saw emptiness.
A pastor told me recently that for the first ten years of his ministry life he was afflicted with a crippling anxiety disorder. The seed of some small worry would erupt virulently into sickening panic. His wife would make him read the Bible aloud while he paced back and forth in their small bedroom till he calmed down. He said that 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 became his lifeline. There, after Paul affirmed his hope of resurrection for him and the Corinthians, he said,
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
My pastor friend said, “I prayed many years, ‘Lord, take this away from me.’ The way the Lord answered was to tell me that this suffering was temporary and fleeting. He gave me an eternal perspective to see the day when all things would be made right.” There was a second takeaway for him. “That text rebuked me,” he said, “for thinking on all the things that could go wrong. My anxiety was coming from fleeting things when the text was telling me to take heart from the things that are eternal.” By God’s grace, he is much healthier now and his ministry has the vitality of a dead man resurrected.
Paul said, “We are being renewed day by day.” The word means “qualitatively new,” a new beginning, re-creation. That is true whether I awake feeling like a new man or not. What’s more, these troubles—this daily dying—re-creates us little by little into the image of Christ, which will only be fully evident when heaven reveals in us “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Be ye glad!