I will be very honest with you. I have had times and seasons as a pastor where I have just wanted to throw it all overboard, head far out into the country with my beloved Jack Russell Terrier and simply raise chickens for a living. There is nothing quite so hurtful or frustrating as attempting to serve God and people with pure motives, yet being falsely accused of wrongful motives or of having insufficient gifts and accomplishments.
Even as I write that paragraph above, I know that I have had it very easy compared to most who have set out to do this thing called pastoral ministry. That is especially true compared to the Apostle Paul.
A number of years ago I was terribly discouraged, having had some opponents suggest I should just move on, quit, die … whatever … just vacate. Many things were not going well. So I spent a couple of days to go back to the roots of it all – to the New Jersey church where I met Christ as a child. I know the very spot where I sat that Wednesday evening. I found the doors of the church unlocked, with nobody around. So I went to that spot and spent some time in prayer.
Next, I went into the sanctuary and sat in the very pew where I was weekly with my father, while my mother was on the side stage as the church organist. And sitting there for multiple hours, I read all the New Testament letters and epistles. That is where it hit me and when the Spirit spoke to me, saying essentially, “Randy, you’re being a wimp! Don’t you see all the troubles and conflicts that these early church leaders had to endure, especially Paul? Stop your whining and get back to work.”
As we read the 4th chapter of 2 Corinthians today, though filled with great stuff, to get the big idea, simply read the first and last verses together: “since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart… 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.
Paul faced so much opposition and criticism, some of the worst of it emanating from Corinth. The accusations so often leveled against him were actually the bullet points on the resumes of those most loudly pointing their fingers at him. And Paul simply said that his plain teaching was a “what you see is what you get” reality of the gospel facts. Anything not plainly understood, or whatever was veiled, was that way due to the efforts of the Evil One and his pervasive cast of darkness over the world systems. Whatever light that would break through would only shine because the same God who created the world by calling light out of the darkness would do the same to cause the lost to see the gospel.
The message of salvation in Christ was a great treasure. And the irony of it all was that this treasure – revealed to and preached by fallen creatures like Paul – was the most valuable thing imaginable, yet entrusted to the most fragile thing imaginable. It is kinda crazy-looking … like storing your entire fortune in a clay pot out in the backyard. But when people saw the persecutions and hindrances thrown at servants like Paul, and saw also his perseverance with the gospel message, it was a communication of great power. What should be a terrible defeat was instead an ongoing display of victory that was spreading ever more and more.
So, yes, it can be nasty sometimes when serving the Lord. Even your own teammates may slap you down at times. It will never be easy-going and smooth-sailing in this turbulent sin-filled world. But that is only discouraging if your eyes are merely focused upon this world. When the larger and eternal picture is brought to bear upon the mind, it all makes sense. True values are now in sight. Losses today equal gains for eternity. Fixing our eyes on the unseen – that’s a plan; but it is a plan that needs to be mentally renewed, over and over … like … well … today!
2 Corinthians 4:1 – Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 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.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 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. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[from Ps. 116:10] Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 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.