Today's guest post comes from Pastor Steve King, senior pastor of Cherrydale Baptist Church in Arlington, VA. Pastor Steve has faithfully served in the ministry for close to 40 years and has become both a friend and mentor to me personally. Below is a letter he wrote to a group of ministers about "losing heart." While the letter was written originally to people in full-time ministry, I think it has tremendous value for all who call themselves a servant of Christ. If you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
That day has shaped the course of my life for over 38 years – it was the day I was ordained as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ in Portland, Oregon.
Three years before that fork in the road event, I developed a relationship with a pastor who marked my life like a branding iron. He could preach in a way that undressed your heart as he pointed you to Christ and compelled you to both repent and run to Jesus. I watched him effectively shepherd people of all ages in ways that astounded me. He trained a steady stream of interns and most of them are scattered across the globe carrying out fruitful ministries. He often spoke at our Seminary and he became a best-selling author.
During my first two years as a young pastor, I would meet with him and he faithfully and patiently coached and encouraged me. My mentor delivered the keynote message to me at my ordination service. I never forgot what he told me; “consistently love people, lead them to Christ and faithfully feed them God’s word – love, lead and feed.”
Five years after my ordination, I moved from Portland Oregon to Arlington Virginia and became the pastor of Cherrydale. Ten years into my ministry at Cherrydale, I invited my mentor to be the key note speaker at our church wide retreat. I was thrilled when he agreed to come.
Leading up to the retreat the first signs of something being wrong began to show up. The young woman who arranged his travel plans told me that he was very demanding and insisted on flying first class. I wrote it off as a misunderstanding. His messages impacted me and our church family the way I hoped they would. However, during the weekend retreat, my mentor was strangely distant and always found and excuse to scurry away and not engage me and others in conversation. I was hurt and confused.
A few weeks after the retreat, I discovered that he was engaged in an affair and later learned that he divorced his wife and left the ministry. He broke my heart and thousands of other people. That devastating disappointment put the fear of God in me – let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
The Bible records over 400 godly leaders and a large percentage of them did not finish well. My mentor did not finish well because he lost heart. Do not assume you know what losing heart is. The Bible’s perspective may surprise you. Never believe it could not happen to you.
Losing heart is not discouragement, disappointment, fear, testing or questioning. In the garden, before his arrest, Jesus Christ was stressed to the point of sweating blood. He kept throwing himself on the ground and repeatedly cried out to God. Three times he pleaded with his disciples to pray with him.
Yet in all this, Jesus did not lose heart.
The apostle Paul says that he was afflicted and despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Yet he did not lose heart. In 2 Corinthians chapter 4, Paul twice states as a fact that he does not lose heart:
“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:1)
“Therefore, we do not lose heart…” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
What does it mean to lose heart?
The Greek word for lose heart comes from two words combined – evil plus not. It means to not give into evil.
- Losing heart means that we cave into evil by refusing to live by faith in the character and promises of God (Hebrews 11:6).
- Losing heart means that we stop fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
- Losing heart means that we stop depending on the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).
- Losing heart means that we no longer live in desperate dependence on God (John 5:19; Proverbs 3:5-6).
We do not fail from a sudden blow out but from a series of slow leaks. I later learned that the “blow out” in my mentor’s life was proceeded by a steady series of slow leaks. So how do we plug our slow leaks and move ahead with confidence that we will not lose heart?
2 Corinthians 4 promises we will not lose heart in ministry if we do two things.
First, we will not lose heart in ministry if we understand the nature of the ministry we have been given.
Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 4:1; “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.” The 'therefore' of 2 Corinthians 4:1 points us back to 2 Corinthians 3:18 which describes the ministry we have received, “We all with and unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
He is referring to the ministry of the new covenant in which we behold Jesus Christ and are transformed by Him. We will not lose heart in ministry if we understand the core of our ministry to be beholding Jesus Christ in God’s word and allowing to Holy Spirit to change us into his image.
There are only two options before us – the ministry of beholding Christ and being transformed by him or the “ministry” of performing for God and strapping ourselves to our puny power. Success in ministry is beholding Christ, being transformed by him and serving from that overflow. Those who see ministry as beholding Christ will not lose heart!
Second, we will not lose heart in ministry if we have the right treasure in our hearts.
The Bible mentions the heart 800 times. The term is not referring to the organ in our chest but the treasure of our life. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart with all diligence for from it flows the issues of life.”
Every human heart has a treasure and what your heart treasures determines if you will lose heart or not.
“For God, who said, Light shall shine out of darkness, is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
If Jesus Christ is the treasure of your heart you will not lose heart in ministry. Success in ministry is treasuring Christ above all else and persuading others to do the same.
Beholding and treasuring Jesus not only prevents us from losing heart, it enables us to gain confidence and humility at the same time. Beholding Christ made Paul humble;
“…but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God…” (2 Corinthians 4:2a)
Beholding Christ made Paul confident:
“but by the manifestation of truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2b
Confident Paul walked in humility and weakness! He was not ashamed to admit his struggles because he drew strength and security from his treasure, Jesus Christ. When we treasure Jesus the power of God pulls us out of the undertow of people pleasing, manipulation and building our own little kingdom.
Beholding and treasuring Jesus also unveils a harsh reality; the enemy of our souls paints a bull’s eye on our back and targets us.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
We know, in Jesus, that we are equipped with supernatural weapons which can defeat the forces of gospel-blinding demonic evil. Our weapons are prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit, the word of God, our secure union with Jesus Christ and the gospel. As you treasure Christ, weld these weapons by faith for the glory of God and you will see the enemy of your soul defeated!
Beholding and treasuring Christ also gives us a new lens through which we view all of life. This “filter” enables us to see God at work in every aspect of our lives. It reminds us that we have entered God’s story where everything has a “so that” divine purpose connected to it.
Four times Paul declared God’s “so that” purposes:
“. but we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” 2 Corinthians 4:7
“always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:10
“For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” 2 Corinthians 4:11
“For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:15
I know a man with amazing gifts. He wrote 13 international best sellers and if I said his name you would instantly know who I am talking about. This man lost his health and public ministry. He was falsely accused and thrown in prison. He lost his financial support. His friends abandoned him and the churches he started were overrun by false teachers.
Yet in the middle of this mess, he wrote a book on joy! Paul, the author of Philippians, did not lose heart in ministry because he beheld and treasured Jesus Christ. His “so that” perspective erupted with joy from his prison cell.
The avalanche of losses buried Paul yet pushed him closer to the treasure he could never lose! That is why he could proclaim in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
“Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Sometimes the avalanche of successes can bury us and yet compel us to treasure Jesus. Bruce Wilkerson wrote the popular book, The Prayer of Jabez and founded Walk Thru the Bible. He has authored many books and one of my favorites is Secrets of the Vine. In the Secrets book, he tells the following story.
My brother knows Bruce and watched him journey through these events. Bruce was leading a flourishing international ministry and enjoying the fruits of global influence for Christ. Yet on the inside he was dry and empty even though he faithfully prayed and possessed vast Bible knowledge. He decided to go for help and met with a wise, seasoned and discerning counselor. The counselor listened all day as Bruce poured out his story and answered the counselors probing questions. He then said to Bruce, “I know what your problem is and what you should do to correct it.”
The counselor held up his hands, lifting one high and keeping the other low. He said, “Bruce, the high hand stands for your dependence on God and the low hand stands for your reliance on your skills and abilities. When you began your ministry your dependence on God was high and your reliance on your skills and gifts was low. Your desperate dependence on God has resulted in a flourishing international ministry.”
The counselor then lifted the hand representing dependence on skills high and lowered the hand representing reliance on God. He continued, “Bruce, over time you have gradually shifted your dependence from God to reliance on your skills. You must return to the way you got in – radical dependence on God.” Bruce had slowly switched treasures. He began his ministry by treasuring Jesus and he did not lose heart. Then over time he stopped treasuring Christ and began to treasure the use of his gifts and the addictive influence of his ministry. As a result, he lost heart.
Losing heart is the result of choosing the wrong treasure and forgetting what our ministry call is all about. The good news is that Bruce repented and ran back to the only one who could prevent him from losing heart.
Success in ministry is treasuring Christ above all else and persuading others to do the same. We will treasure Christ to the degree we remember how much he treasures us (1 John 4:10; 2 Corinthians 5:14). Daily preach the gospel to your heart and intentionally saturate your mind with his amazing grace.
Read the following eight statements and after each one stop and say out loud – I will look to Jesus my treasure, knowing he treasures me. Go ahead and practice saying that to yourself. I will look to Jesus my treasure, knowing he treasures me. Now read the following statements one at a time and do not move to the next one until you have proclaimed the I will treasure statement.
- When I have success in ministry so that seasons of fruitfulness come my way…I will look to Jesus my treasure, knowing he treasures me.
- When I am scaled by critics and unappreciated …
- When my schedule is overloaded, stress is eating me up and I see no way out…
- When the Bible seems stale, prayer is lifeless and I feel inadequate …
- When my health fails, trials roll in on me and I feel lonely …
- When I am misunderstood, tempted and frustrated…
- When I am disappointed and God puts me in a waiting room…
- When money is tight, needs are pressing in on me and I need a job…
Come and behold Jesus Christ! Treasure him above all else and you will not lose heart in ministry!