I'm not sure how to put these questions... but I'm trying to recognize something that Paul recognized about suffering and joy. It's in many places in his letters, but this morning I'm considering Philippians 1:12-14:
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
Few will deny that gospel ministry has its perils. Its taxing even on the stoutest of men. Broad shoulders is not guarantee of effortless lifting. If you carry a gospel burden for souls, you will face not only the weight of the load but the obstacles of spiritual and earthly opposition. This life is no crystal stair (to borrow from one poet).
And yet, Paul, in chains, celebrates the gospel advancing result of his imprisonment and persecution. It's a surprising source of joy in the ministry for him.
The blows of God are efficient. They're not wasted on the superficial effect of widespread carnage and damage as in some "action movie." But see how His blows work wondrous kingdom results. One man's imprisonment: (a) advances the gospel, (b) makes it clear to those who imprison him and everyone else that Christ is worth being chained for, (c) leads to courage in others, and (d) produces more preaching with Spirit-filled boldness. God's economy takes one man's chains and leads to all of this.
The questions for me and perhaps other pastors are:
1. Have I recognized the efficiency of God in my persecution, suffering, and hardship?
2. Can I trace the workings of God from my situation to evidence of grace in others to gospel joy over the work of God in my hardship?
3. Have I grown near-sighted, seeing only the hardship, the "chains"?
4. Have I considered the fruit in others a basis for joy in ministry?
5. How would I need to change my focus in order to bring these things into view?
6. Am I denying some real hardship in favor of fantasy gains, instead of accurately assessing real challenges in favor of real spiritual fruit the Lord is producing?
We are to endure hardship like a good soldier. But we are also to "count it all joy" when various trials come our way. Paul's rejoicing helps us to see why we should have this perspective.
Too often I err on the side of be a good soldier. "Buck up little soldier. Chin up. Shoulders back. Stand up straight. Keep marching. Big boys don't cry." Not surprisingly, I grow wearier in the labor. And not surprisingly, some men grow weary of the labor... joyless and resigned.
But we may find that it's precisely in the trials of ministry that a surprising source of joy awaits... if we can see things from the divine perspective that Paul models for us. Philippians makes it clear that the Sovereign Lord is up to far more in my suffering than I am accustomed to seeing or acknowledging. And for that, I can rejoice even in the difficulty. For first comes suffering, then comes glory.