Thursday, August 30, 2007

Surprising Sources of Joy in Pastoral Ministry, 8

All of the world seems aimed at the pursuit of possession. When we're children we want toys. When we're teenagers we want the coolest clothes and a car. Soon we're off to college, hopefully one of the "better" institutions for our selected major. Not long after college we want the dream job and, of course, a better car to suit our "status." Then we purchase our first home. That "starter" home gives way to the "upgrade" or the "dream home." We fill that box with all kinds of furnishings and things to make it suit our tastes. Sea-Doos, boats, plasma TVs and the like become the grown-up version of the toys we played with as kids. A "mid-life crisis" may change everything. Time for the sportier car, the trendier clothes, and sometimes a new "trophy" spouse.

The philosophy seems to be "Get all you can, can all you get, then sit on your can.
Increasingly, large television ministries and pastors tell us that the pastor and Christians should live this way. Of course, they tell us, "it's okay to have possessions, just don't let possessions have you." But the gist is that the good life consists of the abundance of possessions. Success and joy in the ministry is defined by affluence, possessions, and jet-setting with the elites.

Enter the Apostle Paul...
Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Mega-watt bishop says, "God wants you rich and to enjoy the finer things in life."

Spirit inspired Apostle Paul says, "Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. I consider everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord."

We would do well if we would resist the siren song of success and materialism sung by bishop worldly wise man and wife, and heed the great profit and loss statement the apostle writes of in Phil. 3:7-11.

The formula is simple:

Everything in the world = loss, rubbish, dung, trash.

Knowing Jesus Christ = Infinite Treasure, wonder, and joy.

Therefore, Christ > everything in the world.

Amass everything in the world... all its currency, minerals and natural resources, people, ideas, pleasures and everything else that's good and joyous... calculate its present net value... choose any multiple and multiply it with present net value... and compare the total worth in monetary, social, and emotional terms and all of it is surpassed by the glorious joy of knowing Christ.

The pastor (and every Christian) may uniquely know the joys of Christ if he would learn this calculus. Gain the world without Christ and lose everything. Gain Christ and forsake the world and gain everything. "Christ is gain!"

And that is the source of tremendous, indescribable joy in pastoral ministry. Man, I'm constantly surprised at how long and sucky the tentacles of the world are. They keep suctioning onto our souls, winding around our affections, and drawing us into the world and the murky depths of false joy.

And thus far in my short life, I've not found anything that helps me to war against the pull of worldliness and temporal joy quite like the unique privilege of serving full time in pastoral ministry. It's a great privilege to rise each day knowing that I may count everything as loss for the sake of Christ and not lose one thing of eternal worth! It's a great privilege to have a vocation that focuses me on that specific truth and the application of it in my life and the lives of my people. "Not that I've already obtained all this"--not by a long shot! But I find great encouragement in the fact that the Lord has seen fit to bless my soul in this way through the ministry itself, through the call to 'let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also' and to live for Christ.

I once heard someone say they were not holy enough to not be in the pastorate. They commented that if they were in secular employment without the strictures, structure and privileges of pastoral ministry, their lives would drift toward worldliness, or at least the battle against it would be more pitched with perhaps more setbacks. I think I know what they mean. It's not as though work outside full-time Christian ministry is "less spiritual" or something, or doesn't afford helps and advantages in the pursuit of Christ, but there is a sweet grace poured out on the minister as he labors faithfully for Christ, hungering and thirsting after him, panting and longing for a glimpse of His glory, searching the Scripture for the merest sighting of His face. As the world recedes, the Savior looms larger and larger in our view. Even "the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" is but a foretaste of glorious joy at being counted worthy to suffer for the Name (Acts 5:41).

I wonder how much of our unhappiness and stress in the ministry is connected with our worldliness, our love for this life, where there should be an adoring abandon for Christ. How often do we pierce ourselves through with sorrows because we cry "Christ is loss and the world is gain"?

The surprising thing, the non-conventional wisdom is that "if we gain Christ and [are] found in Him," counting everything else loss, then we have great gain and "a surpassingly great knowledge" that leads to all joy. I wonder what, by God's grace, I'll have the joy of counting as loss today?

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