Like a flashlight to the eyes, present circumstances can often blind us to future reality. And if we church-planting pastors are honest, it’s far too easy to lose sight of eternity.
From the early days of a new church, to the stabilizing phase of a healthy church, along with the multiplying phase of a mature church, our vision of the “unseen things” that last forever (2 Cor. 4:18) can quickly become clouded by the “seen things” that are passing away.
We’ve all felt it. The ministry tensions around resources and strategy that pull us in a hundred competing directions. The tyranny of the urgent, though not necessarily important. The fatigue that comes from paddling through the online sea of unending information, opinions, and rage.
I’ve looked into the eyes of too many pastors (including the one in the mirror) who’ve developed a “ministry flinch” every time an ominous text or email hits their screen. Here we go again, we sigh. And the future eternal reality that is ours in Christ, which God is moving us toward with absolute certainty, seems to become a little less believable, and a little too far off in the distance to make any meaningful difference in how we respond in such situations.
Remembering our grace-initiated trajectory toward a glorious eternity does something in us. It fuels the fires of hope.
No wonder Jonathan Edwards prayed, “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs!”
We too need to lay hold of such a prayer. Remembering our grace-initiated trajectory toward a glorious eternity does something in us. It fuels the fires of hope. And our hope is not one of nervous optimism, but confident anticipation.
Like the moments before being reunited with a loved one.
Like a song right before the beat drops.
Like the sun’s rising.
We know exactly what’s coming. We’ve been given a peek into the final page of God’s great story. No wonder Paul links “not losing heart” with “looking toward the eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16–18).
Whether we’re in the early stages of planting a church or nearing the finish line after decades of running the marathon, we need the eternal to “break in” on us. Whatever metrics we’re using to measure our ministry, we need to calibrate them to the trajectory of renewal that God has the entire universe on. For those of us who’ve pledged our lives to advancing the gospel through planting church-planting churches, here are a few things we need to remember.
Tired to Renewed
In service to Jesus, we can expect the daily breakdown of our bodies along with the daily renewal of our spirits (2 Cor. 4:16). And in light of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we eagerly and willingly pour ourselves out for the sake of others (1 Pet. 5:1–4). In other words, if we’re living on God’s mission (not ours) according to God’s will (not ours), then there is no alternative: we are going to get tired.
- Responding to those in need of pastoral tenderness tires us.
- Discipling the little people who bear our last name tests us.
- The inevitable breakdown of our bodies over time takes its toll.
- The weekly grind of preparing another sermon haunts us in a strangely wonderful—yet wearying—way.
According to Paul, a sense of weariness in service to Jesus is, well, normal. Tiredness in ministry does not signal the absence of the Spirit. There’s a reason God has given us the weekly gift of a sabbath along with moment-by-moment access to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16).
Tiredness is completely compatible with faithful, Spirit-empowered gospel ministry. Self-reliance, however, is not.
We can take heart because our hope is not in our dying and decaying selves, but in a God who specializes in resurrection.
We can take heart because our hope is not in our dying and decaying selves, but in a God who specializes in resurrection. And he wants us to remember that the resurrection of Jesus not only has cosmic implications for the glorified future his people will share with all of creation (Rom. 8:19–22), but also personal and continuous implications that energize us in the midst of daily struggles.
In other words, God is as committed to shepherding you through the difficulties of next Tuesday as he is the redemption of the universe. You have not been overlooked.
Hurt to Healed
Knowing our afflictions are preparing us for incomparable glory (2 Cor. 4:17) means we can be honest about our struggles without being morbid about them. Paul is not minimizing the difficulty of ministry; he is maximizing our hope. In God’s sovereign hand, every single thing that rallies against us will one day serve us.
Every betrayal, every word of slander, every disappointment, every cheap shot, every failure, and every late-night anxiety—all of it will serve our joy in glory. Not one dark day will be wasted. These lose power to bully us when we see what they really are through the lens of eternity: God-ordained servants of our sanctification.
When we measure our present moments of difficulty by our guaranteed future, our anxieties turn into prayer; our weariness into courage. We don’t shrink back from whatever struggles Jesus may lead us into for the sake of his name. When the day of gospel pain turns up on our calendar, we stand firm; in Christ’s presence, on God’s Word, with and for God’s people.
In the end, every one of our afflictions will prove no different from a cloud that briefly blocked our view of the sun. Then, we will say of our darkest circumstances: Oh, Those? Those struggles? That pain? Nothing but light and momentary. Or in the words of Teresa of Avila, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”
So like Paul, we’re learning to look not to the seen things that are transient, but the unseen things that are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). Or, we’re learning to see our present difficulties through the lens of eternity. A Day is coming where our gospel will no longer be news we announce, but a deep glory we enjoy, the fruits of which will only get sweeter throughout the ages.
So think with me about a definite moment in your distant future. Think of your ten billionth anniversary in glory. There you are, standing with Jesus, looking squarely into his eyes, “no longer in a mirror dimly, but face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). In that moment, you will experience an affection from him and a glory in him so dazzling—so overwhelmingly captivating—that as you try to recall the worst moment of your short earthly existence or the most difficult situation you faced in his service, you will say, “I don’t even know how to compare the two!”
No one in the new creation will ever wonder, Was it really worth it?
No one in the new creation will ever wonder, Was it really worth it? We can face the days ahead with confident anticipation. While we may not know the exact path forward, we do know our guide, along with the promises of what he’s prepared for us. And it’s more glorious than we could ever imagine.
So onward we stumble. Knowing his promises, let’s gladly embrace the cost now. Sooner than we think, we will be embraced by Christ in glory.