I’ve seen it far too many times. Upon exchanging general pleasantries, there is a look and a sigh that says it all. This pastor is beaten up. He is hurting. Talking further reveals that he feels as stable emotionally as a Jenga tower engineered by a 5-year-old. Some guys are getting a beating from their elders, others from church members, and still others from the outside. They are reeling and wounded. My heart goes out to these brothers. I know they know ministry is hard, and they really don’t want sympathy. They just want to know it’s going to be all right and that it’s worth it. I want to remind them that it is. Maybe this describes you today. If so, let me give you hope based on two views. Lift your chin today to see these vital and refreshing vistas.
Look Back to Calvary
It is a strange consequence of the fall that those who preach the gospel might actually not hear it themselves. Pastors, particularly hurting pastors, must labor to bend their necks back to Calvary. Work hard to see through the impediments. Look through the fog of despair. Peer through the clouds from ministry dust-ups. Strain your tear-filled eyes to see. And brother pastor, what do you see? You see Christ. You see him there upon the tree bearing your shame, enduring the consequence of your imperfections, wearing your guilt, and suffering your hell. Without oversimplifying things, he is being critiqued for you. Think about this: the cross is the loudest and most comprehensive critique you have ever received (or ever will). You may look back and see the Savior drinking dry the cup of wrath in your place. There, Jesus suffered for you. But there’s more. At the cross, Jesus is also demonstrating unflinching and unfailing love for you. This is love that never fails and never ends. He loves you completely. Pastor, do you suffer from the weight of complicated relationships at church? You need to see that Jesus loved you and gave himself for you (Gal. 2:20). All other loves and people are subordinated to this sacrifice. If he loves you, it doesn’t (ultimately) matter who doesn’t. And if he doesn’t, then it doesn’t matter who does. Rest in this love. Now pair these two together. You are intimately known (your sin is bare) and at the same time infinitely loved (your sin is paid for). He loved you and gave himself for you. Oh, look back at Calvary. Strain your neck to see this truth.
Look Ahead to the Last Day
You want to know this will be all right. You want to know the tears are worth it. You want to know that God is watching. You want to know he will make it right. Pastor, look ahead to the last day for consolation. I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s words amid the difficulty in Corinth. Notice how he reasons through the lacerations he was getting at the hands of the reckless church of Corinth.
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Cor. 4:1–5)
The Corinthians ultimately cared a lot about what other people thought. Paul, not so much. He is more concerned with what God thinks. But let’s not cast this off like he didn’t feel it. As Geoffrey Wilson observes, “This does not mean that he was not hurt by their criticism, but that he was not moved by it.” Instead, he was looking ahead to the judgment from God. This does not mean that we should dismiss all criticism and just wait until the last day. It seems axiomatic that there is often truth to be learned in every criticism. But it does mean he has perspective. He is looking ahead, amid the criticism with the knowledge that God sees, hears, and will judge. And, he trusts, God will vindicate faithfulness where it is found. This must be our comfort. God does see, and he will bring to light what is hidden. When the factions are arising, and the inbox is filling up, you may be tempted to think that no one sees what you are genuinely trying to do. You may be tempted to throw in the towel because it’s not worth it. Brother, the Lord will judge the motives of men’s hearts. He will judge both the actions and the attitudes. He sets up court in our inner life. Labor much therefore because of the end. Serve with the knowledge not that your ministry is unseen but rather that it is closely monitored by heaven. And don’t be trapped to think that it does not matter. Paul accounted the suffering he experienced as preparation for an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). Suffering is far from pointless. It is, in the mysterious providence of God, purposeful. On the last day, all will become clear. It will be seen. Rest in this truth. If you are feeling beat up, take in these two views, look back and look ahead. Here you will find help and even refreshment for your weary soul.