Somebody has said that preaching is the sweetest agony. It is sweet when lives are changed. And it is agony the rest of the time!
That is probably unfair, but whatever ministry we are involved in, it is good to pause and reflect on the sweeter parts of it. After all, there is plenty to find discouraging!
There is nothing as rewarding as seeing lives changed. Sometimes you preach a message or have a conversation and a life is changed completely. More often, change occurs over a longer time frame. It can be hard to measure when change occurs. But occasionally, people may write a note that specifically lists the impact of your ministry.
Since there is always a long list of reasons to become discouraged in ministry, it is a good idea to keep a log of some of these encouragements. Keep a collection of those notes and let them sit there, ready for a day when you really need to be reminded of the sweeter aspects of ministry. Keep an email folder of encouragements that you can go back to when the inbox is overwhelming and discouraging.
With all that is going on, and all the reasons for discouragement, why not take a moment to look back and list some of the lives that you have seen changed by the grace of God? If you have some encouraging notes already collected, why not read a few and give God thanks for how he has worked in the lives of those you serve?
There is nothing as rewarding as seeing lives changed, but there is one other person to remember. If the sweetness of ministry is changed lives, then don’t forget the one life that hears every sermon you preach, every conversation you participate in, etc. By this, I mean you.
Every time you prepare a sermon, you are involved. Every time you plan a workshop, prepare a talk, anticipate a conversation, or schedule a one-on-one meeting, you are part of it. This means that you get to go through the times of prayer, the low points, the spiritual highs, the wrestling with the biblical text, the struggle to figure out how to lead a session, the grappling with formulating your main idea, the prayerful decisions to omit material, and the practice runs of a sermon or speech with only you and the Lord listening. You are there.
Much of ministry can feel like the agony of labour, striving to work through all that it takes to eventually bring to fruition something helpful for others. It can seem like thankless toil. People don’t understand the time you invest, nor the stress you often carry. But let’s remember the good times too. The times of sweet fellowship with the Lord. Those moments where your desperate prayers give way to clarity on a way forward. The times when study leads to deeper understanding of a text and greater worship in your heart. These are times of blessing and encouragement in ministry. Sweet times.
Let’s find ways to mark these moments. Maybe write a thank-you note to God and put it in your files. Maybe a journal entry, highlighted to help you find it again. Perhaps you have a collection of visual “memorial stones” on a shelf – markers of moments to help your memory. You need some way to remind yourself of the sweetness of ministry: how good it has been, how good it can be, and how good it will be again.
Most ministries that are worth doing entail a whole lot of agony. But there is a sweetness in serving God and his mission in this world. There is a sweetness in the blessing that we receive as well as the blessing we offer to others. And when ministry feels overwhelming and difficult, we need a way to remind ourselves of the sweeter parts of ministry, of the lives changed and blessed, including ours.
This year has started with all sorts of complexities and does not promise to be easy for any of us. But God has promised to be with us through it all. Let’s find ways to not let ministry drain play a decisive role in our life stories. Yes, there will be agony in what we do, but let’s be sure we don’t miss the sweet moments too!