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Displaying items by tag: pastor
Saturday, 31 December 2011 10:26

Complaining About Ministry?

Complaining About Ministry

One of the more interesting Old Testament Minor Prophets is Malachi—sometimes known as the “Italian Prophet” (that’s a joke!). The book of Malachi speaks the words of God and calls the people back to pure devotion to the Lord.

Malachi covers a wide variety of topics that are symptomatic of waning devotion and he begins with the heart condition of the priests. The priests were the spiritual leaders of the people. In numerous places, they were called to shepherd the people and feed the people on knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15, 23:4, etc).

Yet in the first chapter of Malachi, the Lord brings His first condemnation on the priests because as they “go”, so do the people. It’s a case of the proverbial, “Fish rot from the head.”

In chapter 1, verse 6 the Lord calls out the priests for presenting defiled sacrifices to the Lord. According to verse 8, they were offering blind sacrifices. These imperfect sacrifices pointed to a heart condition far more serious than might be otherwise seen. First of all, an imperfect sacrifice communicates the message to God and the public that the Lord does not deserve our best; we can take shortcuts with God because other priorities trump Him. Second, it also communicates God is not concerned with the best; He Himself is sloppy and therefore accepts sloppy service.

Third, it communicates the sins being atoned are not all that bad. To understand this third point, we need to remember the sacrifices in the Old Testament were an ongoing object-lesson of covering over sins with innocent blood. Because of his sins, the worshipper could not be in fellowship with God; the worshipper’s sins were odious in the sight of the Lord and created a separation between them (Isaiah 59:2). However, if these sins were covered over by the righteous, innocent blood (life) of the animal (Leviticus 17:11), then the Lord would be shielded from their offence and once again, the sinner could have a relationship with the Lord (Leviticus 16:30).

But, if the priest was offering imperfect sacrifices, this pointed to the underlying notion that the person’s sins were not that bad, and any old sacrifice would suffice. I’m sure they even reasoned within themselves saying, “Aren’t all animals innocent? This blind goat is just as good.”

So clearly, presenting imperfect sacrifices to the Lord was a terrible action and one that led the people to stray in their hearts.

Another cutting accusation against the priests is found in chapter 1, verse 13. The Lord says the priests were complaining about the burden of their ministry. They were saying, “My, how tiresome it is!” Wow, these are seriously cutting words because who hasn’t made similar statements? Who hasn’t looked at their workload and their competing priorities and felt their particular challenges were daunting and difficult to bear? Have we gone so far as to utter words like these? No doubt, we have all felt this from time to time and felt the temptation to speak what was in our heart.

The Hebrew word in Malachi 1:13 points to a more sinister disdain for the work of God. It’s the word “mtela’a” which speaks to a weariness with a sense of frustration. Its root word (tela’a) contains the implication that the source of the weariness is something objectionable to begin with. In other words, it’s as if the priests were worn out (and telling people as much) from their labors and deep down in their hearts, they didn’t feel they should have to do the work to begin with!

This frightening warning should resound in the ears of God’s servants. From time to time, I hear of God's people who declare their weariness with their work for the Lord. I can understand their heart ache.

For pastors, the preaching regime turns the week into just two days: Sunday and all the other days morphing into one. The phone calls come in constantly—the important ones are okay, it’s the incidental calls late, at home, that exasperate us. There are countless meetings to be attended. People with frustratingly myopic perspectives squander our time on crazy hobby horses. 

For ministry leaders, often they have to deal with difficult people. Often the volunteers take "vacations" without proper notice. Efforts become sloppy, quality suffers.

I agree and understand these challenges are real, but at the heart of this rebuke are these underlying principles that we must remember:

1) The Lord deals patiently with His people 24/7 without rest or break. If there was ever a person legitimately called to complain about the “mtela’a” of His job, it’s the Lord. Yet He is patient with us, ever giving of Himself to us. As His servants, we must reflect this aspect of His nature.

2) The Lord’s work is holy. It’s a serious, solemn, high work. It’s a holy work that endures into eternity. No matter how mundane the task, when done to the Lord, it is holy (Zech 14:21 speaks to this principle).

3) The weary heart betrays a fleshly heart. Philippians 2:13 explains the principle that God is at work in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” The Greek word “work” here is “energios” and it has the idea of “energy”—the heart of the meaning is that God will supply the “energios” for the tasks that He has set before us. If we are surrendered to Him, we will have His grace pumping into our souls, providing the ability and the energy to do His will. Yet the person who is wearied by the work has either a) distanced himself from fellowship with the Lord, or b) taken on tasks and challenges not of God—we can do this in many ways: by demanding an outcome not inline with the Lord, by fearing people and saying “yes” when we should have said “no”, by squandering our time on non-priorities so we must add hours to our work day to finish our real responsibilities. I could go on, but these three cover a lot of territory.

So, in our pastoral ministry, we have many responsibilities. We are to “shepherd the flock of God…exercising oversight…according to the will of God…with eagerness (1 Pet 5:2).” We do this by taking “care of the church of God” (1 Tim 3:5) specifically as we “preach the word…reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction (2 Tim 4:2).” All of this being done with an eye to equip “the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (Eph 4:12) so the final result is we “present every man complete in Christ (Col 1:28).”

This is a very high calling. This is a high privilege. This is an utterly holy endeavor. No doubt there are seeds of bitterness waiting to take root and grow in our hearts. In each of our ministries, there are challenges and frustrations that tempt us to utter “My, how tiresome it is”. But these words are sinful; they come from the flesh and are rooted in a fleshly perspective. Yet like all sins, they can be crucified by the Holy Spirit as we offer up our idols to God and confess that we would rather serve them that Him. In His mercy and grace, He will accept our confession and cleanse us from this sin (1 John 1:9).

May God’s grace strengthen you and equip you in your service to Him.

Those are some of my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.

Published in Blog
Monday, 06 September 2010 08:28

Side-Stepping Popularity

John chapter 6 contains the well known account of Jesus feeding the 5000. This amazing story demonstrates that Jesus as God has the ability to create something from nothing. In other, more fancy words, Jesus has the power to create ex nihilo. He has the ability to bring atoms into existence and fashion them together to form real objects. All without touching them. His command, His will, His word is enough that nature follows.

Likewise, just after the account of the Feeding of the 5000, John's Gospel then provides the account of Jesus walking on water. This is another example of His divine capabilities as His will causes nature to be rearranged so that normal properties of water are changed and He is able to walk upon it.

While these are amazing feats of awesome command, I want to highlight a side comment made my John in 6:15--"So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone."

What I find convicting about this verse is the clear principle that not all popularity is good, right or rightly motivated. In this situation, the people wanted to make Jesus their King. To my fleshly mind that sounds like a complete success for His objectives--finally, He's demonstrated His truth and power and the people have seen and believed. They have turned to Him in droves. They are ready for their King Messiah. Quite possibly, His number of supporters has now outweighed His detractors. You would think that Jesus is ready to take Airforce One and land on the aircraft carrier triumphantly declaring "Mission Accomplished!"

But that's not what Jesus did. Instead, He withdrew from them and went to the mountains to be alone. Fascinating. What did He do? Well, we can gather from other passages that at times such as this, Jesus withdrew to be alone to pray. To be alone to seek God, to commune with Him, to maintain fellowship with Him and His divine will. Had Jesus not done this, the whole atonement/redemption of humanity would have been lost. God's divine plan and purpose for the life of Christ did not include of brief hiatus of kingship on that side of the cross.

You see, there are times when popularity is not a good thing. There are times when God's will is not that we are well received or well regarded by the general populous. There are times that accolades and praises are actually put in the hearts and mouths of people as a tool of Satan to tempt and deceive us. There are times that giving into to the will of the people is turning away from the will of God. Yikes, that is shuddering, especially for pastors.

I often wonder why God grants success to some pastors and not to others. I think these principles about popularity have something to do with it. On the one hand, there are charlatans who have so manufactured success that they are far from the will and blessing of God. And on the other hand, there are pastors who have followed Christ so purely that they have kept away from people-pleasing and thus their ministries are relatively small. But in between these two groups is (what I suspect) the largest group. This middle group is full of pastors like me--pastors who are still learning these principles of popularity and success.

I think that the pastorate is rife with men who need to learn when success is valid or when it is invalid and I have a hunch that one of the most pivotal reasons why God has not given them success is because they are still developing the proper wisdom and discernment to know when to walk away from the crowds. Because their own convictions and reasoning is so easily led astray, and not yet fully and steadily trained on the absolute will of God, God has not (indeed CANNOT) grant them success, for success would lead them away from the work He has called them to do. 

Now of course, I'm not saying this as one who has mastered it, but rather one who is still learning to not interpret the applause as synonymous with success, to break away from the people and to meet with God and be sure that His will is being done, rather than the people's will.

Just some thoughts, I'd love to hear some of yours...

Blessings to you!
Published in Blog