Ministry can be depressing at times. My home church minister told me that when I was a kid. My home church held a “career day” for the youth group one Sunday night. Several of the adults stood before the group and told us what their jobs were like. One of those adults was the minister himself. When it was his turn to present, the minister said this: “When you’re a minister, your job is to ring the gospel bell, and some Sundays you go home thinking you didn’t ring it very well.
I came home thinking that very thing this Sunday night. I’m not exactly sure why. This Sunday was a good Sunday. It was a very good Sunday. Lots of great things are happening at our church, things that can only be engineered and empowered by God Himself and things that are thus evidence that God is working among in. In fact, I’d say I’ve never had a time in my ministry that was as filled with opportunity and optimism as the time I’m in right now. Yet I still came home depressed. I still came home feeling like I wasn’t doing my job very well, like I was a failure and was failing and didn’t have much of a future, like I hadn’t rung the bell that well and was going to lose out because I hadn’t rung the bell that well.
Now the way I’ve previously dealt with these “Sunday evening blues” is to “retreat into fantasy” (a phrase I believe I’ve picked up from Pastor Robert Clancy). I’ve drowned my sorrows in TV or Pepsi or video games or those sorts of things. But I dealt with them in a much different way this Sunday. I dealt with them through prayer. After putting my daughter to bed, I sat down on the floor in front of my back sliding door (my new place of prayer in my new house) and began to pray. As I usually do during evening prayer time, I followed Tim Keller’s five step prayer plan. First, I asked God to be with me and speak to me. I also told Him that I was in great need this time (something I don’t usually do). Second, I turned to the Scriptures. I always use the Daily Watchword and Doctrinal Texts of the Moravian Daily Text when I do my evening prayers, and that evening those texts said this:
As soon as I read these Scriptures, my prayer was answered. I received a word from the Lord via the “living and active” Bible. God spoke to me as I asked Him to. The first thing I saw in both these passages is that God is the God of peace, that is, God wants peace and creates peace (which in both these passages is less like “the absence of conflict” and more like “happy ever after”). The Haggai passage talks about Him giving peace, and the Philippians passage calls Him “the God of peace” explicitly, so this truth about God (what my mentor calls “a Covenant word” and what he trained me to look for first in any Scripture passage) was easy to see. That was encouraging enough, but what was even more encouraging was the “Kingdom word” (the way God wanted me to respond to the truth I was seeing about Him). That Kingdom word was as explicit in the Philippians passage as the Covenant word. It was “keep on doing the things…”. Now I was familiar with this passage; I’ve had it memorized for years and have recited it many times. But the version I know (the NIV ’84) has the phrase “keep on doing the things” as “put in practice”, and it has it much later in the verse. For that reason, it has never resonated with me that much. When I saw this translation, though (and I still don’t know what translation it is), I was moved tremendously. I could see God telling me not to give into my depression, telling me 1) not to despair at all and 2) certainly not to give into despair. I could see God telling me that there was going to a positive result for me, a result that He (not I) would achieve, a result that I would receive if I would simply keep on doing what I was doing no matter how effective those things seemed at the time. In a very short span of time, I had gone around the “Kairos” circle: I had heard God say something, I had discerned both the Covenant and Kingdom truths of that something, and I had a plan of action.
And with that quick trip around the circle, my Sunday night ministerial blues were dispelled. I still didn’t think I had rung the bell all that way that day, but I realized it didn’t matter that much. I realized there was a stronger force at work than how well or poorly I rang the bell, a stronger force guaranteeing peace and asking me to do nothing more than just not quit.
And that’s what I saw on October 6, 2019.