The more young pastors I speak with, the more I realize that crushing experiences are the norm. It’s constant. “Didn’t think it would be like this.”
In response, I’ve said it. “This is crushing.” “I’m crushed.” “God, you’re crushing me.” Everything I feel tells me so. Crushed in spirit. Crushed in body. Crushed from every direction.
But I’m wrong. Feelings deceives. “I’m crushed” is bad theology for pastors. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed” (2 Cor. 4:8). If the apostle Paul was not crushed, then I certainly am not.
The inerrant Bible is better at sensory than my senses. “Crushed” means something like, “irreparably shattered into many irregularly-shaped pieces due to an outside, destructive force.” But that can’t happen to God’s children. “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29). God’s hand can’t be irreparably shattered. Nothing in it can be either.
The Greek word translated, “afflicted,” carries the idea of “press.” I need to tell myself the truth, then. “I’m pressed, but not crushed.” “God, you’re pressing, but not crushing me.”
God is in the business of pressing young pastors. God is also in the business of loving young pastors. Never have those two facts been mutually exclusive. God presses young pastors because God loves young pastors.
God’s particular love for his pastors is not a mere dusty file in heaven. God loves us in the details. His love is experienced.
God loves pastors. He has a special love in his heart for his young, hazardous sheep dogs. He feels delight in his heart for them. Experience may not always tells us so, though. If faith is not informing our experience, we can grieve our Father’s heart: “Do you really love me?” Young pastor, have you ever questioned God’s love? I have. And I haven’t had near the trials as many of you.
It is only possible for everything God does towards you to be love. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).
I mean, how can that be? How could God be for me if my elders are against me? If my health is against me? How could God be for me when I am spending myself for his kingdom and only experience opposition, let-down, rejection, and fruitlessness in return? And how could God be for me when all of these things over which he is sovereign appear to be against me?
Pastors mustn’t separate God’s love from the tornadic trials inherent to pastoral ministry. We’re skilled at pushing verses to others on God’s love. But in our ministry, do we secretly believe that his love is just bookkeeping in heaven? We are good at saying, “Yeah, yeah, obviously I know that God loves me,” while failing (refusing?) to affirm his love in the pressings. We might talk of God’s love in our theological confessions, but if we see little of God’s love in our experiential afflictions, we are amiss.
God loves pastors in the details. He love us in hard providence.
God loves us by keeping the finances tight and we are ministering as hard as we can.
God loves us when finances get even tighter.
God loves us by forcing us to contemplate death. Not in the funerals we conduct and the sick we visit. But our own potential funerals. Our own sicknesses. God loves us by stripping away strength.
God loves us by bringing biting sheep into the fold. God loves us by having those sheep teach others to bite.
God loves us by keeping us in obscurity. He loves us by not giving us book deals. When we don’t get conference invites, retweets, and speaking requests, it’s because God loves us.
God loves us by allowing our health to crumble a bit. He loves us by taking it away to the point where it seems impossible to do our ministry. “OK, God, if you’re bringing this health trial, there’s no way I can think and concentrate and study.” In those moments, God loves us.
God loves us when our family scuffles against us. When our wife opposes our ministry decisions; when she struggles to submit, God loves us. When junior is more attracted to the pagans down the street who coddle his sin, God loves us.
God loves us through low church attendance.
God loves you by giving you one-sided relationships.
God loves you with fellow church leaders who replay in their minds every fault of yours, but forget the ministry sweat you exert for them day after day.
God loves us by bringing people who don’t understand nor care to.
God loves us when he prevents visible, external success.
God loves us when the leader you’ve dumped your life into, waltzes into the man-centered church across town because there are more opportunities there.
God loves when you have destroyed yourself in preparing and preaching clear expositions, with little appreciation.
God loves you when he allows you to say really dumb things from the pulpit.
God loves you when you have spent hours explaining a principle to a member dozens of times, only to have them tell you that they finally understand it after listening to the latest Christian-lite preacher on the radio.
God loves us when a steady stream of church members migrate to the seeker friendly church down the road, which is already overflowing in attendance.
God loves us when we are scorned in our towns.
God loves us when we have labored for years to build a good witness, only to have a new member bring reproach onto the church.
God loves us by having those handful leave, saying, “I haven’t really felt pursued here,” after we’ve spent hours in prayer for them, meeting with them, and driving out of the way to pour into them.
God loves us by bringing perplexing trials with no discernable purpose.
God loves us by allowing all of these things to happen in one season of ministry.
In all of these things, God loves us. Truly, our God has a fierce devotion to us.
How can this be?
God loves us by refusing to grant us things in ministry that would stoke our ministry lusts. God loves us so much, that he will break our legs so that we can no longer wander off towards our self-worshiping ministry idols. He loves us so much that he will withhold good things in ministry that have become god things. God loves us so much that he will yank hard on our choke chain as we sprint towards deliciously deadly ministry idols. God loves us too much to let us get into the ministry endzone and spike the ball before a roaring crowd.
Jesus’ ministry was death by crucifixion. That’s the spirit of it all. That’s the way. It’s different than ball-spiking. Self-actualizing will not do. It’s self-denying; self-renouncing.
The cross tells us so, so much. If we will look at it more and our self-aggrandizing ministry dreams less, we’ll get it.
God’s love floods us out from the cross. His love isn’t static, fenced at the cross. He doesn’t forget that he once loved us at the cross. God could not have extended such mighty love in propitiation at the cross, only later to have that love die off. Wrath-bearing love of that magnitude in Christ is not the kind of love that can diminish. That’s where we go wrong. We understand God’s love in terms of our love. But our love is more like ocean tides; up, down, tossed around, subject to elements. We cannot be our reference point for understanding God’s love. Especially in ministry. God must be it. God’s love is not at all like ocean tides. It’s more like colossal rocky crags in the sea. They are unmoved by resistance and opposition. Strong, visible, towering. Always there. Never moving. Never changing.
The greatest type of love is divine propitiation. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The amount of sin-induced wrath needing sin-penalizing quenching is something which no man will understand. Real wrath-the kind existing in an infinite God-cannot be quantified. There has never been a more terrible task to face than the wrath of holy God. That’s why there has never been a mightier love than that of the wrath-quenching Christ. That’s how we begin to understand love. Love steps to wrath; it understands it; faces it. No greater love exists than that which was displayed in the willing, wrath-quenching Son of God.
The propitiating love of God in Christ is so astronomical of a love, that it cannot be categorized as a type of love that can diminish in its quality or quantity. It truly is immutable as our God is immutable. That love, then, is the love in God’s heart towards us. So then, God truly is for us in his dealings with us. And every bump in the ministry road is not incidental. It comes from the God who gushed love in propitiation.
It’s a love that brings us low; that purges us of pride; that empties us of self; that makes frailty felt. God loves us so much that he will hold us by the hand and walk us through life to show us that he is God and we are not.
O love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong!
Source: The Cripplegate | Eric Davis