We leave for work early, and come home late. We are sore, we are tired, our eyes hurt from pouring over lists and databases and accounts receivable. We are "on" all the time. We get calls at 4 am. We scrimp and save and put in extra hours for which we won't be paid. We have expensive medical bills for shots to prevent diseases we can't pronounce. We drive through the night, and we sleep in our cars. We sacrifice time with our families. We leave leisure for someone else. We fall in love and have our hearts broken. We give our best and live off the leftovers. We pour into others, and rarely get the chance to be filled up ourselves.
We work in ministry.
Some of us are missionaries, some are youth leaders, church secretaries, volunteers, pastors, outdoor ministry people... and those titles really only cover about 60% of what we do in a day. The rest is "extra," things that don't quite fit into any job description... but we see those Good Things that aren't getting done and we do them, job description notwithstanding.
I know, because I am one of those people.
And sometimes? Sometimes it doesn't seem worth it.
I love my job, I really do. I love seeing lives changed by the work we're doing here at Camp. I really treasure the fact that we have the opportunity to fill up others in ministry- by providing for pastors and youth leaders and missionaries. I love meeting new people and making great friends.
It's exhausting and challenging and sometimes frustrating and grating.
Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, from the confines of a jail cell after being falsely accused. He tells them,
"For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—
Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory." (Ephesians 3:1-13, ESV)Paul's ministry led him to jail. Quite often really. It led to beatings and death threats. People who were once his friends became enemies. His ministry was anything but comfortable. Which makes me seem pretty darn silly when I complain about spending so much time in my (air conditioned) office during the summer.
Let's look into what Paul is saying here.
God's got it covered, even when ministry is hard.
At the very beginning of this part of his letter, Paul makes it clear that he's a prisoner FOR Christ Jesus.
Sure, he's waiting trial while sitting in a Roman prison. And yes, it was the Jewish mob who got him here in the first place. Even so, Paul is a prisoner for Christ- God is in control of Paul's life, even in this circumstance. Even in the suffering.
Throughout so much of the New Testament, this is evident. God is there, even when things are hard, even when we're so tired of continually sacrificing. We also see that really, it's those sacrifices and trials and suffering that lead us closer to holiness. It's through carrying the small (and sometimes not so small) crosses of every day life that make us more like Christ.
Ministry is a gift.
Paul was made a minister (in the Greek, literally a "hard-laborer") by the gift of God's grace, he says in verse 7. We don't deserve any of this- not our lives, not our salvation, and we definitely don't deserve a role in God's work. It's a privilege, given to us by the grace of God, that we can work for his glory!
That's so hard for me to remember, especially when it's 9:30 pm and I've been at work since 8:30 am and the last bus load of kids just called and said they'll be an hour late. This is a gift, it's a gift, it's a gift.
Ministry has an amazing purpose.
Paul says, "... God's grace, that was given to me for you." We've been given the amazing, completely undeserved grace of God- not because of anything we did. Not because we're so much better than those murders and thieves. Not because of the fact that we tithe and are generally nice people. God's grace is a gift- given freely, given even though we could never earn it, and it was given to us so we can share that grace with others.
That's the heart of ministry. I've been so forgiven- so I can forgive other people. I've been so blessed- in order that I may be a blessing to others.
Ministry has huge significance.
Through the church- through the body of believers- through you and through me... that's how the wisdom of God is made known to everyone- including those in the heavenly places. This is God's intention- that we live our lives in service to others- so that his name and his glory are made known. Ministry has eternal significance.
So whether your ministry takes place in your home with your children, in a church building, at a Bible Camp, in a hospital, on a blog, in an orphanage in Tanzania, in a mechanic shop, on the sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic, in your office, at a mom's group, in a jail... do it with joy! You are making a difference- even when it doesn't feel like it, and even when it's hard.
Your ministry, whatever it may be, is worth the sacrifice.