“What we are doing is not just difficult – it is impossible.” – Francis Schaeffer
A week ago I was driving out to my alma mater where I had earned my M Div five years previous. A 45 minute drive south of the city, I had time to reflect and pray as I drove. That prairie highway was familiar to me – many mornings I had driven down it praying. When I was still a seminarian I was remember being consumed with uncertainty, not about my call but about my future. Where would God have me? Would I be able to make it as a preacher/pastor? I remember my years of study out there and how much I wanted to enter ministry. I had returned since both to audit an odd course and to score a free lunch from the Dean. But as I drove I realized that it had been five years since graduation, five years in ministry.
Five years was the number I was told while still in seminary. Most young men who felt ‘called’ would not make it in the pastorate longer than five years. Discouragement, burn-out, conflict, would cause most to exit for another career. Many of my classmates had not found positions in churches. Many who seemed more gifted than me or more pious. Many had already bounced around several ministry settings, from one frustrating situation to another. I thought on my frustrations and ambitions in my past five years. When I was a seminarian I didn’t know where I’d be. Now that I was travelling the same road and realizing that the God who called me was still with me. Every step of the way, I had been led. It was not by anything I’d done but by His mercy I was still able to minister word and sacrament to His people.
His mercy is the reason why I can be a pastor at all. I remember listening a John MacArthur talk a few months ago. I kind of like MacArthur. I don’t agree with him on everything (Cessationism) but I do on some things (Reformed view of salvation). Oddly, I find his grouchiness somewhat refreshing. He was speaking to pastors and told none of them were getting what they deserved. If we got what we deserve we’d be struck dead for our sins for starters. As ministers, if we got what we deserve everyone would walk out on us and never come to our church again. We’d be abject failures at everything we set our hands, hearts, and minds to. I remember agreeing with the ideas months ago, but as I drove that highway last week I felt the truth of it. It is the mercy of God that I can serve Him by serving His people. I love the Word of God, I love preaching, studying, praying with people, loving them, and sharing the Good News with unbelievers. I even get paid for it. All of it is a mercy.
I felt the Holy Spirit thick during that drive. He was letting me feel the mercy of God over my life, that He would allow me – a man who is nothing! – to represent Him, serve Him, preach His truth. The frustrations of pastoring are many. Being a young pastor, God constantly thwarts my ambitions and shows me that His people do not exist to give me a job or to make me feel important. I felt the frustrations of the past five years melt some and thankfulness flood in. I am so thankful for these people, their love for God, and their perseverance. I am so thankful that five years have past and I’m still in the game. I didn’t have to be. It is still His mercy.
Francis Chan and David Platt are two of the most evangelistic ministers around. They love the Gospel and are passionate about making known to the world. Listen to them, though, and hear how vulnerable speaking to someone about the Gospel is. Sometimes even terrifying. Overcoming our fear to speak is something that every disciple must do. Courage is not something that we get before we speak. Instead it is something we must pray for then find as we speak. It was even this way for Paul.
…and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:19-20 ESV
We all have people in our lives who need to hear the Good News. We probably know we should pray for them but what do we pray? In the 8th chapter of his marvelous book, The Heart of Evangelism, Jerram Barrs gives some good Biblical counsel:
1) We should pray for the work of the Spirit in their hearts and minds.
We know that He can reach the parts of them, the inner workings of their minds and hearts, that we cannot reach. He can soften the hard heart, bend the stubborn will, open the closed mind, challenge the long-held prejudices, and heal the painful memories that are inaccessible to us.
2) We are to pray for open doors in our relationships.
Christ has promised us that He is ruling the nations and our own personal lives for the sake of the Gospel. So we can have confidence that He will answer our prayers when we ask Him to open doors as we build relationships with people. We do not need to try and force the Gospel on family members, friends, and acquaintances who are not yet ready to listen. The Lord will open doors in His time.
If God seems slow, consider 2 Peter 3:8-9
3) Pray for courage for yourself.
Pray for yourself in all your relationships. Paul asked the believers to pray for him (Ephesians 6:19-20), that he would have courage to make the Gospel known when he was given the opportunity.
4) Pray for clarity.
Paul also struggled with being clear in his presentation of the Gospel and requested prayer in that area too (Colossians 4:4). After asking believers to pray for open doors for him, he added: “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should”. Paul found it difficult to be always clear.
You heard it from me before but here’s a wiser man than me arguing for the importance of the workplace in evangelism:
The front lines of evangelism in any moment of history will be, first, the family and then the workplace. For most adult believers (unless our immediate family members are non-Christians), the context in which we are most likely to meet unbelievers is our place of employment. There day after day, for eight or nine hours or even longer, we will be working under, over, or alongside people who do not know Christ…This was as true in the New Testament period as it is now.
God wants people to be farmers, schoolteachers, nurses, janitors, lawyers, homemakers, doctors, tradesmen, accountants, etc. He delights in raising up people to serve Him in every job. We are to regard very kind of work as a sacred calling, and we are to teach all God’s people to work as those who are working for the Lord. As we do this spiritual and blessed daily labor, we are given the added blessing and possibility of being living testimonies to the power of of the Gospel by the way we work…For this we were created, for this we have been redeemed, that our lives might be a constant praise to Him in all we do.
Jerram Barrs, The Heart of Evangelism, pages 59 & 62