“Pray that I would not bomb so often when I preach,” said my friend after I inquired how I could pray for him.
My pen froze. I looked up, incredulous. I could not bring myself to write it down. But the expression on his face was serious; he was not joking. He wanted me to ask God that he not bomb so often when he preaches.
Mind you, this was not a seminary student in his first homiletics class or a rookie church planter halfway through his first sermon series. This friend is one of the best preachers I know. His name is instantly recognizable, since he is one of the most gifted expositors of our time. I demanded a different prayer request.
We left dinner and drove to the conference we were attending where my friend proceeded to preach an exceptional message. As he descended from the platform, I congratulated him: “Hey! You didn’t bomb!”
But later, as we navigated the parking lot, my friend began to lament that he had bombed once again. I sought to encourage him, but his countenance remained downcast. I reviewed with him all the ways I benefitted from his sermon: his model exegesis, his memorable illustrations, his pointed application. None of it seemed to resonate. I reached deep into my bag of encouragement options: “My friend, surely you noticed that no one coughed. That was a cough-free sermon!” When even this line of encouragement failed to restore my friend from his post-preaching malaise, I was forced to resort to my old fallback: name-calling.
“You are an idiot.”
Have You Lost Heart?
Later that evening, I reflected on this episode. While my friend is unique in his preaching gift, international influence, and writing ministry, he is not unique in his temptation to discouragement. In fact, no pastor is exempt from this temptation. I cannot help but wonder how many pastors who hoist this book do so because they are looking for something heartening. Maybe you have lost heart. Perhaps in the last few months, or few years, you have found your passion for pastoral ministry waning. Maybe you have remained faithful and even fruitful in your ministry, but you are no longer joyful.
What pastor doesn’t spend Monday (as well as Sunday afternoon and maybe Tuesday too) mentally reviewing and evaluating the sermon and the service? This is a useful barometer for a pastor’s heart: how are your Mondays? Do you find yourself regularly rejoicing in the privilege to serve God’s people, or discouraged over what you perceive to be a lack of effectiveness in ministry? The temptation to lose heart pulses predictably each week, does it not?
Friends, we are not alone as we confront this temptation. And while we may find it somewhat heartening that other pastors can relate, there is one pastor in particular whose experience can provide us with singular and significant encouragement.
I am referring to the apostle Paul. And in his second letter to the Corinthian church he describes his temptation to lose heart. I am not sure there is a more important letter for pastors to study than 2 Corinthians. And there is no more important chapter for pastors in 2 Corinthians than chapter four. Here Paul reveals his own temptation to lose heart—but he also provides a remedy for this pastoral malady. Read 2 Corinthians chapter four slowly and notice how Paul begins and ends with his resolve to not lose heart.
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowl- edge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (emphasis added).
“We do not lose heart.” We encounter this phrase at the outset of chapter four and it appears again in verse 16. Apparently, Paul was very familiar with this temptation to lose heart in the midst of the challenges and opposition that he encountered as he proclaimed the gospel, planted churches, and cared for pastors. In chapter 11, he concludes his extensive list of trials and suffering and hardship by referring to the daily pressure of anxiety he feels for all the churches. This was a man who was no stranger to the temptation to lose heart, and particularly with the Corinthian church, given his intense and difficult relationship with them.
In light of all he suffered, in light of all the responsibility he carried, in light of all the opposition he endured, these are remarkable statements. Though tempted to lose heart, he resolved by the grace of God not to lose heart.
Whether we are in the depths of Monday melancholy or we are currently heartened for the ministry to which we have been called, we can all learn from Paul’s resolve to not lose heart. What informed his resolve? How can we follow his example? What does a pastor do when he begins to lose heart for his role and task? In chapter four Paul provides us with three heart-protecting, heart-strengthening realities for the disheartened pastor.
This post is part of a series entitled “When a Pastor Loses Heart.” It is adapted from a sermon I preached at Together for the Gospel 2012 entitled, “When a Pastor Loses Heart,” and was published by Crossway in The Underestimated Gospel, edited by Jonathan Leeman. Used by permission of Crossway.