I don’t know what I’m doing.

I don’t really know how to be a good pastor. Or how to be a leader. Or a servant.

I wish I did, but I don’t. When I talk to or see the ministries of other pastors, they seem to know what they’re doing. They’re clear about the vision that God gave them for their church, and even though they often say the journey has been hard, they always make it look so easy. Because even throughout the difficult periods of ministry, they had clarity about their purpose, which drove them toward being steadfast in faith and practice.

But when I even begin to think I have even the slightest clue about what I’m doing, something happens that reminds me that I really have no idea what I’m doing. Ministry is a mystery to me.

Actually, all of life is kind of a mystery to me.

Wishing that I knew what I was doing, sometimes I foolishly spurt out some ideas and goals that I wish I were able to implement with some kind of wisdom and passion, but I know inside that I’m not able to do it. I fail, over and over and over again.

But maybe it’s supposed to be this way. Maybe constantly realizing that I’m not able to do this keeps me crying out to the only One who is able to fulfill His purpose in me. And maybe it reminds me over and over again that the church isn’t about me, but about Jesus, and Jesus is the One who builds His church.

And maybe that’s true not just in ministry, but in all of life. Our sin and failure highlights God’s goodness that much more, because God shows His goodness even toward us who have failed over and over and over again.

For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:32-36)

Therefore, our joy and hope should not be in ourselves, our abilities, or our futures, but in God, who is the hero of the story.

So even though it’s often hard to fight discouragement in life and ministry, I know that God does have a purpose for me, and it doesn’t depend at all on my competence or wisdom. It depends on God. Because it’s His work, His will, His wisdom, and we simply get to be a part of it.

Battling Discouragement

I get discouraged easily. Far too easily for someone who believes in and preaches about the hope that we have in Christ. And so when I get discouraged, I can also get somewhat sorrowful, because I think that I shouldn’t be so discouraged. As a pastor, I think that I should always be encouraged, and encouraging to others, as I find my hope in God.

But then sometimes I get discouraged precisely because I am a pastor.

One of the primary tasks of the pastor is to equip the saints for works of ministry. The goal of the pastor is not merely to get more people to listen to his sermons, but to see each person transformed into a servant of God. Into someone who gives his life to minister to people.

So it can be extremely discouraging when this doesn’t happen.

Or, I should say, when this doesn’t happen in the way that I want it to.

But this just goes to point out the obvious: my discouragement often has nothing to do with the saints, and everything to do with my pride. It comes from desiring to see results that prove that I’m doing a good job. But perhaps God just wants me to be faithful, and to leave the results up to Him.

Or maybe God is even more concerned with how I rest rather than how I work. In other words, maybe my faithfulness shouldn’t even be the focus. Maybe resting in Christ’s faithfulness should be the focus. Because if I focus on my faithfulness, I’ll still end up being discouraged, because I can’t always be faithful. But Jesus was and is always completely faithful to the Father, and to His Word, and even to us, whom He loves.

John Piper puts it this way: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

So the answer to life’s discouragement isn’t seeing the results you want, or doing a perfect job, or trying harder, but resting in Jesus Christ.

That, after all, is the gospel.

The Big Barking Dog

So I had just a few extra plastic door hanger sleeves in my office from when we invited people in our community to a Easter service awhile back, so I decided yesterday to stuff them and use them. I inserted a pocket New Testament, a gospel tract, and a church invite into each one. I looked at my map of Nokomis, and found a street I thought would be a good place to hang the door hangers.

I drove to the street, parked, and was greeted at the first house by a big dog, barking at me and letting me know I wasn’t welcome. I decided to skip that house. After walking up the street to the end of the road, I turned around and walked past the Big Barking Dog again so that I could hang the rest of the door hangers the next block down.

When I finished that block, however, I had one door hanger left. Great. I felt like God was telling me to give it to the house of the Big Barking Dog.

I turned around and began walking toward the house of the Big Barking Dog. I was afraid. I prayed for safety. I prayed for courage.

As I approached the house, sure enough, the Big Barking Dog began barking. I greeted the dog by smiling and saying, “Good dog!” I extended my hand with my palm up as a gesture of good faith, allowing the dog to sniff me or lick me, and slightly afraid that the dog would bite me.

The Big Barking Dog immediately stopped barking, and even looked happy. She let me walk right past her, and before I could even hang the door hanger on the handle of the door, the resident of the home greeted me at the door to see what the Big Barking Dog had been barking about.

I let her know that I just wanted to invite her to church, and that she was welcome anytime. She thanked me. I commented that her dog was so friendly (as it turned out, she was). I walked back to my car and drove away.

I don’t know if anything will come of this encounter. For all I know, all the people in those homes could be faithful Christians who have church homes. And that would be awesome.

Maybe this experience had more to do with me learning to trust God through my fears rather than any of the homes I invited.

But either way, I know this: no matter what your Big Barking Dog is, God is bigger.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

How to be a Healthy Christian

I really like fruits and vegetables. I regularly eat large salads and several servings of fruit a day. And I absolutely love fruit smoothies.

I also like to exercise somewhat. When it’s nice weather, I ride my bike to my office, and I challenge myself by going a longer route with a few steep hills (I think I found the only hills in Nokomis).

So if I eat so much good food, and exercise regularly, you’d expect me to be a great example of healthy living, right?

But the problem is that I also really like pizza rolls. And ice cream. And a million other foods that aren’t so good for me. And I also don’t exercise much in the cooler months. So every year, I have to build back up to riding the more challenging hills.

So the reason I’m not the greatest example of health is that I also do so many unhealthy things.

We often feel like the same is true of our spiritual lives. We might be doing a lot of great things, but overall we feel unhealthy because we still do so many unhealthy things. We still cling to our sin.

And it’s not healthy to cling to our sin.

And on one level, we’re exactly right. The degree to which we follow Christ shows how healthy we are as Christians.

But the good news is that our spiritual health doesn’t depend on our goodness, but on God’s grace.

The more we find our identity in Jesus, and not in ourselves, the more we’ll be happy and healthy Christians, and THEN we will do the things that healthy Christians do.

Mission Trip 2015, Day 5

One of the best things about mission trips is getting to know other believers. Our faith is strengthened as we serve together and encourage one another. It’s simply amazing to see the faith that others have, especially that of young people, how they take their faith so seriously and are really growing and asking the tough and deep questions about their faith.

God doesn’t call us simply to attend church services and live out our quiet Christian lives. He calls us to push back the darkness. He calls us to be salt and light. He calls us have hope, even when life seems hopeless, so that all might see that He is the One who gives hope.

One of the first days of the mission trip, I wrote about how we were so excited about leading a backyard Bible club, but then no kids showed up. Well, tonight that backyard Bible club had 17 kids at it. And most of those kids have little to no church background, so we got to tell some of them about Jesus for the very first time.

That didn’t just randomly happen. It happened because faithful believers went out of their comfort zones and continued to go door to door, even though they were discouraged at first, in order to invite people to bring their children to the park so that they could hear about the love of Jesus. And they did that because they had first experienced the persistent love of God.

We love, because He first loved us.

We’re heading home tomorrow, but we pray that we’ve planted a few seeds that others will water, and we trust that God will bring the growth. That’s really all we can do.

But that’s enough.

Because we know that God is all-wise, and sovereign, and that just as His love pursued us all the way to the cross, God will continue to pursue each of these that we’ve ministered to this week. And knowing that, we have the great expectation, and maybe even the sure hope, of seeing them again, and when God brings us to our eternal home, where we will rejoice with all believers from all times and places, because of the relentless love of Jesus.