Friday, April 18, 2008

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #8

C.J. Mahaney

Sustaining A Pastor's Soul
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:3-8
Chuch life is a carousel of defeat and victory. Ups and downs.

There is no true pastoral ministry apart from faithfully proclaiming the gospel and holding fast to doctrinal truth. But pastoral ministry also calls for personal holiness and pleasing God in our hearts. Pastoral ministry is not just about our minds. It is also about our souls. And our souls are often overlooked.

So C.J.’s aim is to care for our souls this morning. He wants to give us a personal word to prepare us for the difficulties that will come when we return to the carousel of real life in ministry, that of blessing, power, and joy alternating with defeat, loss, and struggle.

There is a sense in which we have not been experiencing real life here: free books, relentless preaching of the Word, continual praises being sung to our Savior, staying in nice hotels, eating good food.

The transition is already beginning. So C.J.’s goal is to prepare us more fully.

Paul knew of the daily pressures from his anxieties over all the churches he shepherded (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Paul was familiar with the carousel. But there is something that sets Paul apart. He did all of this with joy. He served and sacrifice and suffered, all with pervasive joy. He served the Lord with gladness. Is this distinctive in Paul, that he was filled with joy in all that he did, present in our lives?

C.J. doubts that the majority of pastors are daily serving the Lord and His church with joy. In order for a pastor to fully please the Lord, he must serve joyfully and not just faithfully? So are you a joyful pastor?

We are not talking about a superficial happiness or an aspect of one’s personality. But even when we experience sorrow and defeat, is there a joy that characterizes us? Can we say with Paul that we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10)? Would your wife describe you this way? Would your children describe you this way? Those who work with you? Those who are in your congregation? Would they describe you as joyful? Or as normally burdened? Moody? Irritable? Easily discouraged?

Is joy a distinctive characteristic of your church, something that marks your people by and large?

Humbly ask these people that are closest to you and that you have most contact with on a daily basis if they see you as one whose life is marked by joy.

This word is especially for those who are discouraged but it’s a word for everyone, that we should have hope. And we will find hope by looking at the apostle Paul, the happiest pastor in the world and also the pastor who had more responsibilities than any of us. Looking at Paul should give us hope.

How did this man serve the Lord with gladness?

We will focus on these verses from Philippians, the letter of Paul that exudes the most joy, and yet was written from prison.

3 characteristics we must cultivate in our hearts if we will sustain our souls in the ministry:

1) Gratefulness to God (v. 3-5)

Paul assigned a high priority to gratefulness. In private he gives thanks to God for people. And he expresses that thankfulness for his people in his letters to them. There was probably no more grateful man than Paul.

What is it like when people converse with us? Is it obvious that we assign a high priority to the practice of gratefulness?

Gratefulness as a result of the grace of God in the life of others was a dominant experience in the life of Paul.

Is gratefulness a priority in our lives? Is it a priority in our churches? If not, we need to isolate this topic. Study it throughout the New Testament, especially in the letters of Paul. If we apply this topic to our souls, we will experience the transforming power of the grace of God in our lives. If we don’t, we will be vulnerable to a subtle, serious, and predictable temptation to complain and joy will be foreign to our souls. The sin of temptation is a daily temptation especially for pastors.

This is a serious sin against the nature of God. God hates our complaining. The Puritan Thomas Watson says this (paraphrase): Murmuring is rising up against God. That sets us against God as though we were wiser than Him.

Anytime we express complaint towards God’s providences, when we see no reason for the things that happens in our lives, we are contending for supremacy with the Almighty by exalting our wisdom above His.

Only gratefulness will combat a complaining spirit. We must focus more on the evidences of grace in our church rather than the things that are wrong. If one were to overhear our prayers for our church, what would they hear?

The practice of gratefulness in Paul’s life is informed by the gospel. According to Paul, the gospel is the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24) so that everything coming to us including the ministry itself is mercy (2 Corinthians 4:1) and grace that we should only be thankful for. This makes all the difference in his ministry and in ours.

2) Faith for the future (v.6)

You must be certain, as Paul was, of the fact that God is at work and that He will continue to be at work in your church if you will be able to press on in the carousel of church ministry. Your faith in God must be unwavering.

In his book “The Christian Ministry,” Charles Bridges attributes every failure in ministry to a lack of faith. The difficulties we encounter don't primarily come in the things we do but rather as we struggle internally to trust God. This is where the battle is primarily fought.

We must continually be placing our confidence in God and not in our own gifts, education, experience, or abilities. Spurgeon said that though Whitefield and Wesley might be able to preach the gospel better than him, they couldn’t preach a better gospel than him. The gospel is God’s gospel and that is why it will always be successful. We must believe day in and day out that, as the Lord spoke through Isaiah, the when the LORD sends out His word it will not return to Him empty but it will always accomplish that which He purposes and succeed in the thing for which he sent it.

3) Affection for your people (v.7-8)

Paul yearns for the Philippians with the affection of Christ Jesus? Do you have this kind of love for your people? Do you feel affections for the people in your church? Are they the object of your affection? Rather do you see them as the object of Christ’s affection?

How can you cultivate affection? When you look at your people, learn to look at them as those who have been bought by the blood of Christ, those who have been redeemed by the precious blood. Meditate on and never lose sight of the fact that your flock is one over which the Holy Spirit has set you as overseer, having been obtained with His own blood. As you learn to see them as precious in Christ’s sight, they will become precious in your sight.

Download the audio here.

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