Persistence in Ministry

Persistence-in-MinistryThis subject has been on my mind for a while, so I decided that it’s time to share a few thoughts. People live busy lives, and generally that’s a very good thing. But a natural result of this reality is that those in need who are not front and centre in our lives can be too easily forgotten.

I’m thinking in particular of people who are struggling with depression, pain, illness, disability, etc. They generally tend to be behind closed doors – out of sight – therefore also out of mind.

What’s worse: people who are enduring these kinds of struggles can be closed off and difficult to talk with. We might reach out to someone every now and then, only to have our plans canceled on us at the last minute. Then it becomes a lot easier to just carry on with our daily routine instead of trying again. We can be tempted to just say “Well, I tried,” shrug our shoulders, and leave it at that.  But reaching out with persistence requires a special willingness to be vulnerable over and over again. Depressed people, for instance, are very difficult to connect with because it takes huge amounts of emotional energy for them to spend time with anyone. It’s nothing personal. That’s just the nature of the condition. So it requires that we keep trying, keep contacting them, keep paying attention. There is something really powerful about consistently letting people know that they matter and have not been forgotten. Of course this needs to be done in a loving and gentle way. But patient persistence is absolutely necessary. When we give up on someone in this situation we are essentially saying that he or she is just not worth our time or energy. Even if we don’t mean to communicate that, it’s very much the message that will be received.

From the Other Point of View…
Living with chronic illness, I often talk with others online who, like me, feel isolated and alone now that they are not well. If we cancel one or two appointments because we’re having a bad day, most people will not put in any future effort to spend time with us anymore. We can all share many stories of friends and family who we no longer see because it’s just too much effort for them. It’s already uncomfortable for them to be around someone who has a condition that is hard to understand and completely out of their power to help with or fix. Adding in bad days and cancelled appointments usually provides an easy excuse to give up on us. It’s human nature – people who are hard to spend time with require extra effort, planning, and flexibility that most people just don’t have the patience for. So, I hope at the very least that my own experience with this rejection will lead me to increased compassion and desire to sacrifice for others who are isolated and in need of persistent attention.

It’s the same with people who are struggling with their faith. We in the church need to come alongside one another and not give up on anyone. We are so saturated in a culture that expects one valiant effort, with hopefully one huge payoff, and then we can move on to the next thing. We’re also constantly being encouraged to “surround ourselves only with people who build us up”, forgetting that we are needed and called upon to build others up. It takes time… sometimes even years. If we want someone to know that we care, nothing will speak more loudly to that than tireless, gentle, patient persistence. It’s not glamourous and may even seem pointless at times. But it isn’t.

A Great Example…
I’m reminded of a book by John Piper, called “Disability and the Sovereign Goodness of God.” In it, Piper interviews John Knight who endured a very trying time after his son was born with severe disability. During those early days, he and his wife went through a serious spiritual struggle as they tried to reconcile why God would allow this to happen to their little boy. They left the church and hurt a lot of people’s feelings along the way. But one couple sent them a note that read “We will not let you go.” And they made that commitment evident as they regularly stopped by to deliver bread and gift baskets as well as having them over for dinner. They stuck with this hurting couple for the long haul, and it had a huge impact on them. Ultimately, this couple was rewarded in seeing the Knights come to faith and rejoin the church with their own powerful ministry.

What an example for each of us to follow! I would love to talk with that couple one day to see how they came to that decision and what drove them to persist even when the Knights were not receptive to them. Persevering doesn’t always show us those kinds of obvious end results. But the bigger picture must be kept in mind: Our consistent commitment to sacrifice for others in need glorifies God. That is an eternal reward, greater than anything we can know in this life.

Thank the Lord that He is so longsuffering with us. His patience and grace is eternal even while we are faithless and faltering so much of the time. Ministry is a kind of trench warfare. It takes time, tremendous effort and planning. It requires that we endure pain and suffering as we take up our crosses and follow Christ. In light of the reality that our Lord died and suffered the very wrath of God on our behalf, how can we not be willing to sacrifice for others too? May He sanctify each of us to be more compassionate, patient and persistent with one another in the body of Christ and those who have not yet come to know and glorify Him.

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