Working in the ministry is hard. While it is often unbelievably rewarding, it very often will rip your heart out. It is fulfilling, but so draining.
When James and I first began this “leg” of ministry, we sought advice from other couples who had been doing it for much longer. The advice and stories varied from couple to couple, but the gist was the same: ministry is hard.
But it is worth it. There is a greater cause. There is nothing that can compare to giving your life to serve God by spreading the gospel. But the hard times still remain. Sometimes, it may not seem worth it. It is easy to let yourself become bitter. I talk about this some in my post “Not Too Good“, the name of my blog and the theme of my life: I’m not too good to serve others. I’d like to delve into that more now.
Although James has only been a pastor now for a bit over a year, we have had ups and downs. Early in our ministry, we came across a verse that has kind of become our “ministry verse”. A reminder of why we do this, despite the difficulties. Paul says to the church at Corinth in II Corinthians 12:15, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.”
While that is a great reminder, that is a hard pill to swallow. In “Not Too Good”, I spoke of needing to remain humble, to focus on others first. This verse goes beyond that, though. Not only should I serve others (the Greek here actually means “to be exhausted and worn out in my labors”), but I should be doing it gladly. My desire to serve God should be so great that no circumstance should alter or diminish it. I should gladly continue in my service of God by exhausting myself for others.
And then the part that rips your heart out: “though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” This is the part that will make you want to give up.
A few months ago, I remember a picture circulating of a quote saying “don’t cross oceans for someone who wouldn’t cross a puddle for you” or something to that effect. Life would probably be a lot easier if we could just do that. You don’t appreciate me? Okay, bye.
But as Christians, we are called to something higher. Something better. Give yourself. And then give some more. Not because of what you’ll receive in return, but because it is the right thing to do. Because that is what Christ did for us. Isaiah 53 speaks of the suffering servant (Jesus): “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (verse 3). John 1:11 says, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Jesus was gladly spent for us. The more abundantly he loved, the less he was loved. But he came and served not for what we could give him, but because it was the right thing to do. Because his love for us was so great.
Most people do things for what they will receive in return. Even if the only thing they receive is appreciation. But when you receive nothing in return, it is hard. It is wearing. When you not only don’t receive appreciation, but are treated with dislike or contempt, it becomes impossible. It goes against everything in our being to do good for others and receive nothing. It just isn’t human nature to give and give of ourselves for those who do not appreciate us. We just can’t do it. Not on our own.
But we aren’t alone. With Christ, all things are possible. When we’ve poured ourselves out only to be mistreated again, when we have given every bit of ourselves and are completely spent, we have an infinite source of comfort. Earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul calls Jesus “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort”. Matthew says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
So when you’ve abundantly loved someone, only to continue to receive less and less love in return, when you are utterly spent, exhausted, and worn out in your service, come to Christ for rest.