There are times in ministry when it feels like nothing you are doing is working and all your efforts are for naught. When you spend a hundred hours with a married couple only to see the marriage dissolve. When you listen, pray and cry with a member in depression only to learn they have committed suicide. When you pour yourself into a disciple only to see him turn from the faith altogether.
There are few things that feel as helpless and heartbreaking as watching someone you care about make decisions that will harm them in this life and maybe the next. The more hours invested, prayers prayed and tears shed, the more difficult it is to watch. These are the times when ministry feels like building sandcastles as the tide comes in. These are the times we wonder if our efforts matter at all.
We aren’t the first to feel this way. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say to us in these moments. Here are five Biblical truths we need to keep in mind if we are to push ahead and not lose heart.
We Plant And Water, But Only God Gives Growth
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:7
Our call is to plant and water, but only God can affect true heart change. It’s frustrating when He doesn’t seem to be giving growth, at least not when and how we want Him to. This frustration is multiplied by the degree to which we care for that person and the hours we have talked with and prayed for them. If this sandcastle is your child, there really are no words to convey the sorrow, fear, concern and doubt you can experience.
Job and David give us a healthy space to wrestle with God in these times. Charles Spurgeon once said, “The best prayers I have ever heard in our prayer meetings have been those which have been fullest of argument. Sometimes my soul has been fairly melted down where I have listened to the brethren who have come before God feeling the mercy to be really needed, and that they must have it, for they first pleaded with God to give it for this reason, and then for a second reason, and then for a third and then for a fourth and a fifth until they have awakened the fervency of the entire assembly.”
As we invest, pray, cry and plead, we must always know that the key to the soul is not in our hands. We plant and water, but only God gives the growth.
Our Work Really Does Matter
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? Romans 10:14
It would be easy at this point to throw up our hands wondering if our efforts matter at all. They absolutely do! They matter as much as the sower who plants, the farmer who waters and the soldier in who fights.
I lived in Pisa, Italy for four years where daily I would see the gospel denied and even laughed at. As I’m told, during the war, there were men in Pisa and other towns whose responsibility it was to place bombs on the bridges. If and when those bombs were detonated, was not their decision. That decision was left to a Colonel or General with a better understanding of the big picture. Still, the duty to place those bombs is a real and necessary duty.
Why, then, do my bombs not go off? For one, you don’t know they never will. Second, God will, in some way, bless your fruitfulness. Maybe He will choose to work more in you than through you, but He will work. Third, they are not your bombs.
Understanding this greatly helped me to see I have a real part to play. Our work really matters, our prayers really matter and our tears really matter. It won’t be until the next life that we will be able to fully reconcile our real responsibility with God’s sovereignty and understand His plan. But, until that day comes, we continue to work.
We Don’t Give Up
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 Corinthians 4:1
As you read Paul’s letters to the churches and pastors of churches, you get the impression he had a dumpster fire of a ministry. Almost everywhere you look in the New Testament there are major problems. Galatia was believing a different gospel, Corinth was forming factions over leadership and falling into gross moral failings, Rome was divided over race, the Philippians were enduring extreme suffering and Ephesus is likely beginning to believe an early form of the prosperity gospel.
Paul does not lose heart, though, because he knows whose ministry it really is: Jesus’. We are stewards, ambassadors, soldiers and employees. God is the one we serve and our eyes must be continually fixed on Him and not the fruit of our ministry or we will either be insufferably prideful or tempted to give up in despair.
We Are No Man’s Savior
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 2 Corinthians 4:5
We will save no one. No matter how gifted, trained, educated, successful or devoted we are, we don’t have what it takes to change a heart. Only Jesus can do that. So we point to Him. If we think we can save someone we become lost in our egoistical co-dependency and the result will always be pride or despair, neither of which is fitting for a Christian.
We are simply a signpost pointing to the Savior. We a guide, not the hero. We point to Jesus.
We Are All Sandcastles Waiting For The Tide
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4
We and the world we live in are faint hints of what will be. There is a tide coming that will rush over all of us at Jesus’ return. For some this will be a tide of judgment, but for those who follow Jesus, it will be a tide of restoration. We labor with this tide in mind.
One day, we will be washed of our shortcomings, sicknesses, sadness and pain. We will rejoice for eternity in new bodies living in a new heavens and new earth. We don’t despair, we don’t give up and we don’t lose heart. We labor for that day. We labor for that tide. We labor for our Lord.