“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
So writes Paul as he describes the apparent contradictions that he discovered in ministry. He was weak, afflicted, perplexed, struck down, and acutely identified with the dying of Jesus (see the following verses). Life wasn’t go so well.
Yet, the message he preached was having an amazing impact on his hearers. Astounding blessings and breakthroughs were taking place in their lives–all while he wrestled with pain, setbacks and discouragement.
Such is the paradox of ministry.
I had a taste of that this past Sunday. I had the privilege to minister the word in the church I serve as a pastoral caregiver.
I certainly didn’t feel on my A-game. The days leading into Sunday were marked by confusion about my sense of calling and belonging in this thing called church. My doubts seemed locked onto the goal of convincing me I was making no impact and had no future.
Unlike Paul, I was perplexed AND despairing (see v. 8).
My assigned topic was the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4). I was tempted to see it as a waste of the congregation’s time. I held little expectation as I stepped in front of them.
But God seemed to show up.
After the service, several caught me on the way out and reported that the message was quite helpful. It offered them a fresh and useful perspective on Jesus’ temptations.
That was nice. I appreciated the kind feedback.
But later that evening I received this text from our senior pastor:
“A guy from church met with me tonight. He’d been trying to do church and get past his past on his own. The more he contemplated the message this morning the more he realized how his past wounds and failures were ‘kicking his ***’ as he put it. Tonight we prayed that God would forgive his past and show him how to forgive those who have hurt him. And to give him eternal life.”
I was blown away. I blinked back tears as I read the text to my wife.
I don’t understand the ways of God.