A year ago, I moved from Birmingham to Bangor. For the first time, I have a seafront right on my doorstep. It’s wonderful. One of the first things I noticed was how much the beach can change over a 24-hour period. The tide, washing in and out, brings sand, seaweed, and bits of debris. Yet, one thing that doesn’t change is the bedrock, some of it protruding above the water when the tide is out.
I wonder whether at times our joy is less like bedrock and more like sand. Washed in and out with the different tides of ministry. For me, this was quickly exposed while pastoring a church through the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on I was greatly encouraged. During the first few months, the church showed genuine love, expressed through community. Members supported each other however they could through the lockdowns. We also saw the church grow in number. However, for me the tide of encouragement soon began to wash away. I faced three serious pastoral challenges; a couple of church members became divisive, and I was so discouraged on hearing about a church break-up nearby.
I have to confess—and it’s been humbling to do so—that my spiritual life suffered as a result of both encouragement and discouragement. It didn’t matter whether the tide was in or out. In the season of growth, I was busy, and fell into complacency and a lack of prayerful dependence and personal devotional time. The season of discouragement that followed left me wrecked. Not only was I physically and emotionally drained, but also spiritually flat. I had lost my zeal. The reason: my joy was too tightly bound to the ministry.
Success made me proud and complacent.
Failure or disappointment left me apathetic and flat.
Maybe you can relate. It’s a danger for all in gospel ministry. At one level, it’s understandable that our lives are bound to our work, and of course we feel the weight of responsibility as we lead. However, this comes with the danger of misplaced joy. For me there were two symptoms.
Day-to-day ministry dramatically affected my mood, and my family felt it.
My prayer and devotional life were significantly affected.
As I read through Luke’s gospel recently, I was struck by chapter 10, as Jesus sends out the disciples. I think Luke 10 offers a great introduction to the principles of gospel ministry. Here’s a quick summary.
Jesus sends out 72 disciples, telling them what their ministry will look like.
Founded on prayer (v.2).
Live simple undistracted lives, yet live with urgency (vv.3 & 6).
Proclaim a simple message—the Kingdom of God has come near. Then trust in the Spirit to work.
Opposition. They will be lambs amongst wolves (v.3).
A mixed response. Some will welcome, but many will reject the good news and will face judgement.
He finishes by issuing a stern warning to two towns, Bethsaida and Chorazin, where he had preached and performed miracles. Their judgement will be severe. So there is a pattern to gospel ministry. The disciples are to expect both highs and lows. Acceptance and rejection. Fruit and apathy. The disciples are to expect the tides.
Let’s start with encouragement. After their first venture into the world, they return to Jesus buzzing with excitement.
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Perhaps you have enjoyed a similar feeling. It’s the buzz of seeing fruit. Seeing God at work. Maybe not seeing demons driven out, but there is a such great joy in seeing God at work. Whether it’s seeing someone saved, a church planted, a believer grow, or a sermon making an impact, fruit produces joy. But that’s exactly where the danger lies.
What happens when the buzz dies down?
Jesus’ words to the disciples speak deeply to those of us who easily find our joy misplaced. His words speak to those experiencing the depths of high tide, as well as those floundering in the shallows of low tide.
Take time to read these words slowly.
He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
What an amazing truth. Jesus gave his disciples (and us) the authority to overcome Satan’s power. No wonder they were buzzing! Yet Jesus rebukes them. Jesus knows his disciples, and their tendency to get things wrong. He does this because he knows their joy can easily become misplaced.
THE BEDROCK OF JOY
So what is the bedrock of joy? Here are some thoughts.
Our joy is not to be in the gifts but in God’s grace.
Our deepest joy must not be based on our success but on our salvation.
Lasting joy is not in ministry but in membership.
We are to rejoice that our names are written in heaven.
This final one is what Jesus himself delights in.
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
Soak in this glorious and humbling thought—that Jesus doesn’t smile primarily on your ministry, success, or ability, but delights above all that you are his, chosen by him. You can see and understand what prophets could only dream of. In the tides of ministry, this is to be our deepest delight, our most constant joy, our everlasting satisfaction.
That our names are written in heaven.
For this reason, the following . . .
Our daily joy must be rooted in the glorious truths of the gospel of grace.
Our joy must come from the truth that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We have been reconciled, and have peace with God.
Our joy must be found in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Our joy must burst from the truth that we have new resurrection life in the Lord Jesus, that we are new creations.
Our joy must be rooted in the power of sin broken, and in the power of the Spirit, who lives in us and is transforming us into the image of Christ.
Our joy must be based upon the glorious truth that our destination is glory—we are citizens of an everlasting Kingdom.
Our joy must be embedded in the great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
Finally, our joy fills us up daily because we get to call Jesus both Lord and Savior but also brother and friend. And we have open access to his throne of grace. Indeed, one day we will see him face to face.
So meditate on this wonderful truth today.
Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
As you reflect on your life of ministry, are you in danger of misplacing your joy? If so, I urge you to return to the bedrock of joy, that is found by rejoicing that your name is written in heaven.
You are chosen.
You are loved beyond words.
You are called.
Rejoice . . . for your name is written in heaven.
Some questions for reflection
Can you identify examples of when your ministry (tide in or tide out) has defined your joy?
What symptoms have you seen in yourself?
Which gospel truth(s) help(s) you return to the bedrock of joy?