Lasting in Urban Ministry – Part 5
To last in urban ministry, there are four questions that it is good to ask on a regular basis. The fourth question is:
How are you doing emotionally? Do you feel affirmed in your personhood? Do you have people around you who care about you, who really listen to your problems with a sense of empathy and care? Do you feel a sense of security in the turmoil of life? Do have a sense of someone knowing and sharing your pains in life? Do you feel accepted?
I don’t know where you are at or how your emotional well being has been over the last couple of years, but I can tell you that out of all the areas we have looked at, I have taken the hardest hits in this area as a church planter. I’ve known what it feels like to be stabbed in the back. I have at times felt the repercussions of speaking out for peace and working for the poor. I really don’t have the time, nor the emotional energy to share with you the degree and duration of the hurt and pain that I have experienced over the last couple of years. But I can identify with the Apostle Paul as it relates to some of his emotional hits he incurred in ministry.
Let me tell you, that every one of us will face moments in our life where we are tempted to give up in our pursuit to follow Jesus in bringing more of heaven to earth, to making a real difference in our neighborhood and world. For if you choose to follow Jesus and you desire to live fully live for him, you will all experience agony and heartache to such a degree that will be tempted just to give up.
Even the Apostle Paul, who endured all kinds of suffering, from being whipped more times than he can remember, stoned and left for dead, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, shivering to death because he didn’t have enough clothes to keep him warm, he suffered all these things, yet, at one time he made a very shocking statement. In the first chapter of II Corinthians he says, “I think you ought to know, dear friends, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we could never live through it.” There was a time when the Apostle Paul was on the brink of just giving up. What was it that Paul went through in Asia that had him completely crushed? No one can say for sure. People have had all kinds of opinions, but do you know what I think it was? I think Paul was overwhelmed to the point of death because of emotional issues. Let me tell you why I think that was the case.
First of all, Paul endured all kinds of physical torments, we hear about all of these later in this same book. Many times he came close to facing physical death, like when he was writing to the Philippians. But how did he face death then? He faced it with great joy. He said “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Physical death for Paul was nothing, but people were everything to Paul. Paul knew that to be with Christ would be so much better, but it was more necessary for him to stick around to help the believers grow in faith and joy. I don’t think Paul was dealing with physical issues, like death, I think it dealt with the people he was ministering to, it was emotional issues.
The other reason I think it was emotional issues is because we find out a number of years later, when Paul is writing his last book, II Timothy, that all of Asia deserted him. Now he was probably using a hyperbole there, but there is no doubt that near the end of Paul’s life, he had to face mass desertion, just like Jesus did. The very people he loved, served, shared the gospel and his life with, the very people that he poured out his life for, deserted him. And it was hard, it was overwhelming, it crushed him, and he just about couldn’t live through it. Because there is no doubt that Paul cared more about people, than his own physical comfort, or even his physical life. It’s the emotional issues in life that often land people in the ditch.
How is your emotional life? How are you doing, physically and financially? What about as it relates to your calling in life, how are you doing there?
In part 6 of this series, we will look to discern the difference between stress overload and burn out.