On January 11, 1877, Phillips Brooks, the well-known rector of Trinity Church in Boston, MA, stood before the ministerial students, faculty and guests at Yale Divinity School to deliver the first of eight lectures in distinguished “Lyman Beecher Lectureship on Preaching.” After taking a few minutes to lay the groundwork for his series, Brooks made this unexpected statement: “I cannot begin, then, to speak to you who are preparing for the work of preaching, without congratulating you most earnestly upon the prospect that lies before you. I cannot help but bearing witness to the joy of the life which you anticipate. . . . Let us rejoice with one another that in a world where there are a great many good and happy things for men to do, God has given us the best and happiest, and made us preachers of His Truth.” (Brooks, Lectures on Preaching, reprint 1969).
Since January 12, 1951, when I was ordained, I confess that there have been times when I have questioned whether my call to the ministry was really “the best and happiest thing” God could have done for me. it would have made me ecstatic if the Lord would have removed some obstructionists from the congregation, but that never happened. If I had known then what I know now, my work would have been easier; but I was young. I was both a pastor and seminary student, and I had to learn some things the hard way. But as I look back, I can see that, next to the gifts of eternal life and the Word of God, my call to ministry was indeed God’s good gift to me, and I am indeed grateful.
Every calling has its joys and sorrows, but in the Christian ministry, the Lord promises that even our sorrows will be turned into joy, either on earth or one day in heaven (John 16:16-21). Just as the same baby that caused a mother pain also brings her joy, so the burdens and battles of the ministerial life bring us grief, but that grief is transformed into joy. Paul calls our current troubles “light and momentary” when compared to the eternal glory that lies ahead (2 Cor. 4:17).
Let’s consider some of the joys that ought to be a part of the life of God’s faithful servants.
The joy of finding the lost
Christians who win souls are not only wise (Prov. 11:30), but they are also joyful. The “lost and found” chapter of the Bible—Luke 15—proves that. There is not only joy on earth when the lost are found, but there is also joy in heaven (Luke 15:7-10; see Matt. 18:12-14). And the people who come to faith in Christ through our ministry about whom we know nothing now will be introduced to us in glory. We will be amazed and humbled to learn how God blessed our witness. Winning souls to Christ produces joy and makes our church problems look minuscule compared with the blessings of changed lives.
We must not be short-sighted but we must do our work “with eternity’s values in view.” The Lord “has made everything beautiful in its time” (Eccl. 3:11), and it takes “faith and patience” on our part if we’re going to inherit what God has promised (Heb. 6:12). The soil must be plowed and prepared, the seed must be sown and watered with our prayers, and we must wait for the harvest to come and be ready to reap.
You and I can never experience the depths of sorrow and suffering that Jesus experienced when He was ministering on earth, especially the sufferings of the cross. It was “the joy that was set before him” that helped Him endure this shame and suffering, the joy of the one day presenting His church to the Father “with great joy” (Jude 24). Paul had this same attitude toward the people he had won to Christ (1 Thes. 3:9; Phil. 2:16).
The joy of seeing God’s people grow
The local church grows by nutrition and not just by addition (Eph. 4:14-16), and to achieve that growth, there is no substitute for the practical exposition of the Word of God. Every pastor needs to be like Barnabas, the “son of encouragement,” who rejoiced at the spiritual growth of the Gentile believers in Antioch and encouraged them to keep maturing (Acts 11:19-23). Paul was willing to stay out of heaven so that he might continue to assist in the spiritual progress of the believers in Philippi (Phil. 1:25-26), and it gave him great joy to hear how the Colossian believers were maturing (Col. 2:1-5).
Many of the problems in churches are caused by believers who are not maturing in the faith (Heb. 5:11-14). Every parent is happy to see babies grow up and be able to feed themselves, cleanse themselves, dress themselves and more and more take care of themselves; and every pastor has the same joy helping spiritual babies grow up. The fact that church members have been saved for many years is no guarantee that they are spiritually mature, for age and maturity are two different things. Alas, too many churches are being led by “amateurs” who know little about the treasures of the Word, the ministry of the Spirit and the importance of maturity. Consequently, they serve milk and not meat and depend on cleverness and entertainment instead of spiritual wisdom and enrichment.
The joy of our own spiritual growth
Every servant of God needs to take to heart Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:15—“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” The word translated “progress” means “pioneer advance.” If God’s servants aren’t moving into new territory, they are only monitoring conformity. This means daily disciplined study of the Word of God, pioneering into new doctrinal and devotional territory, and giving the church family opportunities to learn more about Jesus. But it must begin with us!
Charles Spurgeon read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress over one hundred times; many pastors have never read it once. Life is too short for us to waste time on “the books of the hour” when there are so many “books of the ages” to master. When I was in itinerant ministry, I would often examine the pastor’s library, because it would usually give me some idea of his appetite for spiritual things. Did he have the tools needed for a deeper study of the Word, or did he major on “how-to” books and books of sermon outlines and illustrations?
We cannot lead our people where we have never been. A disciplined devotional life and good study habits are essentials for pioneer advance in ministry. Although we all know we’re far from what we ought to be, the experience of steady spiritual growth in the Word is one of the special joys of ministry. 1 John 2 tells us that the church family is made up of children, young men and women, and fathers. Where is the pastor in that listing?
The joy of feeding on the Word
The prophet Jeremiah says it best: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty (Jer. 15:16). The writer of Psalm 119 expresses the same delight. “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches (v. 14). “Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart” (v. 111). “I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil” (v. 162).
The Word of God is a gift to the people of God (John 17:13-14) and we should receive it with joy, study it with pleasure and obey it with delight. Imagine, the pastor is paid to do full time what every devoted Christian would be happy to do if the opportunity were given! We read the word, meditate on it and obey it first of all for our own spiritual growth, then we share it with others. When children lose their appetite, it’s usually a sign they have been eating the wrong things elsewhere or that they are sick. It’s a situation we cannot tolerate.
(Copyright Warren Wiersbe, All Rights Reserved, May not be copied or duplicated without permission of the author.)
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).