Paul catalogues some of the adversities he has endured in ministry—and it is astonishing in their gravity and severity.
“Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor.11:23-27 NKJV)
Beyond these crises events—that would have been more than sufficient to cause even the hardiest among us to give up—he describes a relentless pressure, “besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Cor.11:28). He does not seem to list this as an afterthought, but an accentuation. This is the icing on the cake of trials!
I have not experienced much of what Paul lists as his troubles and trials, but this is one that any Gospel preacher who is faithful to proclaim the message and shepherd God’s people knows very well. You feel it when you wake up. You walk with it through the day. You carry it to bed at night. It can even haunt your dreams. What the people of God face, we face with them. What hurt they know, we ache for them. When they fall, we feel it. When they grieve, we weep with them. Their need becomes our concern.
Often we are there for others, and no one is there for us. I recall sitting in my car in the parking deck of the hospital. One of our faithful members that had been a staunch supporter of mine had just died. I had sought to comfort the weeping family. Then it hit me—how much I would miss him—and I cried profusely. Yet, there was no one to hug me and pray for me. I was alone in my anguish. That is often the preacher’s lot.
Yet, there is a special application for those who serve the church in an even broader context. Paul not only felt the weight of a local church, but of churches—plural—all of them. Those are the shoes I stepped into this year as an Associational Mission Strategist for Haywood Baptist Association. There are sixty two churches now that I serve. I walk with those pastors and seek to encourage them and counsel them. I pray for these churches and try to help them accomplish their mission. Some are healthy and need to be fueled with encouragement to continue their effectiveness. Some are stuck and need counsel as how to get back on track. Others are sick and need guidance in how to end conflict, find a shepherd, refocus, and be revitalized. Then, there are those who are dying, and the praying for a miracle is intense. Should they die, I will mourn.
Please pray for your pastors. Pray for other Christian ministers. Pray for me. Help us bear our burden and God will bless you for it!