I don’t see how I can go on. I am so weary. I am so empty. And the critics just will not stop. They are on me like white on rice. The things I need to do, I just cannot do. Ministry needs . . . caring for my home . . . responsibilities beyond. The assault is just unbearable. Blaine, I just don’t think I can handle it anymore.
It’s been said widows fit one of two classes: the bereaved and the relieved. So it is with those who are widowed from a ministry. Either you’ll really miss it, you hate to say good-bye; or you can hardly wait to shout, “Thank God, I am out!”
But very likely you are not ministry widowed. You are still there, still serving. And conceivably it’s an impossible situation that right now is about to maul you to an emotional death. With a sharp eye for your faults and a blind eye for your strengths, your critics are dog determined to chew on you until there is nothing left to chew. Calvin Miller said, “Animosity cloaked in piety is a demon even if it sits in church praising the Creator.”1 No matter which way you turn or what direction you head, it’s right there in your face: “Hard pressed on every side . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down.” What a way to live out your ministry days!
That was Paul. He felt everything a person could possibly feel—and then some—when under assault . . . and he survived. He shared the following:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
—2 CORINTHIANS 4:8–9
That’s taking at high speed what you never thought you could take. That’s thinking you are going to black out, but you don’t. It’s a fast nose dive, yet you walk away alive. Ministry for the servant is a nonstop test of who you are—in Christ. It’s learning to adapt to the good times and the not-so-good times with the resources that are entrusted to every authentic follower of the Lord. It’s understanding, as did Paul, how to live no matter what you face—“hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Now for the rest of his story:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.
—2 CORINTHIANS 4:7–11
The following are some truths to embrace when you don’t think you can take any more. You won’t walk on water, but if you take them to heart, you will learn how to swim.
On their way home from attending an Ash Wednesday service, little Johnny asked his mother, “Is it true, Mommy, that we are made of dust like the minister said tonight?”
“Yes, darling,” his mother answered.
“And is it true that we go back to dust again when we die?”
“Yes, dear,” his mother replied.
“Well, Mommy, when I said my prayers last night and looked under the bed, I saw someone who is either coming or going.”2
Maybe that is you with your ministry—borderline dust, not sure whether you are coming or going, on the way to being swept, sucked up, and trashed in your critic’s vacuum cleaner canister. If that is you, then you are close to taking your first significant step toward survival. You now have the opportunity to see things as they are: You really are unable to cope with what others dish out; you really cannot handle things.
Notice how Paul embraced this reality when he characterized himself along with his friends as “jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7). Not macho, not “got it all together.” Not super-saint, not “suck up your guts no matter what.” A clay pot. Brittle. Breakable. A clay pot that chips. A clay pot that cracks. A clay pot that, if ever compressed, would crumble. Paul’s physical and emotional stamina (and that of his friends) was that of “jars of clay.”
Are you sitting down? Good. Now for a dose of reality. You are not super-leader. You are not super-speaker. You are not super-pastor. You are not super-staff. You are not super-missionary. You are not super-volunteer. You are a pot. A breakable, brittle pot. A clay pot that chips. A clay pot that cracks. A clay pot that crumbles. You are nothing more than a jar of clay. Not even a super-pot. Just a pot.
Are you still sitting down? Good. God meant for you to be that way.
Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Can a man be more pure than his Maker?
If God places no trust in his servants,
if he charges his angels with error,
how much more those who live in houses of clay,
whose foundations are in the dust,
who are crushed more readily than a moth!
Show me, O LORD, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man’s life is but a breath. Selah
Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.
Remember how fleeting is my life.
For what futility you have created all men!
What man can live and not see death,
or save himself from the power of the grave?
You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning—
though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.
For my days vanish like smoke.
O LORD, what is man that you care for him,
the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a fleeting shadow.
All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
The stamina of a moth. A breath. Smoke. A phantom. Dust. A shadow. Grass that withers. Flowers that drop off. Mist that evaporates. A “jar of clay.” Not exactly nerves of steel. Friend, God meant for you not to be able to handle it. That’s reality. That’s the way things really, really are. That’s me. That’s you.
And because that is both of us, when we are faced with what we cannot face, then we eye an opportunity to take that first significant step toward survival—accepting from our heart of hearts that God never intended for us to be able to “super-pot” our way through ministry. The feeling of helplessness you experience is from Him. It’s God’s in-your-face way of saying, “I know you can’t. Now you need to know you can’t. You are just a breakable, brittle jar of clay.”
Surprised by that sense of inner helplessness? Don’t be. Don’t get blown away by that feeling you just cannot “hack it” any more. Pots are supposed to feel that. If you don’t realize that your sense of vulnerability is a gift from God, you will get caught off guard and do something stupid. Neither you nor I will learn to cope God’s way until we see ourselves God’s way—as fragile jars of clay.
Lord, I hate this feeling. I want to run from this feeling. Helplessness. Vulnerability . . . profound inner weakness . . . none of it, Lord, do I want. But Lord, You did not make me superman. Not even super-pot. Just a jar of clay that will break. And I receive the way I’ve been made from You. Help me not to despise my weakness. Help me not to run from my sense of frailty. Thank You for using this situation to help me see myself as I really am: one who cannot handle things.
Friend, your feebleness is not fatal. That sick, sinking feeling is not final. If you belong to the Lord and understand His purpose when overwhelmed by “too much,” you will not drown. Just the opposite: You’ve made a second significant step toward emotional survival when your critic’s words kill. Motivated by a tremendous sense of felt-need, you look to Another for help. That is Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 4:7 when he calls us “jars of clay.”
God’s purpose in that helpless feeling is not to sit back and watch you gulp for emotional air before you drown. It’s to communicate to you that as a child of the King, you have divine resources. Any demand made upon you is a demand made upon your God.
That’s the treasure in the jars of clay—an all-surpassing power. It’s God’s power, an omnipotence that is certainly able to give us strength through whatever comes. This power is not just to compensate for pots. It transcends that reality. This is the all-surpassing power that causes others to wonder, “How can he take what he takes? I couldn’t do that!” That’s the paradox: You can’t take it. There’s no way you can handle it. You already should have drowned.
You are still afloat because you’ve learned to stop despising that helpless feeling. You see it as God’s “attention grabber” to remind you that “When I can’t, He can.” Moment by moment, you believe that He will, for any demand made upon you is a demand made upon Him.
It’s that divine treasure stashed down in your spiritual guts, a treasure received the moment you trusted Christ as your Savior.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
—2 CORINTHIANS 4:6–7
We used to live in Chicago, just five minutes from O’Hare International Airport. For my departing flights I was always at the gate in plenty of time. For other people’s flights, especially to meet an arriving passenger (before post-9/11 security restrictions), I ran late more than once. And since O’Hare has forever-and-ever tunnels to the main terminals and forever-and-ever concourses to the gates, a little late in the parking garage is a big late by the time you get to the gate—until I discovered the genius of moving sidewalks. These horizontal conveyor belts in major airports allow you to do what you never thought you could. If you walk while that sidewalk moves, you can cover ground in record time. Keep a good stride on moving sidewalks, and you will get to your gate super fast. As you do it, the moving sidewalk does it.
Hard pressed in ministry? Perplexed in ministry? Persecuted in ministry? Struck down in ministry? As you do it—continue to live in a way that honors the Lord, doing those things that you just did not think you could do—God does it.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
—2 CORINTHIANS 4:8–9
Hard pressed on every side is a phrase that in the original language describes that feeling of being boxed in. You can’t say, “Okay, enough of this problem, I’m out of here.” There is no “out of here.” There is no walking away. You are converged on from every angle. It’s lock-down time, and the prisoner is you.
Perplexed is that feeling of not knowing what’s going on. And in the context of ministry, that may include confusion over whether those you serve want you to serve them—even marginally serve them. You thought they were your fans, you thought they had accepted you. Then “whap” . . . right in the side. You are confused about the present and unsure about the future, although you’ve tried to be and do what God wants.
Persecuted means you get pursued with a vengeance. In a hypercritical context, it means you did not do it and you get nailed. You did do it and it was right that you did do it, and you get nailed. You explain why you did do what you did do and you get nailed. Pursued with a vengeance. Verbal hots poured down your neck, even though you believed that your choices honored the Lord. Persecuted.
Struck down is a chilling phrase, a “Where’s God?” phrase. In terms of ministry, this is when it looks like God has turned His back on you, walked away, and thrown away your key of opportunity to enjoy any semblance of a blessed life ever again. You are dead meat.
• “You don’t meet our needs.”
• “You are not what we want.”
• “It’s time for you to go.”
• “It’s time for us to make sure that you do go.”
Struck down—a bone-chilling phrase. Yet, friend, if you do as Paul, you will survive. That means you value the treasure within and expect that treasure to be the difference for you, no matter what you face. As you do it—continue to live in a way that honors the Lord, doing those things that you just did not think you could do—God does it.
Pressure on the outside? A greater pressure on the inside.
Unbelievable force on the surface? An even greater unbelievable force at the center.
A push to put you over the edge? A harder pull to keep you from the edge.
Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
—ISAIAH 41:10 NKJV
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.
—2 CORINTHIANS 1:8–10
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.
—2 CORINTHIANS 3:5 NKJV
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
—GALATIANS 2:20 NKJV
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
—PHILIPPIANS 4:13 NKJV
Don’t despise difficult times. If you know the Lord, it’s the perfect opportunity for God to be God in you, to show you that no matter what takes place on the outside, He will take care of you on the inside. If you are taken care of on the inside, by His grace you can take care of what needs to be done on the outside. As you do it, He does it.
Lord, I see it in the Word, but I’m still having a hard time believing it. Help my unbelief. I know I am a clay pot. I know I am fractured and am close to getting crushed. But You are my treasure within, Your all-surpassing power. I am asking You to do for me what You have done for Paul and others when hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, struck down: Be Yourself, moment by moment, in me. Thank You.
Granted, when super-stressed in ministry, this is not an approach that you hear much about. Next to today’s “how-to” strategies for serving, it really seems foolish and simplistic, an outlook that does not grapple realistically with the issues faced.
It’s similar to the instance in Matthew 12:13 when Jesus told the man with the shriveled hand, “Stretch out your hand.” What kind of simplistic approach was that? If the man could stretch out his hand, he already would have stretched out his hand. So unrealistic. So pie in the sky. Then “he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other” (v. 13b).
Or what about in Mark 2:11 when Jesus said to the paralytic, who was possibly even a quadriplegic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” What kind of an off-the-wall remark was that? Talk about an approach that does not grapple with the issues. If the man could get up, he would have gotten up a long time ago. So out of touch. So impractical. Yet verse 12 states: “He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’”
What God commands, God empowers. When you command your TV remote, you see to it the television is empowered; you make sure it’s plugged into some electricity. What we command when it comes to a TV, we empower.
What God commands in anyone, anything, any setting, God empowers. And as a servant, since God commands you to be diligent in all you do, you can.3 You can lead. You can prepare so you have something of significance to say when it is time to speak. You can give it your all when working with others. You can give it your all when working alone. You can minister among your critics, carrying out your God-assigned responsibilities in a way that honors the Lord. Diligence. You can.
The same is true with faithfulness. Since God commands you to be faithful, you can.4 You can be faithful with your time. You can be faithful with your emotions. You can be faithful with the gospel. You can be faithful as an example to others to motivate them to good deeds. You can be faithful and so encourage the weak and cheer the strong. You can be faithful at home so your spouse and children are built up. Faithfulness. You can.
Likewise with love. Since God commands you to love your neighbors, you can.5 You can love them with your care. You can love them with your ear. You can love them with your words. You can love them if they are on your team. You can love them if they are not. You can love them if they are up in the stands booing your every call. Love. You can.
Friend, what God commands, God empowers. As you do it—even though you don’t feel like doing it—God does it.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. . . . We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.
—2 CORINTHIANS 4:7–11
The treasure—that all-surpassing power—is the very life of Jesus. When you are put in a “death situation” for Jesus’ sake, His life is released through you at that moment. And within the context of ministry, a death situation includes the unscrupulous, thoughtless tongue of another who feels an unusual freedom to carve you up for no wrong that you have done. Your life in all that you face becomes Christ’s life in all that you face.
It’s there in these verses. When you face tough times, God reveals in your body the very life of the Son of God. What you read in the Bible about His peace, His composure, His graciousness, His ability to face opposition, His love, His willingness to forgive, His endurance—that’s what God releases in you. Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, lecturer and writer on philosophy and religion, states:
As Paul says to the Corinthians, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” You cannot avoid having a vessel. The problem comes when you mistake the vessel for the treasure, for the treasure is the life and power of Jesus Christ. I am sorry to say, but too much of what we call “Christian” is not a manifestation of the supernatural life of God in our souls. Too much of what we call “Christian” is really just human.6
Dear one, when you hurt, “just human” is not going to do it. When hard pressed from all sides, you will collapse. When perplexed, you will despair. When persecuted, you will feel abandoned. When struck down, you will look like Humpty Dumpty after his great fall. “Just human” will not do it. To survive, there must be the “manifestation of the supernatural life of God in our souls.”
Comparing the relationship to the “one flesh” of marriage, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:17, “he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” Remember that we are two-faceted—a visible material part (the body) and an invisible immaterial part (the soul and spirit, a part that includes the mind, the emotions, the heart). In that invisible immaterial part, before you were saved, there was just you. When you trusted Christ as your Savior—“united yourself to the Lord”—something changed. You did not feel it, but in that invisible immaterial part there was no longer just you. There’s now you and Christ. His invisible immaterial part and your invisible immaterial part are now one in spirit in the same body.
You don’t become a spiritual glowworm. You certainly don’t become deity. And for sure, God doesn’t become you. But now when you think about yourself, you need to understand that on the outside is a body, and on the inside are you and Him.
That is why any demand made upon you is a demand made upon Him. Any pressure applied to you is pressure applied to Him. Any “in-your-face” challenge directed toward you is an “in-your-face” challenge taken up by Him.
I have a lamp in a room at our house. It has a shade and a bulb. But when I click the switch, nothing. I have another lamp in the same room. It has a shade and a bulb. When I click the switch, there’s light. I can read by it, study by it, enjoy the presence of others by it. The difference? The live lamp is united to all the resources of my local electric company at the outlet on my wall, while the other’s plug is lying on the floor. The live lamp has become one in spirit with the electricity of Four County Electric Cooperative, so that any demand made upon that lamp when the switch is clicked is a demand made upon Four County Electric.
Do you understand? Do you believe . . . really believe? Are you a person of faith with a “right now” trusting faith? If you are “given over to death” in your ministry “for Jesus’ sake”—not for your own selfish, sinful sake—the supernatural current will flow. You won’t feel some infusion of His presence. It’s very likely that when you tell Him “I can’t handle things, but I know You can,” you won’t feel a thing.
There are no advances. Just as your next breath is not an up-front allowance on oxygen for the rest of the day, your next spiritual breath is not spiritual oxygen for the rest of your ministry stress—only enough spiritual air to do what you need to do in that spiritual breath.
But because you are one with Him in spirit, His life will flow through you. Demands made on you are demands made upon Him, no matter how many times your switch gets clicked.
Do you understand? Do you believe? Do you really believe?
When you push your grocery cart to the car, you leave the store checkout counter with bags and bags of food. You head for the door, and you know it’s closed. But you still push that buggy. You have to get your groceries out to the parking lot where your car is. And though the door is closed, you don’t push that buggy out of despair. You push that buggy in hope. You really believe that when that door needs to open, it will open—automatic electric doors just do—and with confidence you press ahead.
Friend, that’s what this chapter is about. It’s not a denial that practical things such as counseling and mediation may need to be done in response to the criticism within your ministry. But it is saying that those things are meaningless and ultimately will do no good if you haven’t made a commitment to keep pushing your buggy. If you learn to push your buggy in faith, even if a door is shut tight in front of you—“I can’t”—you will discover that you can and can as long as God wants you to. An inadequate you. A more than adequate God.
That’s what serving God is about. That’s what the Christian life is about. That’s why I know you can make it.
Taken from When People Throw Stones © 2005 by Blaine Allen.
Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI.
Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.