I get to talk with pastors all the time. It’s one of the joys and privileges of the work God has given me to do. I’ve also served as a pastor for ten years – less than many of my brothers, but long enough to experience some of the ups and downs of ministry.
One of the biggest challenges that pastors and anyone engaged in Christian work faces is remembering the spiritual nature of the work. If the measurables – budgets, attendance figures, projects – seem to be headed in the right direction, those tend to be our focus, to the exclusion of spiritual matters. If they’re not going well, discouragement can set in, as we forget the unseen work altogether and slide into despair. In fact, despair seems to be one of the besetting sins of gospel work. As the seed of God’s word is sown, its results are sometimes difficult to see.
So it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the extraordinary works the Lord is doing in his church. Many passages speak of His work in the church; Jesus made certain promises concerning it; but one passage in particular stands out in my mind. It stands out because of the situation in which its first hearers were found themselves.
1 Peter is written to those who in troubling times. They are called “exiles” (1:1); they had already suffered and could anticipate suffering even more (5:9). In fact, the whole book is really set in the context of suffering. This is a letter written to Christians going through difficult circumstances.
And in the middle of the book Peter gives a profound list of ways in which God is at work in their midst.
First, Peter tells them that they are living stones, being built up together as a spiritual house (2:5). Have you ever considered this as you looked at your church? Whatever may appear to be happening, you can have confidence that God is using Christians as living stones to build a house which we cannot see. He is the one doing it, so we cannot take credit for it. But it is happening.
Second, we are to be a holy priesthood (2:6). In the Old Testament, priests generally had three functions. They were teachers, explaining God’s word to God’s people. They were also to be men of prayer, constantly interceding in accordance with God’s will. And they offered sacrifices within the temple, in gratitude to God and as an atonement for sins of ignorance. But the small priesthood within Israel pointed to a broader future, when God would make his people a “kingdom of priests.” Whatever you may think of your ministry today, remember that Christians are all called to live out a priestly calling – teaching one another, praying, and offering “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5).
God is doing all of this through us because of Jesus Christ. He is the “living stone…chosen and precious” through whom we come to God. He is the “cornerstone, chosen and precious” (2:6), the “stone the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone” (2:7). In other words, because Jesus has accomplished His work, God is doing an amazing work in and through us – a work of spiritual building, a work in which we are employed in a holy priesthood.
I do not know what struggles you might be facing in the ministry. Does it seem as if nothing is happening? If so, remember the work of the Living Stone, Jesus Christ. And know that all around you – whether you are living in ease or suffering greatly – God is at work in the church. It is a spiritual work, often unseen. But be assured, “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (2:6).