Everyone is prone to discouragement. No matter our vocation, we all face the temptation to feel like what we are doing does not matter. I can remember working in the military and wondering how much my work really supported the mission. I recall working in Insurance Compliance and debating in my mind as to how in the world all of these reports and analysis really did anything. These are natural and common questions.
From my seat there is no other vocation that trumps pastoral ministry with the feeling of not making a difference. In addition to our knowledge of our own weakness there is the front-row view of many other people’s problems. The pastor sees people at their worst. Whether it is the horrific impact of sin on their lives or the activity of sin within the church. Furthermore, there is the overall burden to see every member presented complete or mature in Christ. Not to mention we will give an account for the souls of our sheep.
So here you stand, knee deep in the sludge of personal and corporate sin, knowing your own weakness, and watching sheep alternating between picking each other off and falling asleep, and you ask, “Am I doing anything?” Because we like to fix things we immediately ask what we can do differently to fix things. The first thing on the block is usually our preaching. We wonder if it is working. Is there something better? Can we find a silver bullet for Christian maturity?
Embedded in our favorite Resurrection Sunday passage is this glorious announcement:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corin 15: 20).
This glorious truth that Jesus has in fact been raised has a myriad of promises and implications tethered to it. However, for our purposes here one will suffice. In short:
Your preaching is not in vain!
The implication back in verse 14 was that if Jesus was not resurrected, then preaching of Christ was in vain. The thunderous answer to this is that he has in fact been raised. Therefore, your preaching is not in vain!
Insofar as you are preaching Christ, his life, death, burial and resurrection for us and our salvation then your preaching is not in vain. It matters. It makes a difference. This is what you must do when you are knee deep in the sewer water of sin and the pain of hard times. You must preach Christ. And keep preaching Christ.
Open your eyes.
Look around; I am almost certain that God has given you some people who are hearing the word preached and following Christ with heartfelt devotion. We don’t want to be like Naomi who stood amid a barely harvest and saw no grace only affliction and bitterness (Ruth 1).
Pretty simple. Pretty hard. Put in the hard time to pray for yourself and your people. Don’t stop praying for them when it’s good or bad. Keep at it. Remember Samuel, who felt he would be sinning against God by not praying for his people? (1 Sam 12:23)
I like to run. And one of my favorite things to do is to smell when I run. There are so many things to smell in different seasons and in different places. Pastors need to sniff up the glorious scent of the gospel of grace. In one sense the world could be crashing down around you but if your nostrils are full of the scent of the gospel then you can smile. So delight.
Remember as you prepare for and deliver your sermon this Sunday, your preaching is not in vain.