Summary: To endure in Christian ministry we need to refill our energy: 2 Cor 4:1 and "Castaway" give helps to do so.
What keeps us going?
Sermon on 2 Corinthians 4:1
As usual Chuck Noland is travelling – on a business trip at the other end of the world. Then it happens: His plane crashes in the middle of the ocean. He alone manages to reach a remote island. A bitter fight for survival begins, a new challenge every day. And the visitors to the film ”Cast Away” are in a state of excitement for two hours, wondering how Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is going to cope with this situation. That he will make out is clear from the start. After all, it is a Hollywood film! The question is, how will he get by? How will he deal with setbacks and attacks of desperation? Why doesn’t he give up? What gives him the strength to keep going?
As workers, who want to achieve results in our missionary work, we can’t avoid these questions: How do we deal with opposition and failure? What maintains my vision, my passion? What prevents my giving up? Because the blaze of enthusiasm, the desire to win people for Jesus, expires rapidly, much too rapidly. It dies down by workers who are fed up and now throw in the towel. It expires because we do not see any success and we give up frustrated. It has expired when my service has become a matter of duty and I do not expect God to work anymore. Because that is resignation: I don’t expect anything more of God. I don’t expect anything more for myself, or my church, or my youth group. I don’t believe anymore that God can use me or use us to change this world. Resignation means: I give up something that I once had – my trust, my vision, my passion.
The ”Signare” was an important procedure, carried out when the Roman army captured new territory. In order to make clear their claim to the land, they planted their standard, the signum, in the conquered ground. If, however, they were forced to retreat by Asterix, Obbelix or other Gauls, then the Romans had to pull their Signum out again. That’s how the Romans re-signed and gave up what had once belonged to them. As far as our relationship to God is concerned that means: I don’t expect anything more from Him.
There are many understandable reasons for this. Some lie within me. I am disappointed with myself. I come up against my limits. I fail, I react wrongly and don’t even fulfil that which I expect of myself. Additionally, workers who want to achieve results in their missionary work don’t often experience support in their churches, but rather they have to cope with resistance. Instead of esteem and recognition, they often experience distrust and disapproval. If one would at this point at least experience a small revival, but success doesn’t come that quickly: Week after week in the teen group – but no teenager comes to faith. A youth service every two months – but nobody registers for the Alpha Course. We invest so much imagination, creativity and energy on a regular basis, we sow so much of God’s love, without seeing any results! Then naturally we begin to ask questions such as: What is the point of all my hard work? Does anybody notice what I’m doing? Is all this effort really worthwhile? Shouldn’t I just forget it and enjoy life?
When I start to think this way, then I like to look up 2 Corinthians 4,1. There Paul gives his answer:
”Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry,
we do not lose heart”.
Tiredness here does not mean bodily exhaustion, e.g. after a strenuous day or a hard week. That’s why God has given us sleep and the Sabbath to regenerate. Christians are not slaves to work, not even missionary work. Their lives belong to God. In the novel ”Die wunderbare Weltreise des Jonathan Blum” an elderly Jew explains this to his future son-in-law as follows:
God gave us the Sabbath so that we can free ourselves from the tyrant within us. For it is part of the nature of mankind to constantly forge new chains of slavery for itself. Do we not often say: ”I’ve got so much to do. This or that job can’t wait. I haven’t got any time to rest”? However, he who understands and keeps the Sabbath holy, he is not a slave to the tyranny he himself has created.
Much tiredness in evangelistic service can indeed be remedied by a lovely free weekend or a longer holiday. In the same way as God dealt with Elijah: first sleeping, then eating well, and then sleeping again (1 Kings 19). Paul, however, refers here to discouragement, to resignation. Perhaps one should rather translate the text: as: ”We do not give up expecting great things from God. We do not resign.” Just like Chuck Noland on the remote island, he is not prepared to give up either.