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Maintaining Joy in Ministry

If your church supports missionaries, and if you have a close relationship with these individuals, then you know the value of getting a letter or an e-mail from them. I recently received an email of two friends serving in Niamey. With technology today, missionaries can possibly even Skype with their home church or friends to give reports and pray together. The apostle Paul didn’t have e-mail or Skype, but he was able to write a letter to his supporting church in Philippi, and they were eager to hear from him. In the first 11 verses of Philippians 1 Paul thanks God for the Philippians, expresses his love for them, and then prays for them. In verses 12-26 Paul gives the church a report on his present situation and his outlook on the future. The present report is the focus of this blog entry today in verses 12-18.

The passage breaks down simply. Paul conveys his positive attitude in the first three verses (12-14). He can be positive because the gospel is advancing. He mentions two ways in particular it’s advancing: people are hearing the gospel, and others are speaking the gospel boldly. Both are a result of his imprisonment. Then in the next four verses Paul addresses the motives of two types of evangelists. One group is made up of “envious evangelists,” while the other group is made up of “empathetic evangelists.” Regardless of their motives, Paul concludes, “Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice” (1:18).

This is one of the most relevant passages in the New Testament on how to maintain joy in the ministry. Ministry, whether vocational or non-vocational, can drain the joy out of you. I used to be a lot more critical of pastors until I became one! Now when I see a sincere gospel minister, I just want to hug him! It’s often said that pastors think about quitting every Monday morning. Sometimes you go through seasons where every day seems like Monday morning. The pastor burnout rate is off the charts. The responsibilities are vast, and the burdens are exhausting. Paul knew this church pressure, and he experienced countless waves of opposition. Yet, while Paul knew these difficulties intimately, he could essentially tell the Philippians, “I rejoice; you should rejoice.” How could he maintain joy in ministry? Paul shows us that the key to maintaining joy in ministry is simple:

1. Stay focused on Jesus.

2. Make the gospel the focus of your life and ministry.

Is the gospel being preached? If so, then rejoice. Is Jesus Lord? Yes. Do you know Him? If so, then rejoice. Life may be hard, but when we keep our focus on Christ, we have reason to sing—even on Mondays, even when we’re criticized. Paul was dealing with critics, with people who were envious of him, and with the pressure of Rome itself, but in Philippians his eyes were fixed on the glory of Christ. We must keep our eyes on Him as well. Don’t get overly concerned with what others are saying and doing. Don’t get consumed with trying to measure up to someone else’s church or ministry. Remember that comparison is an enemy of joy. It makes you unnecessarily distracted, can lead to either despair or pride, and will take your eyes off the King. Take your cue from Paul. Focus on Christ, and treasure His glory above all things.