Ministry is discouraging. There are all kinds of difficulites that we face at one point or another. The Apostle Paul was well-acquainted with those difficulties and faced the constant pressures of discouragement. His letters to Timothy reveal the potential and ever-present land mines that threaten to sabotage ministry and ultimately lead spiritual leaders to the cusp of giving up and throwing in the towel.
These things just sap the life out of leaders. In the presence of these things, leaders who once thrived with life and exuberance seem to succumb. The drive for the work goes into neutral if not reverse and quitting appears to be the only option. I have experienced this personally and many of my faithful brothers have gone down this lonely road repeatedly.
In the face of this, we are called to “be strenthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1, ESV). I have long wrestled with this command as I’ve sought a return of ministry-vitality in the face of discouraging difficulties. Meditating on this passage has, at times, been frustrating because I’ve not been able to “discover the secret” that is buried in it’s words. However, the past few months have provided ample opportunity to answer the pivotal question: “WHAT grace is in Christ Jesus?” The answer to that question has yielded fresh vitality even though some of those land mines occasionally explode. In fact, the words “be strengthened” express the idea of vitality. It is a word that is more than “power” or “strength” but it refers to vitality or to the dynamic not only for ministry but for all of life. Paul is essentially saying, “Draw your vitality from the grace that is Christ Jesus.” Of course it is easy to draw ministry-vitality from supposed successes. But those things provide neither a stable nor a lasting vitality. So, when the success slows, as it often does when the land mines explode, ministry-vitality becomes stagnant leaving the leader to draw strength from the past or to hope that he can hang on long enough till the storm passes. Truthfully, that’s not a very dynamic place and quitting quickly becomes the only option.
Considering what grace is in Christ Jesus has been good for me, and perhaps has even rescued me from that slippery precipice. I invite you to consider five aspects of “the grace that is in Christ Jesus” so that you might be continually strengthened with a vitality that’ll feed your ministry not wreck it.
“For by grace you have been saved…” (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). It is the unmerited favor of God in Christ that has already rescued me from the wrath that is to come.
“Who is sufficient for these things” (cf. 2 Cor. 2:16)? “Our suffciency is from God” (cf. 2 Cor. 3:5). The grace that is in Christ Jesus sings of the sufficiency of God. I understand this as the “enoughness” of God in Christ Jesus. My ministry success adds nothing to Him and my defeats take nothing from Him.
What grace is in Christ Jesus? The grace of security. “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect” (Rom. 8:33). So I can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear, what can man do to me” (Heb. 13:6)?
My goodness or effectiveness does not impress God much less does it form the basis of what I call “His smile”. His smile is firmly founded in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Storm clouds may hide the smile but they never diminish it. The Father who turned away from the Son while He hung on the cross was equally pleased in the Son even during that time.
The grace that is in Christ Jesus is the grace of sovereignty. It is the grace in Christ Jesus that forces me to believe that “all things are being worked together for good” (Cf. Rom. 8:28).
When we consider “the grace that is in Christ Jesus” is it any wonder that Newton wrote “Amazing grace how sweet the sound”? Please do not think that I am saying that this truth takes the sting out of the pain of discouragement and difficulty. I do not think that. There is grace in Christ Jesus AND people get cancer AND there is disharmony in the church AND freinds will leave you AND … But the more important truth is that those things never diminish the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Draw your vitality from that.