By Clint Darst
Do you ever feel weary from the battle of Christian ministry in this broken world?
Think of the last few weeks: a global pandemic, extreme isolation, escalating counseling concerns, #AhmaudArbery, another beloved pastor’s death, and on top of all that the daily pressures of the church.
Seasons like this remind me of why the Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to, “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). The Christian ministry is lived out on the battlefield of a broken world. Perhaps you are currently weary in this battle and could use encouragement to keep fighting. I would like to offer you an acrostic, F.I.G.H.T., that has been particularly helpful to me in difficult seasons. My hope is that it will aid you in your battle.
F: FOCUS ON TRUTH
In storms of extreme emotional exhaustion, we are prone to wander away from the solid rock of biblical truths and drift to islands of subjective lies. We subtly forget God’s sovereign goodness and shift into beliefs more consistent with karma than Christianity.
We can slip into that great error Martin Lloyd-Jones warned against in his book, Spiritual Depression, when he said, “Avoid the mistake of concentrating overmuch upon your feelings. Above all, avoid the terrible error of making them central.” We should not ignore our feelings, but we must avoid listening to them without discerning ears. And we must preach the truth of Scripture to them especially in the midst of intense battles.
We learn this from the Psalmist. When your experience leads you to say, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’”, you must fight back, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:3, 5). Friend, fight the good fight by focusing on the truth of God’s word rather than listening to the lies of karma.
I: INITIATE HONEST PRAYER
As we shout biblical promises to our emotions, we must also carry them to God in prayer. We turn to the One who is gentle and lowly in heart because he has invited us to bring our burdens to Him.
Listen to the heart of God: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). God has not called you to be Superman, but to lean on and point to the Godman. He has not called you to have it all together, but He has promised you that He holds it all together (Col. 1:17).
“Humbly take your raw and honest prayers to the One who cares for you, knowing that each cry brings him eternal pleasure.
Brother, He’s listening. He cares. He knows. He’s near. Perhaps He’s calling you to learn more of the grace found only in fresh lament. Mark Vroegop, in his excellent book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, points out that one third of the Psalms are laments.
God the Spirit will surely use these inspired words of lament to help you when your words are mere groanings. Humbly take your raw and honest prayers to the One who cares for you, knowing that each cry brings him eternal pleasure (Rev. 5:8). And pray with confidence for you are never the only one praying. The Son and the Spirit beat you to your prayer closet every day (Ro. 8:18-35). Fight the good fight by initiating honest prayer.
G: GOUGE OUT THE EYES OF SIN
As we focus on truth and initiate honest prayer, we should assume the Holy Spirit will bring fresh conviction of sin. You might be tempted to ignore these convictions. You’re a leader after all, you should be mature. You’re supposed to be holy. But if you do not lead in anything else, lead in repentance.
God is no doubt refining his church in our day. He is exposing hidden sin. He is revealing worldly motives in supposedly holy men. Let us quickly flee from the enemy of our souls to the God of grace by confessing our sin one to another (James 4:7; 5:16).
“Keep fighting the good fight by doing whatever it takes to gouge out the eyes of sin.
If we get taken out, may it never be because of unrepentant sin. Take heed to John Owen’s exhortation and warning in, The Mortification of Sin, “You must always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work; always be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Keep fighting the good fight by doing whatever it takes to gouge out the eyes of sin (Mt. 5:27-30).
H: HOPE IN HEAVEN
The bloody battle of mortification can be exhausting. Therefore, we must make sure that as we focus on truth and initiate honest prayer, we give special attention to the hope of heaven. One day these battles will be over. One day there will be no more heartaches from seeing a church member fall away from Christ. There will be no more pandemics, no more racism, no more political division, no more complex leadership issues, no more broken marriages, no more aborted babies, no more poverty, no more injustice, no more hope denied, no more unexpected funerals, no more murder, and no more arguments.
“The finished work of Christ’s Cross promises all of your pain will be replaced by an objective and subjective experience of pleasure forever with God and His people.
There will be no more steps of faith needed because our faith will be realized (Rev. 21:1-4). Therefore, set your mind on things above because you have been united to Christ by faith (Col. 3:1-4). He has canceled your sin debt and reconciled you to the Father. You are eternally safe. You eternally belong.
The finished work of Christ’s Cross promises all of your pain will be replaced by an objective and subjective experience of pleasure forever with God and His people. That day, that world, is coming! Keep fueling your fight with the hope of heaven.
T: THINK FOR OTHERS
A heavy heart can sometimes tempt us to get so wrapped up in our burdens that we begin to neglect our call as pastors. We must never forget that we are servants of the Suffering Servant. Our King left the glories of the Father’s right hand to wash dirty feet and then suffer and die for sinners like us. He came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).
He has called us to follow Him in this great service. Let us continue to minister to those whom God has called us to. He has given us everything we need to accomplish everything He has called us to do.
As you fight, remember the battle in this broken world still rages for all. Reach out to and pray for one another. Check on each other. Comfort others with the comfort with which you have been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:4). I have often found that serving others is the context where the joyful motivation I might have lacked in the valley normally returns. Keep fighting the good fight by thinking for others.
Pastor friends and ministry leaders, I pray this acrostic serves to help you keep fighting the good fight. Focus on truth, initiate honest prayer, gouge out the eyes of sin, hope in heaven and think for others. And if you find yourself weary from the battle, keep fighting, because our King has already won the war.
This article was originally posted at The Center for Preaching & Pastoral Leadership on May 13, 2020.