Anxiety is common to all people, but it’s an occupational hazard for those of us in vocational ministry. In a previous blog post, I addressed some ways we may define anxiety using biblical terms. In this article, I aim to help you combat the anxiety you may face regarding your inadequacies and the times those you serve misunderstand you or your motives. Let me encourage you with two truths.
1. The Lord Knows Your Heart
Ministry-related pressures that increase anxiety include unjust criticism, unfair comparison, and harsh judgment from the people we love and serve. The apostle Paul experienced all the above.
Specifically, some in the church at Corinth falsely accused Paul of not attempting to visit them because he did not care about them. In response, the apostle called on the Lord to enter the courtroom as his witness.
“But I call God as witness to my soul, that it was to spare you that I did not come again to Corinth. Not that we domineer over your faith, but we are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm. But I decided this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. For if I cause you sorrow, who then will be the one making me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me? This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy was the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you” (2 Cor. 1:23-2:4, nasb).
The Corinthians misunderstood Paul’s motives and judged him harshly. This misunderstanding caused him great inner pain. He deeply loved all his disciples in the Lord; they should have loved him in return. Yet, they did not. So, Paul had to learn to rest in a clear conscience before the Lord. Paul knew he was a weak and fallible man who made many mistakes. There was no question in his mind; he was simply a man. But he also knew he was doing his best to be faithful to the Lord.
By God’s strengthening grace, even in times of hostility, Paul and his companions could give thanks to God, “who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us reveals the fragrance of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved” (2 Cor. 2:14-15, nasb). You must do the same.As a minister of the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit is using you to advance the cause of Christ, even when outward success or man’s approval is absent.
Yes, it’s true. Some people may seem impossible to please. But you must remember that your Christ-centered ministry is a sweet aroma to God and those learning to love Jesus more than they love themselves. Therefore, when you are anxious about being misunderstood by those you serve, rest in the truth that God knows your heart, and you are pleasing to him.
2. The Spirit Commends Your Ministry
To be called to gospel ministry is to live with a vivid sense of being inadequate. And to live before God and his people in weakness means to live in a state of constant dependence on the Lord. This is God’s design for us. In his book, When Shepherds Weep: Finding Tears of Joy for Wounded Pastors, Glenn Daman describes this well:
“To enter ministry is to be reminded daily of how far you fall short of the standard God established. Every time you preach a message or teach a Bible study you come face to face with your own failures. You preach knowing you have failed to apply the very message you proclaim. You denounce sin that inwardly you struggle with. The pedestal you are placed upon further compounds this sense of personal crisis. You feel you must be perfect to be accepted by the congregation. You fear admitting that you struggle with sin, temptation, and personal failure lest the people turn against you and use your own failures as ammunition for personal assaults against you.”
Like the apostle Paul, we need to remember that the Spirit of God is the one who commends our ministry.
Worldly wisdom tells us we need more self-confidence: “You just need to keep telling yourself that you are enough.” But self-confidence is a mirage. It never holds up to the challenges of gospel ministry. The only confidence that will sustain you in the ministry is the confidence that comes from Christ. He is adequate, and His adequacy is working in you. Listen to the apostle’s conclusion.
“Such is the confidence that we have toward God through Christ. Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:4-6, nasb).
Humbly embrace your inadequacy, but then quickly look to Christ. Don’t wallow because you will never measure up. Instead, look to Christ. He already measures up and is sufficient for you and your ministry. He is accomplishing his supernatural work through the Spirit who indwells you and gives life to your ministry.
Why is it so essential to remind ourselves of the sufficiency of Christ? Why does it strengthen us to admit we are inadequate? Gospel ministry always occurs within the realm of spiritual warfare, and this supernatural war often makes itself visible in our conflicts with others. Therefore, when you are anxious about the evaluation of your ministry, rest in the truth that the Spirit quietly commends your ministry through the changed lives of those who receive the gospel that you faithfully proclaim.
- Reflect: Read 2 Corinthians 3:1-18. How does knowing that the Holy Spirit works in and through you encourage you today?
- Act: Meditate on 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 and pray it to the Lord personally. Consider memorizing these verses or writing them on a 3×5 card and placing them in a visible spot in your study.