Mother Teresa once said, “Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service. Try to give unconditionally whatever a person needs in the moment. The point is to do something, however small, and show you care through your actions by giving your time … We are all God’s children so it is important to share His gifts. Do not worry about why problems exist in the world – just respond to people’s needs … We feel what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean, but that ocean would be less without that drop.“
This quote gives us an eloquent description of what God expects from us. We serve others in the name of Jesus Christ because God calls us to be his hands and feet in this world. We live out our faith by bringing comfort to the hurting, encouragement to the disheartened and strength to those who are weak.
Even though we understand this, there are times when weariness and stress causes us to ask questions such as: Am I really qualified to do this? Why does this ministry seem so hard to do? Why are some people so hard to please? Do I really have time to do this? Why does it seem to take 10 times longer than it should to get things done?
If your ministry and your walk with Jesus is causing you to ask these kinds of questions, I have good news for you. You’re right where God wants you to be. This is exactly what the 12 disciples of Jesus and the early apostles of the church experienced. The Apostle Paul tells us being a drop in the ocean isn’t supposed to be easy. He began the book of 2 Corinthians by describing how their work for God had been difficult and dangerous. At times, they were so dejected they weren’t sure they could keep going. The difficult people they encountered and the challenges they faced caused great pain in their lives. Still, they persevered.
In 2 Corinthians 4:1-18 Paul writes, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
There are some basic principles in this passage we need to take to heart if we’re going to persevere in our work for the Lord. If we don’t understand them, we’re much more likely to quit when things become difficult.
The first emotion I felt when I sensed God calling me to be a pastor was fear. I tried to resist it. But God persisted. Eventually my fear turned to excitement. God was going to use me to spread the message of Jesus Christ. Perhaps through my ministry people would come to know Jesus as their Savior and they could find healing in the areas where they were hurting. After a few years, my excitement turned to concern. It appeared to me that I wasn’t progressing very fast in my own spiritual growth. Who was I to preach to others when I had so many areas in my own life where I was struggling?
I decided to leave the pastoral ministry so I wrote a resignation letter to give to the church. Before I submitted it, I wanted to tell our senior pastor about it in person. During our conversation, I told him I was going to resign. I didn’t have the right to tell others how to live out the gospel in their lives when I couldn’t seem to do it in my own life. His response was short and to the point. He looked at me and cited verse 5 of our scripture lesson, “Remember David, we don’t preach ourselves. We preach Jesus.” Those two short sentences stuck with me. I’ve quoted them back to myself many times over the last 25 years.
The word used for “preach” in verse 5 means “to proclaim.” When we respond to God’s call in our lives, we proclaim the gospel through our service to God and to other people. When Paul said he preached the gospel, he was talking about delivering sermons. He was a preacher who stood in front of crowds and shared the message of Jesus with anyone who would listen.
Do you ever thing about the fact you’re a preacher too? You proclaim the message of Jesus by the way you live your life and treat others. You preach whenever you serve in the ministry God has given you.
The power of the Gospel message is all we need. Verse 2 tells us not to use deception or distort God’s word when we share Jesus. We don’t need to impress others by trying to whitewash over our sins or act like we’re something we’re not. All we have to do is be as authentic as possible, give God permission to keep chip away at the sins and doubt we still carry in us and proclaim Jesus. God will do the rest.
While it can be comforting to know God doesn’t require us to be perfect before we can serve him, we need to come to terms with another difficult point Paul makes in this passage. In addition to proclaiming the gospel, we also have to project the gospel in our sufferings. The gospel message isn’t just about Jesus’ resurrection. The message also contains his suffering and death.
We have to preach the whole truth. Yes, there is new life through the resurrection of Jesus but before there can be a resurrection there has to be a death. We have to accept the fact that problems, difficulties, suffering and the possible loss of our lives are part of the gospel message.
We are so blessed in this country. There are more than enough resources to meet our needs. We have religious freedoms and don’t have to worry about persecution. These blessings can cause us to become spoiled. Many Christians in the United States not only ignore the Bible passages about suffering, they get mad at God when problems come their way.
Please understand that I’m not trying to minimize the difficulties people go through or over spiritualize their pain. Life can be hard. Sometimes our worries push us to the point where we feel like we can’t go any further. But do you know what we find when we get to this point? We find Jesus.
Paul says we are like clay jars who are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. Clay jars are fragile. They can’t take much abuse before they break. We’re the same way. We’re fragile too. When problems come our way, we keep going because Christ gives us the strength to persevere. This shows the power in us is not from ourselves. It’s from God.
Suffering and difficulties in life opens a doorway in us which allows God to reveal himself in ways he can’t when times are good. They give us a better understanding of God that strengthens our faith. St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish mystic, said, “I realize better every day what grace our Lord has shown me in enabling me to understand the blessings of suffering.”
Many Christians who have never suffered are weak in their faith. They’ve never had to truly depend on God. They’ve been able to go through life on their own. If they’re not careful, they may be more judgmental towards other people because they’ve never had to make hard choices in life. It’s easy to condemn others for their decisions if you’ve never had to make them yourself.
Difficulties in our lives doesn’t mean God is punishing us. It means we’re being called to project the gospel message we proclaim. As a matter-of-fact, if everything is going great in your life and ministry right now, you’re probably out of God’s will in some areas of your life.
Please don’t become bitter with God because of suffering or problems. As Paul said in verse 16, “do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Through the power of Jesus that’s in us, we can endure whatever life throws our way. We know that one day we will leave our bodies to spend eternity in heaven. When that day comes, we want Jesus to tell us that we’ve been faithful to him even though things didn’t always go our way.
So, sisters and brothers, keep being drops in the ocean. Proclaim the message of Jesus in whatever way God has gifted you to serve. Project the gospel in the way you live – even when it involves suffering. And, most of all, keep looking to Jesus for strength.