By Matt Henslee
We live in a day where we can pull a small rectangle from our pocket and have near-limitless access to near-countless mediums for information instantly.
With the tap of a finger, you can read breaking news a day before it hits a newspaper, hours before it airs on a newscast, and often, minutes before it breaks on a major news network’s website.
You can spend over an hour cooking a meal at home, thirty minutes waiting for your food at a restaurant, or just drive through your favorite fast-food spot and have it in your hands a moment after you finish your order.
Instant gratification makes life incredibly convenient, but it carries a cost into our church ministries we ought to take into account. Think about it: You can say, “I’ll have a number one,” and receive your order a few seconds later, but share the gospel with an unbeliever and receive only a blank stare.
Eugene Peterson penned a classic book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, many years ago—long before instant gratification became a way of life for us. Peterson based his book on Psalms 120-134, the Songs of Ascents sung by pilgrims on their way up to worship in Jerusalem.
There, Peterson finds encouragement for us as we learn to grow in worship, service, joy, work, happiness, humility, community, and blessing. That call, a long obedience in the same direction, is helpful as a way to learn a new skill or working towards losing weight––but I believe we find it most beneficial in our preaching the Good News.
A Painful Reminder
There once was an old preacher struggling to stay in the fight of gospel ministry. To make matters worse, one of his deacons criticized him moments before their worship gathering started.
His criticism was a painful reminder, “Pastor, there has only been one added to our rolls this year…and it was only a little boy.” The pastor knew this, of course, but the reminder cut him to the core.
He ended up preaching his message, thinking about resigning after the sermon the entire time. As everyone was leaving, he found himself face to face with the “little boy” that marked their only addition that year.
The boy began to inquire about how he could become a preacher or missionary. The response blessed the pastor, but that’s not the best part.
The young boy was Robert Moffat, a Scottish pioneer missionary to South Africa for over 50 years. Throughout his mission work in South Africa, Moffat opened mission stations, translated the Bible into the language of the people, and wrote two missionary books still encouraging missionaries today.
Interestingly, he was also the father-in-law of David Livingstone, the famed explorer and missionary to Africa.
Nevertheless, that old preacher was struggling. His sermons seemed to bounce off the wall and seemed to accomplish very little––aside from that little boy. Yet amid his faithful plodding, God was working. The preacher might have been ready to quit, but God was only getting started. Because of that preacher’s faithfulness, the world has been forever changed.
I love my denominational family and have had opportunities to lead and serve in a variety of ways, but my chief desire is to love my family well, faithfully shepherd my church, die, and be forgotten.
Still, God has also burdened me with a desire to encourage pastors who are barely hanging on by a thread. If that’s you, allow me a word (or a few).
If you are struggling, press on. You’re called only to be faithful––you have to remember God is still working, even when we cannot see what He is doing. Your faithfulness may not get noticed in your denomination. You might get passed over on committee appointments or the conference circuit.
What’s more, you may not know your reach in a lifetime. If you have preached 10 sermons or 1,000, with little or no response, and see a baptistery filled not with water, but with cobwebs, press on.
It might feel like you are spinning your tires in mud, but while you are spinning faithfully, God is working. And one day, one glorious day, you’ll know.
On that day, all of the tears, all of the seemingly wasted sermons (there is no such thing if you will preach Christ), and the frustrations will pale in comparison to what God accomplished through your two mites of faithful exposition.
Paul charges us in 2 Timothy to “preach the Word.” Notice what he didn’t say. I’ve looked it up in every version of the Scriptures I have––none of them translate Paul’s words to “Hit a home run,” or “Wow them with your brilliance.” He said, simply, “Preach the Word.”
It’s not your job to build your church. It is Jesus’ job, and there’s no foundation other than Him. In fact, should you build your church on the foundation of your brilliance, your personality, or anything of you–what happens when you leave?
Instead, if you’ll put your faithfulness on the altar—along with your desires to grow a platform or build a name for yourself—and follow Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to “preach the Word…with great patience,” Jesus promises to take care of the rest.
Leave a Legacy of Faithfulness
I shared the story about the preacher being used by God to send Robert Moffat into missions and onto changing the world and learned some missionaries our church supports have friends descended from Robert Moffat. Get this: They’re missionaries, too.
In fact, they sold some land to another missionary couple I served alongside years ago. It’s still used today to continue to advance the kingdom as a training ground for pastors and missionaries.
All because one faithful preacher at the end of his rope decided to stay in the fight. He was faithful to preach the Word and had no idea his influence would end up being incalculable.
So, preach the Word and leave the results to God. He’s working, far more than you realize. The results may not be as instantaneous as we expect in our instant society, but a long obedience in the same direction is all God requires.
MATT HENSLEE (@mhenslee) is the pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico, D.Min student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and author of a few books, including Jonah Over Coffee. This article is adapted from preachingsource.com and used with permission from the author.