"They stole my laptop out of my church office."
On this day six years ago, we were on the verge of replanting just outside of Chicago in Northwest Indiana. Growing up in the community I now pastor, I knew it was going to be a difficult task in a difficult area. I knew there would be interesting things we would experience and interesting people we would interact with along the way. One Sunday morning I decided to step out of my office to check on the worship team practicing in the gymnasium. I was out for maybe five minutes only to return to see my desk a mess and my laptop gone. Someone stole my laptop out of my church office on a Sunday morning at 8 a.m.
As I walked in trying to make sense of how this could happen, I sat down into complete disarray and disappointment (not to mention I hadn't printed my sermon yet - C'mon I was new to ministry). A church member who happened to driving down the street came into my office and said they saw someone running a block away with a laptop in their hand. I heard them like Charlie Brown hears his teacher. Overwhelmed, I looked down and saw my Bible laying on the floor. I decided to pick it up and begin reading (mentally preparing to preach without any of the notes I had prepared).
I wish I could tell you I preached an amazing sermon and everything worked out fine, but it wouldn't be true. I never got my laptop back nor the countless sermons that were saved on it. The pictures of my first few years in ministry were gone. The feeling of violation took a while to go away. It was a really disappointing Sunday for me. It wouldn't be the last.
There are many disappointing moments in ministry. Sometimes they come at the hands of people in your church. Sometimes they come at the hands of people outside of your church. Sometimes they come at the hands of certain circumstances in your church. Sometimes they even come at your own hands. It is important to know what to do to deal with these disappointing moments.
In 1 Timothy, the Apostle Paul is writing a ministry manifesto instructing his son in the faith, Timothy. Timothy has been in Ephesus for some time and ministry is beginning to wear him down. We get indication of this in the beginning verses where Paul says, "As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith." You get a little bit of insight into the kind of circumstances and people Timothy was dealing with. Paul knows, though, it's not enough to just say, "Stay put." He needed to show Timothy why despite it being disappointing times...it is also desperate times. He would show him why even in the disappointing points of ministry, it is essential we as ministers of the Gospel must press on.
So Paul goes on to show Timothy his need to be devoted to the Word of God through all the distractions in the church and the community. Paul tells Timothy his heart must beat with a love for those who don't know Jesus. Paul shows Timothy how ministry is meant to humble those who lead it. Still, none of this will compel someone disappointed and discouraged in ministry to remain in it. There must be something more! There is something more! Paul says in verse 12:
"12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen."
What I learned from the Scripture applied to that moment when my laptop was stolen was this...when Jesus is the hero of your ministry, not even robbers can steal the joy away from you. When we experience disappointing times, it is really easy to fix our eyes on ourself rather than Jesus. And let's be honest. When you are looking at yourself you are only going to find more reasons to be disappointed. But when we look at Jesus in these disappointing and discouraging times, we get the greatest motivation to press on. We are reminded He never stops saving US, even in ministry. When we look at Jesus in these disappointing and discouraging times, we find joy that can be found in nothing else and no one else. In Jesus, we find strength to press on.
If you are in a season of disappointment and discouragement, look at Jesus. Make Him the hero of your ministry. Take your eyes off of yourself. Press on. Don't quit! Read through 1 Timothy. Call a brother or sister to pray for you (you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll pray for you). These are desperate times where people are lost, ministry is hard, and we must press on!