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Running the Ministry Marathon: Lessons from the Apostle Paul

Ministry can be hard. Understatement. Some of you have thought about quitting. Don’t. Please, don’t. Jesus has more for you to do, more people to love, more sermons to write and preach, more people to baptize, more saints to bury, more vision to cast, more strategy to execute, and more mess caused by you and other sinners to invite the Holy Spirit to help clean up. 

Just keep running. 

I’ve been impressed by the apostle Paul. Understatement. There are so many reasons why. Let me list three that stand out to me in this season of ministry, in my soon to be mid-40’s—right in the middle of my ministry marathon. 

  1. Paul suffered (a lot) for the Gospel.

[B]ut as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger, by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise (2 Corinthians 6:4-8a ESV)

Paul refers to suffering over and over in his letters, both to the churches and to Timothy and Titus. Following Jesus meant daily picking up the actual cross of physical, emotional, and relational suffering. 

This makes me think, “Man, I don’t have it that bad. Oh, and I have the same Holy Spirit that gave Paul the courage to persevere. Come on, Holy Spirit, let’s keep running!” I pray you would think the same. 

  1. Paul didn’t walk alone. 

We often skip the end of Paul’s letters. It’s often just a list of “no-name” early church leaders. Or…is that just me? 

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the end of Paul’s letters were probably his favorite part. Paul missed his friends in the Gospel. He wanted his partners in the Gospel to know he prayed for them consistently. They were never far from his mind. 

2 Timothy is often thought to be Paul’s last letter from prison in Rome. In his last days (though I think Paul still believed God could work a miracle and spare his life as God had done in the past), Paul poured his life and wisdom into young pastor Timothy. He did for one what he wished he could do for everyone. Paul closes 2 Timothy like this:

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you (2 Timothy 4:19-22 ESV).

Every name listed here was a dear friend of Paul. He did not walk alone. Pastor or leader, you’ve written a lot of sermons, led a lot of Bible studies, led many church meetings, visited many sick and dying. You’ve put a lot of pen to paper in your life. Who would you list at the end of your last letter? I pray you would list close friends, partners in the Gospel. I could list mine now, but that would take too long. You’re welcome. This isn’t my last letter. 

  1. Paul was sold out for sharing the Gospel. 

This seems like a “duh.” It’s not. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to have an amazing evangelical heart. There were more leaders to shape, more churches to start and encourage, more races to run. Why? The found needed the truth of the Gospel. The lost needed the truth of the Gospel. All people, every single moment of their lives, need the truth of the Gospel!

What is the Gospel? Two words: Jesus saves. 

Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law, died your death on the cross, and rose to give you hope in this life and the life to come. He ascended and is reigning, giving us the Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism, and he will come again on the Last Day to make all things new. I want Paul’s persistent spirit as found in Philippians 3:13-14:

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Leader, your race is not done yet. You’re not dead yet. While you have air in your lungs and the Holy Spirit in your heart, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and just keep running!

The ULC is here to help you keep running!


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1 Comment

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you

A previously unseen way to close my correspondence! Thanks Tim!

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