I’m wondering… have you ever experienced a moment when you felt like you were at the bottom of the barrel in your station? Like you were the worst accountant in the firm? Like you were the least valuable engineer on the project or the worst teacher in your school? Like you were the least relevant mother in the PTL? Like you brought the least muscle to the team?
On second thought, what am I saying? Of course you’ve had these thoughts. Everyone has. Only a narcissist can exist in a way that preserves the “self” from such honest reflection. Only a narcissist would believe his or herself to always be right, to always know what to do, to have no imperfections, and to be the brightest star in the sky.
I’ll admit to having had a moment not too long ago when I felt like the most useless pastor on the planet, that everything about who I am as a person in comparison to others who hold the same office—the things I appreciate, the activities I enjoy, my personality that communicates my very real humanity—all of it was of little value, and maybe even in complete contradiction to the office I hold.
I suppose when it comes to serving in the church, that’s probably about as close as one can get to reconsidering one’s future in any role.
But again, I presume we all go through this. I have to believe that Saint Paul felt this way sometimes. There was a time when he was a persecutor of the Church. He hunted and killed Christians, and yet God made him an essential asset in the proclamation and spread of the Gospel of justification for the sake of Christ. The proof of this rests in the simple fact that Paul wrote most of the New Testament. We receive the words of our Lord by way of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But so often we see how Paul was put into place to help us see how it all fits together.
Just thinking out loud, I wonder if one reason we find ourselves in such low points, perhaps as I hinted to before, is because of a kind of jealousy born from comparison between individuals. In other words, I wonder if Paul ever slipped into comparing himself with Peter. I wonder if he ever found himself jealous that Peter was with Jesus from the beginning. Peter saw the miracles. He was with the Lord for the Transfiguration. He walked on water, even if only for a moment. He saw the Lord on Easter Day. Peter certainly didn’t have a past like Paul’s. He hadn’t been complicit in the unjust executions.
I wonder if Paul was ever jealous of Peter in these things.
This certainly is an itch that I sometimes need to scratch. I see other pastors—their seemingly carefree schedules, casual workloads, the freedom to pursue higher degrees in education—and I get a little jealous. But it’s also in those moments that I have to be mindful of just how easy it is to fool myself. The jealousy of self-comparison has a way of sharpening the eyesight, but in reality, it only sees in part. It’s only fixing itself on one piece while missing the bigger picture. It sees what another person has, but really, it’s seeing what it “thinks” the other person has. It’s not seeing that perhaps Peter, as a normal human, sometimes feels as though he’s doing all he can to stay afloat. It’s not seeing that he still wrestles day and night with his betrayal of Jesus. It’s not seeing that he’s still pit against his bumbling inadequacies that not only played out with regularity right in front of Jesus and the other disciples, but because of his personality, they probably still do. It only sees the Peter it wants to see (and maybe even expects to see), rather than the one who’s truly there in a very holistic way—someone with flaws, someone who’s often burdened by the cares of this life, someone who struggles with relationships, someone whose efforts in the ministry are by no means perfect because he is not perfect.
I like the way the King James Bible translates Song of Songs 8:6. It reads, “Jealousy is a cruel grave.” It sure is. It buries us with unnecessary and unrealistic concerns. It tempts us to measure our worth in the Kingdom of God according to the wrong standards.
I suppose in conclusion, and being as honest as I can, if everything I’m doing is a product of my intellect and muscle, then the only kind of pastor I can be is a bad one. In fact, the only kind of father, husband, or friend I can be is a bad one. I’m of the same mind as Paul when he said that when it comes to sinners, I’m the chief (1 Timothy 1:15). As a sinner, I’m not fit for any of these roles, let alone the job of pastor, and I’ll never produce anything by way of these roles that would ever meet the Lord’s lawful expectations. I just can’t do it.
But on the other hand, if it’s the Lord who is at work in my life and labors by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, if He’s the One who has taken such a flawed and quirky individual and set him here and there in the world, all the while knowing the flaws—sometimes using them and other times sequestering them—then I can be content with where I am and happy with what I have. I can be found willing and able to change the aspects of my person that seem to get in the way, and I can pursue enhancing the more helpful ones. In all of this, I can be faithful and keep on keeping on, knowing that I’m right where God wants me.
This is His gig, not mine. It’s His plan. It’s His work. By faith, I know it’s all for my good—and God-willing, yours, too.
Having said all this, I know what I’ve rambled on with this morning might seem somewhat relative to me, but I’m hopeful there’s something here that you can take and apply to your own circumstances, especially when you’re feeling down. Remember that God loves you, and if you ever question your value, look to the cross. He exchanged the life of His only begotten Son for your life. That’s a pretty big deal.