Do not lose heart

It was Thursday evening when I found out I’d be teaching a new preaching course, beginning on Monday, to my second year class.

I began scouring my bookshelves, picking out half a dozen books that might give me some ideas for how to structure a course. Thankfully a few emails to others in theological education in Africa led to some further useful material too. I beavered away Friday, Saturday and Monday, before turning up at the Bible School on Monday evening, pumped, prayed and ready to teach the first lesson of my new course.

Being the first day of term, however, it turned out instead to be an orientation session for all the students, not normal classes. Oh well, I’ll teach it tomorrow (it’s meant to be Mondays and Tuesdays). Encouragingly, lots of the students at the orientation spoke (typically passionately) about resolves to do much better in attendance this term, after a fairly poor show last term.

Tuesday comes. Exhausting four hour staff meeting in the heat of the afternoon. Time for a very quick shower and turnaround before class in the evening. Here we go - let the new course begin!

Just one of the six students turns up. Huh. Talk about anti-climax. After waiting 45 minutes, and having a nice chat with him, I suggest he joins in with the first year class going on next-door. We’ll start the new course next week.

I go back home, to an empty house, feeling rather sorry for myself. A bit pathetic really, looking back. But at the time, after that long hot afternoon and disappointing evening, it was a prime opportunity to slip into self-pity.

Sitting in the compound garden, reflecting - where do I turn to? The stock answer in my head is, ‘God’s got in all under control. He knows what he’s doing.’ True, and so important. If I didn’t know and cherish the truth of God’s absolute sovereign control, I’d have packed up and gone by now. Yet there I sat, still feeling a bit sad. A friend on the other side of Africa reassures me – ‘Oh mate! So sorry. You’re permitted to feel sad. That’s rough. African life is disappointing and random. These things happen.’ Yep. Spot on. It’s nice to hear from someone who understands.

But here’s where I turn, so that I can keep going, and so that I don't lose heart:

    ‘Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.’(2 Corinthians 4:1)

What is ‘this ministry’? It’s the cause of ‘the gospel of the glory of Christ’ (4:4). And all Christian believers are part of it, especially those in some kind of teaching or preaching role. In fact, 4:5 is a bit of a motto verse for us here at Servants of the Word: ‘we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake’.

It’s encouraging to remember that even the great apostle and missionary exemplar, Paul, was tempted to ‘lose heart’. It’s a universal experience. And I imagine all cross-cultural missionaries will testify to a surprising number of possible reasons to lose heart - especially in one’s first year, getting used to things and settling in. The key to keeping going? Surely remembering that it is ‘through God’s mercy we have this ministry’. So we do not lose heart.

Written by Jonny Burgess