The King James Version interpreted the text of Philippians 3:14 as, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus". Most of the new translations have refocused the verse as a reference to the "upward" call of God, that which directs us to the things of heaven and not earth rather than the "high" calling of God. In many ways the newer translations seem to reflect a more healthy view of God's calling. Certainly there is no "low" calling. And, just a clearly, there is no inclination that the calling to which Paul referred is limited to his apostolic office or the spiritual leadership roles we normally associate with a calling from God. His letters make it abundantly clear: every believer is called by God.
The spiritual weight of his calling is and should be notable. Yes, his burden is light and his grace is sufficient for any of the demands associated with living for him. The life he promises is one of joy and peace, the character of Christ revealed in us by the fruit he produces in us, and the blessings that he promises to those who serve him. Just the same, this life pushes the limits of human ability and endurance, stretches the emotional, physical, and spiritual resources that are available in this clay jar.
As a result, many people are shattered by the demands of his call. Jesus certainly promised his disciples hardship in this life (John 16:33). Living for him would require a shift in life's priorities from the things of this world to values of the kingdom. In a fallen world, even within the sanctity of the Christian community, the realities of human nature and the call to reflect his character are always at odds. Suddenly the exit ramps are clogged by people leaving the life. Ministers, spiritual leaders, and church members are abandoning their places of service in record setting numbers. In many instances their lives are shattered----shipwrecked marriages, broken families, dreams and aspirations in the can, and often their faith in question. Nothing can shatter a life more than the idea of disappointing God.
How can church and service in a redemptive community be so destructive? Why are the tenure rates of spiritual leaders so low these days? Explain why the divorce rates among professing Christians is suddenly higher than that reflected by people outside the Christian world? Or, why so many pastors and spiritual leaders take the ultimate exit ramp----flight in the extreme, suicide? Take several side tracks for a moment----
1. There is nothing wrong with the church. Some people see the idea of a blessed
Christian community as archaic. But, the church is the body of Christ, the
physical representation of Christ in this world. Through the church the
manifold wisdom of God is made known (see Ephesians 3:10).
Step aside. Of course I'm talking about the biblical church, the one revealed to
us in Scripture. Many churches in the United States today function in an
extra-biblical manner. The shattered lives of many ministry servants occur
because these churches have misplaced Christ as the head, have left their first
love, and do not function in a biblically redemptive manner. These churches will
be discussed in the "Endings" post on Friday.
2. As the secular worldview predominates culture, the mission of God's people is
more at odds with world values, creating more hardship and difficulty.
3. The adversary is more focused on the church and her leaders. Peter warned the
early church to be sober and watchful because the adversary is prowling
like a roaring lion. Christians and spiritual leaders are his target.
(see 1 Peter 5:8).
4. Secular models often predominate the leadership systems and operating
procedures of local churches, creating worldly expectations that inhibit
mission and discourage leaders.
5. Genuine biblical partnership is seldom emphasized for those called to serve in
the local church or other positions of spiritual leadership.
The Apostle Paul often wrote about partnership. His letters also acknowledge the hardships he faced as an apostle of Christ---beatings, the marks of Christ, being poured out, his imprisonment, the thorn in the flesh that plagued him, experiencing loneliness and separation, betrayal, and many other trials. In the backdrop of these demands were the people who encouraged and partnered with him, the refreshment he received from them, and the many ways their loving support and Christ's presence sustained him during the many ordeals.
Many servants of Christ are physically, emotionally, and spiritually shattered by the burdens of serving him in these times, especially in dysfunctional churches. His grace is certainly sufficient for all of the demands of life. It was the bedrock of Paul's running the race. But, even in his darkest hours, there were people praying for him and standing with him as he sought to fulfill what God has called him to be and do.
Here's the call. Pray for your pastors and spiritual leaders. Encourage them in every way possible. And, when you or them are nearing that shatter point, give them a contact with someone that can help them hold together in the seasons of life.
In addition to your own care and compassion, reference them to one of the associational, state convention, or NAMB resources for counsel or direction. Or, give them this web site, www.finishperiod.com as a connection to someone who cares.
I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.
1 Corinthians 16:17-18, ESV