There will be times in ministry when you’ll want to quit, especially when your efforts get criticized and you become discouraged. You may even write a resignation letter. It happens to all of us.
But persistence is a key attribute in ministry. Paul understood this because he had every reason to quit. In 2 Corinthians 4, he gave a laundry list of reasons to be discouraged. Yet twice he said, “We do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1 NIV).
What was Paul’s secret to persistence in ministry? In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul highlights seven motivating principles we can apply to our own lives to help us persevere in ministry.
- Remember God loves me.
“We don’t become discouraged, since God has given us this ministry through his mercy” (2 Corinthians 4:1 GW).
Recognizing God’s love and mercy gives you the courage you need to navigate difficult seasons in ministry. God knows everything you’re going through, and he wants to help you.
Paul remembered the grace God showed to him. He wrote, “Whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me” (1 Corinthians 15:10 NLT).
When you remember your ministry is a gift from God, you don’t need to prove yourself through your work. Plus, you get the energy you need to start over even after you fail.
- Maintain a clear conscience.
“We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this” (2 Corinthians 4:2 NLT).
Paul admitted he had nothing to hide. He’s completely transparent. To last in ministry, this is critical. Why? Because deception doesn’t last. But when you commit to living a life of integrity in every area, your critics must resort to making things up about you to make an accusation.
- Have the right motivation.
“You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5 NLT).
Your “why?” often determines your “how long?” If you go into ministry with the wrong motivation, you’ll quit the moment you feel discouraged. Paul’s words remind us that preaching Christ is the right motivation, not preaching about ourselves. Paul showed this over and over in his ministry. In verses 7 through 11 of this chapter, he described some of the hardships he had faced in ministry. Why did he keep going? He did it for Jesus’ sake.
- Accept my limitations.
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT).
The quickest way to burn out in ministry is to try to be a superhuman. But you’re not God, so you must recognize that you and your ministry have limitations. In fact, Paul compared us to jars of clay. Some jars are bigger than others, but all of them are frail. All of them break easily.
But that’s actually the good news. It’s in the cracks of your life where God’s light shines through. Your greatest life message will come through your weakness, not your strength.
- Love other people.
“All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory” (2 Corinthians 4:15 NLT).
If you don’t love other people, you won’t last in the ministry. Paul famously wrote to the church in Corinth that speaking in the language of angels, prophesying, moving mountains, having faith, and giving generously were of little use if done without love (1 Corinthians 13). If you don’t really love the people you’re serving, it’s a waste of time.
First Corinthians 13 also says that love endures all things. The truth is, you’ll put up with a lot for people you love. Think about your children. You put up with a lot of flak because you care about them. The same is true for those you serve in ministry.
- Take the time to recharge.
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day” (2 Corinthians 4:16 NLT).
Paul’s words also remind us that we can’t do anything about the aging process. Death is coming whether or not we like it. But we can renew our souls daily. It’s our choice.
Throughout my ministry, I’ve followed a simple formula for lasting in ministry.
- Divert daily — You need to take a mini-vacation every day—do some gardening, play with your kids, or take a walk.
- Withdraw weekly — Take a day off every week.
- Abandon annually — Once a year, forget everything and take a vacation.
- Keep my eyes on the goal.
“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT).
The key to persistence is perspective. How you look at your problem is what makes the difference. You can take two groups of people with the same problem. Some people will thrive because they let the problem motivate them. Others will falter because they let the problem de-motivate them. The difference is how we look at the problem.
Paul encourages us to look beyond our problems and focus on God’s purpose. God’s purpose is always greater than our problems.
I’ve faced many seasons in ministry when I’ve been tempted to give up. But looking back, after 43 years of leading Saddleback Church, I’m glad I didn’t give up.
The fact is, if God puts us in a ministry, we can’t leave until he puts us somewhere else.
The most meaningless statistic in life is the halftime score. It doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done so far in your ministry. God can do more in the next few years than in all the years of your ministry put together.
But you can’t give up.