Yes, it is also life-giving.
Yes, it is also eternity-changing.
But, seriously… it’s tiring.
Especially if you’re on the inside of it.
I obviously don’t know if you’re processing these thoughts on a good day or a bad day. My guess is that even if you’re having a great season with God or experiencing a sweet run in ministry, you wouldn’t argue with what I’m offering here.
Then again, I hear someone out there (maybe it’s you or someone you know) getting hyper-theological and claiming that if we’re being Spirit-led that serving will never be a burden. That’s a great dream, and I wish I could claim it with you. Instead, I unfortunately relate more to passages like this:
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. (Luke 22:39-45)
The problem is that even holy sweat… is sweat.
And some days (many days, in fact) it just feels like sweat… without the “holy.”
Maybe that’s why I found myself relating so personally to this footage of cocoa bean growers, for the first time, seeing the end result of their hard work.
I shared this with our leadership team recently, asking for their takeaways. Here’s what they realized:
- The cocoa bean in raw form can taste quite bitter. Christianity within raw circumstances or among raw people can taste quite bitter.
- Many growers have no idea what happens to their hard work after it leaves their hands. Many in ministry have no idea what happens to their hard work after people leave whatever was just taught/led/facilitated.
- Enjoying the full process of production- tasting a bar of chocolate – costs more than many growers feel able to spend money on. Enjoying the full process of Christianity - becoming a disciple who makes disciples who makes disciples – costs more time than many Christians feel able to spend time on.
- When you taste amazing food, you want to tell others about it. If you’ve never tasted it (or only have tasted poor presentations of it), you likely won’t be an advocate. When you taste an amazing God, you want to tell others about Him. If you’ve never tasted Him (or only have tasted poor presentations of Him) you likely won’t be an advocate.
- As long as those workers remember and tell the “full story” to future generations, their work will be different. As long as Christians remember and tell the “full Story” to future generations, Christianity will be different.
Maybe for all of these reasons and more, people don’t last in ministry. Whether you’re a volunteer or in a paid position, it’s hard to discern what all your hard work is for some days. Sometimes it’s because it’s been a while since we tasted the sweet side of things. Other times it’s because we jumped into serving before becoming a rooted disciple/partaker of God ourselves. Regardless of tenure, any of us can get so involved in the process of dealing with bitter beans that we forget chocolate even exists.
One of my good friends and mentors told me in early on in ministry that it’s important to remember Jesus’ parable of the sower. One of its backdoor lessons is that only one of our four investments into people may even pay off. Add the fact that you may only on this side of heaven recognize a small percentage of that, and it’s likely you’ll get discouraged more easily than you will encouraged in serving God.
But.. yes, it is also life-giving.
But… yes, it is also eternity-changing.
I’m going to share this with our church, handing them a bag of raw beans and chocolate with some instructions on what to do with it. I’d love some ideas (if you have any) on what those instructions could be.
Or… you may just need a safe place to share where you’re at between the bitter taste and the sweet elation of ministry. I’d count it a privilege to interact and pray with you on it. Sometimes it helps when you forget about the chocolate to have other workers with you who have tasted the “bitter” and “sweet” as well.
Ideas? Takeaways? Stories?