How to Persevere
Everyone faces adversity and must find ways to persevere through the oppressing moments of life. Everyone must get up and walk through the routines of making breakfast and washing clothes and going to work and paying bills and discipling children. We must, in general, keep life going when our hearts are breaking.
But it’s different with pastors—not totally different, but different. The heart is the instrument of our vocation. Charles Spurgeon said, “Ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul.”1 When a pastor’s heart is breaking, therefore, he must labor with a broken instrument. Preaching is the pastor’s main work, and preaching is heart work, not just mental work. The question becomes, then, not just how you keep living when the marriage is blank or when the finances don’t reach or when the pews are bare and friends forsake you, but How do you keep preaching?
When the heart is overwhelmed, it’s one thing to survive adversity; it is something entirely different to continue preaching Sunday after Sunday, month after month.
Spurgeon said to the students of his Pastors’ College: “One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor. . . . Ten years of toil do not take so much life out of us as we lose in a few hours by Ahithophel the traitor, or Demas the apostate.”2The question for pastors is not, “How do you live through unremitting criticism and distrust and accusation and abandonment?”—but, “How do you preach through it? How do you do heart work when the heart is under siege and ready to fall?”
These are the uppermost questions for many pastors. Preaching great and glorious truth in an atmosphere that is not great and glorious is immensely difficult. To be reminded week in and week out that many people regard his preaching of the glory of God’s grace as hypocrisy pushes a preacher not just into the hills of introspection, but sometimes to the precipice of self-extinction. I don’t mean suicide—but something more complex. I mean the deranging inability to know any longer who you are.
Preaching through Adversity
What begins as a searching introspection for the sake of holiness and humility gradually leaves your soul, for various reasons, in a hall of mirrors. You look into one and you’re short and fat; you look into another and you’re tall and lanky; you look into another and you’re upside down. Then the horrible feeling begins to break over you that you don’t know who you are anymore. The center is not holding. If the center doesn’t hold—if there is no fixed “I” able to relate to the fixed “thou” (namely, God), who is supposed to preach next Sunday?
When the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God I am what I am,” he was saying something utterly essential for the survival of preachers in adversity. If the identity of the “I”—the “I” created by Christ and united to Christ, but still a human “I”—doesn’t hold, there will be no more authentic preaching because there is no longer an authentic preacher. When the “I” is gone, there is only a collection of echoes.
Preaching is the pastor’s main work, and preaching is heart work, not just mental work.
Oh, how fortunate we are that we are not the first to face these things! I thank God for the healing history of the power of God in the lives of his saints and, in particular, for the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon, who, for thirty-eight years at the New Park Street Chapel and the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, modeled how to preach through adversity. And for those who have eyes to see, the lessons are not just for pastors, but for all of us.
1.Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972), 156.
2. Ibid., 161.
This article is adapted from 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy: Flawed and Fruitful by John Piper.
It was January 31, 1892, and after twenty-four years of ill health, the ‘Prince of Preachers’ went to be with the Lord, aged just fifty-seven.
Spurgeon possessed an ability to use humor from the pulpit and in his life as a weapon.
The supreme spectacle of the cross brings a cosmic collision with the spectacles of this world. And we’re in the middle.