1 Thessalonians 3:8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.
This verse uses a phrase that is a standard part of Japanese but doesn’t exist as an English idiom, so the English doesn’t seem as natural as the Japanese. The NIV renders it as “we really live,” but the meaning is more like, “we have a reason to live,” or “we get satisfaction from living.” The point is, pastoral ministry can be a thankless task (which is an English idiom that doesn’t exist in Japanese). I don’t think anything energizes a pastor more than for those under his care to grow spiritually, becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul is talking about here. Baptizing people is a joy, but even some of those fall away. The proof of the pudding (to use another idiom) is in how they live out their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord. The best gift a church member can give their pastor is to get into the Word and live it out, in prayer, praise, and proclamation. Even one such spiritual child can make a great deal of labor worthwhile.
I’m certainly talking about myself with this one! Ministry in Japan doesn’t produce the numbers that ministry does almost anywhere else in the world, but when even a few believers really take hold of the truths in the Word and stand on them it makes it all worth it, just as Paul says in this verse. Few things are as distressing to me as when someone I have worked for and with falls away, even for a time, and that has happened far more times than I like to think about. My “payback” comes through those who center in on Christ and serve Him with their whole hearts. The interesting thing is, sometimes those are the same people! Sometimes people fall away for a while and then come back, and having tasted what it’s like to turn their back on God they never want to do it again. Those people are who give me hope in dealing with those who haven’t waked up yet. Pastoral ministry is a constant struggle for spiritual maturity, in myself first of all but certainly in those to whom I minister. God is the judge of my level of maturity, but it certainly gives me a thrill when I see evidence of maturity in my spiritual children.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You indeed for those who are pressing in for more of You. Help me remember that I can’t force anyone to grow, and trying to do so wears me out and makes them mad. Continue to grow me in prayer and love, so that my words may stimulate, encourage, and heal, rather than wound. Help me remember that all these people are Your children far more than they are mine – even my physical children. Help me release each one to You fully, while being Your agent to nourish and guide them, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!