This article is an overview of a sermon preached by Pastor Jones Ndzi at the 2019 Immanuel Network Conference. Sermon audio is available at the end of this article.
The realities of gospel ministry are often overwhelming, and they should be! How could work that seeks to care for the eternal welfare of people and proclaim the majestic glory of the King of kings, while the enemy remains active, be any different? Moreover, God has actually designed ministry so that it will overwhelm and expose the pathetic impotence of any power other than His power, so that His power would be manifest through weak people (2 Cor 1:8-11; 2:16; 3:5). There are no silver bullets for gospel-ministry. But God has mercifully promised inexhaustible resources to sustain us in the fight and we will do well, with childlike faith, to lean constantly on Him for help. One such resource is the deposit of truth in His Word. Isaiah 40 provides three truths that will never fail even when it feels like the earth is giving way and the mountains are falling into the heart of the sea in your ministry.
1. The Invincibility of God’s Word
One of the greatest and most reliable drivers of gospel ministry is the fact that the ministry of the gospel is NOT a gamble because the word of God will never fail to vindicate itself. God’s word is invincible. Isaiah says:
A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.Isaiah 40:6-8
The word of our God stands forever. What is one tangible proof of that in the world today? The millions of believers who have been born again. Here is what Peter tells us:
…since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.1 Peter 1:23-25
That anyone is born again is irrefutable proof that “the word of the Lord remains forever.” Treasuring this sweet truth will produce a minister of the Word whose joy and faithfulness are invincible, knowing God’s word will accomplish was it is sent out to do. So, stake your whole life and ministry on the indomitability of God’s word.
2. The Shepherdhood of God Over His People
One way to create an excruciating burden for yourself is to give lip service to the fact that God is the Chief Shepherd of his people, and yet go on to minister as though you yourself were that chief shepherd. Isaiah announced,
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.Isaiah 40:10-11
God’s shepherding care is tailored to every sheep’s condition and that should be a deep encouragement to any pastor: He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (v11). All of our gospel ministry is discharged from a very constricted, sometimes even distorted, understanding of where our people are. But God not only knows where the whole church is, He has perfect knowledge of the various burdens, sin struggles, and joys present in the flock. He knows for how long and for what specific purpose each of those will last. And so, He perfectly meets every person where they are.
Amazingly enough, God does His work in and through our weak and fallible attempts to serve His people. Through our otherwise impotent efforts, God meets His people with powerful and infallible shepherdly care. The net effect of God’s powerful and soul-saving care for His people through frail labors is to make clear that the all-surpassing power that cares for God’s people belongs to God and not to us. We have the fullest revelation of God as Shepherd in Jesus (John 10:11, 14-15). He is infinitely powerful and has loved His sheep with life-laying-down love and knows with infallible precision the spiritual temperature of all His sheep. In fact, salvation is basically a returning to Him who is “the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls” (1 Pet. 2:25).
Furthermore, we must never forget that we ourselves are sheep in desperate need of the Good Shepherd’s tender care. And marvelously enough, His care for His blood-bought sheep will never end (Rev. 7:17). So, the fact that God in Christ is the True Shepherd of His people, He alone bears that burden and is more than able to bear it, is a pearl we must always deeply cherish. If we do, it will empower, unburden, and energize us in our labor of love for His church.
3. God’s Good Pleasure to Strengthen the Faint
In Isaiah 40, the problem comes in verse 27 where God rebukes the people for their misguided conceptions about God’s attitude toward them:
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?Isaiah 40:27
Verses 12–26 are set at the forefront of the wrong thoughts of Israel to highlight the absurdity of the thought that God could disregard His covenant people. And verses 28–31 show how all the majestic power described in 12–26 is mercifully deployed to care for Israel as an outworking of God’s covenant faithfulness to them. Which is why verse 28 is worded the way we have it:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.Isaiah 40:28
God is basically saying, “By now you should have figured this out.” Because the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, because He does not faint or grow weary, because his understanding is unsearchable, because He gives power to the faint and increases the strength of those who have no might, He is able to supply strength to the weak so that the weary ones will not grow tired or weak during times of hardship. Everything that looks like strength for life and ministry outside of God is futile. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted (v30). But God transforms weary legs into strong legs that run fast, and causes a fainting person to walk for miles. The only way to walk the path that God has set before you without growing weary, without wanting to quit, is to trust God.
This gripping testimony from pastor Andy Davies at First Baptist Church Durham, North Carolina illustrates the point: Davies recounts that the Sunday before a Wednesday vote on a by-law change that he had proposed was the hardest day of his preaching ministry at this church. The tension and hatred against him were palpable. He barely held himself up to finish his sermon from Romans 7:1–6 that morning. A constellation of acts of opposition to his leadership had made ministry so overwhelming that he could feel himself being swallowed up by the sense of despair that all this was stirring up. But things changed blessedly. A godly church member had recommended that he read Psalm 37 for encouragement and he did. And he testifies,
God is able to give a “Psalm 37” moment to everyone who waits upon Him no matter what the details of their ministry trials are and no matter what the outcome turns out to be. The question is whether you will trust him enough to wait on Him.