Attentiveness: Memories and Ministry
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist
In ministry we are called to be faithful servants who seldom see the results of our sacrifices. That is why I loved to paint houses when I attended Gordon-Conwell. In painting houses in Ipswich, I would first see what a terrible sight a house was with paint peeling off the side and window frames rotting.
But after a week or so of very hard work (usually with other seminary students I hired!), I would pile our kids in the car and we would slowly drive by the house that used to look terrible. “Look at that beautiful house, kids!” Our preschoolers were not impressed. Still, I had this great feeling of satisfaction after much hard work.
In contrast to this, our studies and ministry often seem to be part of a never-ending process with little immediate satisfaction. There is little sense of “completion” even after getting an above-average grade on a test. In ministry we share the gospel, plan worship services, work on sermons, lead Bible studies, and help youth understand Jesus better. We often ask, “Am I really making a difference?” Especially in the past year, pastors have been asking themselves if ministry is really accomplishing anything. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, many pastors are taking early retirement or considering leaving the ministry.
But painting a house? Now that is satisfying. “Look, kids!”
This past weekend Nancy and I, in addition to 7 grandkids and their parents, welcomed friends from long ago. Eileen (“Lee” Hildenberger) Lass was one of my student leaders when I was on Inter-Varsity staff. When I think back to that time now, I can not believe God could have used me at all. I had come to faith in Christ as a 16-year-old and then at the age of 23 I was overseeing two Inter-Varsity chapters at three colleges in Virginia. I was so young and ill-prepared!
Memories are clouded, but some impressions remain fixed for both of us. Friends and acquaintances coming to faith in Christ, prayer meetings on the dorm hall, summer “Christian Life Camp,” and the first time a Japanese young Christian prayed out loud in Japanese. She had come to faith with all English speakers. “I didn’t know God could speak Japanese,” she whispered to me after her prayer.
My part in Lee’s life was small. However, God’s faithfulness for us, other students, and now in our families was a major theme in our sharing.
Suffering was another theme. We have watched young ones die before their time. I have lost a sister, niece, and son-in-law. Lee and Paul lost their oldest son. Scars remain, but, through Christ’s holy presence, they are clean wounds. They have made it possible for us to move on, and, as Paul says to the Corinthians, “…we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)
That was Saturday. On Sunday we worshipped together and after the service my wife, Nancy, mentioned to Lee that the man playing the keyboard had lost his son just a few weeks ago. Lee immediately went up, introduced herself, and they talked about losing a son. It was a severe mercy of consolation, memory, and keeping wounds clean. Tears help with cleaning wounds.
So ministry is a sacrifice in hope. We seldom see what God is doing, but once in a while, we get a glimpse. We might see that the 18-year-old we knew so long ago has become a saintly minister of the gospel of grace, compassionately offering comfort, and boldly proclaiming the resurrection. It is a special grace. It is a miracle, really, in this world of pain, loneliness, and insecurity.
Lord, please give us eyes to see glimpses of your mercy and grace in the ministry of the gospel to others. Amen.
“…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)
Scott W. Sunquist, the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Tuesday on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.