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4. Stay sober about successes and failures
One of the temptations that you will likely face as a pastor is to view yourself in light of your ministry and this makes sense because God has made you to be a vessel through which his power and his wisdom work to help build his church. So, there's gonna be a way you're gonna feel very connected to the ministry that you're a part of and that's good but you should guard your heart to never allow it to make you disillusioned with who you really are before God. You are not the sum of your successes or failures that's not who you are as a child of God. I mean what do you think it means if your church grows exponentially or what do you think it means if you go out and you take over a church or plant a church and it crumbles and closes? What do you think that means about what got exposed in you as you think about that you see Satan loves to tempt us to tie our identity and our joy and our stability on how things are going in ministry and how other people view you in ministry?
I’m a part of a denomination where one of the things I despise about it is going to yearly conferences, where one of the questions that get asked is. So, how big is your church? I hate that question. It's thoroughly unhelpful on every level. Now if there are reasonable reasons to maybe discuss that but just I think you've just got to be careful because if you begin to view yourself and your value or your identity in light of how ministry is going. It can do weird things to you and tempt you to dishonor God in ways that are going to be callous to your heart and lead people astray from knowing Him. The most important thing back to point number one Paul would say it this way I count everything as loss because the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish so that I may gain Christ.
Brothers, Jesus is your life, and what he thinks about you is what's most important. So, guard yourself against being wrapped up in successes and failures that it tosses you to and fro and tempts you to run and do strange things. It will open the door for more temptations.
5. Seek Contentment In God
Point four, five, and six kinds of all work together but I’m parsing them out because I think there are some distinctions that are important here. Seek contentment in God because discontentment is cancer. If you are not content in God and what he gives you either in the gifts that he gives you or the ministry opportunities that he gives you, your heart will be pulled away from him and it opens you to attack. Listen to what Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 6 in regards to contentment and desire for money - “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we could take nothing out of the world. The love of money is a snare and it has caused many to plunge into senseless and harmful desires that lead people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, a man of God flee these things pursue righteousness godliness faith love steadfastness gentleness.” Paul says to Timothy there is great gain in contentment in godliness i.e. there's great gain in being content with whatever God gives you but you've got to be very careful with the love of money. In this case, you can put anything you want in that blank - the love of money, the love of success, the love of applause, the love of being known…. whatever you want to put in there or whatever idol you want to put in there, if you love that through craving for it tempts people to wander from the faith and pierce themselves with many pangs. He says flee these things man of God and pursue righteousness and godliness and faith and love and steadfastness and gentleness.
What is it that you're most tempted to be discontent about? What is it that you find yourself tempted to grumble about or feel perpetually discouraged about in God's providence? I have pastored in a church near Matt Chandler in Texas and now David Platt in Washington DC and I love both of these brothers. I know both of them personally and they're both Godly brothers i.e. they love the Lord. But, basically, my entire ministry has been plagued with envy for those two guys in many ways. They are used by God in ways that I kind of always thought I might be or wanted to be and it's been interesting to watch how the Lord in his wisdom thinks. It's best for me to be right next to them so that from time to time people will leave our church to go to their churches. I tell you what, it can provoke in me weird stuff, I mean a couple of nights ago I got a call from somebody who said - Hey just so you know we're probably going to be going off and we're gonna join Mclean Bible Church and it was like an arrow just shot right into my heart and I just felt envy and jealousy and grumbling. So, what I did was I reached out to about four or five friends I said - hey I’m feeling envious about David Platt would you pray that I would not and I took time to pray for David because David is a godly brother. It's so weird. He's dust. I’m dust. We're all just down and this God is the one who gets all the glory.
But Satan knows about our insecurities and he knows how to press on them and he knows areas that we are discontent about. Discontentment was a major underlying sin in my life and during my downfall the first time I was in an unplanned place. I wasn't married and I wanted to be. So, many things weren't like I wanted them to be and all I did was grumble in my heart. Brothers, Jesus is enough. He's enough and not in a way it's like okay. I'll settle for Jesus but like he's it. Listen to this from Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your life free from the love of money or whatever else be content with what you have for he has said I will never leave you nor forsake you Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forevermore.” Jesus is enough it's true he's better than anything that he could ever give you so pray that he would give you contentment and that you would just delight in him which again why we seek purity to get God and the reason we're going through all these other things is because they're. They feel like on the periphery sometimes but they feed our flesh and seek contentment in God.
6. Seek Refreshment In God
Ministry brings weariness. So, what I want to ask you is where do you go when you're hurting or where do you go? When you're tired? Or where do you go when you're disappointed? Or where are you tempted to escape to for relief in our family?
We have five kids and one of the things we've given to each of our kids. When they're young a pacifier. It's that little I don't know. You call it a pinky or pacifier. You stick in your mouth and you suck on and it makes them go to sleep. Well, the rule with the kids is they can have it in years one and two, and then for age three, they can only have it during nap time or bedtime. So, in the morning when they're three they've got to put it on the bed and they can get up and then come downstairs almost every one of our kids at some point this has happened a couple of years ago. One of the young ones was getting frustrated about something and I saw them take off and they ran up the stairs and I thought where are they going? So, I went up behind them and kind of quietly snuck around and looked in their room. Sure enough, they had their elbow on the bed, picked up a pacifier, took a couple of hits off of it, put it down, took a deep breath, and then just walked back downstairs as they went upstairs. They got themselves a hit on the passy. I watched that and I thought you know what we never really get over that kind of stuff do we because what do you do when you're stressed where it is that you seek to go for a little pacifying escape.
You see Jesus says come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest but we are tempted to find other escapes. A number of years ago I was facing a season of feeling very plagued by sexual temptation and my flesh felt strong and I felt like I was constantly resisting. I just didn't. I didn't know what was going on. I thought I was going crazy. So, I called a friend and he helped me do a little bit of a life inventory. We sat down and we went through and he just asked me what I was eating. How I was using my time. What I was doing throughout the day.
We started from sun up to sun down and what we discovered was that I was feeding my flesh. Throughout the day, I was constantly checking either ego-stroking or ego deflating social media. I kept running there to see if anything was going on. I made endless retreats to email and to news highlights to feed my love for distraction because it's easier than doing hard work in that season. I was eating fatty foods and multiple servings of them. I just was eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I was also drinking special coffee drinks that had lots of sugar in them and it was that time of the year and I was just pounding them like multiples a day.
What I learned was that I was making just habits out of just giving my flesh whatever I wanted on all these fronts and none of those things inherently are sinful. But what I found was that I began indulging in them in a way that was becoming sinful because I was not disciplining myself. I was just teaching my body to get whatever it wanted for me. My natural area of temptation is going to be in the area of sexual temptation. That's why my strength was getting stronger. My flesh was getting stronger. I felt the pull in that area I was becoming weaker in that area that was naturally weaker in. You see my flesh was craving a pacifier and I was giving it whatever it wanted. I was seeking excitement in easily accessible escapes; it was like a gateway drug for my soul.
I don't know what this looks like for you but where do you run to when things are hard, maybe a couple of glasses of wine or beer a couple too many, maybe flirting with people, maybe an extra helping of food, maybe unhelpful shows or radio or podcast, maybe video games, maybe countless apps on your phone unceasing music all the time. I’m not trying to get legalistic here and I want to encourage you to not be but I’m telling you to be on guard because if you refresh yourself with the world you will learn to love the world. What you run for refreshment will become a refuge and you will begin to have affection for it. That's what was happening to me in that season. We have to be careful. So, the next time you feel sorry for yourself or you feel like the load that you bear as a pastor or a husband or a father entitles you to escape. You feel that itch for attention or affirmation look for where you run, do you pray? Do you fast? Do you run to the Scriptures? Or do you go somewhere else? Talk to a fellow brother about that.
7. Slay Your Sin Whatever The Cost
Col. 3:5 “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature sexual immorality impurity lust evil desires and greed which is idolatry those things are all idolatry” and you can't play with idols you must kill it. Rom. 8:13 “if you live according to the sinful nature you will die but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live.” This is where the great puritan John Owens said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you”. Brothers, sin does not just want to ruin your day, doesn't want to just spoil your quiet time. Satan aims to destroy your entire life to take everything from you including your soul. You've got to put sin to death whatever it takes. How do you put sin to death? Well a couple of ways, one is when temptation is a promise. It's a promise from Satan that disobeying God in this instance is going to be worth it because the reward is greater. So, when he gives you a promise you've got to grab a promise from God's word. For me, it's Matt. 5:8 - “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God,” and you've got to fight fire with fire. I’ve got to believe that seeing God by pursuing purity is going to be better than whatever Satan's offering over here. So, you got to fight fire with fire.
So, I encourage you to find verses that are meaningful to you that you run to but also remember that you probably need to do more to remember that this is a matter of life and death and that the way out may be severe. This is from Jesus in Matthew 5, “If your right eye causes you to sin tear it out and throw it away for it is better that you lose one of your members than your whole body be thrown into hell and if your right-hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away for it is better that you lose one of your members then your whole body go into hell.” Some of you have not gotten radical enough in your war against sin. You are allowing things to remain in your life that are access points to temptation into sin. Jesus says you've got to cut it off.
In the 1990s, there was a 37-year-old man named Donald Wineham who was clearing timber in a secluded forest in Western Pennsylvania which is West of New York Southwest. When he was out there cutting a two-foot round oak tree fell on his leg and trapped him underneath it. After an hour or so of calling for help. He realized that unless he did something drastic he was going to die in the woods because nobody knew where he was that day. So, he made a tourniquet out of rawhide. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a three-inch pocket knife and he severed his own leg six inches below the knee after cutting off his own leg. He then crawled uphill to a bulldozer that was some 500 feet away. He managed to drive it which was a stick shift some 1500 feet to where his pickup truck was that he then drove about a half-mile to a local farmhouse where they helped him to a hospital where he was treated and he lived. Why would Donald Wineham cut off his own leg with a pocket knife? Because he wanted to live. He wanted to live. He wanted to die out there in the woods. He wanted to see his wife and his kids. He wanted to be there and walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. He wanted to live. He did whatever he needed to do to get out alive. That's exactly what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5.
Brothers, do you want to live? Do you want to be free? Jesus says, ‘You've got to cut it off. You gotta tear it out. Whatever it is you've got to ask yourself. Are you being radical about however sin is getting into your life? About cutting it out like right now my phone? I have a smartphone if you put a gun to my head right now and told me to pull up pornography on it I couldn't all access to all sorts of things are cut off. I have apps on there but they don't. I can't get around them and I can't because I know that I can't have that temptation in my pocket. I and my wife and a couple of pastors, and partners are friends of mine. They have the code if I want to download an app. I have to go to my wife and say sorry. You married a 13-year-old can I download an app please and she'll put in the code. Let me download an app and take it back off there we go because I know myself and it may not be the same for you but I just want you to remember something. People live for thousands of years without the internet, thousands of them you can live without it in your home or on your phone or whatever it may be. Some of you can't live with it. You've got to do whatever it takes to make sure that you kill sin because it's coming after you.