Every day is a school day—or the saying goes—but some days are more educative than others. We all appreciate those particularly enlightening conversations or words of advice offered by the more experienced that serve to anchor us in days ahead and become almost axiomatic in our lives. I am grateful to many whose wisdom I have been able to glean over the years, but one conversation stands out above the rest. As I look back over eleven years of full-time pastoral ministry, I can still hear the words that have become a proverb to me, words that were spoken some twenty years ago: “Don’t lose the glory.”
The voice was that of a wonderfully eccentric retired vicar who had seen many Christian leaders burn out, lose heart, fall, struggle with despair, or lack interest in the gospel. His antidote: the glory of God. As I reflect on the difficulty we sometimes feel in persevering in ministry, I have to say, I agree with him.
Eugene Peterson called pastoral ministry a glorious monotony. But pastoral ministry without glory just becomes a monotony. When we lose sight of the glory of the One we serve, we end up serving ideas, theology, or institutions, and the result is that our ministries become meaningless and crushing because they are not centred on the glorious Christ.
A Ministry of Glory
The Apostle Paul fully understood the difference that the glory of God makes to servants of God. By the time he writes 2 Corinthians, he’s had a rough ride with the church in Corinth; his words of truth have pained the congregation, and their lack of trust has pained him. But he perseveres. While he doesn’t revisit them immediately, he doesn’t give up on ministering the gospel to them either. He continues to write to them, pray for them, and, crucially—speak truth to them.
For many of us, it doesn’t take a lot to knock our confidence. Maybe you’re sharing the gospel with a friend, or preaching to a congregation, or leading worship, or serving Jesus in any number of ways, and something happens that makes you want to give up. So many have in those kinds of circumstances.
As Paul outlines his commitment to the Corinthian church and explains why, despite the knocks and setbacks, he is committed
to ministry, he writes: “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (2 Cor. 3:12, niv). Bold to speak, bold to continue, bold to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. Bold to do the hard thing.
Why? What kept him going when tempted to despair? Simply this: the hope of the glory of God that comes through the gospel. As he thinks of the clouds of glory that surrounded Sinai when the law was given, Paul asks, “Will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?” (2 Cor. 3:8, esv).
As I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown and social distancing make much of life seem repetitive, limited, and mundane. That is a sure recipe for discouragement, disillusionment, and the desire to give up. But we were called to carry a cross, to follow in the crucified King’s footsteps. They are often dusty, ordinary, and painful.
They are also glorious.
As you continue in your ministry, don’t lose sight of the glory of God that the Spirit reveals when the gospel is proclaimed! Don’t miss the fact that in the mundane ministry of the church, flaws and all, the incomparable glory of Christ is being revealed. This work sometimes seems ordinary and frustrating, but it is also eternally glorious.
C. S. Lewis, mulling over the glory of heaven, famously commented: “Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown, and tomorrow is a Monday morning.”1 There is nothing more ordinary than a Monday morning. There are few days that seem less glorious. It’s a morning for bleary eyes. It’s the day when we contemplate doing it all again. And yet, even on a Monday morning, as the crucified Saviour is honoured in our words and prayers and songs, the glory of another world is invading ours.
Serving Christ and his church is not a job to be done. It is not another task on the list of another day. It is a ministry of all-surpassing glory—even when it doesn’t feel like it.
A Vision of Glory
There is, however, another unthinkable problem. It is quite possible to be utterly aware of the sheer glory of the gospel, to read John Owen on the atonement, or Jonathan Edwards on the justice and mercy of God, or the Apostle John as he tells the story of the crucifixion, and be thrilled by the mercy of God—and yet, at the same time, to be ignorant of the personal glory of Christ.
We are not just called to a glorious task but to a glorious Person. As Paul recounts the story of Sinai in 2 Corinthians 3 and imagines Moses’ shining face, he makes it clear that the issue was not the veil covering the face of Moses but the veil of spiritual blindness covering the minds of the people. They “could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory” (2 Cor. 3:7), and he was a mere mediator of glory. But when the gospel is proclaimed, and the Spirit removes the veil, then we, “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed” (3:8).
I don’t mean to distract from the task. But what is the white-hot centre of this ministry? Surely it is the beholding of the glory of God in the face of Christ! It is tremendously liberating to know that before God calls you to a task, he calls you to a Person; before he calls you to serve, he calls you to be served.
What is beholding the glory of the Lord but believing the gospel?
What is gazing on the face of Christ but receiving his benevolent smile and his gracious kindness?
In a heartbeat, Paul takes us back to the core of the gospel: that God, by grace alone, draws in blinded, broken sinners to gaze on his stunning glory. The creation allusion in 2 Corinthians 4:6 (“God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone…”) serves to reinforce a sense of priority. It’s as if he were saying: “This is what you were made for—to see the glory of God.”
When was the last time that you were captivated by the glory of the Son as you read or sang the gospel? Is this a priority of the highest order for you?
It would be a strange thing for us to plead with others to come to Christ, and yet neglect to come ourselves; to speak of the glory of God, and yet never take time to behold him.
I am reminded of a moment from a number of years ago when I was on a student leaders’ weekend away in Pembrokeshire, in South Wales. The girls stayed in a picturesque farmhouse and the guys stayed in a tent (We definitely felt we had the raw end of the deal!). But, at the crack of dawn, I caught sight of the most stunning view: the sun was coming up over a flat estuary, a low fog hung in the air, and everything was still. I was transfixed. I couldn’t look away. I didn’t want to go back into the tent. Something so beautiful requires time to behold—for the eyes to take in the shadows on the contours of the land, and for the mind to consider how something could be so incredible.
Our greatest duty is to give our minds and eyes the opportunity to gaze, to wonder, to take in the awesome glory of God in the face of Christ. No ministry or church will suffer by prioritising this great call!
Thomas Goodwin asked: “Wherein lies that great communion of glory that shall be in heaven?” Or, what is the real substance of our faith? What is our ultimate calling? He continued: “It is in seeing the glory of Christ.” Today, through the gospel, we have the privilege of enjoying the “great communion of glory” that will be ours in heaven as we gaze on the incomparable glory of the Son. For us, “the Facebook generation,” who are so used to swiping down to look for a story or video that is worthy of watching, giving each a millisecond’s attention, we must fight to dwell on a vision that is truly worth seeing! “Don’t lose the glory.”
1 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses, ed. Walter Hooper (Macmillan, 1980), 18.