I’m 55 years old now and have been in ministry since 1977. When I began I was raw, sincere, stupid, naive and had a heart filled with love for God and people. Thirty-six years later I’m not naive, not as stupid as I was (still working on some areas!), still sincere and loving the Lord and people.
There is one aspect of life and ministry that I was blindsided in for about the first fifteen years. I was not prepared for the deep disappointments I would experience. Please don’t think I am being self-righteous; I know that I have disappointed my family, friends, church members, and my Savior. I’m only trying to make a point here that being involved with ministry inevitably involves being disappointed because of necessity it means working with broken people.
My disappointments began to accumulate (because of my closeness to people) and the hurt sometimes became unbearable. It wasn’t from those to whom I was ministering as much. I quickly adjusted to that aspect of serving. Rather it was from being disappointed in my spiritual heroes and colleagues who were close friends.
It was my own fault in a sense. I had expectations that things would always remain the same. And they don’t. Sin is always destructive and tears at the fabric of our personal relationship with the Lord and people. I have wept often over those with whom I used to spend a lot of time with and enjoy life. I still do. They are my friends and will always be.
When they sinned, for the vast majority of them, it permanently affected our relationship. Not from my perspective at all. I still loved and cared for them as much – even more – than I ever did. But my phones calls, text messages and e-mails were not returned.
I tried not to hassle them and give them space and time, but I wanted them to know that I cared for them very much and wanted to continue our relationship. To this day, my heart still yearns over friends and mentors in my life that I haven’t heard from in many years. They shall always be a part of the fabric of my life. Though disappointed, it hasn’t affected my love for them and I still believe the best for them.
If love only lasts as long as you are benefiting, it isn’t love at all. Love is able to endure because it isn’t based on the worthiness or loveliness of the object. Often it is in spite of it. Love isn’t just being committed as long as you are not disappointed. That’s when your love is best proven.
The Bible says that love “believeth all things” (I Corinthians 13:7). The word “believeth” means “to have faith” and carries the idea of “entrusting something to someone, committing to them by your belief in them”.
This means that love holds out hope even when it has been disappointed or hurt. It doesn’t mean one is gullible, but ready to see the good and to give the benefit of the doubt. It is not suspicious. After being let down so much it is easy to become cynical. But love isn’t cynical.
One of the best examples of this trait is seen in the life of Barnabas. I love Barnabas; he is one of my favorite Bible characters and one in whom I want to pattern my life after. He was never a “king” in terms of a well-known leader, but he was a “king-maker” and he was content with that. People were better for having known Barnabas, though he was usually under the radar of recognition.
God gifted him with a heart to believe in people and to love them, even when it was risky. Usually the people he was supporting and helping had disappointed others and because of that had few friends.
It was him who took the initial interest in the new convert Saul, that later became the great Apostle Paul (Acts 9:26-27). But when he was believing in Saul, no one else was – and with good reason. Saul had a malicious and murderous past, hating, jailing and killing Christians. Humanly speaking, had there been no Barnabas, there would not have been an Apostle Paul.
Years later they became ministry partners as missionaries and as you read the narrative the leadership transferred from Barnabas to Paul. Initially it was Barnabas and Paul, but suddenly it became Paul and Barnabas as Scripture records their names – and it should have been because of Paul’s calling and gifts. But Barnabas accepted it and never complained. He understood his role.
They had a young assistant with them on one of their ministry trips named John Mark (Acts 12:25; 13:5). He was the nephew of Barnabas. At some point John became discouraged and fearful and left the team to return home (Acts 13:13).
When the time came months later for another trip Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, but Paul wouldn’t hear of it. The men, who were close friends, had a dispute over the issue and separated from each other to do their own missions work with others (Acts 15:36-40).
When I read this account I wonder what Paul was thinking. (I know he was more oriented to the task it seems and Barnabas to relationships). Bible teachers have opinions on who was right in the matter, most falling on Paul’s side because of the importance of the mission.
But I disagree. There was a time when no one believed in Paul (called “Saul” at that time), but Barnabas. If Barnabas had treated Saul like he was treating John Mark then, I believe, the great leader of the early church would not have been. He was the beneficiary of someone believing and trusting in him. He seemed to have forgotten about that time in his life and how it had helped him.
Now, when it came time for him to do the same for someone that had disappointed him he refused to do so. I don’t think Paul’s unwilllingness was as much related to his personality or temperament, but it was that he had a lack of love.
Yes, there are areas where we must be cautious for the good of the whole that we not give a blind eye to past poor performance. But it is possible to care for people and keep your eye on the bottom line. Jesus died for people, not for goals. The gospel will be fulfilled primarily by reaching individuals, not crowds. (Study the ministry of Jesus and how He reached individuals and loved them).
Love sees the best and is willing to give another chance. We can be wrong on our initial (and secondary) impressions of people. Paul was flat wrong about John Mark. To Paul’s credit, just before he died he affirmed the value of John Mark to his ministry (II Timothy 4:11). This should be a lesson for us.
This is the heart of God and the nature of the gospel. God gave Jonah another chance (Jonah 3:1). He has done that for you, too. Most people are not saved the very first time they hear the gospel. I wasn’t and I bet most that read this weren’t either. Most people don’t surrender to God the first time He calls them to do something. God is patient and gives us another opportunity. We ought to love people the way He loves us.
I know that one can disqualify themselves from certain positions in ministry, but never from being used of God after they come back to Him. God is in the salvaging business. I know, for I am one whom He has delivered and changed. I am grateful for His patience and seeing something in me through His grace that I never saw possible, that He could use me for His glory.
My hope is that one day as folks would walk by my casket that they might be able to say, “Rick, believed in me and didn’t knock me down when I was vulnerable”. To me, that’s just another way of saying, “Rick loved me”. That’s what the Bible means when it says, love “believeth all things”. (I Corinthians 13:7)
Is there someone that has let you down and you are hesitant to believe in them and give them another chance? Whenever we love people we become vulnerable to being hurt – and disappointed. But that’s what Jesus does for us.
I don’t know the author, but I love the following lines and I will forever quote them to those whom I love – my children, my friends, and my church family.
“Though you cannot go back
And make a brand new start, my friend,
Anybody can start from now,
And make a brand new end!”
May God help us to embody this message in the way we see people – and the way we talk to them. Especially those in our family.