When I was young and enjoying the beginning days of my ministry I often recall reading Paul’s testimony in II Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” I also recall hearing sermons preached on that text at Bible conferences encouraging us to “stay by the stuff.” I also remember reading a chapter from Ralph Turnbull’s book on “A Minister’s Obstacles” about resting at midday when there is still much more to be done. In those days no mountain was too high to climb, no waters too deep to swim, no obstacles too great to overcome. The fountain of youth was exhilarating! How could a faithful servant of the Lord NOT finish the race well? How could a true minister of the Word ever “rest at midday?”
But then over the years I observed seasoned men in the ministry defect from the Lord’s army. Some to immorality, like the minister in the next town to my first pastorate who had taken me under his wing; others to loss of integrity; some to discouragement, but none, that I know of, to doctrinal impurity. I have also noticed some who had decided just to tread water until retirement or another call.
Then I would ask why? Where along the way did they lose their initial love for effective ministry, their zeal for God’s work and passion for the sheep of their appointed fold? I gradually surmised that it was an accumulation of weary battles, some won and some lost; 24/7 days without enough time for family and relaxation; a loss of vision and self-confidence due to negative forces in the church; a gradual departure from a regular quiet season spent in the Word and the absence of one’s personal prayer period in the presence of the heavenly Father.
As a young minister I asked “How could such a thing be?” Now, as a more seasoned soldier of the cross I humbly admit, “Thank you, Lord, for helping me not to fall.” The longer the race, the more weary the journey. Spiritual battles are fatiguing. Some of you are still young and are unsuspecting of the battles yet before you and the toil they take on the soul and body. Others today know exactly what I am speaking about and may be living on the edge of burnout, and definitely need a second breath to finish the race well. May we not be like Demas, who defected, having loved this present world, and all that draws us to it (II Tim. 4:10).
Some years ago I came across this puritan’s prayer simply entitled, “The Servant In Battle.” When I grow weary it helps me to refocus. Like Paul, I want to fight the “good” fight (some aren’t really worth fighting at all), I want to finish my course well (whatever it might be that the Lord has for me), and I want to keep the faith (I don’t want to die a man defeated and faithless)!
“O Lord, I bless Thee that the issue of the battle between Thyself and Satan has never been uncertain, and will end in victory.
Calvary broke the dragon’s head, and I contend with a vanquished foe, who with all his subtlety and strength has already been overcome.
When I feel the serpent at my heel may I remember Him whose heel was bruised, but Who, when bruised, broke the devil’s head. My soul with inward joy extols the Mighty Conqueror.
Heal me of any wounds received in the great conflict; if I have gathered defilement, if my faith has suffered damage, if my hope is less than bright, if my love is not fervent, if some creature-comfort occupies my heart, if my soul sinks under pressure of the fight.
O Thou whose every promise is balm, every touch life, draw near to Thy weary warrior, refresh me, that I may rise again to wage the strife, and never tire until my enemy is trodden down.
Give me such fellowship with Thee that I may defy Satan, unbelief, the flesh, the world, with delight that comes not from a creature, and which a creature cannot mar.
Give me a draught of the eternal fountain that lieth in Thy immutable, everlasting love and decree. Then shall my hand never weaken, my feet never stumble, my sword never rest, my shield never rust, my helmet never shatter, my breastplate never fall, as my strength rests in the power of Thy might.”
“But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions….fulfill your ministry.” II Tim. 4:5
— Maynard H. Belt