|I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. . . I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians3:12-14) |
"We may be knocked down but we are never knocked out." (2 Corinthians 4: 9 JB Phillips trans.)
A 100 years ago the famous Polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton, was looking for men to join him on a tough expedition to Antarctica. The story goes that he placed an advert in a prominent newspaper:
"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."
5000 men and 4 women applied.
I've never thought of ministry in such Shackletonian terms but when I tell the Shackleton story (as I often do) I sometimes include the St. Paul story and speak about the need for mental toughness and emotional resilience, for the work of ministry needs both - in large quantities!
Writing from the depressing surroundings of a Roman jail Paul tells his friends in Philippi to keep going forward, to "press on". His words were carefully chosen. Ministry was getting tougher and tougher. He had suffered major setbacks that had felt like punches in the solar plexus. "Knocked down", he says. Down he went, his wind gone. What now? Does he lie and wait for the count out or does he rise to fight again?
We've all been there. We know what it is to want to throw in the towel and walk away, but ministry has taught us not only to dwell deep but to dig deep. It was Paul's battle-hardened testimony that though he had been "knocked down" many times, he had never been "knocked out".
So, to those courageous souls who have been knocked down and for whom ministry has been tough going, listen to Paul in the reading above: i. press on, ii. keep your focus, iii. let go of the past, iv. pursue excellence ('perfection') and never lose sight of your Goal.
(James Gray is based at the Hermanus United Church and believes that a day away from Hermanus is a wasted day.)