In this season of Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of commands all throughout Scripture to be thankful (i.e., Ps. 106:1, Col. 3:15). In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we’re told it’s God’s will for us to be thankful in all circumstances. All circumstances includes ministry, and I wonder if we sometimes struggle to be thankful in ministry because of its unique challenges and discouraging seasons.
Shifting Our Perspective
If we want to find ourselves thankful for the ministry that God has given us, we must shift our perspective. Satan wants our minds to be focused on the discouraging—low numbers, students that back out, or students whom we invest in but don’t “get it”. A heart that lacks thankfulness will grow bitter and discontent, which will cause both our lives and ministries to not glorify God. Of course, we don’t want Satan to win this battle, and through Jesus, we have victory over the ungratefulness that creeps in. I believe we can be thankful in ministry by evaluating our heart motives and shifting our perspectives in what we consider success.
When we struggle to be thankful in ministry, we need to evaluate our hearts. We need to ask, “Why are we in ministry? Why do we lead that small group, volunteer for that event, etc.?” We know the correct answer is for Jesus; however, we also know in our hearts, we battle pride. Sometimes, we’re tempted to serve so we ourselves can be thanked or recognized. We’re tempted to desire ministry that’s seen and Instagram-worthy, though we know deep down some of the sweetest ministry happens in the unseen and messy. Most likely, our struggle to be thankful in ministry is because our eyes are on ourselves.
I believe when we turn our eyes from ourselves and onto Jesus, we’ll have no option but to rejoice in thankfulness in our ministries. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we’ll see our Savior whose ministry was much messier and more gruesome than ours will ever be, and he never wavered in thankfulness (Heb. 12:1-2). Christ served us when we were His enemies and our hearts didn’t even have a hint of thankfulness for Him, yet with the joy set before Him, He endured the cross (Rom. 5:8). When our hearts are truly in ministry for the sake of the Kingdom, we’ll be thankful that Jesus chooses to use us, knowing he doesn’t need us. With eyes set on eternity, we won’t battle discontentment, knowing our reward awaits us in heaven, and it’s a much better and more lasting one than a simple “like” on Instagram or even the most grand “thank you” from a student (Matt. 6:19-21.
Defining True Success
Sometimes, we struggle to be thankful in ministry because we’re in a discouraging season. It’s hard to find reasons to be thankful when things don’t seem to be going well. The question is, what is true success in ministry? At first glance, success seems like it should be large numbers, cool experiences (stage, lights, etc.), and big trips. There’s nothing wrong with many of these things (when our heart-motives are right), but what about when the numbers are low or our Wednesday night set up is simple? We should be thankful whether we have 1 student or 100, and I believe it’s easiest to do this when we view success in ministry as faithfulness (1 Cor. 15:58).
Are we being faithful to do what God has put right in front of us? If only 10 students show up, are we faithful to teach them the Word? No matter our stage set-up, are we faithful to lead our students in Christ-centered songs? If the answer is yes to such questions, then I believe we’ve been successful in being faithful to do what God has called us to do, and in that, we can always be thankful.
The Foundation of our Thanksgiving
Ultimately, our hearts should constantly overflow with gratitude because of our Savior who loves us and saved us from our sins. Even on days when nothing seems to be going as it should, the gospel is what produces thanksgiving. Ministry is hard, but it’s also beautiful. Pray that God would train your eyes, heart, and thoughts to be set on Him and His Kingdom (Col. 3:2). Pray that God would strengthen you to be content in all things, whether it’s the best ministry moment or the worst (1 Tim. 6:6).
After each moment in ministry, find at least one thing to be thankful for, and praise God for whatever that is. God’s will for us is to be thankful in all things, and when we truly think about it, there’s no doubt we can and should be thankful in ministry. We GET to be involved in students’ lives, and that should completely humble us. We are sinners and broken, yet God chooses to use us to be a vessel for His Kingdom.
Ponder that today, friends. Ponder the goodness of God to use a broken person to pour into the lives of students. That, my friends, will produce hearts of thankfulness in ministry.
Cassie Pattillo is a wife to Jack, and mama to Hunter (5), Isaac (3), and is in the process of adopting from India. Jack is a student pastor, so she loves serving alongside him and investing in teens’ lives. She is passionate about biblical literacy along with writing and teaching about Scripture. She is also a big fan of slow mornings with a cup of coffee, a good book on the beach, and Gamecock football.