Cornerstone

“...God doesn’t leave us to ourselves. In the midst of heartache, God doesn’t move on from us.”

Ministry is hard. It can drain you spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. You’re left asking yourself, “Why am I doing this? What am I doing? How should I be doing this differently?” Oftentimes you feel like you’re on an island by yourself. You don’t feel like you have the capacity to keep going because you’re not sure you want to hear about one more hardship, another death, or the hopelessness that plagues so many in our world. It’s tough trying to be a bridge, wondering if either side of the bridge really understands the other or even cares to. All these things can run through your mind and discourage your ministry.

Many years ago when I first started getting involved with gang ministry, I thought about how attractive Jesus could be towards those I was ministering to. But as years have gone on, I’ve realized how attractive Jesus must be to me as the one ministering. You’re not on top of your “spiritual game” just because you’re heavily involved in ministry. The devil doesn’t stop trying to trip you up. The difficulties, the loneliness, the suffering, the questions you ask yourself are all legit and can be a healthy process when viewed in the right context. But there are times in ministry where that isn’t the case and you catch yourself feeling lost in the whole process. That’s why Jesus’ words of encouragement in Matthew 28:20 are an anchor for your soul in difficult times: “Behold I am with you always.”

At the end of Matthew 28, Jesus is prepping his disciples to go out and minister. He calls them to go and make disciples in various parts of the world so that different people from different places can all hear the hope of the gospel. Jesus knew this wouldn’t be easy. He Himself knew firsthand just how draining and difficult ministering to people can be. That is why He ends His commission with those comforting words, “Behold I am with you always.” Not just sometimes or when ministry seems to be going well, but always. Even when you feel like you’re isolated and wondering where God is, it doesn’t make this comforting promise any less true. My feelings in ministry don’t change up the truth of who God is and what He has guaranteed to us as His children.

What does this look like though? We can know He promises to be with us, but what does that mean beyond just reading it in Scripture? Some of the most difficult moments for me in ministry usually involve hearing about death, the hopelessness many individuals feel, and the self-destructive tendencies many can fall back into. You see all this as part of the culture you’re trying to reach, and it can bring more sorrow than encouragement. It’s almost normal to wake up everyday and hear about someone being shot and killed in our city. You can see people who are struggling to make changes fall back into the same vicious cycle they’re trying to escape from. They deal with so much trauma, pain, suffering, and violence, yet that’s what they retreat back to because it’s normal for them. It’s two steps forward, ten steps back. This is heavy stuff to deal with in ministry. Where does that promise in Matthew 28 come into play in these types of scenarios?

The best way I can explain it is knowing and trusting. We all know and trust various things in life. For example, every time we take a breath, we know and trust that air keeps us alive. We don’t see it, but we know and trust that the process of breathing in air will keep us going. In the same way, I’ve had to know and trust that God is there with me in difficult times of ministry, even though I can’t physically see or sometimes feel His presence. I remember one night I was driving and the weight of some heavy burdens just came out as tears started running down my face. I didn’t really know what to do but sit there in the midst of it and feel that weight. But what brought me comfort in that moment was knowing and trusting that God was there in the process. The weight and the burdens don’t immediately go away. Perhaps they aren’t even supposed to.  But when you feel alone in those moments having to deal with the hardships, it is reassuring and comforting to know God is there. I can trust what He’s doing both in my life and in the lives of the ones caught up in the streets.

You may be asking, “That’s it? Just try to recall some verse or truth in my head?” The only thing I can say is yes. I’ve realized, in practice, to have that assurance and dependency upon the Lord and what He promises, daily, is really hard. Just recalling who He is and what He promises seems like it might be an easy fix. But I fail at it time and time again. Yet God is faithful to remind me He is still with me even when I’m not recognizing Him, when my mind is so wrapped up in the difficulties, or when I’m trying to rely on my own strength and plans to help minister to others. Internally, I must be willing to believe in my mind and trust with my heart that God isn’t distant in those moments.

Late last year, a guy I met about two years ago got killed. I got the chance to know and minister to him a few times. I won't ever forget him because of how difficult his story was. When I found out he passed, my heart was burdened for him because I knew how hard his life was. For almost two months, I couldn’t really rest in the promise that God was with me. I wasn’t recalling this truth and I was more filled with sadness, frustration, confusion, etc., rather than understanding and depending on Him. What’s amazing for me to think back on is after two months had passed, I began to see how His promise really holds true. There wasn’t a timetable God gave me to figure things out. He didn’t move on after two weeks. He was there because He promised to be, no matter how much I didn’t recognize His goodness or the fact that He longs for me to bring these burdens before Him. He is still faithful to work in me during these tough stretches and bring me to understand and find comfort in that promise. He is with me even when I’ve failed to depend on Him for weeks or months at a time. That’s what makes that promise so comforting. It’s so hard to actively pursue, but God doesn’t leave us to ourselves. In the midst of heartache, God doesn’t move on from us.

A lot of this blog was written during a time I was struggling through this process. Burden after burden kept occurring, and trying to rest in Him proved to be tough. But those burdens make me grateful for God’s faithfulness and lead me to recognize how much depending on Him is necessary for ministry. When another death or tragic circumstance comes up in ministry and when I’m feeling the weightiness of those hardships, I can truly know and trust that He is there always.

Danny Neiditch

Danny is the founder and CEO of Prodigal Sons, Inc, a non-profit ministry serving gang members and their families on the Westside. Danny also serves Cornerstone as a Family Ministries Assistant.

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