Jonathan Rockey

This week, as I write my devotion, my thoughts are in a little more difficult place. I attended the Alaska Church Workers’ Conference for our portion of the Lutheran Church. We met in the seaside city of Seward from Tuesday afternoon through Thursday noon. The presentation was given by Dr. Steve Saunders of Marquette University. Dr. Saunders also works with a group called “Doxology” which helps church workers deal with the challenges and stress of the call to serve the Lord.

Our presenter pointed out that, for pastors and for other church workers, the job has some built in stress. Being a church worker calls for serving an Almighty, holy Lord. But pastors and church workers try to lead God’s people, sheep who often wander and go astray. The job of church worker means leading God’s people in doing the Lord’s life-changing work. But there is often much criticism in this high calling from those people whom church workers are called to lead. Professional ministry in our denomination requires an advanced education, but often comes with comparatively lower pay for the education. While church workers need to be healthy to serve God’s people, the job can often be, as our speaker pointed out, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year – so living healthy is a challenge. The call of God for church workers to lead His people is a holy call. But, workers and pastors whom God calls are sinful people.

So, you can understand why there are stresses in the job of leading the people of God. During the readings scheduled for worship this June we will hear about Elijah and his struggles. Elijah’s difficulties are instructive for our lives. After an epic battle with prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah faces opposition from the idolatrous king and queen of Israel. Listen to the struggle and emotions which Elijah expresses.

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1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:1-4)

Did you know that the king and queen of Israel (especially the queen) wanted to kill Elijah? Did you remember that Elijah was suicidal? Doing God’s work can be difficult. But, in spite of Elijah’s anxiety and fear, God had not abandoned Elijah. Elijah runs to Mt. Horeb and experiences the presence of God in a surprising way.

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

God came to Elijah and spoke to him in spite of the struggles he faced. Even though Elijah was full of doubt and fear, the Lord did not abandon him. Elijah experienced the presence of God, listened to the Lord’s call, and continued to do God’s work. The Almighty Lord of all worked through a weak and doubting man to do His holy work.

The truth of God’s grace is not just meant for prophets and pastors and church workers. All God’s children are called to do the holy work of following the Lord and spreading His kingdom. But, God calls people who are weak and sinful. I sometimes tell others that when sinful people are called to do God’s holy work, this is a “recipe for disaster.” No wonder Gods church has so many problems.

In serving our Lord we do face many challenges and stresses. But, God came to Elijah in spite of his weakness and doubt. God comes to His people today, in His Son, Jesus, in spite of our sin and failure. What a blessing to know that God knows our weakness, yet He loves us and forgives us, and nonetheless calls us to serve Him. We have the amazing blessing of serving the Lord of the universe, the Savior of the world!

I had the privilege of sharing at this conference in a devotion. We read from John 21:15-19. Jesus restores Peter after Peter had denied Jesus three times. Then Jesus calls this sinful leader to continue. “Follow me!” (John 21:19) Perhaps, surprisingly God continues to call weak and sinful people today too.

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