Surprised by Hardship and Encouragement in a Car Shop

Scriptures: Romans 8:28 ; Ephesians 2:10 ; Proverbs 3:5-6
by Jacob Abshire on December 1, 2023

There is more than one way to take a blow from Satan. When I girded up my loins to join a team to plant a church, I was prepared for the hardship of the world and had been taking it like Captain America—the feeble one in the back alley (Jn. 15:18). It was a blow to the body that I wasn’t expecting.

Ministry takes a toll on you spiritually and physically and in many forms. Sometimes, your heart can be stronger than your body. It can drive you to work harder when your health says stop. Recently, my body pumped the brakes, affecting my ability to keep up with my heart. It was devastating to me. And, in some respects, it still is.

My role in the church plant was intentionally designed to shape me for my ministry in pastoring. As I write this, I am working full-time outside the church, part-time inside the church, and engaged in a fast-paced MDiv at Midwestern Seminary. Every moment of my life is tied up. There is little room for tending to self, and I have come to regret it because it is here that Satan has dished out a severe blow to the gut, literally.

While planning my next visit overseas for missionary work, my digestive system began to fail. What followed were severe pains, bodily aches, and relentless fatigue. My spirit was willing, but my flesh was weak. I had to cancel the mission trip. Then, my spirit was weak, too. The cancellation saddened me.

The struggle weighed heavy on me. It appeared that my time for ministry had passed. My body was no longer fit for the hard work of pastoring, much less missionary work. I thought to myself, “I’m too old. My body is done.”

I’ve been back and forth with the specialists. So far, we’ve determined that I have the liver of an obese old man with a blood disorder. Weight loss is not possible. I’m already a normal-sized guy. It was a generative issue. The best thing I can do now is prevent the liver from shutting down. I stung. I felt like my time in ministry had passed.

Then, the unexpected happened.

I took my car to the mechanic for a routine oil change. While I waited in the lobby, a woman in her late 70s engaged me in a conversation. She just returned from an overseas mission trip. She was fixing her vehicle to make a three-hour drive home. Did I mention she was nearly 80 years old?

It was upbeat and motivating. She was excited, ready to return to the mission field. It was her first trip, and she anticipates more in the future. The details of the conversation are beside the point. The encounter itself left a strong impression on me.

I am not in my prime by any stretch of the imagination. My health is not ideal. I am not getting younger or healthier. I have real problems to navigate, but God is not done with me yet. Her presence reminded me of that.

Generally, I consider Ephesians 2:10 my “life verse” if there is such a thing. It has been the one verse that has continually lifted me when I experience frustration and self-doubt. It tells us that God masterfully designs us to do the work He has planned for us. Right now, with what I am facing, God carefully crafted me to accomplish what He desires. And that should be enough. This struggle is meant for my work today.

For you …

You might be in a similar situation—doubting yourself, wondering if you have the chops, and thinking you are unfit for anything worthwhile. I want to encourage you that God has carefully crafted you for now. Your schedule, home, vocation, and even your struggle will be used for God’s purposes today.

You are never too old for ministry. It may feel like the body has checked out. But even the paraplegic has a ministry in the kingdom. The guy in the hospital recovering from a quadruple bypass is now ready for ministry. You are never too old for ministry. God knows your body, skill, education, availability, personality, and everything else you can think of. And, you are a work of God’s hands prepared for good work.

You must be open to alternative ministry. Don’t get me wrong by saying this, but you must be available to whatever ministry God has planned for you, even one unrelated to what you have been preparing for and aspiring to do. I had to cancel my trip overseas, but God used me where I was to advance the gospel, strengthen my marriage, and improve my faith. Moreover, the Lord worked overseas in my absence, so nothing was lost in the grand scheme of things (Rom. 8:28).

Present shortcomings and setbacks don’t determine the Lord’s plan for you. So don’t let them hijack your commitment to ministry. Submit your ways to the Lord, and He will direct your path (Prov. 3:5-6).

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