Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– (Psalm 103:2 NIV)
Both the hottest and the coldest nights I have ever experienced have come from time spent in a tent. On a campout near Lake Texoma in late October, temperatures one night dropped into the upper thirties. I had a light sleeping bag rated for fifty degrees. You can’t literally freeze to death when the temperature stays above freezing, but I thought I was freezing that night.
Ten years later my family took a camping trip across the southwest United States in late July. Our first night we camped near Carlsbad Caverns in the Chihuahua Desert. I don’t believe the temperature that night ever dropped below 90 degrees. There was no hint of a breeze. My sleeping bag was soaked with sweat when I peeled my body away from it in the morning.
Fortunately, I don’t live in a tent. I live in a climate controlled house that rarely gets hotter than 78 degrees or cooler than 68 degrees. This is one of the benefits provided to me by my ministry. At one time I lived in a house owned by the church. Now they pay me enough to afford a house of my own.
Serving in the ministry hasn’t always been so nice. Moses played a much bigger part in God’s plan to save the world than I have. He lived in a tent in the Sinai desert. It had no thermostat. Nighttime temperatures in January can fall below 40 degrees. Daytime temperatures in the summer regularly top 100. Moses’ “parsonage” was a tent for the better part of 40 years. Granted, he spent his first 40 years in a palace (it had no thermostats, either), but once Moses entered the ministry it was tenting all the way. It wasn’t so comfortable to serve in the ministry in Moses’ day.
I have knocked on thousands of doors and canvassed thousands of homes. Occasionally someone is cross with me for ringing the bell. Often no one answers the door. Certainly no one has made any threats. Sometimes I have been offered something to drink or thanked for my work. “I’m glad someone is trying to reach this neighborhood with the gospel,” they say.
The Apostle Paul, by contrast, generally had to leave town after a few weeks due to threats against his life. You know the catalog of hardships he recounts in 2 Corinthians 11: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from the Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers” (24-26). I share the observation of one Christian writer: “Where the Apostle Paul went, they usually started a riot. Where I go they usually serve tea.”
I’m not saying that my ministry has been easy. But I have never hidden in a cave and waited for ravens to bring me food. I have never been declared an outlaw by the emperor and had a price put on my head. Compared to much of the world’s population, and to many gospel servants of the past, serving in the public ministry has provided me a decent standard of living and a relatively comfortable life.
Still, I catch myself thinking about my ministry in terms of the sacrifice I have made to do this work. I catch myself envying old friends and classmates who can live in nicer homes, drive newer cars, and spend their evenings at home with their families. I catch myself overlooking the many blessings, even earthly blessings, God has given to me in connection with the work I do as a pastor.
“Forget not all his benefits.” Like the people before me whose ministries weren’t so soft and easy, I share in the very first benefit that fills the psalmists mouth with praise: “…who forgives all your sins.” As a minister, the forgiveness of sins is woven into all my work all day long. As I prepare to preach a sermon,or work to reconcile a marriage, or lead a member of the neighborhood to the foot of the cross for the very first time, or give communion to a shut-in, the forgiveness of sins is constantly in front of me. It is there to feed my own soul, too. I am like the cook in the kitchen sampling the stew before it is served. I get a little taste of God’s grace every time I serve it to others.My envy, my failure to notice the countless ways in which the Lord has made my life comfortable and pleasant, my complaining–these and every other sin find forgiveness every day from the God who actually did sacrifice benefits and comforts and even his life on a cross to make forgiveness possible for me.
Do you ever envy others and feel as though you have been given less? Do you notice the sacrifices you make in your life more than the benefits the Lord has given you to enjoy? Look again. The Lord has dished up a large helping of pardon and peace for all of us to enjoy. It is never farther away than the Bible waiting on the shelf to be opened. It is available every Sunday in the words of the man talking behind the pulpit, and from the hands of the man serving Christ’s body and blood at the altar.
Forget not all his benefits. He is taking better care of our daily needs than we regularly stop to notice. There is no greater benefit than the grace that forgives our sins each day.