A post about fighting discouragement when doubting one’s worthiness to serve Christ. Next week I hope to begin writing on preaching for the preaching, praying, and peopling of pastoral ministry:
As I’ve written about before, this semester I am taking a class with Dr. Don Whitney called ‘Great Christian Lives’. One of the three people we are studying is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), a great Welsh preacher who spent most of his ministry in London at Westminster Chapel.
Before Lloyd-Jones became a Christian he had finished most of his training to be a medical doctor. By the time he finished medical school in 1926 he had been converted and began to feel an earnest desire to be a minister of the gospel. Back and forth Lloyd-Jones went for over a year wrestling with whether he should continue in his medical career and serve God in that capacity or whether he should quit and become a pastor.
As one reads this story in Lloyd-Jones biography it becomes clear that it was not the allurements of practicing medicine that crippled his efforts to move forward with becoming a pastor. Rather, it was his own unworthiness:
I shudder when I realize how unworthy I am and how ignorant [those closest to me] are of the dark and hidden recesses of my soul where all that is devilish and hideous reigns supreme, at times breaking through on to the surface and causing a turmoil that God and I alone know of.
Lloyd-Jones’ biographer, Iain Murray, then comments:
There is reason to think that it was this sense of unworthiness before God which was one of the ultimate obstacles to his clear conviction that he was indeed being called to the ministry of the gospel. And the final resolutions of that difficulty was not the removal of his sense of unworthiness, but the persuasion that God loved him, and had saved him, in spite of all that he deserved…
…As well as knowing conviction of sin and a profound sense of unworthiness, he drank at the fountain head of redeeming love. Speaking of what that love meant to him in the critical years of 1925-26 he testified at the end of his life: ‘I must say that in that little study at our home in Regency Street, and in my research room next to the post-mortem room at [St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London], I had some remarkable experiences. It was entirely God’s doing. I have known what it is to be really filled with a joy unspeakable and full of glory. [1 Peter 1:8]’ (p. 101)
In 1 Tim 3:1 the Apostle Paul refers to the role of an overseer (or pastor, elder, bishop, etc.) as a “noble task”. Lloyd-Jones had a profound understanding of the this truth, thus he could not imagine himself worthy of such a high office. And the truth is he wasn’t worthy. As Murray says, it wasn’t merely shrugging off his sinfulness that allowed Lloyd-Jones to accept that he could be qualified as a minister. Rather, it was being led to the “fountainhead of redeeming love” and grasping the power of God’s grace to take a redeemed sinner and do great things through him.
Once Lloyd-Jones actually became a pastor the struggle began all over again. In his own words:
Now, with this new responsibility and with thoughts that inevitably arise in connection with it, I find myself, at times, reviewing the whole of my faith and belief…indeed at times, finding nothing whatsoever to recommend myself as a preacher of the gospel, and going on and on until I again reach bedrock in the grace of God, which amazes me more and more. (p. 171-2)
I love that statement: “reaching bedrock in the grace of God.”
It’s hard to imagine that Lloyd-Jones did not struggle with this sense of unworthiness his entire ministry. It seems likely that again and again he would have to find himself face-planted in the bedrock of God’s grace. When it comes down to it that is anyone of us can ever find hope in. God, help us to find it quickly.