“Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst in fastings often, in cold and nakedness –” (2 Corinthians 11:25-27 NKJV).
A friend and co-worker in Nepal told me of a trip he had made across a range of the Himalayas to visit churches. As he traveled back across the mountains at night, in the snow, he dropped his flashlight and broke it. There he was, in the dark, by himself, on a narrow trail on the side of a mountain with no light. Any miss-step and he could easily fall hundreds or thousands of feet, to his death. What was he to do? The only thing he could do – he made a bed in the snow, huddled up as best he could, and slept through the night. The next morning, when he could see, he continued his journey.
When we read the Apostle Paul’s account of his own travails while preaching the gospel we are suitably impressed, but I expect we think that no one ever has to endure that kind of thing anymore. Perils in the wilderness, the sea and the cold don’t sound very likely to us. But they do still occur, perhaps more often than we might imagine. Very often those who experience them do not spend a lot of time talking about them. They simply accept such hardships as the necessary cost that must be paid for the privilege of preaching the gospel, and thank God for the ability he gave them to do it.
One does not have to be persecuted to suffer hardship in ministry. Traveling long distances or over bad roads, mountain paths, or by rivers and streams, is very tiring (not to mention the dangers that may be involved). Much of the work is done in the absence of creature comforts like heat or air conditioning. When visiting remote areas meals are likely to involve unfamiliar foods (curried mystery meat is always interesting). Nights may not always be spent in the snow, but goat sheds, yak barns, and hard board pallets can make the average cheap motel cot feel like a princess’ feather bed.
A lot of jokes are made about preachers and their rejection of “honest work.” I expect that most who tell those jokes have never tried to prepare two or three or more fresh lessons every week, nor attempted to keep the interest of the same audience week after week, year after year. And that does not even address the many other duties expected of the preacher or missionary. The fact is that one who takes the job seriously (and most do, in my experience) often works longer hours than is expected in many other occupations, and is subject to considerable stress.
But those same people, almost without exception, genuinely love their work. Many years ago I was offered the advice, “If you can do anything else, don’t preach.” That did not mean what you may think. Rather, the speaker meant that if preaching were not a passion that could not be ignored, one should not attempt it. Most preachers simply won’t do anything else. They are committed to the task, because they are convinced of its importance. It might mean an occasional night in the snow, or other hardship, but its rewards far surpass its difficulties.