He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

I've spent a good portion of the last few days in hospital with our friend, Morna. She is a dear friend and a mother-figure to me, and she is dying, and of course there is nothing I can do about that.

So I sit by her side and I do the Christian thing. I say prayers, I tell her that we love her, and I do a lot of hand-holding. And inevitably, as the hours tick by, you do ask yourself, 'am I accomplishing anything by being here?'

It's different when the one you love is sitting up in bed and telling the odd joke, and they're sharing their hopes and fears, and telling you all those old stories that you've heard a million times before. But when you've reached that stage where there is no longer any real communication happening and where you're not sure whether they are really sharing in your prayers, and when you're not sure whether they really even know you're there any more, you do ask yourself, "is there any point to what I'm doing here?"
So much of life can be like that, can't it? You pour so much of yourself into trying to raise your kids to be beautiful, god-fearing people, and then they become teenagers and you ask yourself, "What's the point?" (no, not really)

A lot of Christian ministry is like that though, isn't it?

We do our best to be faithful to God and we put our time into ministry and we do those Sunday School classes and we say our prayers and we preach that sermon and we share as much of our time and money as we can and we make meals for those people and we let them stay in our home because it's what Jesus would have done, and we spend more than twenty years trying to build up that church to the point where it can move forward under its own steam, and every now and then you do have to stop and ask yourself, "are we actually making any progress here? Is what I am doing actually making any difference?"

And it's not because I look back on my classmates at seminary and see how they've all gone on to become bishops or pastors of mega-churches or highly-sought-after speakers, travelling the world to speak at international conventions! It's not that that bothers me (really, it's not). It's just the ambiguity of it all!

Am I really making a difference here? Are we making any progress? Is this sermon actually going to do anybody any good or is it just more hot air? That remains to be seen, doesn't it, and most likely it will be something I never see!

I think that's one of the reasons I like boxing so much. You train, you fight, you get a result! You might not always agree with the result, but you get a result!

But the greater battles in life aren't like that! You often don't see any results for a long, long time, and often those results are ambiguous. Ministry can be very frustrating!

I read of a survey of 301 clergy where apparently 80% confessed to experiencing regular feelings of futility! Indeed, I heard of one guy who gave up ministry and became an undertaker for exactly this reason.

When asked why he changed jobs, he said: "I spent three years trying to straighten out John, and John's still an alcoholic. I spent six months trying to straighten out Susan's marriage, and she filed for divorce. I spent two and a half years trying to straighten out Bob's drug problem, and he's still an addict. At the funeral home when I straighten them out, they stay straight!"

And the painful contrast for us, of course, is always Jesus Himself!

Jesus didn't have these problems, did He? When He straightened them out, they stayed straight too! He spoke, He healed, He drove out demons, and wherever He moved and spoke and breathed, miracles would just happen! You can't imagine Jesus experiencing feelings of futility, can you? Can you?

Well … if today's Gospel reading is anything to go by, Jesus also got frustrated!

Whether or not Jesus actually struggled with feelings of futility or had to deal with the types of anxiety and depression that so many of us, His followers, struggle with, I do not know, but what we have today is a Gospel story where a particular ministry venture undertaken by Jesus and the Apostles seems to fall flat on its face, and where the story ends the rather extraordinary statement, that Jesus "marvelled at their unbelief!" (Mark 6:6)

Author's Bio: 

Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of four.Visit http://www.fatherdave.org for more information.