Philemon 1:7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.
Here we have a record of one of the rewards of pastoral ministry. There is indeed deep joy and encouragement to seeing that someone to whom you have ministered is indeed ministering effectively to others. We don’t know when or how Paul first interacted with Philemon, but the relationship was obviously a warm one. From our current perspective it’s interesting to realize they had that relationship in spite of Philemon being a slave owner. That sort of thing was simply a fact of society in those days, and God used it in beautiful ways that are mentioned and/or hinted at in this letter. That’s not at all to say that slavery is OK; it is completely abhorrent. However, it is to say that we aren’t to focus on everything negative about those to whom we minister, but rather speak and admonish as God directs and leave the results up to Him. After all, if God were to demand perfection, we would be disqualified! Every one of us is dependent on the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and we must never forget that. Frankly, those in ministry need all the joy and encouragement they can get, because the stresses can be quite severe and the spiritual warfare is unrelenting. There is nothing better than to find that you have been effective in ministering to someone, at least.
I have these flashes of joy from time to time as I observe or hear from spiritual children. I had a big one just the other day. I need to keep reminding myself that God knows what is going on in people’s hearts, and I don’t. The fruit of my labors is in His hands, and as Jesus said, the Father has every interest in that fruit being abundant. (John 15:8) At this point I see some younger people in ministry and envy their vigor, but at the same time I recognize that the ripples from my ministry are still expanding. I will never know how far they go, unless God chooses to show me once I’m with Him in heaven. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll be worried about it then! However, He may do it, simply because the ultimate reward is in knowing you have been used effectively by God.
Father, thank You for the various ways You have used me, and for the joy of realizing that You have done so. I pray that I would be ever more available, instantly responsive to Your leading and not running off on tangents. Thank You for the reminder just yesterday that some of my ministry is still in progress, and the fruit will come later. Help me have the patience I need as I rest, relax, and rejoice in You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!