He was called to serve far from home. He adapted well to the place, but could never say that he felt comfortable there. He had an unusually close relationship with God, although that didn’t seem to make his ministry much easier.
He loved his wife. In fact, he delighted in her. When she died after a quick illness, ministry demands meant that he couldn’t mourn for her properly. His unprocessed grief became part of the baggage that he carried, along with other hurts he’d never finished processing.
His ministry was known for its object lessons. Sometimes he dragged the object lessons on longer than people wanted, but they did get the message across. The people he was called to serve weren’t the easiest. You could call them stubborn and resistant, actually. Hard headed. Spiritually dead.
As he served, he saw enough to disillusion the biggest optimistic person alive. How could people claim to serve God and act in such misguided ways? Sometimes his own colleagues in ministry added to the pain. They spoke what people wanted to hear, making his message even more unpalatable.
He spoke frankly about the sins of the surrounding culture, but also of the sins among God’s people. That didn’t win him many points. But he pleaded with people to repent and turn to God. He knew that was the only way forward. He could never understand why they didn’t respond to his message.
As he served, he accumulated heartbreaks. Worst of all was the sense that God had withdrawn his presence from his people. Still, he knew that God wasn’t finished with his people. He saw them for what they were, but still held on to God’s grace for wayward people. That, and sometimes sheer obedience, kept him going when things got hard.
His ministry lasted some 22 years. He’d ministered through turmoil and stayed faithful despite all the challenges, but could never say that he found ministry success. When his ministry ended, the people he served remained largely unchanged. Most of his preaching seemed to have had little effect. He never gained any recognition for his faithful ministry, and died having seen no evidence that his ministry had counted for much.
And yet he still held on to hope, believing that God wasn’t done, and that he would one day change the hearts of the people and restore them. A lesser man would have given up. A lesser man would have become embittered and quit. As the obstacles and hurts accumulated, he certainly felt like quitting, but he always got back on track, expecting God to stay true to his promises and to sort things out in the end.
His name was Ezekiel. He served in the hardest of times to people who never seemed to listen. And yet he stayed faithful, even when it didn’t seem to make much difference. He believed that obedience to God and faithfulness to the task mattered more than his personal comfort, and he kept going even when others had lost hope.
Perhaps Ezekiel is a lesson to pastors who also feel like their ministries aren’t easy or successful. Our job is to stay faithful to the task God has entrusted to us, even when it costs. God will accomplish his purposes. A life spent serving him, even apart from visible success, is a life well spent.