In God’s kind providence he has given me many fathers in the faith. Some have taught me how to read the Bible, others have showed me how to love my family and do the work of the ministry, and others have even helped me know where to stand. It is this last category that I am reminded of today.
More than five years ago, when I was newly called as pastor, Jim Downey told me where to stand and how to lead my first funeral service. To someone fresh out of seminary and nervous to conduct his first funeral, such simple instructions were truly invaluable. His fatherly advice was most welcome and would be the first of many funeral services he and I conducted together. But with sadness in my heart, we will not share that ministry again.
On Monday, July 6, Jim went to receive his reward in heaven. Yesterday, I stood next to the man who told me where to stand at a funeral. And today, I want to honor him for his service to the Lord.
While not directly influencing my theology or philosophy of ministry, Jim impacted my ministry in significant ways. In the 1980’s he attended the same seminary I did and stood for truth when the leadership and professors did not. In the 1990’s he pastored the church I served, and he set the standard for pastoral care. And in more recent years, he ministered to a hurting flock directly preceding my call to the church. In all of these ways and more, he laid a foundation on which I stood for over five years.
Today, as I am no longer at that church and cannot attend the funeral, I wanted to express my appreciation for him and give a word of honor to Jim Downey. Though different from me in many ways, there are three things that stand out in his ministry.
Three Facets of a Faithful Minister
First, he was tireless in his work of the Gospel.
Perhaps to a fault, he wore himself out for the gospel. One of the reasons why he left the pastorate was because of the way he physically labored and constantly cared for the flock.
It’s true that burn out in ministry can come from serving too much. We must always take care that our ministry does not hurt our family or our health, but with such a great task given to us and with such lostness surrounding us, what could be better then laboring hard in the vineyard of the Lord. In this life, we are not promised rest but tribulation. Christ is our rest, because we are weary travelers.
In a world where laziness abounds, even among ministers, what could be better than working hard for the Lord and falling down in his service? Far better to burn out than to preserve ourselves, pampering our bodies and easing our schedules. So long as we retain our identity in Christ and not our labors, we should all strive to labor long and hard for Christ. Only in heaven will we know true and final rest. Jim worked hard for the Lord and now enjoys his final rest in his presence.
Second, he labored under the affliction of physical suffering.
For as long as I knew Jim and many years before, he was physically afflicted by a bad heart. He knew the pain of multiple surgeries and the long road to recovery that would follow each. Yet, instead of letting his pain draw him away from the ministry, it was a means by which he was able to comfort others suffering affliction.
This is the precious word of 2 Corinthians 1, that all who minister will do so, not out of strength but weakness. Weakness does not disqualify from ministry; it is what makes the minister effective. In fact, Jim’s many trips to the heart doctor did not slow him down in his work, it simply provided another means by which he could do the work.
While I do not relish the idea of getting old and suffering bodily, I know that such afflictions are the good and necessary means by which God prepares us for service. He did this in Jim’s life. He will do this in my life. He does this in everyone’s life whom he uses. To paraphrase A. W. Tozer: God does not use a man greatly until he hurts him deeply. Such providential pain is not evidence of God’s inability to protect us, but rather his fatherly love to make us sensitive to himself and others.
Third, he believed deeply in the gospel that raises the dead to life.
Though imperfect in himself (just like me), Jim believed and proclaimed the power of a perfect God and a perfect gospel. And thus today there is great rejoicing that Jim Downey, absent from the body is present with the Lord.
Seven “No More’s”
Thus his death is a reminder to us all that the eventually the only thing that matters is resurrection life. For there is coming a day when what we believe about heaven and hell will be tested. For his part, Jim Downey believed deeply in the God of heaven and in the promises of the resurrection. In fact, the message that I heard him preach at funeral after funeral, probably one he preached dozens if not hundreds of times, was on Revelation 21 and 22—the seven “no mores” as he liked to call them. I close with his outline.
In heaven there will be . . .
- no more sea (21:1) — no more sea, because the sea was associated with evil
- no more tears (21:4)
- no more death (21:4)
- no more mourning (21:4)
- no more crying (21:4)
- no more pain (21:4)
- no more night (22:5) — i.e., no more darkness where the light is kept out and evil can lurk
On this day of mourning, may the promise of resurrection life comfort the Downey family. And may God give all of us who remain in the land of the dying comfort as we continue to stand next to those who have gone before us.
With sorrow and gratitude, ds