Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
If you are unwilling to suffer financial hardship, you have disqualified yourself from service.
Yes, God provides. I’m not talking starvation, but I mean genuine hardship, nonetheless. Foxes have holes, but followers of Christ must sometimes forgo even that. (Luke 9:57-58; see also Luke 14:34; 18:22-28) For the sake of ministry, Paul knew what it was to be ‘abased’ (Philippians 4:12) and go hungry. (2 Corinthians 11:27)
Love of money lights a fuse that has exploded many a ministry.
‘It’s a pity Roger’s money is tainted,’ said someone to Mark Twain.
‘Twice tainted,’ corrected the writer, ‘ ’Tain’t yours and ’tain’t mine.’
Certainly, Fred never seemed to have enough. He was always struggling with his meager salary. Observing his pastor only magnified his misery. He knew Pastor Bob received even less than he did, yet he always seemed to have plenty.
One day, after yet another frustrating battle with bills and bank accounts, Fred’s pride finally cracked. Like a man repossessed, he burst into his pastor’s office and demanded financial counseling.
‘Well, er – ,’ hesitated Pastor Bob, quite taken aback, ‘perhaps you should see an accountant.’
‘No!’ said Fred, ‘I want to know your secret. How do you make ends meet?
‘Well,’ he replied, scratching the few hairs remaining on his head, ‘I’ve never thought much about it. I guess it’s just a combination of prayer and common sense. I –’
‘Right! I’ll do it!’ With that, Fred shot out of the office, leaving Pastor Bob more mystified than ever.
It was weeks before the pastor mustered the courage to raise the matter again. ‘How are things going – um – material – er – financially?’
Fred beamed. ‘I took your advice and it worked!’
‘It did?’ said the pastor, betraying just a hint of amazement.
‘Yes! Since I’ve been prayerfully using my common cents, my dollars aren’t nearly so rare!’
We are duty-bound to use money wisely. Scripture tells us to do what we can to get out of debt (Romans 13:8; 1 Corinthians 7:20-23) and meet family financial responsibilities. (Mark 7:9-13; 1 Timothy 5:8,16) But it goes further, encouraging us to believe God to provide us with an abundance for ‘every good work’. (2 Corinthians 9:8 – see also Ephesians 4:28)
Paul urges us to follow his example – working hard to become financially independent; able to support our own, and even other ministries. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; 1 Corinthians 9:12, 15-19; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12) Supporting your future ministry may be expensive, perhaps involving the purchase of costly equipment, in addition to living expenses.
The apostle began his stay in Corinth by dividing his time between leather work and preaching. He later put aside his paid employment and for a while preached full-time. (Acts 18:1-5 – most versions) No doubt, wise financial management helped release him into this narrower ministry. While Corinth sleeps, see his needle, almost hot, plunging in and out the leather, preparing him for a time when he would concentrate wholly on apostolic work.
Think of parlormaid Gladys Aylward – would-be missionary to China – saving her pennies for a one-way, third-class ticket to the fulfillment of God’s call. Money spent on ice cream is lost forever. Money squirreled away may one day be invested in the kingdom.
Being zealous is a cinch when throngs gather to hear your every sigh. It’s quite another tune when nobody wants to hear us. Yet this is a blessing masquerading as a trial. Being stripped of an audience removes distractions and helps ensure we are serving God, not our egos.
Ultimately, there is only one ministry – to love the Lord. Every service is but an expression of this, or it is not ministry at all.
A woman trapped within a paralyzed body, unable to speak or move, yet filled with love for God, ministers far more nobly than someone seemingly doing great things, motivated by human praise. One serves God, the other only thinks he does.
Love for God should bring to flashpoint our desire to glorify the Lord. The purging of any lesser motives is worth it, no matter what the cost.
A common way of coping with not having the vocation we ache for, is to convince ourselves that we don’t really want it. It’s an enticing mental trick to ease our pain. But we must refuse this cowardly path.
The crux of Abraham’s dealings with God was his yearning for a son. Try retelling this inspiring tale of love, trust and obedience, with an Abraham who was indifferent about having a son. The story would shrivel up.
Small details must sometimes wane. There’s no point itching to minister in India if the Lord wants us to go to Africa. But although can God modify our dreams, so can doubt. Before we allow any tempering of a desire, we must ensure the change is inspired by God and not by defeatism. When heaven speaks through the static of our wavering and restlessness, it’s easy to confuse ‘not yet’ with ‘never’.
A woman sang in church. I was captivated. To my ears, her voice was superior to many big-name singers. Yet it looks as if she may remain little known. I pondered and prayed about this, finally concluding that it’s the most determined who make it to the top; not necessarily the best.
If that seems unfair, think again. You had no say about what talents you would be born with, but you have much to say about what you do with them. Other things being equal, the ordinary person who puts in a superior effort will surpass the superior person who puts in an ordinary effort.
A burning desire for ministry is a gift from God. Fan it. It will fuel your rise to success. The ‘pole-vaulting parson’, Olympic gold medalist Bob Richards, analyzed the distinguishing qualities of champions. Like many other investigators, he concluded that in any field of endeavor the critical ingredient is the will to win.
So let the urge to magnify your Lord consume you. Let it blaze till it drives you to your knees; till you hold the prize that thrills your Maker’s heart.
Charlotte Elliott became an invalid in her youth and deeply resented the cruel restrictions. Decade after decade found her wrestling those same agonizing restrictions. Her brother’s evangelistic success, contrasting so markedly with her own fruitless life, intensified her anguish. She longed to serve her Lord but instead she was incapacitated, isolated, useless. At age 47, still single, still sick, still cut off from ministry opportunities, she pressed into a poem her frustration, confusion and helplessness, with words like ‘fightings and fears within, without’. The year was 1836. The poem became the hymn Just as I am. Years later, still a century before Billy Graham took up the hymn, her brother looked back on his productive life and confessed that he had probably achieved less in all his years than his sister had accomplished with one hymn. Her hymn is now believed to have ‘touched more hearts and influenced more people for Christ than any other song ever written.’
Harriet Auber found herself without writing materials. Rather than risk losing the words of a new hymn forming in her mind, she is said to have scratched them on a window pane with a diamond ring.
I always take a pen and paper with me. It’s cheaper than a diamond and people show an embarrassing amount of interest in what you do to their windows. Ideas have a habit of not waiting until I’m at my desk. They rarely wait till I’m out of the shower or until traffic lights stay red long enough for me to scribble furiously. (Why is it you can never find a red light when you want one?)
Whenever ideas flow – in my case, drip and dribble – record them. I have been thinking lately about how to write. Thoughts have formed about how to teach this subject. It’s unlikely I would ever be asked, but why waste ideas? It takes almost no time to scrawl them. And even I can afford a scrap of paper. I’m sure to lose forever some good ideas if I don’t record them, and if I am ever approached about the matter, I’ve saved time. All I have to do now is find a way of not losing the piece of paper . . .
Frances Ridley Havergal, an effervescent girl with golden curls, sat before a painting of Christ. Inspired, she grabbed a circular and scribbled on its back. Displeased with her effort, she threw it in the fire, then on impulse, retrieved it. She carried the crumpled, singed piece of paper in her pocket until showing it to a woman she judged too ignorant to see its flaws. The old woman’s reaction moved Frances to retain the poem. Eventually it was published. This talented girl went on to write many fine poems and hymns, yet this product of her youth is ranked with the most popular she ever wrote. Thank God she reluctantly kept that ‘useless’ poem!
Whenever a brainwave hit Frank Boreham (1871-1959) he would jot it down and file it away. Even after he retired as a pastor, ‘he was still getting literary dividends from ideas he had noted years before.’ So precious were his notes that every time he went on vacation he buried them in his backyard in case his house caught fire. I don’t know how he deduced that disaster could only hit when he was on holidays. (I’d avoid his travel agent.) Maybe vacations were the only occasion he let all his family out of the house at the same time. Maybe he conducted drills every week to ensure if fire broke out at 3 AM his family would instinctively charge through the flames, grasp his notes and carry them to safety before fully waking up. And maybe I am bone lazy, but the alternative of storing a duplicate set of notes off-site seems preferable. With the advent of photocopiers and computers, keeping copies of precious scribbles at a friend’s place is too easy to even consider not doing it.
Smell the ascending smoke. See the crackling flames hungrily chomp the canvas. With a thud, two chattering sisters cheerfully toss another pile of Max Raffler’s ‘worthless’ paintings on the fire – paintings that would have made them millionaires if only they had known. I think I’ll stick to burning money.
You may be strongly pressured to under-rate your efforts, but don’t be frivolous with the talent entrusted to you. Where appropriate, store your work. Record ideas. Don’t destroy them in a fit of depression or spring-cleaning madness. One day you, or someone else, might recognize their worth.
There’s something else I suggest you should record and horde.
I submitted to two publishers a book about principle of Bible interpretation. Both replied that they wanted me to consider serious discussions with them about publication only as a last resort. Another time, I received an editor’s scribbled note at the bottom of a standard rejection form from an international magazine.
All three letters were a disappointment. I stuffed the letters into a filing cabinet and tried to forget. Years later, those same letters became prized possessions, nerving me to keep writing. Although not the response I had hoped for, I discovered that each of them contained favorable comments about the value and quality of my work.
Often words of encouragement are spoken rather than written. It takes a little more effort to jot them down while they are still fresh in your memory, but doing so could break depression’s merciless grip at a later, critical moment.
Towards the end of his life, a famous author began to drift from the style that had set him apart. Publishers should have told him. He could have corrected it and maintained his high standard, but the publishers lived in fear of him. His books meant big money. One hint that his work was not the epitome of perfection, and he would storm out, taking his business elsewhere. So he remained oblivious to his decline until it was too late. His failings were exposed to the world.
Perhaps pride was his downfall, but feelings of inadequacy can be equally dangerous. I’m usually so weighed down by negative thoughts I can barely stay afloat. It takes little extra to send me to the bottom. If anyone suggests the slightest flaw in something I do, it’s as though every doubt and destructive thought is instantly confirmed. ‘It wasn’t your imagination after all!’ says the evil one. ‘You really are as smart as a pork chop in a Jewish sandwich.’ I take it as final proof that I have as much potential as a moth taking swimming lessons. Why suffer more pain for something doomed to fail?
Knowing the negative spiral it frequently produces, I would rather tongue-kiss a crocodile than hear constructive criticism. There must be people who know more than me. Heeding their advice would improve my ability to serve, speeding my entry into effective ministry. Yet fear of correction numbs my mind to common sense. But it cannot rewrite the Bible. Scripture is adamant that we should seek and heed godly and practical counsel. (Proverbs 9:8-9; 11:14; 12:1; 13:18; 15:22; 17:10; 24:6)
The enemy has declared war on me in this area. It’s deliciously easy to wave the white flag, dishonoring the victory Christ won. I must counter-attack, praying in the Spirit hour after hour until Satan withdraws.
The ministry that costs little is worth little.
Wrote one sage, ‘It is simply remarkable how the apostle Paul covered so much territory and accomplished so much without a car.’ My admiration runs deeper. In fact, of all ministries since Christ, I most admire Paul’s. But what a price! (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
He’s being flayed alive. With savage cruelty the whip rips his flesh. It could have all been avoided by compromising on the circumcision issue. (Galatians 5:11) Lash follows lash after lash. How much pain can one man endure? ‘Light the fire!’ someone shouts. He awakes with a shriek. Just another nightmare.
While preaching outdoors he suddenly swerves. Only a bird. Last week it was a rock. Deeply moved, a stranger approaches to pat his back. Paul doubles over, convinced he’s about to be thumped.
The light begins to fade. He nears a corner. A rush of fear swamps him like an angry ocean wave crashing over him, chilling him. Would another gang of thugs be lurking there? He sees them in his mind, lunging out of the shadows, hate in their eyes, clubs in their hands. His old wounds throb madly, screaming for attention. His prayers intensify. Sanity returns. He rounds the corner.
It’s painfully obvious that arrest, and probably worse, awaits him in Jerusalem. He trudges on.
He writes almost longingly about the possibility of marriage. (1 Corinthians 9:5) Amongst his converts and admirers were enough eligible women to fill Solomon’s harem. He denies himself.
Financial support from the churches was his apostolic right. He supports himself. (1 Corinthians 9:4-19) What a burden, forcing him to work enormously long hours.
‘Imitate me,’ writes Paul, ‘as I imitate Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 11:1, paraphrase) ‘If we suffer with him,’ he jubilantly cries, ‘we shall reign with him.’ (2 Timothy 2:12; note also Romans 8:17-18) Like Jesus, he endured for the joy that lay ahead. (Hebrews 12:2) His ordeals were dwarfed by the grandeur awaiting him. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
‘Sacrifice is the ecstasy of giving the best we have to the One we love the most.’ I applaud that quotation, but let love be genuine. As you ponder the euphoria of love, hear the tortured screams of martyrs, not the background strains of a church organ.
Tears produce the sweetest joy. (Acts 20:19, 24; Luke 6:21; Psalm 126:5)
Is soon forgotten;
The gain endures forever.
The painless service
Is soon forgotten;
The shame endures forever.
Roaring in eternal flame,
Soaring in eternal fame,
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