The Quest For Fulfillment
© Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1985-1996.
For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net
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Chapter 4: Not The Failure You Thought
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
Many of our hurts and frustrations can be traced to three misconceptions:
1. Unless we have a ministry, we are of little value
2. A fulfilling ministry may forever elude us
3. Only a few types of service are of real worth.
Having exploded the first two myths, it’s time for number three. It has been left until last because it could lull us into mediocrity unless we realize that a craving for a particular ministry is probably of divine origin. We must grasp the new truth without loosening our grip on the others. I don’t want you settling for less than the best. The problem is, worldly views are so bewitching that we may not even recognize the best. After facing this critical issue we will be ready to plunge into another major section of the book: grappling with reasons why ministries get delayed.
Come with me to Rephidim. Join a rabble of run-away slaves trudging through the scorched terrain. The Israelites have just escaped Pharaoh’s sword. Sinai still lies ahead. They are barely organized and not yet hardened to desert conditions. Some are nearing exhaustion. Dazed by arid bleakness, they plod in eerie silence.
Suddenly, from the rear a blood-curdling shriek splits the desert stillness. Still reeling, your ears are hit by an escalating babble of anguished cries, bleating sheep, shouted orders and pounding hooves. Swords glisten through the swirling dust. Arrows darken the skies. Blood stains the ground.
The fierce Amalekites have attacked.
With agonizing slowness, Israel’s fighting men try to regroup. The fate of the nation rests with them. Or so it seems.
An elderly man clambers up a near-by hill, a staff in his hands. Reaching the summit, he holds his staff aloft. You know the story. The key to Israel’s survival was that little old man on the hill, right? Wrong.
The octogenarian quickly tired. The staff began to lower. Immediately, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Israel was staring defeat in the face. Someone hastily found a rock for Moses to sit on and ushered him to it. Instantly, the battle turned. An usher had saved the day.
If that’s the first time God used an usher, he was merely setting a precedent. It’s been repeated times without number. (James 2:2-13 hints at the importance of this under-rated ministry.)
Before long, however, Moses’ arms began to tire. The battle had barely started. Israel was doomed. Then someone had a brainwave – hardly einsteinian, but on it hung the new nation’s very existence. Why not support the old man’s arms? This they did. It was they, as much as big-shot Moses and muscle-bound Joshua who saved Israel. An entire nation was indebted to two men helping an old man hold a stick. (Exodus 17:8-13; Deuteronomy 25:17-18)
‘Anyone could do that!’ you object. ‘Who’d applaud such a lightweight act?’ How distorted our thinking is. We, not heaven, are the ones who exalt trivia. Do seraphim turn cartwheels when the latest sports sensation kicks or hits a piece of leather? Do angels drool when a shapely distribution of body fat saunters by, or sigh in envy at a billionaire’s greed?
Neither is God awed by the nature of the gift he has given us – it’s his anyway. Whether our ability is rare or common is of no consequence to God’s evaluation of our worth.
With the Almighty pulsing within you, a stunning victory, an earth-shaking sermon, the sweetest music, are no more beyond your grasp than polishing the church floor. All that matters is what particular privilege the Lord gives you. (And all service is a privilege.)
Now for some free verse – no one would pay for it.
I can’t evangelize or speak;
Yes, Mr. President – er – Prime Minister.
What was I saying before that call?
You’re sure you’re achieving nothing, but I wonder if heaven finds your lamentations a bigger joke than my poetry. There are no angelic chuckles over your pain – heaven weeps – but how laughable is your logic? (Jesus said nothing about having the brains of a mustard seed.) How oblivious are you to your triumphs? There are a thousand important ways of serving besides the few that at present get all the attention.
Take hospitality. Though Scripture exalts this prized ministry, we downgrade it. (E.g., 2 Kings 4:8-17; Job 31:32; Isaiah 58:6-7; Acts 16:15; Romans 12:13; 16:23; 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Peter 4:9-10; 3 John 5-8; and many others) It has been both received, (Genesis 18:1-8; 19:1-3; Luke 7:44-46; 24:29-31; Hebrews 13:2) and engaged in, by such glorious beings as angels (1 Kings 19:5-8) and even Christ himself. (John 13:4-5; 21:9-13) A cup of water offered in love? We might despise it. Heaven doesn’t. (Matthew 10:40-42)
Of all the people Elijah could have gone to during the famine, he sought the ministry of a hopelessly impoverished widow – and a Gentile one at that. Her ministry of hospitality was so precious to the Lord that he turned it into a spectacular miracle. (1 Kings 17:10-24; Luke 4:25-26)
Of course, we’re too spiritual to regard dressmaking as a beautiful ministry. We’re more spiritual than God! Read the touching story of the raising to life of Dorcas. (Acts 9:36,39) We are left with the impression that her needlework warmed the heart of God. Sewing can be a chore, a chance to boast, or an opportunity to bless. You know this lady’s choice. The world may miss it, but whenever God sees a twentieth century Dorcas, beauty is in the eye of a needle.
Amid the throng that flocked to Jesus was a select band. Early in Luke’s Gospel we read of them. There was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and many others, who materially supported Jesus and his disciples. (Luke 8:1-3) Luke had already drawn attention to Jesus’ mother, whose incessant labors for her son must have been as immense as those of most mothers. Their ranks swelled to include Martha and her sister, and probably many more. One of them wove Jesus’ seamless robe. Another perfumed his feet. Some cooked his meals. Others gave from their purse. Precious ministries. When things got so tough that even Christ’s most loyal followers fell away, the world beheld these women’s glory and the majesty of their seemingly mundane ministry. They were with their Master to the last, comforting and supporting him. They prepared his body and visited his grave; serving when everyone else had given up. No wonder it was to them that the risen Lord first appeared.
Even today there are treasured saints who cook Christ’s meals, wash his clothes and nurse him through sickness. They take the homeless into their homes. They clothe derelicts. They hug AIDS patients. ‘Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
We are forever overlooking the joys of apparently menial tasks. When Jesus turned water into wine, the master of ceremonies was oblivious to the miracle. He didn’t even know it had once been water. ‘But the servants who had drawn the water knew.’ (John 2:9)
Heaven is as moved by Miss Nameless cleaning vomit from a drunk, as by Rev. Bigstar preaching the greatest sermon ever heard.
‘How do you do manage to do the work of two men?’ David Livingstone asked C. H. Spurgeon.
‘You have forgotten there are two of us,’ replied the preacher, thinking of his wife, ‘and the one you see the least of often does the most work.’
This rule extends far beyond the Spurgeons.
I expect the upper echelons of heaven to be dominated by women. Though things are slowly changing, historically it has been women who are the great servers, the kingdom’s unseen, unthanked power. The last shall be first. (Matthew 20:16; Mark 9:35; 10:43-44)
When the church appointed its first deacons, they were looking for people to distribute welfare. Nothing about the task was essentially spiritual. In theory, trustworthy pagans could have done it. Yet the early church carefully selected Christians of outstanding caliber. Each was of high character, ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’. (Acts 6:3) One of them, Stephen, was further eulogized as being filled with faith, grace and power. He had a ‘signs and wonders ministry’, and under the Spirit’s anointing was such a persuasive speaker that the church’s enemies regarded him, rather than any of the apostles, as their greatest threat. (Acts 6:5,8,10 ff) Not only was he martyred (an honor I have graciously offered to defer), he attained this glory before any of the others. Another welfare distributor, Philip, was a powerful evangelist with a miracle ministry. He pioneered work in Samaria, turning the whole city right side up. (Acts 8:5-13) Such were the men chosen to oversee the material needs of widows. So the divinely authorized history of the early church inspires us to esteem seemingly nonspiritual administrative work as exalted service. How easy it is to underestimate a ministry.
I fear lest I fail to extol the most trivial act. Since doing the little we can to cheer hurting Christians is equivalent to cheering Christ himself, (Matthew 10:40-42; 25:35-40) to down-play such acts is to slight the King of kings. Moreover, a large part of Jesus’ earthly ministry was that of a servant. (Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:27; John 13:4-5) So in this sense, too, to regard a servant’s ministry as inferior, is to insult our Lord. Of course, the risen Christ left his servant duties behind with his grave clothes. Or did he? As John’s gospel closes we catch our final glimpse of the triumphant Lord of glory, and what is he doing? Cooking the disciples’ breakfast. (John 21:9-13)
In fact, Jesus taught that the supposedly lowly ministry of a servant is the route, not to obscurity, but to undying greatness. (Matthew 20:27; Luke 22:26; John 13:12-17)
Levites were the tabernacle’s cleaners, laborers, caretakers and door-keepers. Their tasks were the type people queue up to avoid. Yet not even prophets were recipients of holy tithes, like the Levites. (Numbers 18:21-23) Priests, whose duties were even more sacred, surrendered their lives to the odious drudgery of butchering livestock – beast after beast after beast. Even kings, on pain of death, were barred from priestly duties. It is almost as if the tasks we are inclined to disregard are the ones God chooses to exalt. (Luke 16:15)
Put bluntly, the main reason we undervalue many important ministries is worldliness. The world looks for human recognition. (Compare Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18; 23:2-12, 27-18; Luke 6:22-26) We do lip service, for example, to the power of prayer, yet view an evangelist basking in the limelight more favorably than the prayer-wrestler hidden in the back room. We exalt the virile missionary and sneer at the withered old lady whose paltry dollars God multiplied to carry that missionary to the field. If we’re blinded by carnality, heaven isn’t. To measure success in terms of human acclaim is to serve man, not God.
The most powerful ministry is probably intercession. And the world’s greatest intercessor could be the ‘no-body’ sitting next to you in church last Sunday. Only the spirit-realm comprehends what Christ’s sacred service agents accomplish behind closed doors and behind enemy lines.
At church, it’s usually the car-park attendants who most inspire me. Most of us would make faithful preachers. We’d be prayerful, punctual and well-prepared if called to flaunt our talent in a flashy ministry. But how many of us would have the humility and strength of character to be faithful church parking attendants? Their task makes flossing your teeth high adventure. I’d feel like a second-hand Kleenex. (Registered trademark) With a face so long it gets caught in my belt, I’d be the constant brunt of Satan’s malicious whisperings that this service is just too degrading and embarrassing; that I must be the scum of the church. Could I successfully resist such slander? How I admire those saints, those Christ-like overcomers, every Sunday.
We are all subject to the Deceiver’s relentless barrage. If he fails to intoxicate us with pride, he’ll do all he can to induce a downer – maligning our ministry, telling us we are contributing nothing to the kingdom. Either way, surrendering to his persuasive lies will impair God’s work.
Imagine the consequences if in the midst of the battle Moses’ helpers had said, ‘I can’t fight like Joshua. I can’t lead like Moses. I can’t sing like Miriam, or engrave like Bezaleel. I’m just a run-away slave. Whoever heard of a stick-holding ministry! Life’s passed me by. Forget that stupid stick, I’m going back to my tent!’
Don’t conclude that God doesn’t have more spectacular things in store for you. What you are doing right now, however, is probably far more valuable and potentially more satisfying than you realize. You may be the only Christian presence in your work place, the only mother that precious child will ever have, the only one praying for that forgotten man, or the only one willing to encourage that person of unknown potential.
Lost in prayer, David Brainerd did not see the reared rattlesnake poised to strike his face. Watching wide-eyed with glee, were hate-crazed savages who had snuck up to the tent for the express purpose of murdering him. Unexpectedly, the snake suddenly veered and slid away. The Red Indians also silently retreated, awed by the snake’s reaction and intent upon spreading the word about this pale-face who so clearly had the Great Spirit’s protection. Oblivious to the entire episode, David broke camp and continued his journey. Yes, that was unusually dramatic, but are you any less ignorant of what takes place in the unseen spirit-world and within the sealed vault of people’s minds as you go about your normal affairs with the touch of God upon your life?
What was the greatest event in human history? Jesus’ death. Yet in a sense, it was nothing. People wanted him killed; he let them. It was no epic of human endurance. He even failed to drag his cross the required distance. There was no display of artistic skill. Other religions find it offensive. Intellectuals ridicule it. (1 Corinthians 1:23) Yet, in God, it is of incalculable worth.
Since we are sufficiently enlightened to view Jesus’ ministry as God sees it, let’s endeavor to be equally enlightened about our own service.
The church has a million unsung heroes. Their exploits, unknown on earth, are the talk of heaven. These resolute, Christ-like conquerors cannot be bought. They refuse to trade eternal acclaim for temporal applause. Heaven’s megastars may be so inconspicuous, you’d think they’re in training for the Pew Warmer of the Year Award. No one would guess the shock-waves they send through Satan’s camp when these spiritual gladiators plunder his kingdom. Everyone scrambles to be in the limelight, except these saints: they are light – the light of the world.