Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
Even in Christian circles we hear so much about positive self-image that we seem to believe in the power of self rather than humility. ‘Negative’ confession seems to have done little harm to the following people.
* ‘There comes one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose’ – John the Baptist. (Mark 1:7)
* ‘I am not worthy that you should come under my roof’ – the centurion commended for his faith. (Matthew 8:8)
* ‘I can of myself do nothing’ – the Lord Jesus. (John 5:30)
* ‘ . . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.’ (1 Timothy 1:15)
* ‘I am the least of the apostles, and am not fit to be called an apostle.’ (1 Corinthians 15:9)
* ‘[I] am less than the least of all saints [i.e. believers] . . . ’ (Ephesians 3:8) – the apostle Paul.
* ‘I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself . . . For neither I, nor any such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul’ – Polycarp, revered Bishop of Smyrna, martyred c 166 AD.
* ‘I, Patrick, a sinner, the rudest and least of all the faithful, and most contemptible to very many . . . ’ wrote the fifth-century Christian who risked death to return to the godless country from which he had fled slavery. Before he died he is said to have baptized over one hundred thousand Irish, established more than three hundred churches and changed the course of history.
* ‘[I am called] to be a new kind of simpleton’ – Francis of Assisi.
* ‘I am a mere nothing’ – Madame Guyon.
* ‘Oh, that I may . . . desire to be nothing and to think it my highest privilege to be an assistant to all, but the head of none’ – George Whitefield.
* ‘ . . . though I am of little use, I feel a pleasure in doing the little I can do,’ wrote one of Christendom’s most obvious achievers, William Carey. ‘When I am gone,’ he said twelve years later, ‘say nothing about Carey. Speak instead of Carey’s Savior.’
* ‘[I’m] the most overestimated man in America’ – D. L. Moody.
* ‘I have often found that the place where I have seen most of my own insignificance, baseness, unbelief and depravity has been the place where I have got a blessing . . . ’ – Charles Spurgeon.
* Having been introduced as ‘our illustrious guest’, Hudson Taylor replied, ‘Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious master.’
* ‘It isn’t Mary Slessor doing anything, but Something outside of her altogether uses her as her small ability allows.’
* ‘I am . . . nothing more and none other than the unworthy, unprofitable – but most willing – servant of the King of kings.’
‘I know what it is to pray for long years and never get an answer . . . ’
‘I don’t live up to half the ideal of missionary life. . . . We are very human and not goody-goody at all.’ – Mary Slessor, outstanding missionary to Africa.
* Amy Carmichael’s personality and powers of leadership were such that, according to one biographer, she could easily have become a cult figure, had she so chosen. Instead, when her name appeared on the Royal Birthday Honors List she begged to have her name withdrawn, insisting she had done nothing worthy of the honor. It is said that whenever there was a task no one else wanted to do, people would say, ‘Ask Amy.’
* Until her dying day, even after becoming a world-wide celebrity and receiving more acclaim than any single female missionary in modern history, Gladys Aylward believed she could not possibly have been God’s first choice for the ministry he gave her. God’s preference, she confided to a friend, must surely have been someone better educated and of the other sex.
Such self-depreciation is so characteristic of truly great Christians that finding the above quotations was nearly as easy as finding noses in a group portrait. That so many people could accomplish so much while having such a mind-set is an enigma to the gurus of positive thinking. It boils down to this: succeeding in situations where others would succumb, necessitates defiant faith in either yourself or in God – and which of the two you spend your faith on determines whether your achievement will be temporal or eternal. You might build an empire by believing in yourself, but you can build in God’s kingdom only by abandoning faith in self.
In terms of mass impact, I suspect positive mania has been gaining momentum and creeping the globe only in the last few generations and the modern move seems to have gravitated particularly to America. A world-wide survey of mathematical ability in thirteen-year-olds was most revealing. Of the six countries studied, America came dead last, yet 68% of the Americans rated themselves ‘good at mathematics’, while a mere 23% from the top-scoring country (Korea) rated themselves so highly. The American youngsters had a wonderfully positive attitude as they limped home last.
In God, native ability and confidence in self amount to nothing. A frail old lady with child-like faith in Christ can make a muscle-bound, positive-confession-crazed he-man look like a cringing weakling. She could turn an intellectual giant into a fool.
A radio’s usefulness rests entirely on which frequency it is tuned to. Anyone trying to tune into a point somewhere between faith in God and faith in one’s self, will produce little more than static, no matter what the volume of its output. When the tuning slips slightly off God, positive thinking becomes humanism. Faith in one’s self is so intoxicating and the two types of faith are so easily confused or amalgamated, that we are unlikely to see the error of our ways while our misdirected faith seems to be producing results. That’s why total failure is often a necessary preliminary to outstanding success.
The secret of an earth-shaking ministry is to by-pass our limitations and tap directly into the power of the One who holds the stars. We’re in union with the Creator of sapphires and seraphim, molecules and galaxies. In him is all power, all wisdom, all love. Why, then, do we act like those who have no God? Empowered by him, our accomplishments should excel anything godless humanity could contemplate. Yet the more content we are to draw solely upon human resources, the more ‘God’s work’ is riddled with human frailty.
Love and good intentions are never enough. It was love for Jesus that caused Peter to blurt out words that had such the opposite effect to Peter’s wishes that Jesus retorted, ‘Get behind me Satan.’ (Mark 9:31-33) Job’s counselors seemed to have been motivated by deep concern for Job and genuine love for God when they unwittingly became Job’s tormenters and sinned against the God they thought they were defending. (Job 2:11-13; 4:17; 5:8-16; 8:3,20-22; 42:7-8)
We could be like little children redecorating the house for Daddy without waiting for instructions or help. Daddy might not even want the television painted. Sadly, our loving, enthusiastic efforts could prove worse than nothing. Oh, we may think we have done a marvelous job – until we meet Father face to face.
A disastrous failure could therefore be a great blessing. There is nothing like it for excising the tendency to draw upon human, rather than divine resources. If allowed to spread, that cancer would destroy an otherwise healthy ministry.
Any hurt that causes me to cling more firmly to Christ is a hurt for which I will be forever thankful. Any ‘defeat’ that has this result is a victory. What seems an obstacle to service ends up an essential stepping stone. Brought to God, a string of failures becomes a rainbow, at the end of which lies golden success. (Psalm 37:23-24; Proverbs 24:16; Micah 7:8; Romans 8:28)
If the following lines mirror your feelings, you’re headed for glory.
As rivers need to flow;
As flowers need the sunlight;
And seedlings need to grow;
As marksmen need a target,
And arrows need a bow.
I’ve feigned my independence,
But failed to improvise.
I need the One I’m made for,
As eagles need the skies.
You’re my breath and my light,
My food and my wine.
I’m the brush, you’re the artist,
I’m the string and you’re the harpist.
Tune me for your glory.
I need the Lord, my Maker,
I need the Lord, my Maker,
The horror of unemployment is that it can corrode competent, dynamic people into sloppy, dithering wrecks. Unless we willfully resist the Lord, however, such decay is either an illusion or reversible.
I’ve been turned down so often, I look like a concertina. For years my motivation and confidence have seemed to be plummeting. Closer examination, however, reveals the opposite.
Deny yourself food and at a certain point beyond your normal mealtime, your appetite may briefly wane. Eventually, however, desiring food for its sensory enjoyment is replaced by a craving for its life-giving attributes. Motives are purged and, finally, intensified.
We often fail to appreciate things until deprived of them. Aspects of service that would once have seemed mundane, perhaps even arduous, have rocketed in my estimation to a wondrous privilege. My potential joy in service is actually growing. What was dwindling was selfish motivation. I’m no longer expecting ego boosts.
Even my battered self-confidence has taken an unexpected turn. Until commencing this book, I was certain I could never compose the simplest poem. Then I was asked to help write a musical. I nearly refused, convinced I could not possibly contribute. Nonetheless, I wrote the lyrics. So sure am I that God had surpassed my native abilities that I now find it absurd to maintain I could not be used of God to do equally impossible things.
After years on heaven’s dole, confidence in my ability had dived. It can drown, for all I care. What has risen from the depths is not self-confidence, but a heightened awareness of the lengths the Lord of glory will go to share his infinite abilities with me. And this is no longer a theoretical concept. I can now point to those lyrics as concrete proof. Had my self-esteem not been so mangled by slammed doors, I might have interpreted such achievements as the product of my own ability. If so, instead of the lyrics being a spring-board to new heights in God, I would have remained floundering at the level of my own mediocrity, grounded by thinking my abilities set the ceiling on any vocation I could have.
For the person who understands God’s ways, brokenness holds no terror. Being reduced to insignificance in our own eyes is a sure way of wooing divine attention. ‘You may easily be too big for God to use,’ remarked Dwight Moody, ‘but you can never be too small.’ Peter Sumner has distilled an amazing truth from the way Christ fed the multitudes: whatever God breaks, he blesses; whatever he blesses, he uses; whatever he uses, he multiplies. (Matthew 14:17-20; 15:34-37) For Sumner, this is truth pounded out on the steel anvil of life. He was permanently blinded in a freak accident while giving up his vacation to help renovate a building for Christian use. From this broken life grew the Christian Foundation for the Blind.
Don’t be too hasty is despising what you imagine to be your flaws and weaknesses.
The Mocker glares at you. ‘Cracked pot!’ he snarls. You shrink inside, unable to hear the adoration of people in the age to come. ‘Exquisite vessel, perfectly formed to touch our lives!’ they cry to you. ‘Through that crack God’s oil flowed out to us.’
We seem the object of ridicule, yet we’re the focus of infinite love. We’re fruit growing sweeter, wine gaining value; not milk going sour. We’re not cardboard caving, colors fading, under the weight of time; we’re concrete drying stronger, trees growing higher, dawn glowing brighter.
If your life is on ‘hold’, the hands holding you bear love-prints and they’re nestling you close to the Father’s heart.
Glorious things are ahead.
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