The Quest For Fulfillment
© Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1985-1996.
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Chapter 8: Basking In Infinite Love
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
God’s kingdom, said Jesus, is like a seed that starts small and
grows huge. (Matthew 13:31-32) It is hardly surprising, then,
that ministries belonging to that kingdom start small, buried,
unnoticed. In fact, just about everything our Creator does starts
small. Even the Savior of the world began his earthly visit as
an embryo hidden in a woman.
Having established the normality of unspectacular beginnings, we began investigating the reasons you may have not yet experienced the ministry success divinely planned for you. The first possibility we examined is that the Lord could be working to break that natural tendency to spread your trust between various human agencies and God himself. Those stray faith-tentacles still clinging to the finite must be wrenched off and set firmly in the infinite where the rest of your faith is fixed. You can’t blast off into the unknown while clinging to the known.
That might be what is holding you back, but there are other possibilities.
Anyone who feels slightly worthy of divine love has had no more than a superficial brush with the majestic and holy Lord of heaven and earth. If you are not overawed by the thought that a perfect God could love you, then you are either so jaded to the truth or so infatuated with your self-importance, so blinded to reality, that your need for spiritual revelation is desperate.
Heaven sometimes withholds ministry opportunities so we may learn it is not our labors or our diligence or our usefulness that makes us precious to God. If your child fell ill and could no longer do her chores, would your love for her diminish? Well, don’t imagine this speck of human love exceeds the love of the Almighty.
Would you attempt pushing a jumbo jet to help it fly across the Atlantic? That would be wiser than trying to do your bit to help Christ secure your salvation or breach the infinite gulf between who you are and what a person would have to be to merit God’s smile. Anyone foolish enough to keep trying will be left on the runway when departure time arrives. In love, the Lord will not take us far in ministry until this issue is sorted out. (Romans 3:19-24; 9:30-33; Galatians 3:1-14; Philippians 3:3-10)
We often get the salvation part fairly right, yet still imagine we must earn God’s smile by serving him. It’s hard to believe the King of glory would treasure our friendship. Though we keep pushing it down, bobbing close to the surface of our consciousness is the thought, ‘The Lord saved me because of the things I can do for him.’
The false notion that service could buy God’s approval might heighten motivation, but heaven will not exploit it. Nothing is more important to God than our spiritual well-being.
They had just brought in the washing when there was a knock on the door. ‘Oh no! The house is in a mess! And just look at me . . . !’ exclaimed Martha.
‘I’ll get it,’ called Mary. She opened the door and her heart skipped a beat. There was Jesus and all his disciples.
‘Come in!’ she gushed excitedly. ‘Martha! It’s Jesus!’
Martha was in a panic. How was she going to feed them all? If only she’d had more warning. She had wanted everything to be so nice for Jesus. ‘Where’s Mary? She’s taking her time!’
She ran next door to borrow some food. Still no Mary. She stoked the oven and got out the plates. Still no Mary. She peered out and there was Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet with not a care in the world! Martha exploded. Yet it was Mary that the Savior defended.
I don’t question Martha’s love, but her sister was more perceptive. Mary had discerned that Jesus’ yearning was not primarily to be served. He craved intimacy. Cakes could never taste so good that Jesus considered it worth being robbed of Martha’s presence.
Basking in the love of Jesus seems self-indulgent. We feel compelled to slip out of his embrace and whip ourselves into running errands for him. To sit with the King in the drawing room might be acceptable for royalty, but not for the class of people we see ourselves as. Slaving in the kitchen seems more appropriate.
God, however, is a giver not a taker. If the Lord of hosts wanted slaves he could compel the entire human race to serve him. He yearns for love, not labor. An hour spent luxuriating in the King’s presence means more to him than a life-time of fear-motivated service. If it’s a genuine expression of love, sweat is beautiful. But service as an expression of a slave-mentality grieves him. God longs to lift us from viewing ourselves as heaven’s second-class citizens. He has made us royalty and he wants us to know it.
Whether it is this particular revelation, or some other message he wants to share, sometimes the only way our Lord can get our attention is to block all ministry opportunities. Otherwise, we’d be in too much of a frenzy to hear him. We can only give to others what we have first received from above. Resting in God’s presence enables us to receive.
Locked doors are infuriating. I rant. I rave. I kick the door. But when at last I see more clearly, I realize enforced rests are a precious manifestation of God’s love. How I thank God for not letting me smash down the door. What tragedies he saves us from! Father calls ‘time out’ and I’m given the opportunity to commune with the Lord of creation and receive whatever it is I need.
We look to the day, however, when our Savior need no longer resort to compulsion before we ‘come aside . . . and rest awhile.’ (Mark 6:31) We are nearing graduation when we have learnt to sit daily at Jesus’ feet.
‘What’s your most important mission?’ a missionary was once asked.
‘Submission,’ came the telling reply.
The key to being mightily used of God tomorrow is to be submitted to him today. Sometimes this can even mean the shelving of ministry aspirations.
Having stretched his faith, God finally gave Abraham a son. Then came the test. When Abraham was rapt in the joys and duties of parenthood, was the Lord still his first love? Achievements, no matter how magnificent, can never compensate for a decline in spiritual intimacy. (Compare Matthew 22:37-38 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: Revelation 2:2-5) Was God still his God, or just a figure-head? Obedience is always better than ‘service’. (1 Samuel 15:22)
The Lord asked of Abraham what he has asked of countless people – to relinquish a precious, God-given gift. It always seems a reckless waste, but Father knows best.
We have discovered that the omnipotent Lord does not need our labor. He can use stones to sing his praises (Luke 19:40) and an ass as his spokesman. (Numbers 22:28-33) He longs for something stones and beasts cannot give – your love. And that means delighting in him more than in ministry.
Abraham’s ‘ministry’ of fatherhood began before the test. But the order can be reversed. For Peter, Jesus’ probing question, ‘Lovest thou me more than these?’ preceded his command to serve: ‘Feed my sheep.’ (John 21:15)
‘Lovest thou me more than these?’ God wants and deserves no rivals in our affections.
We can convince ourselves that we crave fruit for the glory of God and yet subconsciously want fruit so we suck it for moisture, rather than going direct to God, our Fountain, to slake our thirst. Our lives will be degraded whenever we turn to a substitute to fill a need that God wants to fill by his very presence. Perhaps we are nervous about such closeness to God, or lack assurance that he is big enough or tangible enough to forever satisfy our thirst for love and significance. Whatever our reason for turning from the ultimate to something inferior, our Lord does not want us missing out.
‘Lovest thou Me more than these?’ The One who wants us to have the best may decide to withhold ministry until this matter is correctly resolved.
We often focus on the fact that the moment he put his son on the altar, Abraham received him back again. Actually, Abraham’s agony was more prolonged than that. In his mind, Isaac was dead from the time he started his journey to the place of sacrifice, three days earlier. It must have seemed an eternity. Nevertheless, it was not long. Many of us presume from this that after surrendering our vocation it will be speedily returned. But though Abraham had to wait many years for his son’s conception, on this occasion he got off lightly. Our wait may be long.
We also often imagine that after the initial struggle, obedient sacrifice will flood us with joy and peace. Again, this is not always true.
A young insurance clerk loved the Lord and loved to sing. Every weekday, he would rise at 5:30 to sing on the local radio station. Evenings were devoted to practice. Then came his big break: a regular spot on national radio at twice his clerk’s wage. Next he learnt he must sometimes sing such words as ‘to hell with Burgundy’. Joy froze. Rather than compromise he refused the offer. With disappointment hanging like a millstone collar, he sank into cold despair. Month after month, depression kept him down.
Did God honor his sacrifice, or did he remain as blue as a red-blooded white man on a Greenland ice floe? The older generation need only hear his name. In fact, millions need only hear a single note from one of his recordings to know I’m referring to Billy Graham’s famous soloist, George Beverly Shea.
Half a millennium ago, the story goes, two budding artists were in a quandary. They yearned to develop their talents but neither could afford it. Then they hatched a plan. One would get a job to pay the other’s way. They would afterwards reverse their roles so that finally both would gain the tuition they craved. At his friend’s urging, Albrecht Durer, an admirer of reformers Luther and Melanchthon, was the first to develop his skill. Even today, he is revered by the art world. But not the other. Years of manual labor with which he had supported his friend had damaged his hands, making it impossible to pursue his artistic aspirations.
A tragedy? A warning against selfless service? No. You’ve seen those clumsy hands. They’re the famous ‘Praying Hands’, lovingly depicted by Albrecht and reproduced literally millions of times. Those gnarled hands are perhaps the most famous hands the world has seen. For five hundred years they have called generation after generation to prayer and consecration, like no other hands have ever done.
Assuming he was born-again, this would-be artist lost nothing. He had hoped to use his hands to inspire humanity visually. He succeeded – powerfully. He has the whole of eternity in which to be creative but he will share eternity with throngs whose earthly lives were touched by his hands.
Would you be willing to follow his path, allowing your ministry dream to be crushed to release a fragrance that more wondrously magnifies your Lord? If not, you have ripped my carefully spun argument that a precious ministry awaits you. Wrong attitudes smudge God’s blueprints.
It is most rare for God to let a ministry dream die, never to rise again, but it must be rarer still for anyone to continually succeed in ministry without a willingness to slay that dream for the greater glory of God. More than your labor and more than your sacrifice, the Lord wants your heart.
Though I don’t believe it would happen, consider this scenario: what if you could have an exciting vocation with God’s blessing, but it would thrill him even more if you chose not to accept it? Would you forfeit your right to ministry to give your Lord slightly more pleasure? Or has an admirable desire for service the potential to become a hideous idol? You are loved too much for God to passively let you ruin your life.
Throughout history, God has elected to see his precious name blackened rather than lose first place in the hearts of his loved ones.
Missionary organization YWAM felt moved by God to buy a ship. In 1973, through the generosity of a businessman, they paid the $72,000 deposit. The religious and local press blazed the story of daring Christians who believed God who would complete the deal. Money poured in. A skilled crew miraculously came together. The interior decorator of the luxury liner Queen Elizabeth II offered his services without charge. The hand of God was beginning to materialize before the very eyes of a skeptical world. Then YWAM’s leader, Loren Cunningham, had a vision. He saw YWAM cheering the ship. Away in the shadows was Jesus, no longer their focus.
The mission repented and sought God, but they lost the ship, the entire deposit, thousands of hours of labor, and a lot of credibility. Climb inside the seething vat of Loren’s body as he breaks the news to the businessman whose $72,000 donation was unrecoverable. Tune in to the spirit world. See the demons party. Hear angels weep. Like a devastating flood, news of the disaster splashed round the world. But the Lord regained his rightful place in the affections of his people.
The immensity of God’s love fuels an awesome jealousy.
Jesus chided the Pharisees for using service as an excuse for neglecting family responsibilities. (Matthew 15:3-5) Though sacrificial giving is a magnificent vocation, (E.g., Romans 12:6,8; 2 Corinthians 9:12-13; Philippians 4:17-18; Hebrews 13:16) it becomes a grotesque perversion when it leaves one’s family in need. (1 Timothy 5:8) To deny oneself is commendable, but to thrust impoverishment upon unwilling family members is to leave God’s blessing behind. A love of good works must not eclipse a love for people. Labor without love, is a torch without light; a fire without warmth.
The principle is further demonstrated by Scripture’s directive to marriage partners. A zeal for prayer and self-denial, it implies, must not be allowed to overshadow marital obligations. (1 Corinthians 7:5) Even prayer can become a monster.
People’s heads are not paving stones on the road to my destiny. Nor are people objects upon which to expel my pent-up desire to minister. Unless sweetened by love, all service turns sour. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
There are times when the most tangible proof of God’s love is his punishment. Like the wise parent he is, God lovingly disciplines all his children. (Job 5:17-18; Psalm 94:12; 119:67; Proverbs 3:11-12; 1 Corinthians 11:31-32; Hebrews 12:5-11; Revelation 3:19)
Look up at the stars. Are they shaken from their place if you sin? Is the Lord of heaven and earth frantically dependent upon you doing what is right? (Job 22:2-3; 35:5-8) Why should he care what you do? Remove God’s love and you would remove a major reason for his anger at sin. (E.g., Exodus 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Psalm 10:14-18; 54:4-5; 72:4; 94:1-6; 2 Thessalonians 1:6; Revelation 6:10; 16:5-7; 18:20)
Obviously, many delays have nothing to do with sin. God’s punishment is rarer than some of us think. But simple disobedience delayed Jonah’s ministry, (Jonah 1:1-3:1) and the sin of unbelief postponed for forty years the Israelites administering God’s judgment to the depraved Canaanites. (Numbers 14)
If we have sinned, we should neither whitewash it, nor flog ourselves with condemnation. If after seeking God, he confirms he is disciplining us, we need to confess to him our sin, (Proverbs 28:13) admit he is right in disciplining us (Psalm 51:4) and quit our sin. (Revelation 3:19)
This might not induce an instant return to ministry. It did in Jonah’s case. He wasn’t weeping and whaling for long. His repentance turned disaster into a mere hiccup. And what a hiccup! One moment he was down in the mouth blubbering, next he was gone with the wind. Belched onto the beach, he picked himself up and rejoined heaven’s work force.
Not so the wandering Jews. Though they repented at the beginning of their forty-year sentence, it did not short-circuit God’s discipline. Some lessons must be thoroughly learned. (Deuteronomy 8:2-6)
Peter wept bitterly. (Mark 14:72) Samson and King David suffered greatly for their sin. (Judges 16:21; 2 Samuel 12:9-15, 19) Yet all finished their earthly service on a high note. For those who stay with him, God’s wrath will pass; his grace is forever. We dare not abuse that grace, as King Saul and Solomon did. They continued in disobedience and lost. Submit to God however, and you will finally graduate with honors – and with a ministry.
We earlier used Abraham as a model. Like God himself, he proved his love by resolving to sacrifice his ‘only’ (Genesis 22:2, compare with John 3:16) son. Here we see obedience in its noblest form, and service in its rightful place. But to submit like Abraham, we must believe like Abraham. Scripture is emphatic that Abraham believed the Lord would raise his cremated son back to life. (Hebrews 11:17-19a) God had promised that the boy on the altar would become a father. Abraham’s obedience hinged on a belief in God’s willingness to work an enormous miracle for him.
We, too, must believe in God’s eagerness to perform miracles not for Noah or George Müller, but for us. We all affirm the omnipotence of God, but it’s our workaday faith, not our doctrinal confession, that clears the path to service. Our estimation of God’s desire to use his omnipotence on our behalf can even affect the crucial issue of obedience. It could make or break our ministry.
An elderly recluse never had a fixed abode. He never got around to fixing it. His self-esteem was abysmal. Rubbish piled up around him, but he didn’t seem to care. One night, he awoke to find a rat gnawing his ear. Horrified, he chased it away. Next night, the same thing happened. Gradually, he began to befriend the rat, eventually carrying it everywhere he went. All the time the creature was feeding directly off the man, slowly eating him to death.
Ridiculous? Not if I tell you that hideous ‘rodent’ is doubt, gradually consuming the man’s spirit and soul. The story then becomes all too familiar.
For some mad reason, we tolerate thoughts like, ‘I’ll never amount to much,’ ‘I’m a muddler,’ ‘God did it for her, but it would never happen to me,’ ‘I’ve left my run too late,’ ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I can’t . . . ’ We passively allow such destructive thoughts to wreak havoc within us.
I was recently shamed by the way someone’s faith clearly outstripped mine. The contrast was appalling. God had shone a light in a dark corner of my heart. There was that ugly rat, growing fat at my expense. No wonder I have a wait problem! For too long, I’ve tolerated that filthy thing. I’ve given it all sorts of pet names: ‘a healthy fear of pride’, ‘being realistic’, ‘my personality’, ‘not getting my hopes up’. But now I see. Depressing thoughts defile God’s work, keeping me from the greatness I was created for. My passivity towards defeatist thinking should be replaced by anger. How dare I let that rat chew holes in God’s glory!
Some people have ‘greater’ faith than me, only because I’ve had greater disappointments. But I’m sick of being immobilized by excuses. I don’t care how impossible things look, how many failures I have experienced, how lacking in ability I seem to be, how much the Lord appears to overlook me: God is still the God of the impossible. His Word affirms he is my God and he loves me, regardless of how abandoned, unloved and insignificant I feel. That makes success inevitable. All I need do is stop wallowing in doubt long enough to receive my rightful inheritance.
God’s saints accomplish great things while staggering around in dazed bewilderment. ‘By faith,’ says Scripture, ‘Abraham, . . . went out, not knowing whither he went.’ (Hebrews 11:8, emphasis mine) ‘I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem,’ said Paul, ‘not knowing the things that shall befall me there.’ (Acts 20:22, emphasis mine) The disciples were frequently stunned or mystified by Christ’s words and behavior. The psalmists were forever asking, ‘Why?’ (E.g.. Psalm 10:1; 22:1; 42:9; 43:2; 44:23; 74:1; 88:14) And in the midst of his suffering, Job didn’t have a clue what was going on.
The curtains are often drawn in God’s waiting room. It’s exciting to gaze ahead, but faith grows best in the dark. Life in the sunshine is so exhilarating that we seldom notice our faith beginning to droop. It’s when things are dim, that spiritual life mushrooms.
Dark mysteries bring great blessings. At the close of the year that saw the death of his newborn son and then the death of his wife and then assaults on his own health, Hudson Taylor wrote, ‘This was the most sorrowful and most blessed year of my life.’ When it’s sunny we want to run off and play. It’s when it’s darkest that we hold Father’s hand the tightest.
In the gloom, qualities like faith, grit, and dedication, are stretched to limits we have never before reached. Yet life seems so oppressive we are oblivious to our triumphs.
In pristine conditions eyes of faith can see forever. When storms close in, it is a mammoth task for those same eyes to even slightly pierce the swirling murk. It is the conditions, not you, that have deteriorated. Contrary to every feeling, you are not regressing.
Though offered with the best intentions, much sentimental waffle is sometimes uttered about returning to one’s ‘first love’, as if the starry-eyed euphoria of new Christians is greater than the mature depths of your average older Christian. Poppycock! Most spiritual honeymooners are radiant primarily because they think they have entered a blissful world of near-perfect Christians, instant answers to selfish prayers and a life forever free from pain, heartache and trials. Theirs is most likely mere puppy love, relative to the ardor moving you to tough it out.
Never confuse devotion with emotion. By way of illustration, consider the dangers inherent in the most intimate human relationship. Though in a romance, love and physical desire can be intertwined, heartache and tragedy looms for anyone who fails to recognize them as separate entities. What if a person’s marriage plans are swayed by an inability to distinguish between love and sexual appetite? What if in marriage a loss of sexual function is viewed as a decline in love? Such a misconception could threaten the whole relationship. Similarly, in the spiritual realm a failure to distinguish between feelings and love for God has serious implications.
Though I’m all for emotional exuberance, the Bible measures love, not in tingles per second, but in putting one’s life on the line. (1 John 3:16-18) It’s pain endured in the valley, not gooey feelings in the afterglow of mountaintop ecstasy, that validates love. By all means, passionately seek the face of God, but don’t assume that emotional deadness – a normal phase of anyone’s spiritual life – implies spiritual deadness. We march by faith, not by warm fuzzies.
An athlete, in the midst of a record-breaking run, has never in his life been so fit and strong. Yet his pain-racked body may have never felt so weak. Likewise, in the midst of a spiritual trial, it is not uncommon to be stronger and yet feel weaker than ever before. And to fellow Christians you might seem hopeless. An ultra-marathon champion staggering up the final hill looks pathetic. A child could do better. Anyone not understanding what this man has gone through would shrink from him in disgust. Only someone with all the facts would be awed by his stamina as he stumbles on.
You’ve hit so many brick walls, it’s no wonder your nose is out of joint. Life seems hopeless. Every day it feels you’ve slumped another notch. A ministry seems beyond belief. To maintain even a glimmer of faith in such darkness is a spectacular victory. It may take everything you’ve got just to hold on. But do it. You are pumping spiritual iron.
If your blossom is dying, it’s so that the fruit can grow. Remember the cripple at the temple gate: he hoped for alms and got legs. (Acts 3:1-3) Creator God loves surprises. And he loves you.
Earth sees us flattened on the wrestling ring canvas in faith’s fight. Heaven sees us forming on the canvas of the Great Artist.
Phillips Brooks was pacing the floor. ‘What’s the trouble?’ asked a friend. ‘The trouble is that I’m in a hurry and God isn’t!’
Our Leader often had to wait. Timing was of critical importance in every aspect of Jesus’ ministry. (Matthew 26:2-5, 45; Mark 1:15; Luke 9:51; 13:32-33; 22:53; John 2:4; 7:6,8,30; 8:20; 9:4; 12:23,27,35; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10)z His followers can expect the same. In fact, ever since Adam waited for Eve’s formation – the fulfillment of a divinely-created longing for a mate – waiting has been an integral part of God’s plan for humanity. It’s thrilling to realize, however, that though life seems at a standstill, things are slowly moving, like the hour hand of a clock. Moreover, we are discovering that many of the retarding factors are within our powers of influence.
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