CHAPTER 9   . . . Continued


Waiting For Your Ministry

The Quest For Fulfillment

Cuddly strait-jacket

The benefits gained by entering a new realm in God, extends beyond raw power. A disturbing number of powerful ministries have collapsed, sometimes tragically, due to burn-out.

In an hilarious story Jamie Buckingham describes his attempt to install a second-hand sprinkling system. The result sort of worked but he decided it needed more pressure. He connected a new pump and threw the switch. Geysers suddenly shot skyward. Water-cannons blasted grass and dirt to the roof of the house. Previously unnoticed pin-pricks transmuted into impish water pistols. Underground connections burst. Sprinkler heads blew off. Disaster rained (I think that’s the right spelling).

What will increased pressure do to you?

Heaven knows when you are equipped. What feels like an infuriating strait-jacket could be a protective cocoon within which you are undergoing crucial, though almost imperceptible, changes. You’ll emerge not just with a ministry, but with wings to lift you above every danger. Waiting for the right time will reduce the dangers of future burn-out or serious blunders.

Though the tragedies of premature entry into ministry take many forms, I’ve seen enough to conclude I’d rather be on ice now than in hot water later.

Team power

The oil that rolled down Aaron’s beard and is likened to the unity of God’s people was fragrant. Was this all that the psalmist had in mind or was it significant that he was recalling the event that ushered the high priest into holy service? Could it be more than coincidence that by employing this analogy the psalmist linked the harmonious working together of God’s people with the launching of a highly significant ministry? (Exodus 30:22-25,30 Psalm 133:1-2)

Thomas Edison’s unbelievable succession of inventions – 1093 patents – becomes believable when we learn that he worked with a team of 3,600 experimenters and helpers. ‘Two are better than one’ and ‘a threefold cord is not easily snapped,’ declares Scripture. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) It expands this principle to larger numbers, implying a hundred of us, unified and involved in the same task will accomplish far more than if the hundred were split into a score of unrelated groups. (Leviticus 26:8) ‘In a multitude of counselors there is safety.’ (Proverbs 11:14)

Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. If you can’t find that in your concordance, try the book of Jeremiah. If anyone was a loner, it was Jeremiah. He was one of the few Bible saints who never married. (Jeremiah 16:1-2) Nonetheless, he had Baruch as companion and assistant. (Jeremiah 32:12-16; 36:4-32; 43:1-6; 45:1-2) Elijah had Elisha. (1 Kings 19:19-21) Elisha had Gehazi. (2 Kings 5:20) Jesus had not just his twelve disciples, but an important band of female supporters (Luke 8:1-3) and other loyal companions like Matthias. (Acts 1:21-23)

Moses had Jethro, Miriam, Aaron, Joshua and many others, yet he faltered because his ministry team was still too small. (Numbers 11:14-17; Exodus 18:17-24)

If anyone could succeed alone in Christian work, it would surely have been the apostle Paul. Nonetheless, just about everything he ever did was in partnership with fellow believers. Look at his letters: though we call them Paul’s epistles, most were not from Paul, but from ‘Paul and Timothy’, (2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1) or ‘Paul, Silvanus and Timothy’, (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1) or ‘Paul and Sosthenes’. (1 Corinthians 1:1) He was out of fellowship when he first returned to Jerusalem from Damascus. This exceptional situation had to be quickly corrected. Barnabas came to the rescue. (Acts 9:26-28)

Although Paul received his call years earlier, it was only after his call was confirmed in a church context that he set off. (Acts 13:1-3; Acts 9:15-16; 22:21; 26:17-18) From then on it was Paul and Barnabas and Mark, or Paul and Silas and Timothy, or some other combination, such as the band of believers Luke referred to as ‘we’. And at each stopping point they would soon gather a new church around them.

Motivate fellow Christians to become involved in your ministry. Show them that their interest, encouragement, prayer, comments, and other support, significantly contribute to your work for God.

Few of us fully appreciate the importance, or discern the difficulties, of ministries we are not involved in. If she doesn’t share her need, how will we know the lady preparing the communion cups needs a helper? If he doesn’t remind us, few of us would think of praying that the usher’s responsibilities don’t detract from his need to enter into congregational worship. Educate the rest of us about how we can support you.

Making others feel an important part of your mission encourages them to contribute more. Your labors will be multiplied, the Lord will receive greater glory and more people will know the joy of being involved in Christian service.

Naturally, you should also support the ministries of others.

God made you a star, not the movie; an essential instrument, not the orchestra. We need each other. To reach our full potential we must nestle into the exact part of Christ’s body divinely prepared for us.

The power of an ancient secret

We now come to what for many readers will be the most liberating truth in the book. It’s a trigger with the power to fire thousands of people into ministry. And as I share it, I expect to be greeted with a heartfelt round of bullets.

Let’s plunge in at the deep end. You will see immediately why we’re pressured to reject a significant part of Holy Writ. After the initial shock, you’ll conclude my thoughts are like rare porcelain – old and cracked. I’ve had a brain storm and now all the lines are down.

Contrast present day society with the submissiveness of God’s people when:

* Eighty year old Moses sought permission from his father-in-law before beginning his divinely-commanded return to Egypt. (Exodus 4:18)

* Ruth pledged total obedience to the mother of her dead husband; (Ruth 3:5) seeking her leave before doing the simplest, most logical thing. (Ruth 2:2)

* Verbal abuse of one’s parents incurred the death penalty. (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9 – note also Exodus 21:15; Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

* Abigail, upon receiving David’s marriage proposal, bowed to the ground saying, ‘Let your handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.’ (1 Samuel 25:41 (emphasis mine) – note also 1 Peter 3:6)

‘Tradition! Culture! Custom!’ I hear you scream, ‘That’s not for today!’

Even onions disagree with me. If you think I’m a perfect idiot, it’s kind of you but I’m not quite perfect.

Clearly, the instances cited have outmoded elements, but something deeper is involved. It’s on the same level as the command not to covet a neighbor’s ox. Stripped of its dusty, middle-eastern clothes, it’s a moral issue.

Though we are not obliged to mimic the outward forms of the above examples, the spirit they display is much closer to the heart of God than the stain the world has left on us. And we find it as comforting as a leaky water bed.

We acknowledge the need to submit to Christ, but the thought of submitting to fellow Christians is anathema. Such an attitude is blatantly unscriptural. It is not even rational. How can we submit to God, if we don’t submit to his delegated authority?

The implications for ministry are enormous. Vying for top spot on the list of factors keeping dedicated Christians from effective service is the desire to do our own thing. Sure, we’ll submit to God. If things get really tough, we can always convince ourselves that we didn’t hear him. We don’t even mind having a team of helpers, as long as we’re top dog.

I urge the prayerful study of the Scriptures dealing with this matter. (Exodus 22:28; Numbers 12; 1 Samuel 24:4-6; Ecclesiastes 10:20; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Corinthians 4:15-21; 5:12-13; 16:16; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 2:5,9; 3:1-2; Hebrews 13:7,17,24; 1 Peter 2:17; 5:5) Until we take submission seriously, we will miss the freedom and fulfillment divinely planned for us.

You might think Bruce Olson an exception. As a 19-year-old, he arrived in South America independent of any church or organization. Convinced that this proved he was not submissive, other missionaries snubbed him. Little did they realize he was in submission to the sovereign Lord and that it was he, not they, who had the greater respect for human authority. Olson is credited with being the catalyst for the ‘fastest economic growth of any primitive group in the world’. The secret was his submissive spirit. Stone-age Indians would ask his advice. Instead of seizing the opportunity to assert himself, he repeatedly turned each problem back to them, pledging submission to whatever they decided. He even respected witch-doctors, seeking not to undermine, but to sustain their authority. This radical approach proved far more powerful than the white arrogance of many missionaries. Before long, those same witch-doctors were combining modern vaccinations and pills with genuine faith and prayer to Jesus their Lord, in a manner that makes most western medics look like pagans.

Florence Nightingale knew how to assume authority and maintain discipline. She could blast bureaucracy, apathy and prejudice. But this high born lady also knew the power of submission. She arrived at a military hospital to find appalling need. Everything within her screamed at the urgency and immensity of the task. Yet the doctors rejected her nurses and even her supplies. With iron will she suppressed the Krakatoa rumbling within her. She restrained her nurses and stood by until officially asked. Miss Nightingale was tough, and submission was arguably the greatest proof of her strength.

There is nothing noble about forced submission. That’s humiliation. Nor is there anything Christ-like about yellow-livered submission. That’s cowardice. What I praise is a virtue of the highest order: submission that flows from inner strength. Different settings reveal its many facets. Submission is sometimes a daring experiment. The shock we feel when first hearing of Bruce Olson’s collaboration with witch-doctors, highlights this facet. In another setting, it is an exquisite display of love and trust; a beauty from within that shines so brightly that even physical beauty pales in its presence. Such grace is not so much the opposite of dominance as the antithesis of selfishness. In yet another context, submission is a powerful manifestation of mastery over self, as we saw in a snippet of Miss Nightingale’s life.


‘He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.’ (Matthew 23:11) Don’t be like the Pharisees who enjoyed the spotlight. (Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18)

Like Naaman fuming at being told to have a bath, (2 Kings 5:7-14) we might do something heroic for God – terrorize demons, hang by our thumbs in the heart of Islam, rush an injured angel to a vet (who else sets broken wings?) – but when it comes to the mundane – well I stacked the chairs last week. And you had a bath last Christmas.

Miracles we do immediately. The menial takes longer. If it dulls our pride, it saps our enthusiasm. We want the glory. God can find his own.

There’s no such thing as an inferior calling; only inferior love. For Simon the Pharisee, washing Jesus’ feet was a chore beneath his dignity. For the woman he despised, this same task was a wondrous privilege. (Luke 7:36-47) For John the Baptist it was an honor so immense it seemed unattainable. (Mark 1:7) It’s our love and adoration, not the task, that’s too small.

To thwart God’s plans to bless you:

* Defer serious preparation for ministry until after he places a first class opportunity in your lap.

* Refuse to encourage and help those who have already entered their calling. (Compare Hebrews 10:24)

* Be too proud to remind your leaders you are still available, if needed, in whatever capacity. (Compare Titus 3:1)

* Neglect being faithful in the little God has provided for you to do. Feel too superior to clean the church or befriend social outcasts. Should, for example, you want a singing ministry:

l Consider it beneath your dignity to do your bit in the pew to lift congregational singing.

l Conclude that if God will not provide you with a human audience, he does not deserve to hear you sing to him in private.

I know, you’re already well-heeled – everyone walks all over you. You’ve taken the back seat for so long you’ve worn out two sets of binoculars trying to see the action. Hold on: the lower you stoop, the taller you stand.

Of course everything changes once we find our true calling. When Gladys Aylward arrived in China she instantly leapt from her former status of domestic servant to the giddy heights of mule-attendant. Scraping mud off mules and feeding them was one of her main duties. Eleven years later, vastly more experienced and fluent in the language, she became a Bible woman for a local church. In China this position was so common and lowly that no Westerner before her had ever stooped to it.

Rivers feed oceans because oceans keep low. Valleys teem with life, while lofty peaks stay barren.

Did you know that for seventy years North America sent thousands of Protestant missionaries half way around the world to Africa and Asia, while completely neglecting the countries on its doorstep? In all of Central America, for instance, there was just one Protestant Spanish-speaking witness. A reason cited for this tragically bizarre situation is that these countries ‘lacked the glamour’ of other mission fields.

Bill Greenman had an unusual vision: a circus (no, not your church – a real circus) that extolled the name of Jesus. For a time no one on the planet shared his dream, yet he refused to let it fade. While awaiting God’s timing, Bill threw himself into helping others reach their ministry goals, especially the goals of his pastor. He ushered, ran errands, mowed lawns, cleaned toilets – all the inspirational tasks we love to let others do. He now has his circus and a veritable army of enthusiastic helpers. Bill is astounded at their dedication and the way they flocked to him to offer their services. Without them his vocation would still be floundering. He is convinced their priceless help is a manifestation of the law of sowing and reaping. He dedicated himself to helping the ministries of others. Now he’s reaping a bumper harvest.

We applaud the inevitable. Heaven applauds the groundwork. It’s what is accomplished in obscurity that makes a person – and a ministry – truly great.


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