We all know that humanity’s first ministry was nude gardening.a It worked. It had God’s blessing. Yet – I hope – we feel no compulsion to emulate their approach to ministry. Nor do I see many people trying to organize their own crucifixion to replicate the most powerful ministry earth has seen. So why try to steal anyone’s ministry style? We would end up looking as ridiculous as skinny David clunking an erratic course in Saul’s ponderous armor.b
You’re a unique work of God. Only a fool would vandalize Leonardo da Vinci’s priceless works by trying to turn them all into Mona Lisas.
God is most elevated, not by a hundred imitations of Billy Graham (or Cliff Richard), but by a hundred common folk each being true to their unique calling. The result will much more accurately reflect the multi-faceted character of God. Our great God is a humorist as well as a judge; a musician as well as an orator; a servant and a king. Just look at creation: God is an artist, an engineer, an inventor, a gardener. He’s a bio-chemist, a mid-wife, a philosopher, a laborer, an architect – does the list ever end?
In the vastness of God’s nature there must be a tiny element that you can portray better than anyone else ever has – if you accept the challenge of a truly Spirit-led ministry, instead of a pale imitation of someone else.
Just as the life-styles of Jesus and John the Baptist differed enormously,c there should be a rich diversity within the body of Christ. Unfortunately, a warped view of holiness and/or submission often leads to drab conformity. In reality, this is carnality – the inability to love or appreciate anyone different from ourselves. Deodorized saints are the order of the day. Real saints get up hypocrites’ noses.
To reach the many different people groups he encountered, Paul became ‘all things to all men’.d If Paul as an individual could contemplate this, imagine the breadth that should be evident within the body as a whole. This is possible only if we allow the Spirit to nurture our individuality. Christians wishing they had the abilities of others are nightingales coveting a peacock’s beauty or soaring eagles envying the powerful legs of an ostrich. Yet don’t we all feel like this at times? (The embarrassing thing about our brain-waives is the spelling.)
Don’t despise the unique blend of abilities bestowed on you by the keenest Mind in the universe. Stop envying the ministry of others and start clarifying your own call. If, to your thinking, that call seems insignificant, the thing to be ashamed of is not your calling but your thinking!
This book is sprinkled with illustrations that even the dull, worldly mind recognizes as success stories. The goal is to be inspired by the obvious fact of success, without being intoxicated by the nature of that success. Achievement, glory and reward constitute the common destination of every Spirit-led pilgrimage. The divinely charted path to that goal, however, is unique to every individual. For a few of us, the path meanders through success so blatant that it is even acknowledged on earth. More commonly, recognition of our achievements requires such spiritual discernment that most onlookers miss it.
The book of Acts is crammed with stories about Paul, and Bibles bulge with his letters, but about the activities of most of the apostles after Pentecost, Scripture says nothing. Did Thomas take the gospel as far as India? We know little about even those who received considerable press. Is it true that upon his martyrdom Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die in a manner similar to Christ?53 Did he go to Rome? How fruitful was Barnabas’s missionary efforts after he split from Paul?a Did Paul regain his freedom after the closing of Acts and fulfill his dream of reaching Spain?b
What we are permitted to know is tantalizingly selective. Scripture preserves the things that are most instructive, not necessarily the things that achieved the most. It is dangerously short-sighted to assume that events and people God chooses not to publicize down here are of little consequence.
‘The Lord will let others be honored and put forward,’ wrote famous missionary Hudson Taylor, ‘and keep you hidden away in obscurity, because he wants some choice fragrant fruit for his coming glory which can only be produced in the shade.’54
In modern warfare there are heroes known to the whole world and there are others engaged in missions so vital that their heroism must remain secret until after the war.
Whatever role our Commander assigns us, we can still be spurred by the few stories that make the headlines, without imagining that our triumphs must take the same form. In Christ’s army, public recognition may be deferred, but the day will come when all is revealed.
And that day will never end.
We have exposed three wounding lies of the Deceiver. We can now counter-attack with three thrilling truths:
1. God in Christ has raised us so high that the presence or absence of a ministry cannot touch our infinite worth and significance. God’s smile beams upon us. Like the proudest parent, he’s thrilled with us, irrespective of whether we’re going to the mission field or going moldy.
2. We were made for ministry. We are so loved and our Father is so powerful that if we allow him full sway, nothing will prevent us from achievements that will last forever.
3. Our evaluation of a ministry often differs wildly from God’s. Over and over, Scripture exalts ministries and people that most of us disregard. We tend to prize leadership, a dramatic call, fame, conformity to expected norms, natural talent, and use such measures as the number of people reached or whether a person lives off church funds. We carnally exalt some people and denigrate others. Just as the enemy wants saints to feel unforgiven, he wants Christians with thriving ministries to feel failures. Vast numbers of us are more successful than we dare imagine.
Truth heals, delivering us from the distressing accusations the devil hurls at us. In the wilderness, Jesus’ only defense against the Liar’s onslaught was the truth of God’s Word.c We are amassing an armory of divine truths to fight despair. Without them, even the strongest saint is vulnerable.
Stilling the storm within will take more than the truths so far uncovered. There is more to come, and several of the issues already raised will be further pursued. Moreover, how much the Lord writes into your life the truths in this book depends on how often you close the book and pray. Nonetheless, we have taken three giant steps on the path to peace.
I urge you to study prayerfully the Scriptures cited, especially in chapter three, until they become a part of you. It is helpful to memories as many as you can. Thus armed, we will triumph over depression and lethargy, surging forward to the challenging future lovingly planned by our Maker. We’re on the road to success.
You were made for ministry,
And saved for service.
Created with this destiny
Redeemed for this purpose.
No wonder you want it!
Your spirit longs for it,
God’s Spirit yearns for it;
Spirit and spirit cry out for it.
If ever a dolphin wanted to swim,
Or a possum to climb,
Or a falcon to fly,
You will long to minister.
If ever a dolphin will swim,
Or a possum climb,
Or a falcon fly,
You will minister.