God’s kingdom, said Jesus, is like a seed that starts small and grows huge.a 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.b
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.’a We are nearing graduation when we have learnt to sit daily at Jesus’ feet.
Ministry is being granted the honor of an assignment worthy of God himself. It is God doing us a favor, not the other way around.
The Proof of Love
‘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.b Was God still his God, or just a figure-head? Obedience is always better than ‘service’.c
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 praisesd and an ass as his spokesman.e 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.’a
‘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.74
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.