Half a millennium ago, the story goes,75 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.76
The immensity of God’s love fuels an awesome jealousy.
Jesus chided the Pharisees for using service as an excuse for neglecting family responsibilities.a Though sacrificial giving is a magnificent vocation,b it becomes a grotesque perversion when it leaves one’s family in need.c 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.d 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.e
It’s disturbingly easy to become so engrossed in ‘ministry’ as to lose sight of weightier matters. Christians sliding down this path forfeit their birth-right to ministry.
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.f
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?g Why should he care what you do? Remove God’s love and you would remove a major reason for his anger at sin.h
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,a and the sin of unbelief postponed for forty years the Israelites administering God’s judgment to the depraved Canaanites.b
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,c admit he is right in disciplining usd and quit our sin.e
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.f
Peter wept bitterly.g Samson and King David suffered greatly for their sin.h 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.