‘He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.’b Don’t be like the Pharisees who enjoyed the spotlight.c
Like Naaman fuming at being told to have a bath,d 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.e For John the Baptist it was an honor so immense it seemed unattainable.f 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.a
¶ Be too proud to remind your leaders you are still available, if needed, in whatever capacity.b
¶ 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.101
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.102
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.103
We applaud the inevitable. Heaven applauds the groundwork. It’s what is accomplished in obscurity that makes a person – and a ministry – truly great.
I say it with tears: relative to our enormous potential in Christ, most, perhaps all of us live stunted, malformed lives. As we enter the second half of our exploration of barriers to ministry, it’s easy for the eye to glide over our growing list without the significance hitting us. Almost certainly, somewhere in the completed list will be the very reason, or combination of reasons, why you and I lack the fulfillment we crave. As you read, keep praying for a revelation.
We have identified the need to:
¶ be true to our individual call
¶ recognize our utter dependence upon God
¶ mature in Christian character
¶ enter new spiritual realms
¶ be correctly integrated into the body of Christ
¶ persist in faith-filled prayer
¶ take pleasure in humble tasks
¶ realize service has nothing to do with earning God’s favor
¶ ensure devotion to ministry does not mutate into idolatry
¶ acknowledge the possibility of God’s discipline.
With so many possible responses required of us, it’s a relief to know the ball is sometimes the other side the net. The delay is not always our responsibility. Let’s flick through the Bible for insight into this.
Waiting for Others
Gideon’s army of thirty-two thousand had to dwindle to a mere three hundred before God could use them.a A susceptibility to pride was apparently the problem. In Gideon’s case, however, the snag probably stretched beyond any personal weakness to that of the whole of Israel.b We’d have to live on another planet not to know that even the sporting victories of a few citizens can send an entire nation giddy with conceit. For Israel’s sake, God refused to move until the danger of arrogance was removed from the spectators as well as the heroes.
Even if we know God deserves all the credit for our success, it may be too early for observers to be convinced. We are not the only ones who receive God’s loving consideration.
Jesus’ deliberate delay in ministering to Lazarus transformed what would have been just another healing into arguably his greatest miracle.c If God moved too soon, he could be robbed of glory he deserves, and onlookers bereft of a special blessing.
Consider Abraham’s long wait for Isaac’s conception.d The passing of each barren year made it increasingly obvious that the birth would be an act of God. Abraham might have been ready years before, but the delay turned the common event of fathering a child into an inspiring story that has retained its power for thousands of years. His example lifts the faith of Christians, even in our sophisticated era. The delay was perhaps more because of our need for a stimulus to faith than because of any need in Abraham.
You, too, can inspire others. So don’t be surprised if, like Abraham, the passage of time seems to be making ministry increasingly unlikely. You are a child of Abraham.a Like father, like son.
God is moving, not just in our lives, but in every part of an exquisitely intricate mosaic. When all is complete, his artistry will be revealed.
Stand by for a miracle.