Chapter 1: the quest for fulfillment

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I don’t like to brag, but I have a certain air about me – especially after eating garlic.

Check out a few possibilities before assuming the cause of unpopularity is divine.

The Arm-Chair Army

Those who share the fragrance of Christ with a putrid world may receive much flak from Christians. It is such a difficult task in the front line that many of us desert our posts and become self-appointed critics of those who remain at the front.

Methods that most effectively win new converts will seldom woo long-established Christians. Their needs and tastes are a world apart. So an effective evangelist will probably incur the displeasure of those Christians who want to be the center of attention.

When the critics start, determining who is right can be difficult. Christians with the greatest enthusiasm are often the least experienced. The ones best equipped for evangelism are sometimes those who have succumbed to pressure and abdicated their responsibility.

Your critics might know more than you do. Their advice could be from God. So it demands prayerful consideration.

When Rev. Oldschool gives us a hard time, it’s tempting to stray to greener pastors. We must be cautious. If we cannot find Christians as mature and experienced as our critics who fully support our actions, we are probably the ones who are wrong.a

Nevertheless, Scripture narrates the tragic consequences of a man of God who mindlessly followed what an old prophet claimed was divine guidance.b Though we should humbly respect our elders in the faith, we each have a personal responsibility to seek God on matters related to ministry and guidance.

If the Lord clearly indicates our critics’ opinion is not from him, we must reject it, though without rejecting the critics themselves or spurning their advice on other matters.

So love and respect your knockers, but don’t let them stunt a God-given ministry.


Alexander Maclaren was usually jittery before a sermon and afterwards crushed by the knowledge he had made a hash of it. People rank him with the greatest preachers earth has heard.130

Most of us are convinced our ministry attempts languish far below the feats of fellow Christians. We peer over our shabby efforts to the sparkling success of others and almost quit. We are barraged with deadly fallacies about what constitutes effective service. My aim in an earlier chapter was to alert you to the dangers of narrow thinking and to arm you for this war in which we are taunted to surrender. My plan now is to hone those weapons and begin using them so that together we may engage this insidious foe.

Let’s look to Jesus for light to repel these dark forces of discouragement.
Never in human history has facing an average congregation been so daunting. For a wide range of ministries it’s a harrowing fact that your audience has seen/heard/read the world’s best. If you are a musician, for instance, you know the moment your listeners slip inside their homes, or even their cars, they have instant access to recorded music of the highest caliber.

But the Lord will honor your courage. As you humble yourself, for God’s sake exposing your limitations to the world, the King of glory will be proud to call you his child.

Your loving Father is far more moved by your attitude than your eloquence. One feeble, broken sentence empowered by the Spirit of God can accomplish more than the greatest talent earth has seen.a

From the age of four, I loved helping grandpa lay cement paths. Almost anyone could do a better job than a little child, but that was irrelevant. I was irreplaceable. I had a special place in grandpa’s heart.

And you have a special place in God’s heart. Physically, the Lord is totally self-sufficient. He needs us no more than a handyman needs the services of a four-year-old. But the Father’s joy could never be complete without your contribution.

A handicapped person might need your help, and despise you because of it. How much better it is to be wanted, than needed!

Has ever a father’s heart swelled with loving pride at a child’s pathetic attempt to help him? Then how much more will the boundless love of your Father in heaven be stirred by your attempts – even your weakest attempts – to honor him with your service.

To strangers, your ministry may just be one of thousands. But not to someone who loves you. And you mean most to the One who willed you into existence, fashioned you, redeemed you, and longs to fulfill your every need. Expect a personal invitation to a royal command performance in the presence of his Majesty, the King of kings.

Is it hard to believe the exalted Lord would like the sound of your voice or the work of your hands? Remember who created that voice and those hands. Beware: denigrating our gift comes close to denigrating the Giver. There’s a point where humility degenerates into an insult to One who made you and empowers you. I’ve fallen over the edge too often.

You have advantages over all mass ministries. No book, record, or television program can tailor its message to the specific needs of an individual. In our cold world, personal attention is more important than ever. It is better to transform an individual, than tickle the ears of millions. The person receiving all the accolades could merely be entertaining, achieving for the Kingdom far, far less than that house-bound, godly mother.

We are not responsible for the paucity of our talents. We are accountable, however, for the level of faithfulness with which we honor God with whatever we have. Could we have used our supposedly meager talent in a way that would have given God greater honor? That’s the burning issue, not whether we are as talented as Fred Nerk.

In the parable of the talents, it was the servant given the least who buried his gift.a Don’t imagine the master said, ‘That’s okay, son. I didn’t give you much anyhow. I know you’re incapable of anything. Come, enter into the joy of your lord.’

For me, a single sentence is a man-crushing python – a writhing anaconda to be wrestled into submission only through a virtual life-and-death struggle. It is not uncommon for me to spend an hour formulating one sentence. The reward for such care? A tangle of half-strangled sentences squirming for more attention. On rare moments my word-groping lurches beyond snail-pace to a teeth-rattling tortoise-trot. Moments later I hit the dust again, compelled to retrace my route on hands and knees, scouring the text for hours like a near-sighted Mr. Magoo, convinced I must have missed something in my inordinate haste.

Words! There’s never one around when you need it. I try on a dozen for size, and even the best hangs off the cuff, is unfashionable and forever needs ironing. At school my English grades were so poor that I dropped the subject the first opportunity I had. There must be thousands of Christians who could have written this book with greater ease.

But they didn’t.

‘You have a very readable style and some of your expressions and word usages are brilliant,’ wrote a magazine editor about an early draft of this book. I cherish that quote, but could any average person pour such torrents of prayer and effort and submission to God, year after year, into a project and the result be anything less than brilliant?

A boy had such intellectual limitations that his parents feared he was subnormal. He later remarked that being a slow learner lengthened his thinking time and caused him to focus on simple things.131 His perseverance paid off. His name: Albert Einstein.

You will achieve as much as megastars who have twice your ability if you have twice their diligence. More importantly, your greater faithfulness will bring more glory to the Lord. It will thrill him. And your ministry in the world to come will far exceed the future ministry of a lax megastar.

The most significant work is not the one displaying the highest skill, but the one most used of God. The Lord is not seeking people who astound audiences with their talent. He wants ministries who will leave people exclaiming, ‘That had to be God!’ Our inadequacies are often the perfect backdrop for displaying God’s splendor.b

Our lack of ability will never thwart God – only our failure to draw upon his abilities. So if you feel too inadequate to minister effectively without miraculous intervention, I envy you. God’s strength is made perfect in such weakness.c You sound desperate enough to keep pounding heaven’s door until you receive an exceptional blessing.d And that blessing will overflow to those you touch.

I often mourn the flaws in this book, but the grey is tinged with gold. The hope of improvement dies only when we think our labors are satisfactory. Provided we don’t bow to discouragement, the more failings we see in our efforts, the higher our motivation to improve and the brighter our future.

That sickening awareness of inadequacy can be turned around; hastening, rather than hindering, our future ministry.

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