The farmer who forever consults the sky will never sow, says Scripture’s philosopher.a We will always find reasons for deferring service or opting out, but are they God’s reasons, or our excuses?
CHAPTER 19: SURGING AHEAD
When eight Englishmen left for Africa in 1876, they warned their supporters that the death rate amongst missionaries made it statistically inevitable that at least one of them would be dead within six months. All they asked was that others be sent out immediately to replace the dead. Within a year five had died. By the end of the second year only one remained.254 It is a painful fact that missionary histories are filled with short stories.
Does death mean the death of ministry opportunities? If you spent years learning Cantonese and Jesus returned before you reached the mission field, would all that effort be in vain? Allowed to prowl unchallenged through our cerebral control room, such questions can sabotage a commitment to long-term ministry goals.
We don’t know a lot about the next life. Perhaps Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego provide a clue. Faithful unto what seemed certain death, they emerged from Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘crematorium’ with a greater ministry than ever before.a I suggest this parallels the experience of all who die, faithful to the end.
My conviction is founded on the belief that, in every sense, we are Christ’s followers.b Our Forerunner received a ministry after death far superior to his earthly one.c If after death we will receive a superior body like his, and a superior holiness like his, will we not also receive a superior ministry?
Several servants faithfully served their master, says Jesus’ parable. Given some of their master’s wealth, they increased it for him. Suddenly, their lord returned as king. (No prizes for guessing what this symbolizes.) he praised their efforts.
Can you imagine being praised by the highest authority, the Source of all wisdom and moral excellence, the King of glory? The very thought makes my mind cartwheel. It’s the ultimate. Words of commendation from the Perfect One should keep me in bliss for all eternity. I can conceive no greater honor.
Yet, continues the parable, these dependable custodians received a further reward. And it was not a retirement plan. They had proved they could handle responsibility. Putting them to pasture, even a paradisiacal one, would be a waste.
In this new era, with their lord now ruling the land, they were promoted from controlling money to controlling entire cities.d Found faithful with a little, they were given much. The king’s return had signaled not the end but the commencement of service even more significant than their previous duties.
Not so the one who hid his gift. He lost everything.e
Another line of thought also suggests that death opens wider opportunities than it closes. Cleansed of its sweat and drudgery, work is sheer joy. It’s divine. From Day One God has been at work.a Can we enter the Master’s joy, or became more God-like in the age to come, without being immersed in magnificent assignments?
A teacher asked her class to write about weddings. According to one child, after the celebrations the happy couple go home to eat wedding cake. I suspect we are equally naive about our heavenly honeymoon. Awaiting us in the next life are areas of fulfillment beyond our dreams.
Heaven is not a celestial retirement village, it’s ministry headquarters. The risen Lord rules from its throne.b Heaven’s angels are ‘ministering spirits’.c Heaven throbs with activity. Isn’t this a glimpse at our future?
I confess confusion over the myriad interpretations of the end part of the Bible. It is noteworthy, however, that martyrs – who of all people seem to have had their earthly ministries cut short – will apparently have unique ministries after death.d ‘They shall be priests [a ministry word] of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him [what a way to serve!] a thousand years’.e
Those who triumph over the tribulation will ‘serve him day and night in his temple’.f ‘Serve’ implies ministry. ‘Day and night’ suggests a crammed agenda. The 144,000, says another passage, will ‘follow the Lamb wherever he goes’,g suggesting service that is far from static.
We will all have ministries in the age to come. This will include inconceivable heights of ecstatic worship, probably linked with music ministries. ‘His servants shall serve him ... and they shall reign for ever and ever.’h Worship is ministry, but surely reigning is also. Revelation impliesi and Corinthians confirmsj that we will have a role in judging the world and even in judging angels.k (Renown Nineteenth Century theologian, Charles Hodge, believes ‘judge’ is used here in the sense of rulership,l i.e. we will rule the angels – an eternal ministry.255)
Yielded to God, our life’s work is the unfinished symphony of an eternal Creator. Death marks the point where the divinely orchestrated score crescendos through the clouds, bursting into ethereal, endless stains. We will one day rest from the wearying aspects of service, but the fulfilling aspects will escalate. So pity not the missionary candidate who dies before reaching the field. Like the patriarchs acclaimed in Hebrews, she ‘died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.’m She enters her new life with proven faithfulness – a flying start to a celestial ministry.
David’s mind danced with a glorious plan. He would build a temple to honor the God he loved. God turned him down, but study the Lord’s reply. First he commended David for his noble desire.n (Esteemed nineteenth century preacher and Bible scholar, F. B. Meyer, goes as far as concluding from this that our Lord credits to us the goals we would have achieved had we been permitted the opportunity.256) Then God promised David a future glory beyond what he had dared hope for. King David was stunned. He had been seeking to bless the One who had lavished blessings upon him and, in a stoke, God had reversed the scene and was promising David even richer blessings.a God’s commendation of the desire and a future beyond what one dared hope – declined ministry offers might not be so bad after all.
Even before he gained the throne David had uncovered a divine principle pertinent to this discussion. With his men, he had set off at a furious pace in pursuit of the Amalekites who had decimated their village and taken their wives and children captive. By the time they reached the ravine, a third were too exhausted to continue. The rest pushed on, overtook the Amalekites, and somehow mustered the strength to defeat them. As the victors returned, the baser ones began murmuring, ‘Why should the wimps who stayed behind share the booty? They’ve been holidaying while we’ve been spilling our blood. Let’s return their families but keep the plunder to ourselves.’ The man after God’s heart – the one chosen as living proof that God does not look upon outward appearance – rebuked them. It is God, not human strength, that brings victory and those who missed the battle were just as keen as those who fought. It became a permanent ordinance for the people of God that those staying behind with the supplies be rewarded as handsomely as those who enter the battle.b
It’s our passion, not our achievement, that counts with God. So nothing, not even the thought that Christ could return tomorrow, should hinder our quest for ministry.c
‘Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for you know your labor in the Lord is not in vain.’d