Chapter 1: the quest for fulfillment

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All service should be an act of worship; the overflowing of a heart brimming with love; a cascade of joyous thanksgiving to your wonderful Savior.

Picture Mrs. Average plodding away at the chore of baking a cake. Contrast this with a starry-eyed young wife, joyfully, almost reverently, pouring her love into a cake for the man of her dreams. See her striving for perfection, longing to thrill the object of her love. This will be more than a cake. Her sights are set on a work of art, a mouth-watering masterpiece, a culinary monument to love, meticulously fashioned to transport her man to gastronomic ecstasy. On wings of love, a mundane task soars to ethereal heights.

Make God the husband in our parable and we catch the spirit of all ministry, whether it be handing out hymn books or facing martyrdom; visiting sister Jane, or dispelling heathen darkness. Moreover, serving God is far more satisfying than our parable suggests. The bride’s joy may be crushed by her husband failing to perceive the love in the cake. But every loving deed directed to heaven will be treasured in the heart of God forever. And serving God is not nearly as solitary as the bride’s activity. Ministry is the height of intimacy. It is God and you in exquisite harmony bringing heaven to earth. It is your spirit mingled with God’s Spirit flowing out to a needy world. After refreshing the land, bringing life to desert sands, it ascends in clouds of adoration to heaven’s throne.

Ministry is giving heaven your very best because you know your King is worthy of nothing less. And it is giving earth more than your best because you trust your Lord to surpass your natural gifts. It is giving to God everything possible and achieving through him things impossible.

Yes, ministry involves effort, you throw everything you have into it, but ministry is more than sweat. It is offering your life as clay to the Sculptor, saying in loving submission, ‘Here I am Lord, create your masterpiece.’

In Christ Invincible

Faith is not escapism; it’s inspiration to face problems head-on. If we’re all wishbone and no backbone, we’re in trouble. We can waste our whole lives, vainly imagining we will have an outstanding ministry ‘one day’. We have no right to expect a ministry tomorrow unless we are moving towards it today. That means praying, planning, training. It means poring over the Scriptures. It means taking risks and continually looking to the sky to see if now is the time to take off.

Even if it takes years to come together, an outstanding ministry is never far away. It’s as close as the prayer that you breathe. It’s in your dreams and your labors; in your heart and your faith.

It was the end of a day and I was walking behind two office workers. Said one wearily to the other, ‘Another day, another dollar.’ I inwardly concurred. My work is such drudgery. From the moment I start, I look to its end – the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of ever having to come to this place. It’s outside those hours that I ‘live’; it’s then that I do things of value.

But my eavesdropping wasn’t over. With mock despair, her companion added, ‘Another day closer to the grave.’ That shook me. He’s right! How could I wish a day away? I will never get it back. ‘Another day closer to the grave.’ If only those words could be tattooed into my brain. ‘One of the illusions of life,’ said Emerson, ‘is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour.’

I must wring full value from every opportunity, no matter how wretched. If God gives me greater opportunities tonight or tomorrow or next year, that’s marvelous, but now is the time to glorify my Lord. To say ‘tomorrow’ is to borrow time that isn’t mine.

I’m told that Peter Ball, English monk-turned-bishop, begins each day by telling the Lord, ‘This is the best day there’s ever going to be in my life.’ The notion horrifies me. Today, the best day of my life? Perish the thought! Today, while I’m still serving my sentence as a useless cog in a meaningless machine? Today, while I’m thrashing with all the frenzy of a wild animal caught in the cruelest of traps? Today? Today.

It’s better to visit a house of mourning, says Scripture, than a place of enjoyment.a A party lulls us into wasting precious, God-given moments. A stroll through a cemetery spurs us to invest in eternity while we still have breath.

Jettison an ‘I will be happy when . . .’ mentality. ‘Rejoice evermore’ commands Scripture, and it starts today. God is a ‘now’ God and his people must be ‘now’ people.

Let’s seize every opportunity to magnify our Maker. We need special circumstances far less than we need special dedication. During the American Civil War ‘Uncle’ John Vasser labored long hours near the battle lines in personal evangelism to up to a hundred individuals a day. His capture made so little difference that the enemy general released him with the command, ‘Take this man’s promise that he will not tell of our whereabouts for twenty-four hours, and let us see him out of our lines, or we will have a prayer-meeting from here to Richmond.’271

Hunt for opportunities to serve. Throw yourself whole-heartedly into everything God gives you, no matter how trivial.

Soldiers train by slaving at apparently useless chores. They relinquish civilian pleasures when the front line is half a world away. They obey silly orders, attack dummies, run till near exhaustion when neither attacking, nor being pursued. You are being steeled for valor; primed in every fiber of your being. Your Trainer is working powerfully no matter how empty your present service seems. At the right time you’ll be in peak condition; in Christ invincible.

A cure, Not an Aspirin

Despite my relentless longing to share these truths, it hurts to let this book be published. The more I work on the book, the more immersed in its truths I become. It’s continually washing away layer after grimy layer of negativity and buoying me ever higher. I hate the thought of this process ever ending, but dour experience affirms that it will – soon after I put the book down. I have had to reread it scores of times to halt my slide back into the bog. And still I need it.

Though my need is chronic, I doubt if the mildest affliction could be relieved forever through one reading of this book. I expect you to feel better after a single dose but regular doses are essential for a permanent cure. So I urge you to keep this book handy, even after completing it. Long-term problems need long-term solutions. I covet a new life for you, not just a momentary easing of the pain. Experience suggests you will need this book year after year. We never reach the point where temptation leaves us forever.

Negative thoughts have been roosting in our heads, pecking away at the fruit beginning to form in our lives. We’ve shooed these pests away, but they will stealthily return. That’s our cue to skim through the book again. Highlight the parts that especially speak to you or uplift you. Personalize them. Write them out. Display them. Memories them. Add to them. Share them. Live them. They will keep the vermin away and bring you to new levels of fruitfulness.

Find ingenious ways to kept in your consciousness truths you particularly need. At work I must set and use several computer passwords. I might say to myself I will praise the Lord at all times, while typing the first letter of each word. IWPTLAAT then becomes my new password. No one could guess such an apparently random string of letters and I can remember it only by rehearsing in my mind that positive declaration every time I must use it. Perhaps you could put a little heart somewhere to remind you how much you are loved by God. There are thousands of possibilities. Finding some that work for you will be well worth the effort.

I’d be thrilled if my expressions sometimes help. I have tried to shape them to stick in slippery memories. But don’t be chained to my words. Using your words will help the truths become yours. And don’t be confined to the paltriness of my insight. Hound God with the passion and confidence of a cherished lover until you receive your own Bible-based, Christ-centered revelations.

No matter how hot it’s served or how much it’s sweetened, second-hand revelation is as insipid as second-hand tea leaves unless the Holy Spirit comes upon you, exploding those words within you with such power that it becomes your own divine encounter. A hand-me-down word from God might bring a little refreshment, but a truth super-charged by the Spirit of God percolating through one’s life is so superior that no cost is too high a price to pay for it. Fervent prayer and Bible meditation is the usual price.

Though I have prayed incessantly that this book bless you as much as it has me, I fear I’m asking God to break one of his principles. Why should he command us to seek and to ask and devote our lives to poring over Scripture unless that’s the way he prefers to reveal his truth? It is truths in the heart, not words in a book, that set us free. And lodging them there takes spiritual and mental effort. I crave the joy of serving you by doing all the prayer and study, but that’s like trying to play tennis for you – I get the healthy exercise and you miss all the fun.

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