The Ministry – No Soft Option.
A 31 day devotional especially for those in
Ray N. Hawkins.
Ministry focus: ‘I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service.’ 1Timothy 1:12.
Those incompatible are made compatible! Strangers are made friends! Men and women considered the most unlikely, definitely unsuitable, are made choice examples. This is the wonder of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ and displayed most wonderfully in His call to ministry.
When Paul wrote the verse quoted above it was at the twilight of his ministry. Timothy who was his spiritual ‘son’ would have read the words with a tear in his eyes. It would spring from his memory of fellowship in mutual ministry. He would have reflected on the experiences of Paul as he laboured to proclaim and teach Jesus to both Jew and Gentile. They had suffered various treatments meted out by unsympathetic mobs. Then as Timothy’s eyes caught the words in the verse ‘I thank Christ Jesus’ a wry smile must have crept over his face. Timothy knew the hard times Paul had endured and still this dynamo of a man could honestly say “I’m grateful!” For what? “For entrusting me with the burden of ministry!”
This verse is the hallmark of the call to ministry. Most of us will never be called upon to endure the pressures associated with Paul’s ministry. However, the principle of gratitude should still be there. After more than fifty years in ministry I still recall the wonder, the amazement that took hold of me after four years of Bible College. I had not only survived the course but was now about to enter into my ‘calling.’ The sense of awe has never left me though there were dark times, dull moments and difficult situations to overcome. I can only say “Amen!” to what Paul wrote. The Lord was his strength and He is ours. The Lord counted Paul faithful may it be true of us.
In 1Timothy 1:12 the apostle gives a brief testimony combined with praise to Jesus Christ. It is a worthwhile exercise for each of us in ministry to write out our salvation testimony and our call to ministry. Such information may well be a blessing and challenge to our own family and friends concerning the grace and goodness of our Eternal God. Long after we are called into the presence of our Lord such words can be used by His Holy Spirit. He can use them to create a spiritual inheritance for our children and their children.
The following devotions are meant to be an opportunity for ministry refreshment, reminders of those moments of ‘awe’ and a renewal of commitment to the calling of the Lord Jesus on our lives.
Raymond N. Hawkins.
The call of Christ
No soft option
Ministry is a love affair
Shadows of Ordination
When God delays
Being an under-rower
A Prisoner of Christ Jesus
Little by little
A ministry imperative
Breath of God
Ego centric leadership
Of thorns and thistles
Preach the Word
Preach the Word #2
Straighten out the way
Getting to know you
Mutual ministry in marriage
Wrestling with Judas
The walk of the ministry
Fast food sermons
Poem – The Badge of Ministry
The Call of Christ
Key insight: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. John 15:16.
How many times did Jesus interact with Peter, James, John and Andrew before inviting them to “Come, follow me?” From the Gospel records it appears to have been at least a few times. How did Jesus capture the attention and allegiance of men such as Matthew, Simon the zealot, Nathaniel and others? There doesn’t seem to be any set routine apart from the sovereign grace and purpose of the Lord.
The stories of those called to the ministry of the Good News of Jesus Christ all vary. Some are spectacular some rather ordinary, yet just as real. The Christian ministry is the prerogative of Jesus. It transcends academic achievement, physical prowess, tribal and cultural hereditary. As He did in Matthew 4:19, so He does today. He invites men and women to “come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men (and women).”
The call to ministry begins with the Lord calling you to a more intimate and intense relationship with Himself. This is implied in the word “come.” There’s the understanding that we have already come to know Him in a salvation sense. My call came after the Lord worked on me through my hypocrisy, ignorance and wilfulness to bring me to repentance and submission. How would you define your call?
Jesus is the craftsman of the disciple. As He prepares a person for ministry, He uses many and varied “tools”. Experiences from the past are interwoven with His purposes for the future. Jesus ‘makes’ you fit for His service. For me going to Bible College was essential. Not only for the equipping to pastor and gaining Biblical understanding but also for having my rough edges and uncouthness dealt with. Close quarters living has that effect. Looking back on that time I realise that the Lord was fulfilling His word to “make me…” As any of us look back into the past there are many incidents and attitudes which make us chuckle, cry or cringe. What is important to realise is that as we are open and honest with our Lord and commit these things to Him, He turns them into “equipping tools.” This is so encouraging as well as humbling. It must make us bow in wonder at the over-ruling mercy of our craftsman God.
Jesus treats us as individuals with unique qualities, gifts, abilities, histories and personalities. He doesn’t take all along an assembly line and turn us out as clones of some mystical or magical idea of being a minister. When He called Peter and John and their respective brothers He said He would make them “Fishers of Men.” I’m not very savvy about fishing in any of its forms. This I do however know, there are many ways to fish. Trout fishing or deep sea trawling, sitting on the end of a jetty to scuba-diving all require their own skills. The same applies to your call to be a spiritual fisherman or fisherwoman. God has in mind particular waters for you to fish in. To that end He will seek to develop your wisdom, character and longing so that you may be able to handle the stress and strain of the undertaking. We should never cast our eyes over the waters of another and feel resentment that he or she is catching more than us. Our responsibility is to be confident in being where the Lord has placed us and be patient. Fishing in any form requires patience, understanding of the conditions and needs of the fish. As ministers we know that ultimate success in catching ‘fish’ is the Lord’s responsibility. Our responsibility is to be faithful by ‘casting the line.’
Reflection: How long has it been since you recalled your call to come follow Jesus so that He could make you His ‘fisherman or fisherwoman?’ Have you thanked him lately for the awesome privilege invested in His invitation? Do it now!
Request: Unworthy as I know I am in and of myself, this I rejoice in, you are the worthy One and you have embraced me and drawn me into your service. Continue to equip me to be the best ‘fisherman’ possible in the ‘stream’ by which you have placed me. Amen!
Key Insight: Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
His life and ministry was nearing its climax. There were some things he had to share with his son in the faith, Timothy. It appears that this young man was having a tough time in the work at Ephesus. To encourage him Paul writes 1Timothy. Over the years I thank God for those who have done the same for me. I pray my efforts at doing the same have been useful in the Lord’s hands.
The aged apostle expresses his gratitude to God for appointing him to the work of the ministry. (1Timothy 1:12) I wonder how Timothy took this. He knew the trials and tribulations which had pursued Paul since the Damascus road conversion. (2 Timothy 3:10-12). Paul in effect was saying, “Cheer up my son, it’s in the tough times you appreciate the grace of God.”
To thrive rather than merely survive in the Lord’s service requires an inner strength that goes beyond what a gym can provide. Paul confessed that the strength for ministry flowed from Jesus and is worked out in everyday life and tribulations. The Greek word Paul uses, endunameo, means ‘in-strengthened’. He uses this word in Philippians 4:13 where it says, ‘I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.’ This was no glib saying or pious bumper sticker. Here was his personal testimony through the rough and tumble of life’s complexity and difficulties.
We live in a corrupt world where the holiness of God, the Cross of Christ and His salvation lifestyle are opposed, slandered and ignored. As His representatives we will face similar treatment to varying degrees. The hardest to handle are not those outside the Church who give us a rough time. The hardest will be the ‘Corinthian spirit’ within the Church (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). Disciples and servants of Christ can be driven from the ministry and worship by such carnal pressures. Such ungodliness should drive the faithful to the heart of Jesus. There the strength to endure is found.
The time frame Paul alluded to is interesting. Jesus considered him faithful long before Paul had been appointed to the ministry. Any who are called to serve the Lord should find this a wonderful encouragement. In my case Jesus saw beyond my immaturity and frivolity and considered me faithful. In spite of obvious weaknesses the Lord took me under His supervision and wrought out of me what He first worked in. His trust is an unbeatable incentive to honour his confidence.
Faithfulness doesn’t mean failure-less. Faithfulness doesn’t mean having all the answers. Faithfulness is remaining true to the Lord and His Word and learning from personal mistakes: finding wisdom: forgiving and being forgiven. Many a congregation must surely warrant some type of medal from the Lord for their grace and patience with novice preachers. How fortunate would be these beginners in the pulpit to have some sensitive and godly person take them under their ‘wing.’ A good example of such a thing happening in the New Testament concerned Aquila and Priscilla. This couple got beside Apollos, invited him into their home, and explained the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:26).
Paul was apostle, prophet and pastor beyond peer. In 1 Timothy 1:12 he used one of the lowliest term to describe the heights of Christian service. Paul was eternally grateful that Jesus had made him a deacon, a table waiter. Why choose this title? Probably because it was the one Jesus applied to Himself in Matthew 20:28, ‘…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…’ Jesus served Humanity as a Deacon. He most wonderfully demonstrated that at the Passover meal by washing the disciples’ feet. Paul would not presume to put himself above his Lord. Nor should we!
Reflection: In your present stage of ministry how burns the passion? Do you need to find a quiet place and regain your inner strength from your Lord? He has counted you faithful? What are you doing to prove His verdict correct?
Request: Strengthen me within so that I might be faithful for you. May those who are looking to me in the various stresses and strains of ministry know you are my endunameo Amen!
No Soft Option
Key insight: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings, 1 Peter 5:8 – 9.
Prior to entering Bible College I’d been a labourer in a small light steel, fabrication factory. I was part of a team that primarily erected railings, gates, balustrades, fences. We worked on houses, high rise apartments and office blocks. There was no need for me to join a health and fitness centre. On hearing my decision to enter the ministry my non-churched workmates chided me. I was accused of taking the soft option to earn a living.
Soft Option! Compared to the demands of the ministry, it was easier to carry steel panels up flights of stairs. Physical muscle power is easily seen. Spiritual muscle is out of sight, especially to men and women similar to the ones with whom I’d worked. The New Testament writers didn’t use terms such as ‘soldier, bond-slave, wrestler and athlete’ lightly in regards to the ministry. Within each description there’s the demand for self discipline and obedience. This may be to a coach, General or Master who seek to prepare the disciple with the rules of engagement.
Consider the following quotes and try and work out where the ‘soft option’ is hiding. ‘Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.’ 1 Corinthians 9:25–26.
‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.’ Ephesians 6:12
‘Timothy, my son…fight the good fight holding onto faith and a good conscience.’ 1 Timothy 1:18, 19.
‘Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.’ 1Timothy 6:20.
In the short letter of Jude this servant of Jesus Christ called upon Christians to contend for the faith entrusted once and for all time to the saints. If the ordinary member of the Body of Christ is so called what is expected of the men and women called into ministry? Jude is a call to intolerance. There is a cut off point for patience and ‘being nice.’ What is that point? When the Name of the Lord Jesus is being used as a cover for greed and perversion; when the disciples of Christ are being corrupted; when worship and communion are being desecrated, that’s when!
This doesn’t allow the servant of Jesus to act ungraciously, viciously or intemperately. It means standing firm for the Truth and Holiness of Jesus. It means defending the integrity of His calling. It means unmasking those who have slithered into leadership positions whilst denying the Lordship of Jesus. History past and present reveals such a stand is costly. Such godless characters use their cunning, charisma and corruption to resist the Truth and cower the opposition.
Jude’s advice is simple and sublime. He informed the reader about protection from the infectious plague carried by the devil’s disciples. ‘Build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.’ Verses 20, 21. Only then can the true man of God be equipped to confront the peddlers of lies.
Among Paul’s last recorded words to Timothy is a reminder that ministry is no soft option. ‘But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.’ Then Paul adds a brief testimony ‘I have finished the race, I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith 2 Timothy 4:5–8. What a great epithet to have on one’s tombstone!
Reflection: What sporting or defence force imagery would I use if I were writing to someone about my ministry at this moment? How spiritually equipped am I to measure up to its demands? What steps am I taking to improve my ‘fitness?’
Request: The words spoken to Joshua, by the Lord, about being strong and of good courage speak them to me. Strengthen me to be true to you in whatever situation you place me. May I be gracious, patient and wise towards others but firm in what your Word declares. Amen.
Ministry is a Love Affair
Key Insight: Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” John 21:17.
Ministry is a love affair with Jesus.
Ministry is also a burden unable to be relinquished without a sense of loss. Paul cried out ‘…I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.’ 1 Corinthians 9:16. The burden, no matter how great is carried because of love for the Lord. In fact it is when our love is weak that we notice the burden. Once our eyes are off the Lord we see the magnitude of the task: the wretchedness of sinfulness: the fickleness of people and our own weaknesses. Such burdens are simply too much to handle and carry! bear!
When my devotion to the Lord is weak and waning then too my capacity to love others is weakened. From a Biblical viewpoint all relational breakdowns really stem from fading love. When John said we love because Christ first loved us it also implies the reverse. When our love for the Lord is dim so too our capacity to love others. When we refresh our love for Jesus the statement by Paul to the Thessalonians will happen. ‘May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else…May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.’ 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13.
When Jesus took Peter aside after the resurrection, it was to love a failure back into his calling. Peter thought he could find fulfilment back on the water, catching fish, being unencumbered by apostolic responsibilities. Would he have ever been satisfied? He had tasted the Lord’s call. Love may have a price tag but a bigger price is paid when love’s call is sidestepped. Was that what Peter was realising when the Lord appeared on the scene? Peter’s exuberance of jumping overboard and wading ashore to be in Jesus’ presence could point to this fact. But the terrible hash Peter had made of things the days before the crucifixion needed healing attention. Would his mouth and behaviour cancel out any prospects of serving the Lord?
We will all have our own imaginative scene of Jesus and Peter sitting on the sand side by side and the Lord getting Peter to probe his own heart. The question ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’ cuts deep. In other words, ‘would you really be happy doing anything else than following me in service?’ Here the challenge of love’s commitment was being offered anew to deal with the defeatism of guilt, shame, self pity and self interests. ‘Is there anything you would rather do than accept my invitation to follow me’ seems to be what Jesus is getting at. This is ever the battle ground in the soul. Do we love the Lord more than ‘these’ – whatever ‘these’ may be? Ministry first and foremost has to be an affair of the heart.
The instructions Jesus gave to Peter about future ministry are informative. He was to feed the lambs, shepherd the little sheep and feed the little sheep. Imagine that. A fisherman is turned into a shepherd. Years later Peter writes to Church leaders and tells them to shepherd the flock of God. This should not be by compulsion or, worse still, because of monetary gain or for ego domination. (1 Peter 5:1–4) Love won the day on the sands of Galilee and we are the richer for it.
Reflection: Our love of the Lord will be known by how well are we shepherding and feeding those in our care!
Request: Refresh my heart Lord in your love. May my ministry express the heartbeat of my love for you in word and deed! Amen
Key insight: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’ 1 Corinthians 1:31.
So many times in Christian conferences the gifted speaker or talented artist have used God to draw attention to themselves. Whether they are conscious of it or not the impression imparted puts the Lord God in their debt. The ego has very cunning ways of robbing God of His glory. Paul had a most effective way of controlling his soul nature and its tendency to puff itself up. He reminded himself and his readers of what he was and from what Jesus had delivered him. More over he goes on to boast of pain, suffering, opposition, loss and a burning, burdened heart for the lost. Following are some verses worthy of following and applying to our own situations.
In 2 Corinthians Paul uses the Greek word for boasting at least 21 times. It is apparent boasting played a big part in Society and Church life in Corinth. Do you think it has changed much in our scene today? Paul knows he could play this ‘Ace’ of the soul nature. But to what purpose? People with inflated egos are rarely open to hearing what others want to say. The apostle begins to confound them by overturning the grounds for boasting. In 2 Corinthians 12:1–6 Paul says he knew a man who had experienced ‘inexpressible things’ but so what! Paul would rather boast about his weaknesses and not about inside knowledge of Paradise.
In 2 Corinthians 7:14, and 9:1–2 Paul built up the Corinthian believers by stating they were part of his boasting. He talked about them with dignity to others. This is a beautiful way of encouraging them to boast about the worth of others. It also prevented being them obsessed by their own real or imagined achievements. Too often the tendency is to make oneself appear bigger, better, more beautiful by putting others in a bad light or making them appear inferior. In turn this implies they are unfit for ‘my type of superior’ service.
2 Corinthians 12:8–9: ‘Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it (the thorn of Satan) away from me. But He said to me “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ How contrary to the World’s way of thinking! Paul was apparently re-emphasising what he had previously written in 1 Corinthians 1:27–31: ‘God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so no – one may boast before him… Therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’
Humanly speaking we do not enjoy suffering let alone boast about it. However there are Biblical passages in which suffering becomes a sharing in the suffering of Christ. This is something few in the Western Church today can understand. It is an aspect of discipleship neglected to be taught to a new believer. Timothy was reminded in the 2 Timothy 3:12: ‘Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.’ Romans 5:3: ‘…we also rejoice (boast) in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.’ This is a call to transform suffering into testimony to Christ Jesus. It goes further by listing character and hope which results from the Holy Spirit having prominence in a believer’s life.
The final and undoubtedly supreme reason for our boasting in ministry and discipleship is written in Galatians 6:14: ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’
The greatest cause for boasting is the Cross. Here is Heaven’s priority for boasting. Our mouth has reason for praise and glory. Why? Because of what Jesus has done in our lives through His cross and resurrection.
Reflection: Can I truthfully agree with Paul about Galatians 6:14? Why!
Request: Beloved Lord may my life and pulpit ministry reflect my boasting of your grace.
Shadows of Ordination
Key Insight: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.’ 17:16.
Responding to the call of Jesus to ministry doesn’t mean understanding all that is involved. Fortunately not all of us are given insights into the future as was Paul (Acts 26:12–18). Looking back on my ministry there are things about which I wish I had been given some insights. One of them is found in ‘the shadows’ of the ordination of the Levitical priesthood. Hebrews 10:1: ‘The Law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves.’ To these ‘shadows’ the Gospel and the New Covenant give substance. The Leviticus account of the setting apart of Aaron and his sons portrays God’s high estimation of the ministry. Evangelical and Non-Conformist views about ministry sometimes unconsciously down-play its undergirding implications.
Leviticus 8:5 informs us about the instruction to be given. It wasn’t a matter of choice. It was commanded! As we walk with the Lord in ministry there are still unchangeable requirements He places upon us.
Leviticus 8:6 speaks of the washing of the body prior to being dressed in the work clothes of service. Can we see in the willingness of Jesus to be baptized a reflection of this Old Testament ordination? He was to represent God before the World and so needed to fulfil all righteousness. For us this act is distinct from a person’s baptism after conversion. Here we realise the need for God’s extra ‘cleansing’ for being His up front man or woman. To the sons of Aaron it was outward and ceremonial, for us it is inward and an act of consecration. Hebrews 10:22–23: ‘Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Leviticus 8:10–13 tells us of the anointing of the tabernacle along with Aaron and his sons. Here was a unique identification with the place of God, the High Priest and the everyday servant. What an awesome privilege! What a frightening responsibility! Surely the same unique relationship remains today. We are called into positions that bring us precious encounters with God through the Scriptures, service and worship. These we are to share with His people. At the same time we bring the burdens given us by the people and place them before God. To act without the anointing of the Holy Spirit would be beyond the long term capacity of any person. It would also be an act of presumption towards our Heavenly Lord.
Within Leviticus 8 you will read of four specific sacrificial acts. Here an innocent animal gave its life so that the person in his role was acceptable to God. Once again the person called into ministry is driven back to Christ and the cross. The God honouring ministry begins with the sin offering. Here we are reminded of our need for the atonement for salvation and ministry. The burnt offering followed. How precious this is as a pleasing aroma to our Heavenly Father. In our own strength and endeavours all we could create would be a foul odour. It is only ‘in Christ’ can we be a fragrant aroma to God. (2 Corinthians 2:14–16.)
A special sacrifice is revealed in Leviticus 8:22. It’s the sacrificial ram for ordination. The call to ministry is based upon the fulfilment of this ‘shadow.’ Ministry in any form is preceded by the cost of acceptance and equipping foreshadowed in the Levitical sacrifices. In the case of Aaron and his sons, the ram was sacrificed and the blood applied to the right ear, the right thumb and the right toe. The blood of Jesus Christ avails for us in the fulfilment of this Levitical type.
The fourth sacrifice was the ‘wave offering.’ Here in symbolic form is the individual who was redeemed, made fragrant and covered by the previous sacrifices. He or she is presented to the Lord. Now the ministry begins. Ministers of the Gospel are called by the Holy Spirit to declare the person and work of Jesus. As such our attitude needs to mirror the ‘wave offering’ of gratitude for such an unparalleled privilege. To whom is it offered? To our Heavenly Father!
Reflection: How do I understand the significance of the blood on the ear, the thumb and the toe as applying to my ministry?
Request: Help me Almighty God to regain my appreciation of the cost of my ordination in your sight. May I appreciate my calling from an understanding of the Old Testament ‘shadows’ Amen!
Key insight: Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31.
In the midst of battle or stressful situations there’s an adrenalin surge. It helps us maintain the necessary inner resources for a successful outcome. When the pressure is off a strange reaction sets in. We find ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. What is required can be summed up in the words ‘Rest and Re–creation.’ Without this ‘R and R’ our ability to handle ongoing stresses and strains of ministry and everyday family life is severely depleted. Unwelcome consequences may then arise.
The record of Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal holds important insights for us. The account is in 1 Kings 18 and 19. Whilst there were many undecided onlookers who stood and watched, the prophet Elijah did the manual work himself. Why didn’t he seek their assistance? Delegation may have been risky but it would have eased the stress and lessened the weariness. The account of his intense, sustained and exhausting confrontation indicated he must have been totally drained. Did God ask him to do it all alone? There were men such as Obadiah around who may have accepted an invitation to assist. Did God expect Elijah to race the chariot to Jezreel through the rain and mud? There is a fine line, easily crossed, between God’s call and equipping alongside our zeal and desire to impress.
Chapter 19 opens with an exhausted, vulnerable prophet put to flight. The evil, infuriated, revenge seeking Jezebel wanted his hide. He who had faced 450 prophets of Baal and witnessed Yahweh’s power ran from a women’s threat. Why? Was it complete exhaustion due to doing everything solo? Would he have been better served after the victory to have withdrawn into a quiet place? There he could have been alone with the Lord to be refreshed and renewed. Ministers should take note. To forgo Preachers’ Refreshers, or personal time away can mean they often end up jaded, ragged, and faded. Health problems, family fractures, ministry misunderstandings ultimately overwhelmed. For a few of Christ’s servants unfortunate, long term consequences emerge. God in His mercy took Elijah to Mount Horeb. A new encounter awaited. There self pity and a sense of aloneness were confronted by the Lord. This paved the way for God to heal and recommission him.
Jesus set a principle for His disciples we could almost call ‘The Elijah pause’. Jesus told them to take time out and withdraw to a quiet location and ‘hang loose’ with Him. Still good advice in our society with a 24/7 mentality. With a mobile phone strapped to the ear and constant motivational seminars stress is the ministry disease of today.
In the wisdom of God He set in stone His command to honour the Sabbath. Regardless of our theological outlook there is a principle that shouldn’t be explained away. God calls all His people to trust Him by pulling back from life’s pressures. Pause from the work load to renew faith, emotions, spiritual and physical strength. In a sense Jesus was referring to Himself as the substance of the Sabbath in Matthew 11:28–30: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
Ministry has its battles. They are wide ranging and on various fronts. We are human regardless of our love and zeal for Jesus and the Gospel. We wear out. Unless we make the conscious decision to put ‘R and R’ into its proper perspective we will become casualties in ministry. That isn’t God’s calling or expectation for us.
Reflection: When was the last time I had an uninterrupted solitary meeting with my Lord my Saviour and Master about my ministry? What am I intending to do about that neglect?
Request: I desire to draw aside to a quiet place and meet with you in intimacy once again. Help me to trust in your sovereign over-ruling in my ministry activities during this ‘R and R.’ Amen.
The Deadly ‘Fossil’
Key insight: Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion. Hebrews 3:15.
1 Kings 13 has a depressing story of a ‘fossilized prophet.’ All ministers would do well to heed its message. The amount of detail preserved in Scripture concerning this man must surely be as a warning for all in the service of the Lord. As the years roll over us and we deal with the rawness of people’s experiences we need to be on guard. We should to be alert to any hardening influences which want to creep into our spirits. The ‘Old Prophet’ syndrome is easily caught and hard to overcome. Don’t let it be your obituary notice in Heaven’s log book.
How did this man, unnamed, become spiritually hard, barren and ‘deadly?’ He would not have set out to become what we read about him. The paralysis of the spirit must have been insidious, slow and poisonous. His call to serve Yahweh was during the reign of Solomon. When that king died the nation was divided into the North and South kingdoms. Jeroboam established two rival religious and political centres. Their aim was to seduce his supporting tribes from going to Jerusalem in accordance with the Law. It worked! It was idolatrous but it worked. Did the old prophet speak up for Yahweh’s law and worship? Did he denounce such treason? Did he lose heart because no one seemed to listen? Did he think that silence was safety? What forces were in play to keep him in Bethel which no longer meant the house of God? His subsequent behaviour revealed the hardening power of compromise and indifference to the Word of God!
We live in a multi–cultural and litigious society. As such it’s hostile to the moral and spiritual doctrines of Scripture. The safety of silence can become a wonderful hideout. Whilst our Lord did call us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves He didn’t ask us to be mute. Nor does He expect us to back pedal on what His word declares. Ministry has to be gracious, not necessarily popular.
We are repeatedly told in Scripture not to be false witnesses. The Old Prophet was this in two ways at least. He was false to his calling and false in what he said to the young man of God. The unnamed man of God knew his mission and carried it out. He was on his way home in accordance with the Lord’s word. Then along comes this senior prophet and deceives him. Was the young man’s acceptance due to respect for the age, perhaps imagining God had changed His mind? Why would this fossilized prophet want to have the young man come home for ‘supper’? Was it nostalgia? Was it seeking to impress? Whatever it was he became an instrument of death to an unsuspecting young man. One of the saddest aspects of this matter is how the ‘fossilized prophet’ is portrayed. He showed no remorse, no conscience nor repentance over what he did or what happened to the young ‘man of God’. The young man was led astray by someone who should have been a mentor but turned out to be a traitor. Within our churches today such characters move with worldly approval, even success. They are faithless and compromising ministers and priests who have lost touch with the Lord Jesus and His word. Sad to say they cause spiritual and ministerial death to many bright and faithful men and women of God.
Another question seeks an answer. How were the Fossilized Prophet’s family affected by his betrayal of the Law’s doctrine and duty? Would they have had any interest in the things of Yahweh? If they bothered to go to any form of worship how genuine could it have been? To cap it all would his treatment of the ‘man of God’ be a stumbling block too high to climb? Did he care? There is such a high price to pay with wide ranging consequences when you are comfortable with the reign of a Jeroboam.
Fossils may hold pride of place in museums, but in Heaven they have no place of honour.
Reflection: How can I combat any fossilising tendencies in my soul? My heart responds, ‘I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (Philippians 3:12b.)
Request: Use the ‘hammer’ of your word to smash any hardening in my heart. May the older I get the more committed to you and your word I become. Amen.
The Primary Role
Key Insight: You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Titus 2:1.
As Ministers of the Gospel we are not under the constraints of the Old Covenant. Being a Gentile or non Levite would have precluded us from the glorious privilege of ministry. Nevertheless some excellent principles can be garnered from Yahweh’s call to the priests. From Malachi some great insights come to nourish our hearts and minds.
Malachi 2:5 is such a challenge. ‘My covenant was with him (Levi)…and he revered me and stood in awe of my name.’ It’s easy to be familiar with the divine revelation of God in Christ and lose the sense of awe. Once we trembled at His word but have we now taken it for granted? Has the awe faded and reverence (or fear) been lost? May the Holy Spirit constantly arrest our hearts with the glory of our Lord and Saviour. Then what Malachi wrote will also apply to us.
Malachi 2:6 makes three comments about the life of Levi because of his appreciation of Yahweh. ‘True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.’ These three expressions of a relationship with the Eternal can also be found in our ministries.
One deals with having true instruction in his mouth because the Truth was stored in his heart! Are we convinced that Jesus has the words of eternal life and is the Holy One of God (John 6:68–69)? How is our desire to remain loyal to Him regardless of the cost? Do we still have a passion which motivates us to let others hear about Him? Remember the heart feeds the mouth. Many passages can be found dealing with the importance of the lips.
The second comment declared that Levi walked with the Lord. Can two walk together unless they agree? (Amos 3:3) The apostle John placed that principle in more graphic terms. We can only have fellowship with our Lord and each other when we walk in the Light. This unity requires constant maintenance and cleansing by His poured out life. There is no way we can maintain our walk with Jesus Christ if we insist on teaching our prejudices or wisdom. Yes He does give us room to move in a number of areas of daily life and experiences. That doesn’t apply to His unchanging commands and doctrines. Over and over again in ministry the hardest thing to say is, ‘Not my will but yours be done!’ Without it there isn’t any hope of being in step with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The third comment made is that Levi turned many from sin. To be God’s instrument in reclaiming a person from sin’s grip is an incomparable joy. To have the privilege of seeing them transformed into trophies of His grace is wonderful. How is it possible for this to take place? 1Timothy 4:16: ‘Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.’ It isn’t emotionalism: it isn’t ‘Christian entertainment’: it isn’t soft pedalling God’s Word. It is however living the Truth: teaching the Truth: feeding on the Truth and allowing the Spirit of Truth to strike another’s heart through speaking the Truth.
Malachi 2:7 explains the reason. A man or woman of God is His messenger! They are not delivery boys or girls of the latest religious theory or fashion. Messengers of The Most High have knowledge of Him to publish abroad. They have personalised God’s instruction through experience and devotion so as to show its relevance. Where does he or she receive all this? From the Holy Spirit making His Word alive and active to the Messenger! Then with burning heart and quivering lips the minister makes it known to all with ears to hear.
Reflection: Am I more awe struck about Jesus today than a year ago? How do I display my reverence for Him?
Request: May my lips speak the overflow from the fountain of life flowing in my heart. May what I share quench the thirst of those with whom I minister. Amen.
Key Insight: Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28–29.
Yahweh’s spectacular rescue mission on behalf of Israel could have produced a sense of national complacency. He watched over them, opened the Red sea for them, provided for them, protected them, judged them and brought them to the desert of Sinai. That sense of smugness changed at Mount Sinai. His dramatic ‘appearance’ in thunder, lightning, with thick cloud covering and fire created fear. A realisation of God’s glory and holiness made them tremble. The Lord God who redeemed was to be obeyed not played with.
When the Tabernacle and Priesthood were being instituted the family of Aaron was given the Priesthood. At the outset it was stressed such a venue and ministry was unique. It was set apart from the everyday and linked to the very character of Yahweh. The ordination for the Priesthood begins in Leviticus 8 and 9 in a very impressive and symbolic manner. Aaron and his four sons had detailed instructions to follow. Something possessed Nadab and Abihu, to imagine they had a better way than that which Yahweh had outlined. They along with Eleazar and Ithamar had just experienced the wonder of ordination to ministry. This was the culmination of an encounter with God on Mount Horeb. Had it been too much for Nadab and Abihu’s egos? Leviticus 10:1 says they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord. Their self will changed celebration into lamentations. God struck them down.
Leviticus 10:9 sees the Lord add to the ordination requirement, ‘you and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die.’ Does this give us a clue to what caused Nadab and Abihu to act so irresponsibly? The Lord requires those who worship Him and, more so those who minister before Him, to be clear headed and self controlled. It is interesting to note that the kings of Israel had similar obligations. (Proverbs 31:4–5) If we consider ourselves as ‘kings and priests’ of the Lord God do such restrictions apply today?
It would appear as though they had chosen to enter into the precincts of the Tabernacle to do their own thing. They would worship or serve God as they thought best. Here was a serious breach of trust, an act of disrespect and a challenge to the authority of the Lord. They had been redeemed and commissioned for His purposes. Their death was to be a testimony to the danger of abusing the grace and glory of God. Why? ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.’ Exodus 20:7
Leviticus 10:10–11: ‘You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.’ The history of Israel details the conflict between His holiness and the tendency of the nation to drag it down. Leviticus 21:6.says, ‘They (priests) must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings made to the Lord by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy.’ Malachi’s account of the moral and religious attitude of the priests and people of his day makes depressing reading. ‘You profane it (God’s Name) by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled’, and of its food, ‘it is contemptible.’ And you say,’ What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously.’ Malachi 1:12–13.
As ministers of the Gospel we are to uphold the holiness of the Eternal God, the integrity of the Cross and the uniqueness of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Familiarity can breed contempt or coarseness with sacred things. A healthy fear of our Lord will be our safeguard. In our presentations we have latitude of method but we have no room to move in regards to the message. Culture has its challenges to making the Bible relevant. Regardless of the cultural environment Christ Jesus’ servants live in the Gospel and the Glory of God must remain unchanged. Hebrews 12:10: ‘Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord.’
Reflection: What is the quality of the ‘fire’ that burns within my being? Is what I’m saying, doing and living acceptable to the Lord God I am called upon to honour and proclaim?
Request: I do not want my ministry and lifestyle to take your Name in vain. May the fire that burns within be what you have started and maintained by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
When God Delays
Key insight: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18.
The disciples must have wondered what hit them. From out of nowhere the storm had struck. How long they struggled is not mentioned however it must have been an extended period of time. Did they wonder ‘where was their Lord when they needed Him’? Why He hadn’t come to their aid? He’d been there for them before when they were in similar strife. At that time they woke Him because of their fear. He stilled that storm (Matthew 8:23–28). Where was He in this one?
In ministry, as well as in everyday Christian living, sudden, unexpected ‘storms’ blow down upon us. These may be theological issues, personality conflicts or financial difficulties, to name just three. Each one is whipped up or made worse by the bad breath of Satan. Our ‘rowing harder’ is usually in the form of increasingly urgent prayers and promises. In this mix are questions about where in all of this is the Lord?
In John 6:1–3 Jesus went into a mountain not only to get away from an emotional crowd of ‘king makers’ but to pray. Was it also to give space for the disciples to experience another Faith lesson? Being Passover the moon would have been full and Jesus could have seen their struggles. Why didn’t He go immediately to their aid? Only He knows the real reason. We can only surmise. If we are honest with ourselves, similar emotions play in our minds in such times.
According to the Scriptures Jesus is our ever present companion. His assurance to never forsake us is intellectually comforting when the going is smooth. The problem comes in the storm. Emotion devours the confidence of faith. The physical swamps the spiritual. We don’t ‘feel’ the closeness of our Lord and Saviour and we wonder ‘where is He?’ It doesn’t mean He has withdrawn from us. It may be He has something of a Faith lesson for us to experience. He is praying for us similar to the prayer He prayed for Peter, ‘I have prayed for you, Simon that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:32).
Within our nature there is a perverse streak. It imagines Jesus should be at our beck and call. What an insipid, spineless disciple we would be if Jesus simply allowed us to ‘sail over the mill pond of life to Heaven’s shore?’ Life isn’t like that in this fallen soul saturated playground of the Devil (1 John 5:19). To exercise our call to ministry is to be witnesses unto Jesus Christ not theorists. We must face the natural and the spiritual storms of life by faith, perseverance and a godly attitude. Only then will faith be firm not fanciful.
Why didn’t the rowing disciples abandon the boat? One reason may well be that to do so would find them in greater peril. The only real option was to ‘hang in there’ and see how the Lord would act. Patience and perseverance are different aspects of trust in the goodness of God. The former seems to embrace a waiting in comfort or anxiety. The latter is shrouded in pain and strife, the gritting of the teeth and the steeling of the heart to hold on until God acts.
How strange it is to read the attitude of the disciples when Jesus turned up. Thinking He was a ghost they were terrified. His reassuring words of self disclosure must have calmed their hearts long before they realised the wind and waves had abated. Many of us can undoubtedly identify with the disciples’ confusion and then relief. So often when the Lord acts in our own ‘storms’ we fail to recognise Him. This isn’t because of unbelief or ignorance but from weariness from the struggle to stay ‘afloat.’ After we recover our breath then should come the bended knee and the thankful words.
Reflection: Are there ‘storms’ brewing around me? Am I confident in God’s grace?
Request: Help me to trust you in the ‘squalls and storms’ of life. Tune my ear to hear your voice and know your peace above the roar of the ‘waves’.
Key Insight: ‘…when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.’ Galatians 1:15–16.
Not everyone has the ‘Damascus road’ conversion. Neither do they have such a revealing call to ministry. God deals with us in His own unique way. However Jesus called you into His service, there is the underlying purpose as expressed to Paul in Acts 26:16: ‘I have appeared to you…to make you a minister and a witness…’ The term ‘minister’ is actually from the Greek ‘Huperetes’ and means an under-rower. What a humbling title for this converted Pharisee. Other Greek words are translated ‘minister’ by Paul and in which he seems to have actually delighted in. Two other humbling descriptions can be mentioned. One is ‘doulos’ meaning bond slave and the other ‘diakonos’ defining a table waiter. W.E. Vine wrote, ‘Doulos, in relation to his master; diakonos views a servant in relation to his work; huperetes, in relation to his superior.’ (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.)
Notice that the Lord is quoted as saying He would ‘make’ Paul a minister (under-rower) and a witness. That implies such a position doesn’t come naturally. Why? Probably because our soul nature wants to have the pre-eminent role! It wants control. This spiritual issue could be called the Diotrephes syndrome. 3 John 9: ‘I (John) wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.’
In Paul’s training for ministry Jesus took him to Arabia (Galatians 1:17). Was this the place the future apostle to the Gentiles learnt the art of being ‘huperetes?’ In wasn’t a short course either. Nor did Paul burst upon the World scene from out of Arabia. It seems to me that it was back in Tarsus where Paul served his apprenticeship. Once proven the Lord arranged for a wider ministry.
The Lord desires to take us to our own ‘Arabia.’ This is the place where we gain both a deeper insight of being under His command. He will also have places arranged for our ‘apprenticeship’ where lessons learnt are applied and refined. The church scene is littered with formerly keen ‘wantabees’ for ministry who didn’t like their ‘Arabia or Tarsus.’ Once we accept the Lord’s ‘school’ and been found faithful we are equipped to proceed.
Acts 26:18 is a powerful summary of being an effective ‘under-rower.’ ‘…to open their (Gentiles) eyes and turn them from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ The first feature is to ‘open their eyes…’ This means that a spiritual blindness has overtaken the descendents of Adam and Eve. ‘Eyes they have but see not…’ is on the lips of Jesus many times. It is also the frustration which snaps at the work of His servants. It isn’t the lack of evidence which is the problem. It’s a person’s unwillingness to believe it. In ministry we realise very quickly our impotency in opening the eyes of the blind by our own wit and wisdom. Only the Holy Spirit can do this and He will do it in His time. So what are we to be in this case? We are His ‘tubes’ bearing the ointment of the grace and power of the risen Lord. When the Lord knows it is the right time He through you and me will touch the person’s spiritual eyes.
The second feature is to ‘turn them from darkness to light.’ Here again we are instruments in the Master’s hand. Through our obedient lifestyle and speaking, the light of Calvary’s love can shine out. What we have personally experienced and rejoiced in confronts those in sin’s darkness. Our testimony verifies Colossians 1:13: ‘For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son.’ What is required by those in the ‘shadows’ is a desire for the Light. This will birth courage for Sin will not let the person go easily. Faith grabs the willing but fearful believer’s hand to leads it out of darkness. The minister is not the deliverer. That is the Lord’s role. We are the spiritual attendants to assist with prayer, encouragement, teaching and a strong shoulder to lean on.
One of the dangers in ministry is to try and manipulate a person into turning from the things of Darkness towards the Light. Inducements of any form do not work. Only the Holy Spirit can bring a man or woman to the point where they are willing to pay the price to dwell in the Light. There is nothing more wonderful for a minister to savour as an under-rower than to be Christ’s link to a person hearing the good news. The joy does not stop there. It has only begun. Now the Commander expects His under-rower to unpack for the new believer the treasures found in the Light.
Reflection: Have I understood my calling in the light of such terms as ‘bond servant’, ‘table waiter’ and ‘under-rower?’
Request: Lord, train me to be a faithful and competent under-rower rowing to the beat of your ‘drum.’
Being an Under-Rower #2
Key Insight: Men ought to regard us as servants (huperetes) of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. 1 Corinthians 4:1.
In the ancient world warships depended on the muscle power of slave rowers. Whether you were in the front row or at the back, on the upper deck or the lower, you had to synchronise your stroke. This was done to the drum beat ordered by the person in command. When the Scriptures apply the term under-rower to those in ministry the same principle applies. We are not single paddlers in a kayak. We are part of the crew of the Lord in His battleship.
The apostle in Acts 26 defined another aspect of his work, and ours, ‘to…turn them from…the power of Satan to God…’ This is a war briefing. Living in a Christianized country we can be lulled into thinking the World system isn’t too bad. It’s easy to imagine people only need emotional prompting or logical persuasion to believe. Far from it! Christians are dwellers in enemy territory and ministers in particular are front line combatants. Those to whom we minister are in Satan’s grip and he won’t let them go easily. Accepting this helps us to understand the moral and spiritual pressure we experience.
When we preach, teach and live the Gospel, we are taking on the power of Satan. The lives of those to whom we witness don’t understand their condition. What then is the power of Satan? His names reveal his power and hold over Humanity. Satan means adversary and is always used in the New Testament as the one who hates God, the Christ and believers. He and his cohorts seek to destroy, impede and corrupt any work done that honours Jesus Christ. Satan opposes every effort to draw people into the Light of God. In John 10:10a Jesus likens Satan to a thief intent on stealing, killing and destroying. He is called a roaring lion in 1 Peter 5:8 seeking to devour. The wonderful testimony we have as ministers of Christ is that Satan has had his ‘teeth’ pulled. Also, we have the knowledge that Satan’s doom is sealed according to Revelation 20:2, 10.
His other name is the Devil or Diabolos, meaning an accuser, slanderer. He knows this is a powerful weapon to wield against us. He doesn’t have to lie when he accuses us of our sin, treason and short-comings. Our defensive weapon is Colossians 2:13–15: ‘When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was used against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.’ This victory is repeated in Revelation 12:10–11 ‘The accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.’
The invitation from Jesus to be part of his ‘rowing team’ comes with its own victory chant “He is risen! Hallelujah!” We also have our own banner to ‘fly from our mast.’ Fluttering over our life is the cross. That is underscored by the power of the blood of Christ Jesus. His poured out life provides forgiveness and cleansing, definitely. It also is the source of overcoming power from accusations from the adversary. This is why we can apply Psalm 20:5 to our lives: ‘We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.’ He is our victory for, the Lord Jesus is our Saviour, refuge and defender. What great news we have to a world struggling against the perverted power of Satan and facing the judgement of the Holy and Righteous God. Maybe this will help you understand why the kingdom of darkness resists the preaching of the cross.
Reflection: Am I open to Satan’s blackmail for things unconfessed and unrepented sin in my life, whether past or present? Do I believe that Jesus has dealt with these matters at the cross? Has Jesus become my defence lawyer in the courtroom of Heaven?
Request: Lord, I want to be a faithful under-rower, witness and herald of your gospel to a blind and dying world. Amen.
A Prisoner of Christ Jesus
Key insight: Pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Colossians 4:3.
When the apostle Paul gave his testimony before Festus and King Agrippa, they heard the greatest offer the heart can hear. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles included the news that God was offering forgiveness for sins committed against Him. The Roman Governor and the Idumean king Agrippa seemed to have found this too much for their mind to handle. Festus said Paul was mad and Agrippa teased Paul by inferring he, Agrippa, was almost persuaded. This seems to sum up two of the three responses to the message of the cross. The cry of Festus still echoes through the lips of others to-day. Agrippa also has many ‘spiritual’ descendents who like him are ‘almost’, and that’s the state in which they die.
Paul, a shackled prisoner without any earthly abode stood before them. Prisoner though he was he spoke as a liberated man. Paul knew he had a place and a kingdom with Jesus who was and is the promised One. The basis for this conviction was according to the Hebrew Scriptures. How preposterous it must have seemed! The Lord’s people are often in situations similar to Paul They are prisoners of faith but have a hope in a better world to come. Festus, Agrippa, Bernice and the others failed to realise they too were prisoners. Dressed in regal attire outwardly they were inwardly shackled by sin, guilt and fear. They wore not the iron chains around their body but far stronger chains imprisoned their souls.
We all are prisoners of something or someone. In speaking to the assembled court Paul testified to the fact he was on trial as a prisoner of hope. Such hope was bound up in the promise God had given to Israel. Later on he repeated this truth to Jewish leaders in Rome: ‘It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.’ In effect Paul was a prisoner twice over. One definition is in the literal sense of being in chains for his faith. The other was in the spiritual sense by which he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus. On both occasions his hearers were either prisoners of despair, unbelief or playthings of their unholy desires. Paul held on to a promise, they clung to wishful thinking for better things tomorrow.
As prisoners of Christ we are His ambassadors in chains declaring the freedom we have in Jesus. It sounds incongruous but it is real. True freedom is only found when we live in the environment for which we were created. For a brief moment a fish out of water might imagine it is free from its watery prison only to die disappointed. Those who reject the bonds of Christ Jesus live under the same disappointment.
As prisoners of Faith speaking to prisoners of unbelief, what we offer can make it worthwhile for them to exchange ‘chains.’ In Acts 25 and 26 are such words as ‘hope in what God has promised’: ‘God has raised the dead (referring to Jesus) to bring light into their darkness: to deliver from Satan’s power:’ ‘receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Christ.).’ We must always see beyond the taunts prisoners of unbelief throw our way as they flaunt their seemingly unrestricted lifestyle. As Proverbs says of them, there is a way which seems right unto man but the end of it is death. (Proverbs 16:25) For the prisoners of Christ the end is Life eternal and beautiful. Therefore from one prisoner to another heed these words, ‘As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Colossians 4:1.)
Being the Lord Jesus’ prisoner has its limitations and at times we can feel a little despondent. Others advance within the World’s scene, accumulating honours, possessions and money and we are despised. It can hurt when they look with scorn or pity on you as you serve under the direction of the Master. Our spiritual sanity can only be assured as we keep our eyes on Jesus Christ. He must be our life, our hope, our true freedom and our message.
Reflection: What makes being a prisoner of Christ Jesus worthwhile?
Request: May my commitment to you be something that causes someone somewhere to see it as a magnificent madness. Amen.
Little by Little
Key insight: Everything that was written was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4.
Some Christians, including ministers, treat the Old Testament as having little if any bearing upon their daily faith walk. This robs them of important and helpful principles and creates blind spots in their spiritual growth and service. Paul defied that outlook in the verse quoted above. In fact he believes everything recorded in the Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament) was there for our benefit.
When Yahweh redeemed Israel He also intended to lead them to a promised destination. They were to possess the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This wasn’t virgin territory. Hostile, godless and immoral nations already had carved up the land and were not interested in handing it over. Each step would be contested. God promised the redeemed nation the land. It could only be theirs by their act of faithful obedience and perseverance. The same remains true for ministry of any type. God gives the vision. He calls and equips. His servant has to claim the goal in the face of difficulties, frustrations and much opposition.
Moses endeavoured to prepare the nation for this reality. Exodus 23:30: ‘Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.’ It’s always a challenge when reading such promises. God said He would do the driving out, but Israel had to do the ‘putting down of the foot.’ Then they needed to hold the ground. The same principle applies to our ministry. When the Lord calls us to undertake some task He has already prepared the way. He expects us to walk it in step with His purposes and character. Jesus Christ has never promised us an uncontested ministry. In fact the opposite is true as a reading of John 15 and 16 details.
Across the years keen men and women of God have been in a hurry to do great things for God. Such enthusiasm is not always matched with wisdom and patience. Hurt saints, fractured ministries, impotent churches and unconquered territory make for heartbreak. Why is this? Certainly it wasn’t in the plan of God so it lies within the heart and ego. When leaders forget such words as perseverance, patience, long-suffering and grace the tendency is either to burnout or bully the people.
Forty years after Moses gave the nation those principles for conquest another was about to implement them. Joshua’s opening chapter should make you aware of the challenge woven into the phrase ‘little by little.’ In Joshua 1:3 is the promise, ‘I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.’ If Joshua thought it was going to be a ‘breeze’ (which I’m sure he didn’t, others might have.) we read in Joshua 1:6, ‘Be strong and of good courage…’ It is repeated in verses 7, 9 and 18. Surely this was to impress upon him and the nation that each ‘foot’ of territory was going to be contested. However the assurance rang out ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.’ Joshua 1:5.
In Deuteronomy are recorded humbling and yet exhilarating words. The Lord reminded the second generation what He had done for the nation in the past. He was the faithful God who kept His word. The nation knew what He had done on their behalf so when God promised on-going protection His word was their assurance. ‘Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little.’ Deuteronomy 7:21-22. Such words were meant to motivate and sustain them in the midst of difficulties and opposition. However, they still had to prove it true. It was by ‘foot after foot’ claiming, occupying and maintaining their title deeds. The principle still applies though our conquest is not about land but about the ministry of the Word.
Reflection: As you contemplate where you are at this moment in your ministry, are there insights from the conquest principles you need to apply and understand?
Request: I’m impatient Lord! There is so much to do. Help me to be strong, courageous, patient, gracious and take things little by little. Amen.
A Ministry Imperative
Key Insight: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15.
An ‘imperative’ is a word or statement of authority we do well to heed. Scripture is saturated with them. Unfortunately we tend to do mental gymnastics with such imperatives. They are converted into noble suggestions. By doing this we rob them of their sense of urgency, warning or command.
Paul’s words to Timothy as recorded in the two epistles have a number of imperatives to take to heart. The one calling to study the word of truth is both a command and a warning. The aged apostle, restricted by imprisonment, never forgot to be a mentor to his ‘son.’ He wanted Timothy to be able to fulfil the work he was called to do. Also when called to give account of his ministry no shame would cling to his presentation. Surely that is our heart’s desire also.
'Do your best’ is from a Greek word calling for diligence. In daily life and work there is abhorrence for the person who is lazy and not fulfilling his or her role. Such characters make things difficult, even dangerous, for others. The same is true in ministry. We are not all equal in scholastic ability or communicating skills but we can all give of our best. The motivation is surely for the honour of our Lord.
‘To present yourself to God’ has overtones of a formal meeting being arranged. Hebrews 13:17: defines God’s servants as ‘men who must give an account.’ There is an official reporting time already set by the Lord. We should not take this lightly. It will deal with our calling as ministers not about our salvation. Between now and that time we have opportunity to get ourselves ready to meet our Master. The words used by Paul when taking Communion become good advice in this matter. 1 Corinthians 11:31: ‘If we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement.’ Such a self assessment must be under the scrutiny of scripture. It requires of us honesty and an acceptance of what the Bible has to say on personal issues touched upon.
‘As one approved’ means you have passed the inspection. You have been tried, tested and you stand true. Your testimony of God’s faithfulness is vouched for by others and your conscience as you stand confident in His Word. In a sense the words of Peter can be applied to you, ‘. . .your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may prove genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. . .’
(1 Peter 1:7– 8)
‘A workman’ is often used in Scripture for a field labourer. How applicable! As workman with and in the Gospel we work in the harvest field called the world. From Jesus’ parables dealing with fields some ministry insights are gleaned. There are those who sow seed, rock removers, bird chasers, weed pullers and reapers. At any one time we might be found doing anyone of those tasks. We must know the tools of our trade. In this context it is of course the Scriptures. The Master’s equipment for the various tasks can be found in His ‘toolshed’ of His word. Do we know what ‘implement’ to use and how to handle it when confronted by weed scatterers or birds?
‘Who correctly handles…’ expresses competency and confidence in the equipment. It is apparent that Scripture can be mishandled, misrepresented and misunderstood. Some of this is from ignorance and at other times from evil intent. As with any craft the implements take time to master. We who are the Lord’s field workers must apply ourselves with diligence to mastering the many facets of God’s toolbox. The wonder of what is in this toolbox never ceases to amaze the faithful student and experienced worker.
‘The word of truth’ is a confronting term. It doesn’t say ‘words of truth’ as though there are words in there somewhere which are untrue. It is the word! It is the Logos. Paul associated the spoken word and the written word with the Living Word named Jesus. We may, with reverence, rewrite this verse this way: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a fieldworker who isn’t ashamed and who knows how to properly handle Jesus – the Logos of Truth.
Reflection: The Lord and Saviour will one day call me into His presence to give an account of my ministry. At this moment what is a reasonable expectation of what He’d most probably say to me?
Request: Equip me to be a qualified and diligent field worker within the place of your appointment. When I take hold of the Logos may I have the sense that in some way I am handling or hanging onto Jesus!
Breath of God
Key Insight: I am about to open my mouth; my words are on the tip of my tongue. My words come from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know. The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:2–4.
A significant and appealing Biblical description of the Holy Spirit refers to Him as the Breath of God. In Genesis 2:7: ‘the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.’ Our relationship with God depends on His Breath being within. When Adam rebelled against the covenant of Yahweh the death experienced was the removal of God’s Holy Spirit. His Breath from within the man was gone. Humanity was doomed to be Breathless ever after, unless God could breathe once again into Humankind.
Part of the ministry of the Lord Jesus was to bring such a new creation into being. The impediments to this miracle of grace were overcome at the Cross. In John’s gospel we read of the Lord’s promise that the Holy Spirit would come (John 14 and 16). Acts 2 the account of Heaven once again breathing life giving Breath into men and women.
How does this relate to our being servants of God?
If we accept the Biblical description of Humanity in Ephesians 2 the impossibility of our task is overwhelming. Men and women are spiritually dead to God, objects of wrath and slaves to the prince of this World. In effect we are confronted by the equivalent of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. In a similar manner if asked ‘could these bones live?’ we would make the same evasive reply ‘O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’ (Ezekiel 37:3). No amount of emotionalism, logic, persuasion or promises could give life to the dry, scattered bones. What was the prophet commanded to do? ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’ How did Ezekiel feel at that command? A bit silly or surprised! Still he did as commanded and spoke the word of God to this most unpromising congregation. ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ Ezekiel 37:4–6.
By the preaching of the prophet this scene of desolation was transformed. Chapters 34-39 are supreme examples of God in action. Over and over again it is stressed in the reading of the account that what He said He will do. It is beyond Ezekiel’s power to bring life to the lifeless remnants of a nation. As preachers we are confronted by the same fact. We cannot bring life to our hearers. God is the Breath giver. There is a Biblical principle that ‘like gives birth to like.’ Therefore, unless we’ve come alive to God through the Gospel we will be unable to be a mouthpiece for the Breath of God to fill others.
Paul urged his readers to continually be filled with the Spirit of God. (Ephesians 5:18) Within the pages of Scripture are the spiritual directions for deeply inhaling and powerfully exhaling the Breath of God. To believe the Scriptures are God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) compels us to let others experience God’s breath. As spokesmen and women of God we are to be vessels of the Breath of God. As we expound Scripture, defend it, explain it and live according to what it says hearers will feel God breathing on them. The outcome of this will be individuals, homes, churches and communities experiencing God coming with life and power. Whether they then draw into their being His breath or reject it is their choice.
Reflection: What am I ‘breathing’ over my people when I preach to them or give them counsel?
Request: There are times Lord when I know I’m short of Breath. Whatever is the cause in the words of an old hymn, ‘Breathe on me Breath of God, fill me with life anew.’ Amen.
Ego Centric Leadership
Key insight: He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:21.
The local congregation attracts a variety of people. 1st Corinthians, Galatians, 1st and 2nd Timothy plus Revelation chapters 2 and 3 show the Church is not always holy ground. Unfortunately human nature is so self-centred and devious that if it shrugs off the discipline of the Cross, Egos run riot. James expressed the result. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1) When this happens the local congregation becomes the Devil’s playground instead of Christ’s prayer centre.
In 3 John we meet Diotrephes who must rank as the example par excellence of Ego leadership in its rawness. The worry is that within those called to be leaders there lies a latent ‘Diotrephes’. This creature of the soul is itching to spring up and dominate. To keep this carnal ‘creature’ under control requires all the power of the cross and all the resources of God.
Warning signs emerge for us to heed from what John wrote about this man. Diotrephes loves to be first. If we are honest with ourselves we all have similar tendencies. However there can only ever be one who holds first place in the Church. ‘He (Jesus) is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy’ (Colossians 1:17–18). Deny the Lord this right and immediately self-will stirs. Unseen, yet always nearby, the forces of Darkness will fan self-will into an ego inferno. Too many local fellowships have been reduced to spiritual cinders by egotistical warring members.
Diotrephes had powerful lips that spoke malicious words. He aimed to alienate his followers from the apostle John and others. Was it envy or fear which motivated such opposition? Would his true spiritual condition be unveiled in the presence of this apostle? Unless we are in a right relationship with Jesus Christ we will feel threatened by the person who is. The fragrance of the Lord within offends and causes aggressive reaction in those whose odour is of the flesh. Diotrephes could have been a man mighty in the Lord’s service, but he squandered it through an unsanctified attitude. Lust for power and a destructive mouth can never edify the people of God.
I wonder if there is a clue to his spiritual condition in his name. In former years when people were converted from paganism they changed their names. This was an indication of belonging to a new Lord and going to a new destiny. Diotrephes kept his old name. It meant ‘nourished by Jupiter’ the ruler of the Roman pantheon of gods. What we read about this man tells us a lot about the source of his spiritual nurture. Nowadays we don’t usually need to change our names when we are converted. This is the beauty of living in a nation influenced by the Christian faith. We do however need to ensure where our spiritual nourishment comes from. Ultimately it will be evident to all. Psalm 139:23–23 — ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’
The apostle urged his readers not to imitate what is evil but what is good. Why? ‘Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God’ (3 John11). This referred to an ongoing condition stretching over time and not merely an uncharacteristic lapse. Had Diotrephes once ‘seen’ the Lord as the gospel was presented to him? What had crept into his life and found opportunity to kill his vision? Jesus promised the pure in heart would see God. This leader must have allowed the impure to impair his spiritual eyesight. Jesus warned: ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness, how great is that darkness (Matthew 6:22). Spiritual eyesight has its dangers in the slow loss caused by the glaucoma and cataracts of faithless and immoral living. Unless treated it blinds with devastating spiritual consequences.
We look to the Lord by faith to be saved. We need also to continually look to the Lord to combat the diseases of the spiritual eyes. Jesus calls men and women out of spiritual darkness and desires them to walk in His radiance. It is essential for congregational leaders to have good eye-sight. Only then can they keep their eyes focused on the Lord. When this happens the local Body of Christ enjoys harmony, testimony and effective mission.
Reflection: What are my eyes focused upon and how is it flooding my inner being with God’s light?
Request: Heavenly Father may my eyes look at people and events with your compassion and wisdom. Amen.
Of Thorns and Thistles
Key insight: Still others, like seed sown among thorns hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Mark 4:18–19.
Weeds, the gardener’s curse, are symbolically a ‘death threat’ to the Word of God in the Christian’s life. There are books, conferences and media outlets stacked with ‘thorns and thistle’ seeds. Some are rather attractive to the undiscerning soul and are just waiting to be opened and planted.
Jesus’ warning about the thorns that strangle His Word is something all need to heed. Harbouring the ‘seeds of thorn or thistle’ because they promise much or are favoured by the community is deadly. Ultimately it renders the soul spiritually ineffective at best and strangled at worst. Ungodly weeds grow so fast and can look so attractive. Their purpose however is to nullify the power, beauty and message of the Gospel. As ministers with time always at a premium we must be discerning about conferences and refresher courses which are merely ‘weed dispersers. Our Lord listed three threats to the spiritual productiveness to the Christian ‘sower’ by the thorns in Mark’s account. These thorns and thistles are designed to smother and kill the spiritual life. None are immune to any of them. However the Holy Spirit has provided His way of dealing with such danger. Therefore the constant struggle is nurturing your spirit in the Word and pulling out the recognised weeds. Let’s consider the three specific kinds of weeds and apply the Bible’s ‘weed killer.’
Weed number one: Worry. It is the burden of existence. It is part of our nature. It becomes a menace when uncontrolled. The weed deterrent is in 1 Peter 5:7, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ Our personal responsibility is to ‘cast.’ It is the Lord’s promise to carry. Worry is sticky and hard to effectively cast. It requires prayer from heart and with ‘hand’ covered in faithfulness and righteousness. These are able to cast off the sticky-ness and prevent any boomerang effect. Life will always throw worry our way. We must always be on the alert for any sign of them taking root.
Weed number two: Wealth. Here is the driving force of society. Jesus warned about an attitude to wealth which was ideal for weed growth. The end result of not uprooting such soul pleasing but spirit choking ‘weeds’ is unfruitfulness! Again money isn’t the issue. It is the lust for, the grasping after and the obsession for wealth which makes it fertile ground for weeds. This is its deceitfulness. The poison! 1Timothy 6:18–19:‘Command those who are rich…to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.’ He is urging the wealthy to be masters of money not slaves to Mammon. I’m sure we can recite many a sad story of ministries ransacked and ruined by this insidious weed.
Weed number three: ‘desires for other things.’ Combating this wide ranging class of weeds requires constant discernment and specific attention to their influence. We may not be overly interested in wealth. Our nature may not be too dominated by worry. We are however included in this weed. I know mine. However as I mature in ministry and years I find new ones emerging and needing attention. Do you recognise yours and are you sensitive to the appearance of new weed strains? The quote from 1 John 2:16–17 puts ‘the other things’ in three bundles clearly marked: ‘For everything in the world – the craving of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.’
How can a servant of the Lord safeguard his or her heart and mind from being taken over by ‘thorns and thistles?’ Psalm 1 puts it clearly and forcefully. To delight in the law of the Lord and to meditate upon it day and night promises protection from withering strangulation by ‘the weeds.’ This requires diligence and discipline otherwise the spiritual equivalent of Proverbs 24:30–34 happens. It’s an account of a sluggard who lacked judgement, was lazy and enjoyed his sleep. The outcome was visible to all. Poverty of his life and family and with his ground covered by thorns and thistles!
Ministers face this danger in regard to their spiritual lives and growth. The apostle Peter calls on us to remember 2 Peter 1:3–4: ‘God’s ‘divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.’
Peter continues, telling us to build on the above with goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. This results in a productive life. 2 Peter 1:8: ‘For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive (unfruitful in KJV) in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Reflection: How is the spiritual garden of my spirit? How fruitful is my relationship with my Lord and Saviour right now?
Request: May the fruit of the Holy Spirit be prolific in my spirit as He nurtures its formation and growth. Let me not be ineffective or unproductive in my personal life or ministry. Amen.
Preach the Word
Key insight: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. 2Tim. 4:2.
Execution by the sword was imminent. One final letter had to be penned. It was to be for his ‘son in the Faith and ministry’ – Timothy. In reading this letter we sense it was Paul’s last will and testament. When the younger man received it what emotions stirred as he read Paul’s heart? Did Timothy remember all the journeys, the joys and hardships they had endured together? He would not however have been surprised by the insistence, the imperative of ‘Preach the Word.’
In the light of this statement we need to constantly assess our pulpit and teaching ministry. Paul’s use of ‘Logos’ is deliberate because it has a double inference. Logos, the Word made flesh is a majestic description of Jesus. It’s a term permeated with a touch of the mysterious. It is also a succinct summary of the Gospel message. When we preach the Logos we are inviting the hearers and readers into a gold mine of glory and grace. Let’s refresh our heart and mind on some uses of this term within the New Testament.
John 1:1.’In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ The implications of this verse cannot be avoided. Deity and eternity embraced the essential nature of the Logos within time and human nature. The Logos entered our world and clothed Himself in the body and nature of Adam’s descendents. He grew and lived under their scrutiny.
John 1:14. ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ This makes Christmas more than a goodwill gesture from Heaven to earth. It’s an intervention! It’s a rescue mission! The virgin birth is the mode by which the Logos became Emmanuel, God with us. The promise of the Old Testament has been honoured. It is the confident declaration of the New.
John 15:3. ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.’The soul’s dirt and debris past and current can only be cleansed by the Logos. He who was crucified is able to cleanse us from the hereditary aspects of sin. He alone can deliver from judgement. His poured out life is our Sin remover (1 John 1:7). When a person opens the printed word and faithfully expounds it a confrontation takes place. The Holy Spirit takes the logos and brings our hearers into an encounter with the living Logos. Truly there can be no greater privilege for the Lord’s servant than that!
John 17:14. ‘I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.’
This beautiful prayer by Jesus is saturated with significance. One is the effect of the logos upon the disciples. It is the logos which has the power to sanctify all disciples of Christ Jesus. Ritual is impotent and emotion is deceitful. Only the word of God applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit and obeyed by the person is profitable. Another aspect was when Jesus made the Father known to His followers. From out of that knowledge they believed Jesus. From belief they honoured Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus’ pleasure in them is sensed when He said to the Father ‘they have obeyed your word’ (John 17:6).
To accept the invitation to be ministers of the Gospel has profound implications. At the time these are not fully grasped. Jesus warned His followers, especially His frontline servants they would be hated. This may be overt or hidden, it may be mild or violent depending on how the ‘world’ perceives the person. As the disciple matures within the ministry with his/her Lord the understanding of this grows. Some fear that by being more committed and godly they will isolate themselves from those they seek to reach. Others wonder about going easy on sharing God’s word lest it offends. Both are wrong and right at the same time. Our example for ministry must be Jesus. His desire was to honour the Father. So should be our desire. When we honour His Son, our Lord the Father is honoured and pleased. The consequences of how people react or respond are outside our control. Our duty is to be gracious, faithful and trust in Christ’s achieving His purposes.
Reflection: How well do I know the Logos in my personal life and how clearly do I proclaim Him and His word?
Request: When I stand to preach may my hearers be confronted by the Holy Spirit. Help me to make the spoken word to be in harmony with the written word so Jesus, the Living Word is known. Amen.
Preach the Word (part b)
Key insight: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Ps. 119:105.
Once again we look at the use of Logos in the New Testament in its application to the written and Living Word. Be encouraged!
Philippians 2:14–16a — ‘Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.’ You are God’s light bearer standing in the midst of moral and spiritual darkness. What are you doing? Holding out the Logos! He is your life and you are holding Him up. How do you ‘hold up’ Jesus as the logos of life? It happens when you expound the book that reveals Him. It takes place as you practice what it teaches. Many times you will not realise how your ‘starlight’ is touching someone. God does his best glowing through His people when they are being naturally supernaturally spiritual.
As servants of the Lord this makes you a marked person. You are watched. Not only by friend or foe but by the demons of darkness and the angels of Light! What happens after people hear the Word of God is between each individual and Jesus. Unfortunately our Lord did warn His disciples of the result from those who hate Him. They will take it out on His servants. Depending on various factors and countries such antagonism could range from distaste to deadly. How important it is to be convinced of the One in whom we believe and the importance of the Gospel. Don’t be tempted to sell your Lord and His word short either by silence or choosing innocuous homilies.
How can we remain faithful under such pressure? Paul told Timothy to keep the Faith with a clear conscience. As soldiers of the Lord we are to ‘Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us’ 2 Timothy 1:14. This applies regardless of whether we consider ourselves as mere privates or bearers of some other rank. Whatever our position the Lord calls us to be good swordsmen and women. Not one of us is an expert over night. It all takes time, study and application. Hebrews 4:12:‘The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’
The Logos is the sword the Holy Spirit wields. He causes every hearer to become ‘naked’ before the scrutiny of God. Every piece of camouflage is stripped away and they see themselves in the light of God’s estimation. As ‘gloves’ of the Holy Spirit expect resistance or gratitude depending on how the people react to His use of the sword through us. The warfare in which we are engaged has its intense moments and quiet times. Unfortunately the battle will continue until the Lord comes or He calls us to glory. The victory has already been recorded. Read Revelation 19–20. Until then we are on the offensive to uphold our commander’s honour, proclaim His victory and rescue people from their eternal defeat.
1 Peter 1:23–25: ‘you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God…the word of the Lord stands forever.’ This is uncompromising! Either it is true or it’s simply a nice piece of advice or a passing fad. The logos has been resisted, defamed, misused and ignored since Adam’s day. Foes have written it off as irrelevant, untrue, mythical, ethical but impractical. Time after time critics have predicted its demise. However in preaching the Logos, written and Living we stand on holy unshakeable ground. Onslaughts by critics, hypocrites and the forces of darkness come and go with their fierceness and claims. They will never prevail! In fact such opposition causes a biblical spiritual counter-attack. More and more evidence keeps emerging which endorses the integrity of the Logos. Why? Because the written word has the nature of the eternal God!
Reflection: Am I holding up ‘the matches of human wisdom’ or holding up the Light of the world, Jesus?
Request: When my ‘arms’ grow weary from holding up the Light of Life before the World, please give me more ‘muscle power’ I pray. Amen
Getting to Know You
Key insight: In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted you and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
Accepting a call to minister with a local congregation is similar to entering into an arranged marriage. Regardless of previous meetings usually under very polite circumstances the Pastor and the congregation are still strangers. As with a marital relationship so is the call to Pastor. You both have to ‘live’ together and discover each others strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. At the same time each must be accepting and understanding of differences. In both types of relationships all have upbringing differences and expectations often unconscious until they begin to live together. Can any of us wonder that within such an arrangement tensions and misunderstandings ‘brew?’
Under such circumstances how is it possible to grow together in understanding and respect? The usual reply would be to say ‘Show love and understanding.’ However how can you show love and understanding to a stranger especially when you are covenanted together? Within the Old Testament the Lord God used the imagery of marriage to highlight His relationship with Israel. We could say that the marriage was arranged through Moses whilst the nation was in Egypt. The ‘bride price’ was paid through signs and wonders culminating in the redemption. Between the deliverance from Egypt to the marriage at Mount Sinai the Lord endeavoured to create an atmosphere of trust.
Read the journey and be amazed at the Lord’s patience and providence. He sought on numerous times to arouse the Nation’s trust in His commitment to them. They stumbled and fell a few times but the Lord lifted them up. In this manner He showed He was the God whose word could be trusted. They needed to trust in that reality. They gathered around the Mount and heard the legal arrangements of their eternal relationship. They accepted His offer. From that foundation He could say to His bride, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ Deuteronomy 6:4–5.
What we see in all of the above is a principle applicable for a pastor and congregation. The minister is God’s servant standing in His Name to speak God’s word. As such he is to lead God’s people. This places a heavy burden on the Pastor. As the representative of the Lord in a unique role he has the greater responsibility to love the people. For this to take place the Pastor must have an ongoing encounter with the Lord. Again this will only be found true under pressure. As he or she displays love for the Lord through faithfulness to His word respect will be earned. From out of that love towards him/her will emerge from the people. We can gain an understanding of this from Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:22-33. Paul used marriage as a symbol of Christ and the Church on the backdrop of arranged marriages. Verse 33 is an interesting statement. The husband must love his wife. She in return must respect her husband. Do you find that rather odd? Why shouldn’t she be required to love her husband? The Greek word actually is stronger. It calls her to ‘fear’ him.
Can you grasp the significance of this concept of the arranged marriage to Church life? The people are to honour the Pastor for his/her calling, commitment and character. As he/she gains their respect it creates a positive atmosphere. A meaningful and fulfilling relationship is being established. As time passes so trust and respect fosters love! Only then will the mutual ministry of Pastor and people be formed. It must grow strong enough to withstand the overt and subtle attacks from those who want to tear it asunder. This principle applies regardless of a congregation’s numbers. A song from years ago said you could tell when there was love in the house. Such an atmosphere must permeate the assembling together of pastor and people. What binds them together? The Lord Jesus! When the people sense Christ’s love to them through the man/woman He gave them, they will trust that servant. From that relationship each will thank God for the other. When the Pastor knows the love of his people there is no sacrifice he is unwilling to pay for them.
Reflection: How can I make it possible for them to know me and my growing love and affection for them?
Request: Lord of Love, love through me. May I live openly and honestly before my people so that they will respect the ministry. May we together honour and worship you. Amen.
The Mutual Ministry within Marriage
Key insight: A prudent wife is from the Lord. Proverbs 19:14b.
When asked what has been my greatest asset in ministry I unhesitatingly reply, ‘My wife!’ Mary has been my help-mate in every area of my life and ministry. From a human perspective without her I could not have had as fulfilled and successful ministries.
In 1 Corinthians 9:5 there is a snippet concerning the Apostle Peter in regards to the unsung role of an apostle’s wife. The Apostle Paul wrote, ‘Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?’ Why would Peter have Mrs. ‘Peter’ accompany him on at least some of his ministry ventures? Once again the silence of Scripture intrigues and teases the imagination. The macho apostle in a male chauvinistic world was uninhibited and unashamed to have his wife by his side. When Peter wrote about wives and husbands in 1 Peter 3:1-7 was it out of personal experience. Could he have been showing appreciation of a ‘one flesh’ relationship within ministry? It must have motivated him (with her encouragement?) to see converts separated by their faith woo and win their spouses to the Lord. His advice is still relevant.
There is another couple within Scripture about whom we know a little more and yet not enough. Aquila and Priscilla stand out as a wonderful, faithful, energetic couple. Something which has aroused some commentary responses are the occasions when Priscilla is given precedence over her husband. Again we do not know much about their relationship or up-bringing. We do however gain insights about their team ministry. It wouldn’t be far from the mark to say they were comfortable with each other’s role. Neither would have felt threatened when the other was mentioned first in despatches. How different it has been with some others in the ministry.
The male ego is often fragile while at the same time lapping up the ‘crumbs’ of public applause. Sometimes an immature personality is unsettled or jealous when his wife receives accolades for her exercising gifts and abilities. The attitude of Diotrephes (3 John) can be rampant within the minister’s house as well as with a local congregation. Where, O where, is the beautiful Biblical incentive of ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others’ Philippians 2:3, 4. In the context of a minister’s relationship with his wife and her expressions of ministry surely the same rule applies.
Proverbs 4:5-9 is about Wisdom. This information can be so easily applied to a minister’s wife by her husband. There is great benefit to him personally and therefore to his ministry in treating his wife as Proverbs explained Wisdom. The word ‘Wisdom’ has been change in the following passage to ‘wife.’
‘Do not forsake your wife, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you… Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendour.’ Such an outlook releases the wife to express her gifts and abilities with the husband’s encouragement and pride. The consequences of all this trust is to enrich her life and expands her love, respect and admiration for her man. The testimony of such a mutual ministry and relationship is a wonderful attraction and a strong challenge.
When Adam was created God gave Eve to him to be the man’s help mate. There wasn’t any intention of competition or inferiority. God’s principle inherent in that relationship still exists and should be best expressed within the marriage of a minister and his wife.
Reflection: How well do I release my wife to fulfil the Lord’s calling upon her life? Do I have any idea what it may be?
Request: I love my wife and I thank you for her role in our mutual ministry. May I be sensitive to her needs and help her to fulfil your gifts and abilities. Amen!
Wrestling with ‘Judas’
Key insight: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21.
The after shocks of Judas’ betrayal must have been immense. Strange how we are not told the way the eleven disciples coped with it. The anger, the self recriminations for not being alert to him and personal disappointment at being duped must have caused turmoil. Were they realising how difficult it would be to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?’ Did the teachings of Jesus seem so much harder?
When you meet the disciples during the time Jesus was in the tomb they’re huddled together in the upper room. Fear held sway. Such fear would be compounded with uneasiness because of Judas’ betrayal and suicide by hanging. The thought of being seen in public didn’t have much appeal. In the letters of John and Peter we can read and thereby understand how they ultimately won the inner wrestle. Doing what the Lord commanded. The power of knowing, showing, expressing and receiving from fellow disciples Christ’s love!
The traitor’s spiritual descendants of darkness still breed. When a spiritual descendent of Judas infiltrates a congregation he or she is often undetected. Being cunning thieves of various hues it is sometime before they are unmasked. Chaos and hurt then bursts upon the Church and gossip runs rampant in the Community. The urge to find an ‘upper room’ and hide far from the accusations, innuendoes or shattered dreams of people is strong. The soul’s urge is to lash out on behalf of self and for others thus betrayed. Its force can be overwhelming. Wrath and revenge surge even as the Holy Spirit reminds about loving the enemy and leaving God to be the avenger.
Jesus over the period of His teaching warned His disciples about infiltrators. Men would appear to be the ‘goods’ yet be either self– obsessed or Satan possessed. In Matthew 7:15 is the description of false prophets being ‘ferocious wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ In John 10 the Lord again highlights the sad truth that His flock will suffer thieves, robbers and wolves. What is your defence against such intruders especially when they have the outward appearance of a sheep or shepherd? You must protect your people with the rod and staff of God’s Word. There can be no smoothing over of the mauling mayhem inflicted. Pious words about forgiveness don’t solve the problem either. Dealing with the aftermath of scattered, torn, frightened, disillusioned believers requires more than that. The wolves must be confronted and removed. The healing of the wounded and mauled requires grace and patience. The ointment of God’s word must be skilfully and tenderly applied. Worship must take on a distinct therapeutic nature under the Sovereignty of Christ. The biggest battle will take place in the Pastor’s heart. He would have suffered personally whilst having empathy with his people. He also carries the weight of the grieving flock before an inquisitive community. Fortunate is such a minister if he/she has good Elders surrounding and supporting him/her.
The emotional and spiritual conflict can only be won on the knees. It will require many kneeling times as the person struggles with the wounded, the grieving and the inquisitive. The congregation must come together around the Lord’s Table: share their hurts and struggles: find God’s healing and hope. Only with this enabling will they take Communion without bitterness. The healing of the wounds takes place as pastor and people share honestly with the Lord. There must be a candid yet merciful openness before the Lord. A willingness to apply His specific word to their situation will guard them from revenge. Love for the Lord Jesus will empower them to pray that the Judas will find repentance lest he spent eternity in the outer darkness.
What made the difference with the ‘Eleven’ so they could go and face the world? When the risen Lord Jesus came into the upper room and said ‘Peace’ victory was happening. As Pastors there are times when you need Jesus to come into your ‘upper room’ and breath ‘Peace.’ The same is true for your Church folk. The Lord’s peace within means you can face the waiting world with a confidence in His over-ruling and His future justice.
Reflection: I’ve been hurt in ministry, Lord, some of it I can deal with. However have I dealt properly and biblically with those acts of betrayal which have cut and broken my spirit? Have I unhealed wounds or do I wear the testimony of your grace, the scars which speak of your inner victory?
Request: Fulfil Romans 12:17–19 in my life as I deal with the aftermath of a betrayal. ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.’
Key insight: Apart from me (Jesus) you can do nothing. John 15:5.
In my third year of college an Anglican Church was holding an evangelistic mission near the college. Many of the students went to support it. No one from the community or church membership turned up one evening so the speaker changed his message. He spoke without notes from John 15 to us as students. For me it was the defining moment for my future ministry. The preacher who in my young eyes seemed very old said that without Jesus Christ in our lives we had nothing and nowhere to go. He emphasised that in ministry we could actually do nothing which was of value to God and eternity. Until that time I had the impression that it was up to me. I did the work but called upon God to bless it. Now I sensed the reality that God was the one who did the work. His call to me was to co-operate with Him.
1 Corinthians 3:6 underscores the fact of God as the worker. We might be seed carriers or water spreaders but results depend upon Him. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 1:13: ‘it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure.’ Why does the Lord do it this way? He knows our sinful nature would twist the smallest indication of our importance into a grand parade in our honour. Our only boast is the grace of our Saviour who has called us unto Himself. From that relationship He appointed us into His ministry.
What Jesus said in John 15:5, goes against our human nature’s grain. Church or non-Church conferences on Leadership by successful entrepreneurs will give you formulas for reaching the top. The interesting fact is it works. However from the Biblical perspective the success is a sandcastle built on the low tide mark. Over the years seemingly successful ministries collapsed when the power and cunning of ‘the flesh’ failed or the leader moved on. Constantly you will read in the New Testament the greatest threat to a God honouring ministry and spiritual life is the ‘flesh nature.’ In 1 Corinthians 3:3 the NIV defines it as being worldly. In Galatians 5:16–18 the ‘flesh’ is in constant warfare against the spiritual life of a born again man or woman. Perhaps a most significant comment on self reliance comes from Romans 8:8, ‘Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.’
We are told that everyone’s work will be tested by fire 1 Corinthians 3:13. Only the ‘gold, silver and precious gems’ will stand the heat. Each of those aspects can be related to the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only that which is of and from His nature will endure the fiery testing of His presence. Hebrews 12:29 reminds us, ‘God is a consuming fire.’ Wood, hay and stubble don’t last long in the furnace. The precious gems and the silver and gold are featured in the Tabernacle and the High Priest’s breastplate. The Christian ministry must portray the spiritual equivalent. What could that be? Possibly gold for Christ’s glory, silver expresses His redemption and the gems highlight His heart for His people.
The Lord desires to bless us in the ministry. This will be known in time. He longs to reward us when our ministry is concluded. This will be when we appear before Him to give an account. It isn’t how much we have done for Him that will carry any weight. Rather it will be to what extent has He, through the Holy Spirit within us, been able to accomplish His heart’s delight? It is a cliché yet undeniably true. Our Master will not be concerned with our success rating in the eyes of the World. He will look to see how faithful we have been to His Word, His calling and His person!
2 Timothy 4:8:‘There is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.’ However, if in the great mercy of God we should receive a crown would we be compelled to follow the example of Revelation 4:10, ‘. . .the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”’
Reflection: From which source is the motivation and power of my ministry flowing?
Request: Lord I desire my efforts to be ‘fire resistant.’ May I be a person in which you can fashion ‘Gold, silver and precious gems’ so as to adorn your Name. Amen
The Walk of the Ministry
Key Insight: If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:6–7.
In our Westernised culture certain health issues are emerging. Part of the problem is because we are more and more spectators or computer ‘addicts.’ To combat obesity, heart problems and blood pressure anomalies among other factors, we are being urged to walk more. Physical activity is good for the inner being. This in turn impacts on our outward lifestyle. Within the spiritual realm we, as ministers, are also called to a walking program. This involves our spirit being in step with the Holy Spirit so clearly defined in Deuteronomy 10:12–13: ‘Now. O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees…’
Within ministry our inner walk with the Lord will find expression outwardly. His impact in our lives is in our relationships, reactions, and priorities. The second letter of John highlights four features associated with walking. These are essential. A servant of the Lord is to measure himself/herself by these principles as each flows from the character of Christ Jesus.
Feature one: Truth. (verse 2) Here is the tight inner rein which guides the outer footsteps. It directs our approach to people, issues and controversy. The apostle John called all who claim Jesus as Lord to walk in Truth. Anything less is counter-productive to the Faith and testimony. Unfortunately some are confused by a godless society into thinking there are no absolutes. For to the godless everything is relative and ‘fluid.’ This cannot be so with those called by the Master to know and teach the Truth. If Jesus isn’t the Way, the Truth and the Life and His word isn’t Truth, we have no message, no direction nor authority. It is Truth which sanctifies and by which we are dressed for battle.
Feature two: This is a lovely trio of Grace, mercy, and peace. (verse3) Convincing arguments and un-refutable facts will hold little sway without this trio. They are the companions of truth. This combination is a powerful force within the Christian’s spirit. Grace prepares the groundwork in dealing with others. As the Lord has shown it to us we display it to others. Mercy is another aspect of grace. The response we have to a person’s abuse or resistance is to understand not condemn. Peace is the strength of grace holding our heart and mind in balance under difficult circumstances. The source is clear God the Father bestows it through Jesus Christ the Son. Before the words we say penetrate the hard hearts and dead minds of unbelievers our demeanour paves the way. The Holy Spirit wants to make us holy ground from which to launch His mission.
Feature three: Love (verse 6) So many think of love’s symbol between people as cupid and his bow. The symbol of biblical love is predominately the cross. However there is another symbol which is much more visible and tangible. ‘This is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.’ Inner possession will always create outward compulsion. Each of us will have suffered at the mouth of some text wielding assailant who can quote but cannot love. Such loveless disciples often try to divert God’s attention from their own disobedience. Such a smokescreen is by showing pharisaic concern for exegetical trivia. Obedience is not a legalistic record of ticking off things done or not done. Rather it’s walking in love and truth whilst exercising grace and mercy.
Even a quick read of 1 John drives home the impossibility of this walk. If we attempt it in the strength of the soul we are bound to crash. Within the family of Faith there are those try and love the unlovely, suffer the ungrateful and endure the unpleasant with gritted teeth and a sweet smile. After continually failing and falling they ultimately give up through disillusionment. God alone is Love. Therefore the secret of the love walk is being in a right relationship with Him. 1 John 4:7 reminds us that love comes from God. As with anything from our Heavenly Father we receive it in Christ Jesus as our inheritance.
Feature four: Continue. (verse 9) The apostle doesn’t mince his words. For him the unshakeable mark of belonging to the Lord Jesus is remaining true to the teaching received. In one way or another all the letter writers stress the same thing. Thieves can appear nice and kind when all they are doing is checking out the place to plunder. This applies to false teachers who are wolves masquerading as shepherds. The ultimate test in ministry is abiding in the teaching of Christ. It isn’t how you feel, the good things you do or how pleasant you are which defines your spiritual status. The measure of your spirituality is in continuing in the teaching of Christ Jesus the Lord. Why? ‘Whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.’
Reflection: Are there aspects of my inner walk which need attention? What am I reflecting to others about the state of my inner spiritual walk?
Request: Lord of my life, love through me. God of Truth, teach through me. Faithful God achieve that in me. Amen.
Fast Food Sermons
Key insight: What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 1:13.
A preacher was so busy doing ‘things’ he skimped on his sermon preparations. Finally he resorted to reading from books or periodicals. Another preacher was content to use sermons previously preached elsewhere by a relative. Both men saw their ministry decline and two congregations with great potential faded from too much, way too much, ‘fast food’ from the pulpit.
Ministry is demanding upon a preacher’s time, energy, emotion and family. Beware the trap of consigning Sunday sermons and studies to T.V. style take-away meals status. This is ultimately self– defeating and destructive. Churches with ‘spectator saints’ who are being fed on a spiritual diet of sweets and savouries have a fitness problem. When tough times come, and they do, such Christians run out of stamina, have faith problems and develop critical attitudes.
In 2 Timothy 1:13 ‘sound teaching’ refers to healthy doctrine. Timothy was directed to work hard on ensuring what he preached and taught was health giving. So should we. In the Pastoral Epistles the Greek word for ‘sound’ teaching is ‘hugies’ or ‘hugiaino’ and is used seven times. The meaning embraces health and wholeness. This also suggests that there were many preachers giving unsound, unhealthy teaching. Is this why so many disciples and congregations are spiritually anaemic? Can this explain how some are morally weak, factious, short-sighted and biblically illiterate.
According to 1Timothy 1:10, sound doctrine is the measure that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Sound doctrine exposes the inner qualities of any person whose belief system is laced with the poison of error and exploitation (1Timothy 6:3). There is value in imparting of good, nutritious doctrine with its vitamins and wholesome foods. Well nourished disciples of Christ are spared unnecessary ill effects caused by spiritual quacks. There’s sadness in reading some sections of the New Testament letters. Carnal chefs had penetrated the local congregation with menus appealing to the soul but anathema to the spirit. A constant diet of contaminated food cause congregational disorders. Effects like division, spiritual sleeping sickness and tolerance of ungodliness resulting in moral and spiritual coma. The letters to five of the seven churches in Revelation highlight this truth.
Ministers are called to be the Holy Spirit’s ‘kitchen.’ In us He must first prepare the necessary wholesome food. It is personalised for the particular congregation. Sometimes He has a tough time with us in the preparation phase. The ingredients we must search for and properly mix. This is our labour over the text and its application. How easy it would be to go to a book of quotes and sermons to simply ‘reheat, serve and eat.’ Not good enough. The labour we expend as the ‘kitchen’ is to pass Heaven’s taste test. When the meal is thereby ready He transforms us into His waiters.
Preachers will often be unaware of their parishioners’ need for special spiritual nourishment. This is especially true in a large and growing congregation. How then can he expect to cater for the unknown? Being an under chef means this isn’t his problem. The master chef has the responsibility to know and meet the people’s need. It never ceases to amaze how the Holy Spirit takes various aspects of a service and feeds the heart and mind of those assembled. The Spirit of God will have the liberty to nourish His people from His word when His under – chef labours faithfully in the preparation. Any cook will know the satisfaction from being told the meal was great. The preacher likes to hear similar words whilst knowing the One who prepared it was the master Chef.
‘He has taken me to his banqueting table and his banner over me is love’ (S. of S. 2:4) underscores sound teaching. Worshippers need to feel they have been at a spiritual banquet following the service. There has been the awareness of the Lord’s presence and the covering of His banner. As they leave to serve and witness they do so from a fully nourished spirit. For the waiters it is a priceless privilege to distribute Heaven’s approved menu. Earth’s pilgrims of Faith will also have been strengthened for their coming tasks and challenges.
Reflection: What am I serving up to my people week by week?
Request: Lord am I the boss in my ‘kitchen?’ Demote me. Be the Chef within and prepare in and through me wholesome food from your larder. Then it will be fit for the sons and daughters of the most High God. Amen.
Key Insight: I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness… Isaiah 61:10.
God has certain ‘dress standards’ for His people. His requirement for priests was holiness when they came into His presence. The book of Leviticus stresses this fact over and over again. God delights also in the prayers of His people. Isaiah 56:7: ‘these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer...for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ That applies to a future temple but at the same time there is a glorious principle to apply to ourselves. We are the “household of God” (Hebrews 3:6) as well as being His temple. (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) Such being the case implies God wants us all to be a ‘house of prayer’. That means we must worship and serve Him in the beauty of Holiness. To approach Him otherwise is to be denied a hearing. Why? Isaiah 57:15: ‘this is what the high and lofty One says ―he who lives for ever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and lofty place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit’…’
We must consider holiness as the atmosphere of ‘the house of prayer.’ Within the house will be hanging various garments in which to be dressed when talking with the Lord. Philippians 4:6 reveals some different clothes hanging up and waiting for us to ‘put on.’ ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ Paul repeats a similar point to Timothy in 1Timothy 2:1–2.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16 the readers were urged to pray continually. This is impossible if it implies without a break. God however does the impossible even with His ‘house of clay.’ His purpose is to have the Holy Spirit exercise His delight in praying in His house (Romans 8:26–27). Only then can we be in an unceasing prayer mode. As we walk, talk, sit and sing, the Holy Spirit prays freely in His prayer chapel. When we stumble the Holy Spirit’s prayers are stifled by a grieving process. Our garment is soiled, spoiled and defiled by unholiness (Ephesians 4:21–30). Fortunately there is provision for our cleansing and restoring His prayer ministry. He wants to take us to the cleaner. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9)
Being a moveable spiritual house for God means He can place us anywhere. Circumstances which we may or may not like or choose can be turned into prayer matters. He does this so as to achieve His purposes. There often is needed an effort of the will not to allow a negative attitude to prevail over us in unpleasant situations. A consciousness of the situation helps to choose the right ‘gear’ to make our request to the Lord. Should we be called upon to confront seditious, cunning and depraved leaders we will need Christ’s Battle gear. Remember Ephesians 6:10–18. We are Christ’s commandos defending Truth and Righteousness.
As a pastor there are times to be ‘dressed’ in the robes of a shepherd. This ‘robe’ is made for the heart as well as the mind. We are not only to feed the ‘flock’ but protect it from the wolves and robbers by using the Lord’s rod and staff. Sheep can be mauled or do self harm. It is then our oil of specific prayer and godly wisdom is to be applied where they are and as it is needed.
There are many more ‘clothing choices’ we could consider. Pursue that at your leisure. However there is one type of garment for an effective prayer life within ‘the house.’ This is strictly for a husband and also a father. This is perhaps the most demanding apparel because it is the one most often worn. The tragedy of Christian homes falling apart is due in no small part because the husband/father is not properly ‘dressed or groomed.’ Unfortunate but true it applies to those in ministry households.
Men should seek the ‘spiritual ‘tailor’ to fashion a designer suit to wear at home with the family. He has set out specifications in 1 Peter 3:7. Ephesians 5:25–33. 6:4. 1Timothy 3:1-10. The garment best designed for this setting would be the relaxed casual suit tailored for all household activities. This ‘suit’ will need regular cleaning. However by the grace of God the knees never wear out, the shoulders refuse to sag, it will not be too small or large or go out of date. God’s prayer suit for a husband/father is the most precious garment in the ‘wardrobe.’ What is the more remarkable about such a ‘suit’ is it can be duplicated in the lives of the children, especially the boys. There can be no greater joy for a father than to witness his children seeking the heart of God. What a thrill to see their desire to be dressed in a similar style to dad.
Reflection: Am I experiencing God’s promised joy in being His house of prayer?
Request: Are there items in my ‘wardrobe’ needing removal, mending, dusting down or added too once again? Be Thou my Tailor for whatever task you have in mind for me. Amen.
Key insight: Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7.
Celebrities of sport, movies and adventure live under the spotlight of the public’s interest. Various media follow them around to satisfy some strange fascination. People want to pry into their foibles, successes and tastes. Beats me as to why!
Very few ministers would imagine themselves to be ‘celebrities’ or even desire to be under such unrelenting attention. However the passage from Hebrews does highlight the fact, like it or not, this is just what takes place. Over the years preachers have complained about being in a ‘fish bowl’ where folk are constantly looking at them. It is wearisome and does create extra pressures we would rather not have. Yet if handled wisely can become a wonderful tool to show the grace, goodness and glory of God.
Did the writer of this epistle feel concerned by the interest being shown by some disciples to other ‘religious celebrities’? Is there a suspicion about teachings which were contrary to that of Jesus? He directed their minds back to the people who had spoken to them the words of the Gospel. They are reminded of that which brought them into salvation and eternal life. Some of those leaders may have paid a heavy price for their commitment to Jesus as the promised Messiah. Whether living or martyred, such leaders needed to be ‘revisited.’ A thorough scrutiny as to the quality of their words, works and faith was in order. By doing this the distracted disciples would be able to contrast the different types of spiritual and moral leadership. Then the respective ‘fruit’ could be evaluated under the spotlight of Scripture.
What is the outcome of the leaders’ life? We can only guess at what is implied. However then as now there are general and all embracing principles to practice. Writing to a persecuted fellowship the apostle Peter said, ‘Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8–9) Some imagine the apostle Paul was slightly conceited in his insistence to the readers of Philippians 4:9: ‘Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’ This isn’t conceit it is our calling. We are to attract men and women to the Lord and Saviour who has made us ‘attractive’ by His grace and power.
This doesn’t mean we will not trip over from time to time. When that happens some will be delighted, some will cry, others will doubt or fear. However as our Lord did with Peter so He will do with us. When Peter realised his error and repented he realised the Lord had prayed for him, never abandoned him. The seeping sore of betrayal was healed through Christ’s forgiveness. Peter’s testimony is not without mistakes but they are not ulcerated sores on his character or ministry. They are the scars which bear testimony to the healing forgiving grace of God in Christ Jesus. As leaders we should not give the impression of being failure proof. To admit we have scars, without necessarily explaining their origins, is our testimony to God’s grace. They also become and encouragement to others that God hasn’t wiped them off His family record.
The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to imitate the faith of their leaders. This imitation is not a ‘put on show’ as though they were actors. The word is in the continuous tense pointing to an inner compulsion that works itself out in daily life. As leaders we are to set a high standard in behaviour, faith and relationships. This is something only possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is our compulsion to be Christlike. He is the source of imparting Christ’s fragrance. He through us will challenge our ‘scrutineers’ to have a similar compulsion.
Reflection: Am I resentful of being under the constant surveillance of others? What must I do to be able to accept and handle it?
Prayer: As you are my example Lord Jesus make me one also to others I pray. Amen
Key insight: Now we know that if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Corinthians 5:1.
The New Testament Greek language contains interesting ‘pictures’ which give great insights into their meaning and application. In this final devotional will be found just such ‘pictures.’ To gaze upon them give us some wonderful glimpses into the hope we have because of Christ.
The apostle Paul is in a Roman prison under sentence of death. His ‘crime’ was that he called Jesus, ‘Lord.’ This was a direct threat to Caesar’s claim to be lord and worthy of worship. Christians would only call Jesus ‘Lord.’ This was considered subversive. As such it was considered a threat to Caesar and the Roman Empire.
In writing to Timothy Paul saw his execution as an act of devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. In 2 Timothy 4:6 he likens what he will undergo as a ‘drink offering.’ In the Jewish sacrificial system this was the finale to the sacrifice of a lamb at the time of First Fruits and the Feast of Weeks. It was for the Lord’s honour alone. As the apostle contemplated leaving this life he used a word applied to a ship being loosed from its moorings. It’s also used for soldiers breaking up an encampment. Within the framework of Paul’s ministry both have meaning. However the ‘picture’ which best suits the situation would be the military one. This is in the light of his confidence that he had completed the good fight. Christians must always bear in mind that we live in a conflict zone. The World is under the dominion of the Devil and his wickedness. Those involved in the Christian ministry are in a front line role. This requires us to be constantly on guard against the enemy’s strategies aimed at destroying us.
The Scriptures reveal various conflicts we will face in the service of the Lord. Sure none of us will face them all or to the same degree. Unfortunately we will have times of ‘hand to hand’ conflict with at least some. Our Commander in Chief has made sure these things are recorded so we will not be taken by surprise or imagine things out of the ordinary have befallen us. The Lord Jesus has listed them to serve as a warning as well as to encourage us that He is with us in the ‘fight of Faith.’
Switching metaphors Paul goes on to liken the ministry to a marathon. He is about to ‘breast the tape’ and appear before the Judge. Being told in advance about certain aspects of the course he had to run, Paul was under no illusions to what was ahead. (Acts 9:15, 16. 26:12–19) Not many of us ‘run’ under such clear guidelines. We are more like ‘running’ under the principles of Proverbs 3:5–6 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.’
After all of Paul’s experiences, mistakes, opposition and disappointments, he could lift his hand in a winners salute. His cry is ‘I’ve kept the faith!’ He wasn’t boasting of his own prowess. He was acknowledging the grace and goodness of God that had brought him this victory. What he looked forward to was the garland bestowed by the Judge of the world for running the race. This garland of victory is ‘Righteousness.’ Never will it fade, rust or disappear. This is what awaits us as we breast the tape and leave this arena. We will see our Lord face to face. All the conflict, all the sacrifice, all the tears, all the frustrations will evaporate when we kneel before the Lord. What a privilege we will then comprehend about being His servants.
Reflection: How well am I running at this moment? Has my focus been subverted? Do I need reminding of Hebrews 12:1–3?
Request: Lord, be to my spirit ‘faith drink’ through the dry times; be my ‘bread’ for strength in the lean times; be my joy and hope in the disappointing times. My Lord and Saviour, may I breast the ‘tape’ with praise to you for your faithfulness to me across the years of my ‘race.’ Amen!
The Badge of Ministry
What did Jesus have after
Three years of ministry?
Thorns ripped His brow
Whips lashed His back,
Hands and side wounded
The Servant’s badge
What can we expect after
Our years of ministry?
Thorns felt in hearts
Tongue lashes on souls
Plans and dreams ruined,
The servant’s badge
Of God’s ministry.
What are the scars of service
The price of ministry?
Of Calvary’s love!
Suffered to save
What is the strength of service
The pride of ministry?
In Christ’s welcome,
Honouring our badges,
Of His victory,
©Raymond N. Hawkins 2010