Many years ago I had a ministry at an assisted living center in our county. It was the kind of place where elderly people resided who could do things for themselves and didn’t need constant care. There was also a section that housed people with dementia and alzheimer’s disease. I was asked by the activities director to hold a church service or bible study with anyone in the home that wanted to participate. I accepted the offer, excitedly, and began a ministry that went on for many years.
However, after about three years I found myself becoming dissatisfied with the ministry. I began feeling like I was on the “road to nowhere,” feeling like nobody was really listening, nobody was comprehending the truth’s we were sharing with them. I was tempted to just ”go through the motions,” after all, did it r-e-a-l-l-y matter? I even entertained the thought of not doing the service anymore, yep, quitting. Years ago when I began the service, I was optimistic, prayerful and confident that the Holy Spirit could reach people with gospel truth, even these people with faltering and failing mental faculties. But now my confidence was waning and self doubt had crept in.
Among the group that attended these service were two sisters, Mary and Jane (names changed for privacy). Mary was faithful at visiting her sister and caring for her, and she was also faithful at bringing her to the service every other week. Jane was in an advanced stage of alzheimer’s and usually sat in her chair with a dazed look on her face. Many of the people shared the same look because many were dealing with the same problem. One Sunday at our service something unexpected happened; something that reinvigorated my passion to serve these people, flooded my heart with joy, and led me out of self pity and doubt! I was then able to serve these people for a few more years.
On this day after the service, as I always did, I would try to talk with as many of the people as I could. I think I talked with Mary and Jane almost every service and always found Jane to be quiet, with a sweet, kind smile on her face. She didn’t talk, but every now and again she would say a word or two. But today she did have something to say! Mary called me over, she said, “Larry, can you come here, Jane has something she want’s to say to you?” I replied, “sure,” and went over to speak with them. When I got over to them Mary said, “go ahead Jane, tell Larry what you want to tell him.” I looked at her excited that she wanted to tell me something, but honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. Jane looked at me with that beautiful smile on her face and said, “ keep preaching Larry, you’re getting through.”
What? Of all the things she could have said, she said this! She said it with clarity, with conviction, I was taken back by it. How did she know I was discouraged? How did she know I was thinking about quitting? She didn’t, obviously, but the Lord did and He chose to use this woman to get my focus off myself and back on what truly matters; His truth, His gospel going forth, and His Spirit ministering as He will among those people.
Have you ever felt like quitting? Have you ever undertaken something for the Lord that you felt He was calling you to do, equipped you to do, and opened the doors for you to do? Can you remember the excitement and enthusiasm you had as you thought through the dynamics of that ministry, as you planned, prepared, and began that work of faith? Do you still have that excitement, enthusiasm and energy in your ministry today? Are you thinking about quitting?
There are many reasons that I can think of for giving up on something, anything, ministry included, but I will focus on just three. First, It may be that we are just to immature or ignorant in our understanding of what true Christ-like ministry entails. Often times we begin with the idea, and rightly so, that we are going to be serving others. We don’t expect much in return and are ok with that, because we believe that what we are doing is for the spiritual benefit of others and God will provide and be glorified in and through us. But somehow, in the process of time, subtly our mindset begins to change, and now we have begun to assume things. We assume numbers matter, that more people should step it up and help out our ministry, that this work should be further along than it is, etc., etc.
Second, the enemy of humility and selfless, sacrificial service rears his ugly head, pride. Is it any wonder the Bible teaches that “pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18)? Pride was one of the factors that led to the destruction of the Tower of Babel and the people being scattered (Genesis 11:1-9). Avoiding the opportunity for pride and its ugly consequences in the ministry of the church, appears to be the main reason for not choosing a “new convert,” or a man who is immature in his faith to be an elder (1 Timothy 3:6).
Third, perhaps we are to isolated ministry wise. My ministry at the assisted living center was just that, isolated. I was not under any oversight by a local church. It was my ministry. I organized it, I chose who would speak and do special music and I set the goals. I am not saying the ministry itself was invalid or that my goals and theology were skewed, but simply that I needed, we need, accountability and counsel from others who our Lord has graciously placed before us, so that we keep focused on the purpose God has for us in our ministries, and so we are not overcome with false presumptions and unrealistic goals.
Ministry is a calling. It is not a hobby or part time job. Every Christian should be able to share the gospel with others, but in no way does that mean every Christian should be in full time ministry. Ministry is not something we just “decide” to do one day, but it is something, as one preacher put it: “something you become aware of rather than what you do. It is thrust upon you, in the realm of the spirit, by the Spirt. . . . God is dealing with you.”
Ministry is about others. Our work in ministry, perhaps the bigger part of it, is about our lives following the supreme example of God’s love, His sacrificial love in sending His Son for us (1 John 4:9-11). We are to follow His example of selfless humility and regard others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-12; 1 Peter 4:10-11). And we are to do this while we are working out our on salvation with fear and trembling, “because it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
The Bible never promised us that serving Him would be easy. Peter and John were arrested for it (Acts 4:1-3), even flogged (Acts 5:40). Paul faced the contradictions of others for the things he said, among a host of other things (Acts 13:45; 2 Corinthians 11:25), and some who heard the truth continued in disbelief (Acts 14:2). Paul wrote the inspired words of 2 Timothy 3 instructing Timothy and us of how difficult the last days will be (also 4:1-5). But, despite all the negatives there are many positives! And we need to be reminded that Our Lord expects us, commands us to persevere even when the negatives outweigh the positives (1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:9-10).
One preacher put it this way:
“What I want to say to you is, don’t give up. Don’t write off the possibility that your current experience could very well be the fire God has allowed you to walk through to shape you into the mighty servant He desires you to be. I’m convinced that God is just as concerned about your growth as He is the growth of the (ministry) you’re a part of.”
Keep on preaching, you’re getting through!
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