A couple of weeks ago I was discussing spiritual gifts and ministry burdens with a dear friend and sister in Christ here at the IBC in Boston. She posed a question that no one has ever really asked me before: “What are your spiritual gifts, Jen? What is your bent towards ministry?” I replied that while I still wasn’t sure I understood all or even most of the whats-whens-and-hows of the doctrine of spiritual gifts (especially where mine are concerned!), I did know for certain that the Lord has bestowed in my heart certain spiritual desires for the body of Christ, and that these desires have become burdens, and that as such, I suppose my bent towards ministry lies in seeing them somehow fulfilled in the lives of those in my local church body, especially. What I want for them, what I see as especially important for our new brothers and sisters in Christ, is what the Lord has begun to grant me in recent years through the friendship, discipleship, and teaching of so many other more mature Christians: I want them to not just know about Christ; I want them to know Christ. I want them to fully taste the relationship between doctrine and God’s character, to go breathless at the thought of the great communion we have with Him through His Son, and to daily experience quiet rest and safety as found in His bosom. I want our church to “grow up” in Christ–but not just outwardly!
I had as much trouble trying to express the heart of this desire to my friend Allie as I am having here. Just a couple of days after she asked the question, however, I came across a passage in Ephesians that seemed to articulate my particular burdens more perfectly:
Ephesians 3:14-19 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
When I read this passage, I said, “That’s it!” For it is indeed exactly what I want our body to experience, both corporately and individually. I know this desire is not unique (the text itself proves that). Furthermore, I know that I am not fully–or perhaps even marginally– equipped to bring people to such a grounded knowledge and full relationship with Christ. But I–and all of us–can start where Paul did, on bended knees. Because of our unity with Christ and the intercession of the Holy Spirit, we can take all of our shortcomings, our failures, our fears and inadaquacies, and boldy approach the Throne of God in effectual prayer. So often it’s the last thing we think to do. We think of programs, of new ministries, and personal outreaches–all of which are good and important and perhaps necessary, but NONE of which will ever really reach their full ministry potential without humble prayer for God’s grace and help. I know I don’t pray enough for our ministry at the IBCB. I often fail to think of it as a necessity, when really, it is the first thing I should be doing in response to the burdens and ministry bents God has placed within my heart.
Now, since I wrote the above paragraphs I’ve been blessed with the chance to attend a church leadership conference at Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, New Hampshire. The closing speaker, Matt Olson, president of Northland Baptist Bible College, spoke about the importance of this very thing. “Prayer,” he said, “Is what is most needful in ministry today.” I was once again convicted of my lack of dependence on prayer—or rather, on the God to Whom we pray.
It’s a good thing, I think, when God convicts us from several differnet areas on several different levels, about a particular sin or inadequacy in our lives and ministries. He longs to get our attention, and He’s so creative in how He orchestrates doing so. We serve a mighty God. In fact, Paul closes this passage in Ephesians with this very thought:
Ephesians 3:20-21 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Do you dare to dream big in ministry? Lately, our Pastor has been challenging us to do this. He’s not talking about numbers per se, as much as efficacy (and numbers are not empty when they represent something of true eternal value, namely, what Paul describes in earlier verses). I think that many of you out there do indeed dream big. Young Pastors, web designers with a mission, fellow laborers, soon-to-be-college grads… We all have our “bents” towards ministry, and many of us are on fire to see God work through us and make us fountains of the Living Water in our communities and mission fields. Don’t think He can’t do it, for we’re told here that our wildest expectations and desires for ministry can’t hold a candle to what He in fact–in the grandest REALITY–can contrive to do! When we get discouraged, let us ask ourselves: are we ONLY big dreamers? Are we ONLY hard workers? We might have our knuckles to the grindstone, but how calloused are our knees?
We serve a Master who doesn’t really need us. We serve a Master who chose to use us–despite ourselves. We’re meant to be a showcase of what He’s capable of doing, not of what we’re capable of doing. Most of us affirm that in our heart of hearts, and then in our daily lives forget from moment to moment the implications of that reality. If you’re anything like me, you see the immense priviledge and thank and praise Him for it, and then quickly forget the other half of the equation: that it’s HE working THROUGH us that accomplishes our “wildest dreams,” those God-given desires to see God’s Kingdom expand and God’s people grow up in Christ. We forget to bow our knees; we think that because we’ve been entrusted with certain ministries that we must have the capacity within ourselves to execute them effectively, and this is a fatal error . I speak to myself; believe me, I do!
To close, let me exhort you with the words of another speaker from the conference this weekend: “We ought not want to be GREAT SERVANTS of God; we ought to want to be servants of a GREAT GOD.” There is indeed a difference.