Saturday, August 23, 2014

Longevity in Ministry - If you don't want to shorten your ministry... obediently abide.

Four weeks ago, I started a series that I'm hoping will be both a challenge and encouragement to you, based off of a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending church. The first post focused on that oxymoron that the God is sovereign, but that men are also responsible. Imagining those two truths as a horseshoe where, as mere humans, only see and comprehend the ends. God, on the other hand, looks at the whole and thus can see how two things that appear contradictory do actually work together. The second post considered one of the ends of that horseshoe: trusting God, not only because He is sovereign - but also because He is sufficient in that sovereignty.

Today's post will look at the other end of that horseshoe: Man's responsibility, which, to put it both succinctly and bluntly, is obedience. 

I have to be honest - this was the part of the sermon which made me most uncomfortable. I'm quite comfortable with working, doing my best, keeping busy and thinking that the success of any project with which I'm involved depends mostly on me - thus ignoring the sovereignty of God. I'm not so comfortable with the idea that I can be working like mad, doing what I think is best, exhausting myself for good causes... only to finally figure out that it has all been well-intentioned, but good intentions, careful planning and hard work have nothing to do with obedience or disobedience.

I think that is a position where exhausted, burning-out missionaries often find themselves.

I was driving to a doctor's appointment the other day. I'd just navigated a four-way stop and was back up to the 35 mph speed limit... cruising along, my thoughts flying along a lot faster than the car was moving. All of a sudden, the car behind me darted around then lurched back in front of me, cutting me off. That driver also caused an oncoming car in the other lane to have to swerve. Then he gunned the engine and took off and away like a bat out of hell, except? I caught up to him at the next light... and the next light... and the next stop sign without ever violating any traffic law, until I reached my doctor's office and pulled into the parking lot.

I'd already been thinking and praying about writing this post, had even done some drafting and sketching out of ideas - but it wasn't coming together like the previous ones had...

My pastor had used two verses (1 Corinthians 11.30 & Philippians 2.12) to illustrate this point about the importance of obedience as our human responsibility saying, "You can shorten your life and your ministry; God can lengthen it." He encouraged us to think about the fact that yes, we work like everything depends on us in God's strength and for God's glory." And, it's not that I don't think missionaries can't get caught up in intentional, deliberate sin. I know for a fact from personal experience that I can do so quite easily. But I do think that my hope and my goal is that most days, I'm striving to live in obedience...

When I saw that car, I think the Holy Spirit gave me this thought: We missionaries can be a lot like that car sometimes. We are so intent on our lists, on our things that we are sure we need to accomplish and all those things that we are confident God has impressed upon our hearts that He wants to see done, on our own "critical-ness" to mission success... that we go flying around anything and anyone that gets in our way... Sometimes, we even go flying around God and strike out ahead of Him in uncharted territory. We get stopped by traffic, technical difficulties, and sit there tapping our fingers impatiently waiting for God to catch up and once the light is green again, we blast away, running far harder, faster and more prone to wrong turns or fatigue - than God ever intended for us. 

Is this disobedience?

Well, I teach my kids obedience looks like 
1) starting right away, 
2) has a sweet attitude, and 
3) is just exactly what I asked for 
4) without any arguing. 
When they fail to meet those four standards, then it is disobedience. 

Thus, when I'm not doing exactly what God says, or when my attitude is one of impatience, or when I'm trying to add my own good ideas, or when the "start" includes a first step of waiting and I don't? Well, then I'm disobedient, too. I'm just like that car the other day. Under the best circumstances, that means I work a lot harder, carry a much bigger burden and fatigue more thoroughly than was ever God's plan. And it is no one's fault but my own. It also means that my efforts will likely end up nothing more than vain imaginations and strivings because I've run off from where God wants me to be.

I'm not sure if anything leads to more discouragement, more frustration, more fatigue, more stress and health issues, more marriage and family problems, more attrition - than running ahead of God. What's sobering is that we can do so in our zeal and enthusiasm and not even recognize that it has happened until we are already in a bad place.

Yes, we work like everything depends on us but it must happen in God's strength and for God's glory.


Our obedience has to be the grace based obedience of trusting faith. We are saved by grace, but it is by faith that we can work out our salvation, do the works that God has set aside for us to do. Because we believe, we obey and abide in Christ. Therefore we prove out the sufficiency of God's grace through Scripture and by the power of the Spirit to empower us to an abiding relationship with Jesus that bears much fruit that remains to the glory of God.

We work out what God is working in.

Perhaps the most striking places in Scripture where God teaches about this sort of abiding with Him relationship occurs in John 15Matthew Henry describes this as an illustration of the disciples becoming one with Jesus. 

The first 17 verses describe what is essential to growth and fruit bearing. Read through those amazing words and then consider the following paraphrases:
  • the Father is the gardener
  • Jesus is the true vine and we must be rooted/attached/grafted in Him to bear any fruit for God
  • cleansed/pruned branches remain and are not removed
  • cleansing comes through the Word, the Word condemns sin, inspires holiness, promotes growth and reveals power
  • the purpose of the branch is to bear fruit
  • fruit bearing is impossible without abiding
  • but when abiding, fruit bearing is inevitable
  • continually more branches continually bearing more fruit - is not only implied, it is inherent
  • fruitless branches are the ones who do not abide and they are cast out and burnt up
  • abiding gives us full confidence and assurance of a harvest
  • answered prayer is a privilege of close abiding for abiding tunes our prayers to the will of God
  • fruit bearing brings glory to God, not to the fruit nor to the branch
  • love and obedience are intimately linked
  • we know we are abiding by our obedience
  • we know we are abiding because we experience fullness of joy - the exhilaration of being right with God and consciously walking in His love and care
  • when we abide, we no longer hoard resentments, animosities and bitterness towards others; rather, we love
  • abiding, we've become chosen friends, not ignorant servants
  • abiding, we experience the initiative love of Jesus
  • we can be proud of our position as friends of Jesus, bearing fruit for God

No one is more miserable than the Christian 
who for a time hedges in his obedience. 
He does not love sin enough to enjoy its pleasures, 
and does not love Christ enough to relish holiness. 
He perceives that his rebellion is iniquitous, 
but obedience seems distasteful. 
He does not feel at home any longer in the world, 
but his memory of his past associations and the tantalizing lyrics of his old music 
prevent him from singing with the saints. 
He is a man most to be pitied; 
and he cannot forever remain ambivalent.

What are your biggest obstacles to abiding?

What are your biggest obstacles to obedience?

Share a time when you've experienced fullness of joy (i.e. the exhilaration 
of being right with God and consciously walking in His love and care) 
while ministering overseas.


Series: Longevity in Ministry

Please note: 
Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this! What a great reminder, and what a beautiful and timely piece you included there at the end. We all need that constant reminder to abide in Christ. Our family verse is John 15:5 and our ministry name (RAME, a rare English word for branch) reflects that verse so that we do not forget exactly Who runs the show!! Thank you for blessing me this morning!