In a year-end review of one’s ministry, it is not hard to feel discouraged at the results. When this happens, it is good to be able to know with Paul that this ministry is “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1).
But to tell the truth, I have not always lived on this high plain of confidence. I haven’t doubted that I too was “called to reveal Christ,” but I have occasionally surrendered to self-pity. I have lived through gray days of despair when earthy questions demanded an answer: “Am I the only one who cares whether this church grows?” “Why don’t these Sunday sermon critics get off my back and do something themselves?” “Why should I work longer hours and get less pay than a garbage collector?”
And what rescued me from this frightening surf of self-pity? It was the knowledge that I was a servant of God, not of my own choosing but of his. I could not escape Jesus’ words, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). A thousand times as I have recognized my own failures, disobedience, and fruitlessness, I would have given up had I not known that “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
If being in “full-time service” is your own choice and not God’s choice for you, you have already blown it. Paul became a great preacher, but it wasn’t his choosing. He was moving north, and Jesus had to knock him down and turn him around. That experience temporarily blinded Paul, but he got the message and asked the right question—“Lord, what do you want me to do?”
Later, in writing to the Christians of Galatia, the Apostle said: “When it pleased God … to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:15, 16). After he had seen Christ, he says, he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was called to reveal Christ. And he clearly understood that to reveal Christ he had to preach the Gospel. This was God’s thing, God’s choosing. So Paul continues, “I conferred not with flesh and blood.”
One might think that with God as his employer Paul would have no problems. But not everyone took kindly to his preaching. Because he preached the Gospel, he had enemies. Men used every method they could hatch to stop him. They falsely accused him, stoned him, imprisoned him, constantly plotted his death. Yet he took literally Christ’s words, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Where did Paul get this impressive courage of continuance? From the fact that he knew he was a minister “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ.”
If you are a minister, God expects you to wear at least two hats. You are a soldier sliding on your belly into enemy territory, cutting the barbed wires of superstition to set the captives of Satan free. And then you are a shepherd, feeding and protecting the ones you helped free.
The calling of a soldier is not easy, but in my experience being a shepherd is even more exacting and fatiguing. God’s sheep are often anxious to go their own way and frequently get lost. Many of them are pretty earthly minded, very concerned about moving on to greener pastures. The only time they bleat for the shepherd is when they are in trouble. They will really try your patience. They will drain your well dry, and you will find it necessary to go often to the fountain of living water for strength and refreshment.
One other thing about sheep—they are the most helpless, defenseless creatures on earth. A jack rabbit can outrun them, a white rat can outbite them, and a young fawn can outkick them. And God’s sheep do have enemies—the Bible says that Satan goes around like a “roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”
That roaring lion, “the god of this world,” has maimed and killed innumerable sheep and crippled many shepherds. So don’t forget that you have a most formidable enemy. And don’t expect him to fight fair. He often fakes Christians out by appearing as an “angel of light.”
In this guise he might use the saccharine-suggestion method. Sweet thoughts horn in on you as if by radar—suggestions like, “Man, you were great today. Your preaching was right on target, your exposition of the Scriptures both warm and penetrating.” Or, “Those deacons were pretty stupid, but you showed a deep spiritual maturity by not losing your cool at that meeting.”
Or he might use the audible-pat-on-the-back method. It goes something like this: “Pastor, that was such a great sermon. You were better than Billy Graham, and you are such a dear.” “The pride of life” is the name of the weapon Satan is using.
When I entered the ministry I was strongly conscious of my weakness, and I relied on God’s strength. Soon I was learning lessons that made me a better shepherd. But my antagonist used even this spiritual growth to try to destroy me. He whispered that since God used Sunday’s sermon to move the emotions of men, I could always count on that sermon to make a good impression. As I discovered new methods of work, he suggested that I could trust my own abilities and count on my own reason and logic to build Christ’s Church and care for his flock. How effectively Proverbs 3:5 speaks to such a temptation: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
As a shepherd you will be called upon to visit your flock, to feed them, to listen to their complaints, to carry their burdens, and to counsel them. This is a rewarding but sometimes dangerous part of a shepherd’s work. A few weeks ago I wept with a minister who came to confess that he had gone to counsel a woman, was tempted, and yielded. Satan sprung on him the trap called “the lust of the flesh.” As we talked, I thought how easily this can happen to a minister. But there are some defensive moves. Remember that you are vulnerable and never allow yourself to be maneuvered into a compromising situation. Run from youthful lusts. Try to take someone with you when you visit or counsel if that seems advisable.
Christ demands of you a love for him that is unrivaled by any other love, a loyalty to him that is uncompromising, a willingness for unceasing cross-bearing, and a surrender to his Lordship that is unqualified.
Years ago in a little room in Los Angeles I listed those heavy demands and then right beside them placed only a sketchy record of what God has done for me. “God made Christ who did not know sin to be sin for me so as to make me God’s righteousness in him.” I was suddenly overwhelmed by all Christ had done for me. His demands became so right, so reasonable, and so small when I compared them with the price he paid for me that I dropped on my knees and promised to follow him.
Following has cost what Jesus said it would. But if once again I could be young and stand at that crossroad of serving self or serving Christ, I would without hesitation choose to serve Christ in the ministry, and thank him every day for the privilege of doing so.—DR. DICK HILLIS, general director, Overseas Crusades, Palo Alto, California.
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