I have to confess, when I took a job working with college students, I was apprehensive. God’s call seemed to be there, and I love the ministry field, but I worried about heading back and facing the familiar vicious cycle of anxiety, despair, and competitive pride.
If you’ve been in ministry for any amount of time, you know the temptation to ride high when it seems like numbers are up and students (or members) are happy with you. Or the flipside: the worry that floods your heart when you don’t see a student for a few months; the creeping despair that your work has been ineffective and in vain when you are having the same conversation about the same sins over and over; the self-reproach when you see the “success” of the ministry up the street.
But God, in his kindness, has been working on my heart with two weighty doctrines about how he works to build his church: dual causality and providence. Put more simply: God is at work within you and beyond you.
We see these principles at work in Paul’s important discussion of ministry with the Corinthians. Here he’s dealing with the divisions and party spirit that had arisen in Corinth, with folks picking teams and favorite apostles. To this he replies, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:5-7).
First, Paul says we need to get clear that all true spiritual growth comes from God. Enough, then, with fixating on human workers—even ourselves. ...1
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