Too often we blame the problem for the problem; we blame the ministry, the money, or both. I did that, failing to see that the biggest hurdle wasn't money or the ministry; it was me—namely, my attitude.
What's worse, I overlooked an important truth: that my life and ministry are shaped by attitudes that constantly influence those around me; a negative attitude bleeds out, staining those under me or around me, whereas a positive one sows into others, reaping changes that may flourish merely from my example.
Look around and you'll see how often churches mirror the personality and character of their pastor, whether positively or not so positively. This is especially true in the relationship between money and ministry: a generous pastor typically ends up with a higher percentage of generous people, and a miserly pastor ends up with a higher percentage of miserly people.
In The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer said, "Abraham had everything, yet possessed nothing. There is the spiritual secret…the sweet theology of the heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation."
One day, falling headfirst over the money/ministry hurdle, I plunged into depression. I felt sorry for myself and was greatly discouraged over our finances. Something had to change; someone had to help get rid of every hurdle. And he did.
As I knelt in prayer, tearfully offering God my ugly attitudes and frustrations over money and ministry, he mercifully led me back to the place of cleansing and healing. It is the place where we allow his gentle hands to remove the deeply penetrating talons of stuff, money, and possessions from the flesh of our hearts. It is the place of rededication to the lordship of Christ.
That is the secret.
Whether our economic situation is abundant or scarce is not the issue. Whether our ministry is thriving or struggling because of economy is not the issue. Rather, the condition of hearts is what matters.
Abraham was willing to sacrifice his promised gift because his heart was dedicated first to the Lord. The Macedonians mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:5, who were poverty-stricken yet generous and knew something about the relationship between money and ministry, were willing to give abundantly because "their first action was to give themselves to the Lord."
My hurdles are gone. The struggle between money and ministry is over, as it no longer matters how much of either I have. This secret is not safe with me. I will share it with anyone who is stumbling over those same hurdles…perhaps even you.
But I confess I'm also keeping the secret close by, in case those hurdles pop up again.
Ilona Hadinger, together with her husband and children, has served 17 years as a missionary to the Ethnic/Indigenous People of Mexico. She is a credentialed minister with the Assemblies of God, blogs at www.ikhadinger.com, and is a contributing author to Tortilla Press.