Archives For God

Close-up of father and son fixing bike

There is a tape that plays in my head. I don’t turn it on, it just plays. I found it playing deep in the recesses of my mind when I disciplined my children or taught them to play ball or how to hammer a nail. It plays involuntarily still when I show my grandchildren how to cast a fishing line or how to play well with their siblings.

It goes like this: “How did my Dad do it?”

This intimidates me a bit because I know my children—and yours—have a tape playing in their own minds. This intimidation only deepens when I consider the common description of God as a father. When our children go to church they learn the lesson that God is their heavenly Father, and they can’t help but see that through the lens of their own earthly dad.

At our best, we will be imperfect fathers. We will always be imperfect models because we are imperfect people. But God uses fatherhood as a description of himself. We are, for good or for bad, examples from which our kids learn about God. We are, for good or for bad, examples from which our kids learn how to do life.

Here are some suggestions about how dads can get this right—imperfect, but right:

1. Show your children how to love their families. Dads, make sure your children know you love them. Let them know you love them when they succeed and let them know you love them when they fail. Be certain they know that your love is unconditional. That you love them whether they do right or wrong. That you love them even when you discipline them. That you discipline them because you love them.

Proverbs 3:12 says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.” Unconditional love is a powerful force in the life of a child.

And, make sure they know you love their mother. Teach them by your actions how a man is to treat his wife. Live out Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” Show by your love and sacrifice that you treasure your wife so they can see a healthy model.

2. Show your children how to love the church and the things of God. I am very blessed that my father took me to church. He cared so much about my spiritual development that he took me to church Sunday by Sunday. Note that he didn’t just send me to learn from others. He took me and thereby taught me to value this institution formed by the Lord. By the way, he didn’t give me a choice about attending church any more than he let me choose whether to skip school or to stay up all night long or to eat only ice cream.

Show your kids that the things of God are important. Help them see that church is God’s idea, the Bible is God’s Word, and prayer is talking to God. Let them see this by how you spend your time and your money. Let them see this by what you talk about and what you do.

3. Show your children how to love Jesus and to follow him closely. Faith is about more than going to church or being moral. Ultimately, it is about a personal relationship with God the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. Let your children know by your words and your actions that Jesus is your Savior, your Lord, and the center of your life. Tell them about when you trusted Christ. Talk to them about what God is doing in your life currently. Let them know the primacy of your devotional life—that Dad reads his Bible and spends time with the Lord in prayer.

You are going to get some things wrong in parenting. But don’t get this one wrong. Let your children know that you love Jesus more than them and that this love makes you love them more than you ever could otherwise. Let them know that your commitment to Jesus not only gives you a home in heaven one day, but it makes your home better in this day.

Dads, there is one more gift to give to your children. Help them hear an even better tape that needs to play in their minds than “What would Dad do?” This tape has to be played consciously and intentionally. It goes like this: “What does my Heavenly Father want?”

Dads, you can let them see some of the answer to that question in your life.

Doug Munton is first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill. His latest book is titled “30 Days to Acts.”

For the joy

Decatur | Deana Moore didn’t mind the less than stellar running conditions that greeted her early on Saturday morning, April 28. Instead of derailing her from participating in a planned 5K race, the rain and unseasonably cool temperatures helped her enjoy nature and the people she ran with in the event, which is held along with IBSA’s Priority Women’s Conference.

“It was quite an accomplishment for me too, because I was able to run the whole thing without walking or stopping,” said Moore, a member of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur. Running alongside her were several other women who participated in a spring “Run for God” Bible study that met on Wednesday evenings at Tabernacle.

The 5K in Decatur was a “graduation race” for the class led by Leigh Johnson, a veteran runner and the wife of Tabernacle Pastor Randy Johnson. Run for God is a curriculum created in 2010 by Georgia runner Mitchell Hollis that combines the physical and the spiritual in a 12-week study that also includes group runs.

At Tabernacle, Johnson’s group ran outside on Wednesday evenings when they could, and inside when the weather didn’t permit it. The building’s upstairs loop was their track, she said, as the group carefully dodged around children from the church’s Awana program.

“They were very gracious to kind of bob and weave with us,” Johnson said. The run also took the class through the balcony around the sanctuary, where they heard the worship band practicing for Sunday’s worship service.

The music could well have served as a reminder for the group’s ultimate purpose—to grow closer to God while doing something he has equipped them to do. “Being able to physically do those things—[to] build up to running like we did—I know that wasn’t me,” Moore said after her recent 5K. “I know that it was all God helping me to do that.”

Unhindered

Rainy weather didn’t keep runners from participating in the Priority Women’s Conference 5K race April 28
in Decatur.

One class for all levels
Leigh Johnson first heard about Run for God during last year’s Priority conference. IBSA’s Carmen Halsey, director of women’s missions and ministry, introduced the curriculum at the annual 5K race and offered to partner with churches who wanted to use it as an evangelistic outreach.

Johnson went home and looked up the program. “I was all over it,” she said.

Each week of the study focuses on a devotional piece and correlating Scripture passages, along with an educational component about running.

One week, the lesson focused on Jesus feeding the 5,000. He recognized the physical hunger in front of him, but also an even deeper need—the spiritual hunger of the people. Johnson’s group talked about how the things people do—going to church, reading books, listening to sermons in the car—are good and valuable. But they’re snack-like compared to the sustaining nourishment of a relationship with Jesus that includes personal quiet time, reading, praying, and searching.

Greeting

Members of Leigh Johnson’s Run for God Bible study group were among the runners, and she greeted them at the finish line.

Before their Wednesday evening runs together, the women discussed the Scripture passages provided with each week’s lesson. Johnson brought in local experts—including a physical trainer and a representative from a running shoe store—to help teach the group about the proper way to run.

Johnson said the study was beneficial to people at all stages of physical fitness, and spiritual development.

“I think it’s beautiful in that sense, that it could be for anyone,” she said. “For the runner, the non-runner, the person that’s been a Christian for years, a non-Christian, or a baby Christian that’s just accepted the Lord.”

One woman in the class was brought back into the hope of a relationship with Christ, after feeling like her connection with him had been broken. Another rediscovered the joy of personal devotional times with God.

Deana Moore said the week the class was challenged to share their own stories was particularly effective for her. “It made me think about my own testimony: if I’m called to give it, am I prepared for that?”

Since the 12-week class ended, Moore has also already signed up for two more 5K races, and is involving her teenage daughters in running with her.

Johnson, a self-described uncomfortable public speaker, discovered the encouragement of her group—and strength from God—could help her do something she didn’t previously think was possible. After she made a Facebook promotional video for the class and flyers were printed about the upcoming study, she realized, “I’m really going to have to do this,” Johnson said.

But with “deep breath after deep breath and prayer and prayer,” she moved forward, leaning on Scripture verses like Philippians 4:13 and Joshua 1:9, whick is a key verse for Run for God. Johnson said she’s “blown away” that God would use something she’s comfortable doing—running—to help her with something she’s less comfortable with—leading in a public setting.

At the Priority 5K in Decatur, she had to take on a completely different role after injuring her foot just before the race. Rather than running with her group, she had to take a step back and cheer them on at the finish line. Johnson stood in the rain under a large umbrella, greeting her friends as they completed the run and handing out finisher’s medals.

Had she run herself, she said, she might have forgotten what the day was supposed to be about. Instead, she ran a different race that Saturday, one that, judging by the hugs she gave and received, was every bit as vital.

For more information about women’s ministry and missions opportunities across Illinois, go to IBSA.org/women or contact Carmen Halsey at (217) 391-3143 or CarmenHalsey@IBSA.org.

–Meredith Flynn

Bryan Price

Bryan Price

The notion that Martin Luther was a reformer of preaching is one that receives little attention. Yet the changes to preaching brought about by his influence were instrumental not only in helping people grasp the fundamental truths of the faith, but also in transforming the very nature of Christian worship.

As we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Luther’s contributions to church’s thinking about the content, priority, and simplification of preaching still challenge us as modern-day pastors and worshipers.

Luther was a product of the preaching tradition of the medieval period, which, according to scholar Dennis Ngien, placed a significant burden upon the listener to do good works in hopes of earning favor with God. Grace was contingent upon performance, and Christ was emphasized as a judge who demanded righteous living.

But Reformation theology presented just the opposite view, emphasizing justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Consequently, as the Reformation challenged the theology behind the sermon, it also brought about a shift in the content of the sermon. In Luther’s preaching, good works were no longer a means to acquire grace, but were the result of having received grace.

Along with transforming preaching content, the Reformation also led to a renewed emphasis on its priority. Writer Hughes Old explains that where worship was previously centered around the sacraments, with very little emphasis on the proclamation of Scripture, Luther was adamant that when the church gathered, clear exposition of the Word was to be first in order. He believed since true biblical worship was always in response to the preached Word, worship in the form of the sacraments and singing should come after hearing the Word proclaimed, and not before. In fact, Luther saw the preached Word as sacramental in and of itself. In his view, it was through the preached Word that the worshiper encountered the living Word.

In my own experience as a church planter, during the early years when our choir was young and inexperienced, the running joke was that whoever attended Love Fellowship came just for the preaching, because the choir was certainly not on the level of many of the established churches in the area. We would laugh about it, but there was a part of me that wished we had the luxury of a glorious choir that could help set the atmosphere of worship.

Since then, and having read Luther, I now see how blessed we were. Having to do without the ideal choir allowed us to establish a church where the preaching was and continues to be the central part of our worship. In a day where choirs and worship bands are employed for their ability to draw crowds and keep people on their feet, I think a re-reading of Luther would be a tremendous benefit to the body of Christ who, perhaps in this area, has lost her way.

Lastly, the Reformation led to the simplification of preaching. Though he was undoubtedly one of the greatest theological minds in Christian history, Luther was compelled to make deep spiritual truths accessible to the common layman.

In my survey of contemporary sermons by popular preachers, I am beginning to think those who preach may feel they have not done an adequate job unless they have parsed not less than two Greek words and have offered the opinion of at least ten noted scholars. I am sure their people leave on Sunday proud to have a pastor with such a high level of academic training, but whether they understood what was said is up for debate.

I can recall an instance where I used the word “eschatological” during the sermon. Afterwards, a brother asked me what “eschatological” meant. I told him, it refers to the end times. He then replied, “Why didn’t you just say that?” I think Luther would offer the same critique.

The Reformation forever altered the theological landscape of the Christian faith, but it also changed how that faith was proclaimed, for the glory of God and for the edification of the people of God. For this reason, we celebrate Luther. May we who preach continuously re-evaluate our work in light of his, so that the people to whom we preach will grow in God’s grace and become increasingly confident in the righteousness of Christ as the basis for their justification before God.

Bryan Price pastors Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville.

The long road to peace

The docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War, will be shown in theaters one night only, May 23.

Update: Due to a near record turnout in theaters May 23, Fathom Events will bring “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem” back to theaters on June 1. To learn more visit InOurHands1967.com.

Here’s something I never thought I would do—discuss Middle East policy with Gordon Robertson, son of “700 Club” and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.

I met the younger Robertson, now the CEO of his father’s network, at the recent Evangelical Press Association Conference in Chicagoland. He was there to screen his docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War as they battled their way into the old city, eventually unifying it under Israeli control.

The film, which is being released prior to the 50th anniversary of the war in June, includes interviews with the soldiers who fought and re-enactments showing how armies from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria joined together to attempt to banish the state of Israel. It highlights the determination of the Israeli people, the tension between them and Arab leaders, how God keeps his promises, and how some of those who fought felt they didn’t really win because they didn’t keep the Temple Mount for Israel.

Robertson was incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, having made several trips to the Middle East and met many of its leaders. My conversation with him, and my viewing of the documentary, felt especially timely in light of current global events—and throws into sharp relief the severe divisions still present in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump met earlier this month Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and is likely to visit Israel at the end of May, according to media outlets. The president hopes to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, but many who are knowledgeable about the long-standing conflict between the two have noted the leaders of both appear much less willing to meet in the middle.

In a column for Denver Post, writer Greg Dobbs pointed out that the eight U.S. presidents preceding Trump have all worked in some capacity toward peace between Israel and Palestine—ultimately to no avail. “Some expended more energy and intellect than others. Some came closer than others,” Dobbs wrote. “But ultimately, all failed.”

Taken in the current context, Gordon Robertson’s documentary is an important picture of the complicated struggle that embroils the Middle East, and of the often arduous journey toward any lasting peace. The film will be shown in theaters for one night on May 23; I highly recommend it.

-Lisa Misner Sergent

woman w flowers

Almost six months ago, God gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received besides salvation and an amazing husband: a son.

Sheridan Steele Colter, born at 8 pounds and half an ounce after 30 hours of labor, is truly an answer to innumerable prayers. I’m continually in awe of the miracle of his life each time I whisper my love in his ear, stroke his strawberry-blonde hair, and tickle his tiny toes.

I’ve wanted to be a mom as far back as I can remember. My own mother modeled the role with excellence, and I grew up wanting to be just like her. Early in my marriage, however, God allowed my husband and me to experience the loss of precious life through miscarriage. Years that felt like decades passed, and with each one, we became a little less confident that we would ever become parents to biological children.

Like other holidays, this one can also be stressful.

We were in near disbelief and cautiously elated when a positive result registered on an at-home pregnancy test. We cried tears of joy that were every bit as wet and salty as those we’d shed over our previous losses. Months later, six days after his due date, our precious son arrived, a gift who shines brightly in my life, and all the brighter juxtaposed with the dimness that came before him.

I want to be sure “to forget not all [the Lord’s] benefits” (Psalm 103:2) and to thank God for the graciously sweet gift of a child. Yet, my heart remains bruised for those who approach Mother’s Day with deep sadness. Some have experienced the loss of their own mother. Some have had to bury children. Some have grieved through the pain of miscarriage. And some have watched the dream of parenthood die.

Scripture tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and on Mother’s Day, we have the opportunity to practice both ends of that command. It seems to me that most of us have an easier time with the rejoicing part, but it’s the bearing one another’s burdens portion that can prove a bit more difficult. Here are just a few thoughts on how we might do that this year:

1. Don’t try to fix it. Only God can administer the “peace which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Tell hurting friends you are praying for them, and then don’t forget to do it. Consider sending a snail mail card or even a text message to someone after you have prayed, letting them know you did so. Often, that will arrive at just the right moment to encourage your friend’s heart, and they will no doubt be grateful you’ve approached the Lord on their behalf.

2. Create an environment where they are welcomed to rejoice with you in your celebrations. Think less about the fact that it might make you feel awkward that you have been given a blessing they would love to have, and more about the fact that they might love to have something to celebrate along with you, even in the midst of their own pain. Don’t think that just because they are hurting they will not want to share in your times of rejoicing.

3. Give them space. After you have created a welcoming environment for them to join in with you, respect the fact that they might wish to step back for a moment. There is not one single way to grieve—some people might desire a bit of space to themselves as they work through their pain. This is one of those times when sending a card might be the way to go. There is nothing intrusive about an envelope with a note of care being delivered to their mailbox, but it certainly lets your friend know you have thought of them.

4. Don’t do nothing. Horrible grammar, I know. But, truly, this is not one of those if-you-just-ignore-something-it-goes-away things. Your friend is hurting, and even though you cannot take away their pain, you can acknowledge it. Be honest with your friend that you don’t know what to say but you want them to know you are there for them.

As I finish typing this, my son is squealing with delight in his swing next to my rocking chair. He is a beautiful gift and the “joy” that has come in my “morning” (Psalm 30:5). I’ll celebrate being his mom this year, thanking the Lord for his faithfulness in the darkest of times and the brightest. I pray God reveals that faithfulness to those who mourn this Mother’s Day and that my celebration won’t multiply their pain, but instead point to a God whose character is good in the bad times and the pleasant, and whose love is without end.

Sharayah Colter is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas, and owner of Colter & Co. Design.

– From Baptist Press

Michael Allen

In a complete revamp from any year in memory, the 2017 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference features pastors of average-sized SBC churches who will preach through one book of the Bible—Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago and a former president of IBSA’s Pastors’ Conference, is one of 12 pastors who will take the stage in Phoenix June 11-12. The group also includes David Choi, pastor of Chicago’s Church of the Beloved.

Allen spoke with the Illinois Baptist about his upcoming message and what pastors like him contribute to the SBC family:

Q: What passage will you preach in Phoenix?

A: I’ll be preaching Philippians 3:17-21. This passage gives us a reminder of our citizenship in heaven, and helps the church distinguish itself from the world in how we think, act, and live. And then it also reminds us that it is the resurrection power of Christ that changes us both inside and out.

Q: What do you think is unique about what smaller or average-sized churches (and their pastors) add to SBC life?

A: The conference choice of pastors who lead small and medium-sized churches helps the conference attendees better identify and relate to guys just like them. We know that most churches in America, regardless of denomination, are small (less than 100). It also highlights the fact that pastors of smaller churches can effectively handle the Word of God, even in big venues. The Scriptures remind us not to “despise small beginnings” (Zech. 4:10).

Q: The conference this year also is focused on diversity. In your opinion, what is the value of hearing from pastors of different ethnicities and backgrounds?

A: We all have a unique cultural background which colors how we see and experience life. Culture also is a lens through which we see and interpret God’s Word and God himself. So hearing from ethnically diverse preachers in our convention enriches us all, because God made us different and his intentions are that we learn from and complement each other.

Q: You represent both the Midwest and one of the country’s largest cities. What about your ministry experience in Chicago do you want the larger SBC family to hear and understand?

A: The SBC family needs to understand that the world continues to move into ever-growing metropolitan cities, making them more and more diverse—ethnically, socio-economically, religiously, and every other measurement of diversity. Therefore, we have a great opportunity to win the world to Christ without ever boarding a plane.

At the same time [increasing diversity] makes ministry more complex, and more resources are needed to do ministry here. Whatever strategy the International Mission Board is using to reach the world for Christ can and should be prayerfully considered to be employed in America’s rich and diverse urban centers. IMB and the North American Mission Board ought to continue to seek ways they can collaborate with each other for the glory of God in the salvation of souls.

The primary group of preachers at the Pastors’ Conference will be joined by four pastors who will give testimonies of how their lives and ministries have benefited from smaller membership churches:

  • SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis
  • J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
  • Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., and former SBC president
  • Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, and former SBC president

For more information on the Pastors’ Conference, including a full schedule, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.

The surrendered life

ib2newseditor —  April 17, 2017

Surrendered life

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. He pastored the Westminster Chapel in the heart of London for nearly three decades, and by the end of his ministry he was one of the most influential ministers on earth. But before Lloyd-Jones was a great preacher, he was an accomplished physician. After earning his medical degree, he came under the tutelage of Lord Horder, caregiver to His Majesty, King George V, and enjoyed one of the most promising medical careers in all of England.

In considering God’s call to ministry, Lloyd-Jones wrestled with his “physician’s dilemma”—giving up medicine to pursue preaching. Ultimately, it was a war of desire, and his desire for ministry won out:

“We spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin! I want to heal souls. If a man has a diseased body and his soul is all right, he is all right to the end; but a man with a healthy body and distressed soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face eternity in Hell.”

From his book, “Discerning Your Call to Ministry,” Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason K. Allen offers insight on ministry, calling, and Christian education.

Are you willing to surrender?
A generation ago, “surrendering to ministry” was a common phrase in evangelical churches. It was certainly common in my childhood church. Most every sermon ended with an invitation to surrender to ministry. This immediately followed our pastor’s appeal to follow Christ, be baptized, or join the church.

Like Moses at the burning bush, you can persist in your excuses, or surrender to the call of God on your life.

As a boy, the phrase “surrender to ministry” both mystified and unnerved me. It sounded as though one was embracing an unwanted life, a call to a distant land for an undesired work. It seemed like a call one intuitively resisted—as long as possible—until finally buckling under the Spirit’s pressure and embarking on a life of ministry that, albeit noble, would be marked by sacrifice and hardship.

In hindsight, I do not think that is what my pastor meant, nor do I think that is what the New Testament implies. As I found in my own life, surrendering to ministry is not caving to an unwanted vocation; it is embracing what becomes increasingly irresistible: gospel ministry.

In other words, if by surrendering to ministry we mean engaging in an undesirable work, then jettison that phrase now. But if we mean surrendering to minister as unto the Lord and self-consciously choosing to forgo other life opportunities, conveniences, and ambitions, then surrendering to ministry is a good, healthy phrase. In fact, I am convinced “surrendering to ministry” is a phrase the church needs to recover and ministry-posture the church needs to cultivate. Every faithful ministry begins with a surrendered life, and that submissiveness shapes every aspect of one’s ministry, including why, where, and what one preaches.

What surrender entails
Surrendering to ministry rightly establishes the pastor’s motivation. After all, the pastor’s incentive should not be material gain, the applause of men, or any other earthly enticement. Rather, the preacher should, like the apostle Paul, know in his heart, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).

To surrender to preach the ministry is to be so gripped by God’s call, and so moved for His glory, that one shares Jeremiah’s burden: “If I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jer. 20:9).

The urgency with which one preaches may ebb and flow based on a multitude of factors, including the receptivity of the congregation, the preacher’s spirituality vitality, and the tenor of the text itself. But, for the man rightly surrendered to ministry, the “why” of the ministry is settled—it is for Christ and His glory.

Additionally, surrendering to ministry includes a determination to follow God’s call wherever it may lead. This may include a willingness to leave family and friends, go to a distant place, and undertake a new work. After all, Jesus reflected, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).

Too many ministers are perfectly willing to follow God’s call as long as it does not lead out of their hometown. Such kingdom restrictiveness is alien to the New Testament and stymies one’s availability to be used by God. Practically speaking, you can know if you are limiting God’s call if you’ve already placed—perhaps even unconsciously—limits on where you are willing to serve Christ.

A willingness to go wherever includes a willingness to minister to whomever. There are churches across the land poised for anything but numerical success. Challenging demographics, an unreceptive audience, or a dilapidated neighborhood might make God’s call unattractive, but if it is God’s call, it is a glorious one—regardless of the zip code. After all, struggling churches and dying communities need ministers, too. God typically calls more to a people than a place. If God calls you to minister to a church in a challenging area, are you willing to go?

Don’t settle for the path of least resistance or the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

Surrendering to ministry also means operating under the authority of God’s Word. Most especially, this relates to the act of preaching itself. The role of the preacher is not to cobble together anecdotes with human insights and then sprinkle in a couple of Bible verses to produce a “homily.” The faithful preacher tunes his ear to the Spirit of God, not the critic’s grumble. His finger is on the text, not in the air, gauging the wind. His voice is given to preaching the Word, not peddling shallow sermons for shallow people.

Too many pastors are textual acrobats, contorting their preaching to avoid Scripture’s sharper edges. Such preachers have become adept at explaining away difficult texts and dodging confrontational verses. From the earliest days of ministry you’ll have to guard your heart from pleasing anyone other than the Lord. Fearing combative personalities, overreacting to legitimate criticism, or stubbornly desiring man’s approval can all compromise your message and disorient you from paramount loyalty: loyalty to the One who called you—God Himself.

Two stories of surrender
The Bible offers no better case study of surrendering to ministry than the Old Testament prophet Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, and preach repentance so the people there might be saved. It’s crystal clear that God was concerned about the why, where, and what of Jonah’s message.

Tragically, Jonah resisted God’s call in spectacular fashion. When God called Jonah, he was in Israel. God instructed him to go to Nineveh, which was about 550 miles east of Jerusalem in what is now modern-day Iraq, but Jonah did the exact opposite. He struck out for Tarshish, located in modern-day Spain, some 2,000 miles in the opposite direction!

Why did Jonah resist God’s call to preach repentance to the Ninevites? The Ninevites were the sworn enemies of the Israelites. The last thing Jonah wanted was to see the Ninevites repent and escape God’s impending judgement. In fact, Jonah actually confessed that he fled to Tarshish because he knew God was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

God’s ministers are not spiritual free agents. We are not ecclesiastical entrepreneurs who strike out on our own and minister in accordance with our own desires. As Jonah’s sin was running from God’s appointed place of ministry, a more common twenty-first-century sin might be running to a preferred place of ministry.

On the contrary, aspire to be like John Piper, who went to Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980 despite a small, aging congregation in dilapidated facilities located in a transitional neighborhood. He sensed God’s call, followed it, and has been used by God like few others in our generation.

A number of years ago I faced a similarly challenging decision. A church reached out to me about helping them through a season of challenge and transition. I felt God’s leading to serve the church, but several friends sought to dissuade me. I vividly recall one friend telling me, “Stay away. That church will ruin your resume. It’s a troubled congregation in a troubled part of town. Billy Graham couldn’t grow that church. You’ll have plenty of great opportunities in the years ahead. Don’t settle for anything less than God’s best for you.”

Though well intended, that counsel was altogether unhelpful and disorienting. For a while it confused me, until I remembered that God’s will for my life is God’s best for my life. By enlarging my circle of wise counselors, reflecting on the church’s needs, and my wife and I seeking the Lord and gaining His peace, it became clear that God was indeed calling us to that church.

The bottom line is, if you had a million lives to live you could not improve upon the life God has called you to live and the ministry to which He has called you. Don’t settle for second best by choosing the path of least resistance or the ministry that promises the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

These days the phrase “surrendering to ministry” seems a vestige of the previous generation of church life. This is more than unfortunate; it is unhealthy, and the church is the big loser.

Surrendering to ministry means you’re willing to go to anyone, anywhere, anytime. But don’t be confused; as you surrender you will enter more fully into God’s joy and blessing. A surrendered life is integral to a healthy ministry.

– Reprinted by permission