I first began to sense that God might be calling me to the ministry when I was seventeen years old. I was not officially ordained, however, until I was thirty years of age. A lot transpired in the intervening years. The aging process not only continued unabated, but I also learned a few lessons. Here are three that came to me this morning.
I’ve learned that patience is key. Immediately after sensing that God was calling me to ministry, I wanted to enter the ministry. I began writing articles. I began preparing sermons. (Thankfully, God had mercy on the congregation and kept me out of the pulpit.) I was greatly disappointed when many of my peers in Bible college were hired at churches before me. In hindsight, I now see that God was maturing me. “All God’s delays are maturings,” writes Derek Kidner. I concur. Which leads me to the next lesson I learned.
I’ve learned the importance of humility. God must humble and break his servants. Especially those of us who are academically inclined and drawn to the life of the mind. The temptation toward intellectual pride is an ever-present threat. And it must be slain and left dead in the streets. We’re really not that cool. And God is not impressed if we know the intricacies of supralapsarianism, dispensationalism, and the perichoretic union, but have not love.
I’ve learned that the power in ministry is rooted in the overflow of what God is doing in your own life. Simply put, if you’re not excited about what God is doing in your life, you probably won’t have any interest in what he’s doing in someone else’s life. This means your own personal devotion to Christ must be lively and robust.
Here’s what I’m saying: You probably won’t survive in the ministry very long if your relationship with God is fickle. The task of weekly preaching and preparation for other events will become rote and lifeless. Additionally, if you don’t have confidence in the Word of God—in its trustworthiness, authority, and sufficiency—you won’t make it. You’ll begin to wonder if you’re making a difference and if people can really change.
The backbone, the anchor in your ministry, must be your own robust relationship with God—feasting on the Word of God, coupled with “prayer and assiduous meditation,” to borrow a phrase from the Puritan giant John Owen, is what sustains you.
I’ll end with a quote from John Piper that I think says it all:
One great hindrance to holiness in the ministry of the Word is that we are prone to preach and write without pressing into the things we say and making them real to our own souls. Over the year words begin to come easy, and we find we can speak of mysteries without standing in awe; we can speak of purity without feeling pure; we can speak of zeal without spiritual passion; we can speak of God’s holiness without trembling; we can speak of sin without sorrow; we speak of heaven without eagerness. And the result is an increasing hardening of the spiritual life.
Brothers, let’s fight against this with all our might.