In a recent conversation with some friends, the issue of ministry opportunities arose. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where it does not seem that we have any opportunities to serve others or to minister. What can make those situations even more challenging is when we look at other people we know and see how the Lord has been blessing their ministries, giving them fruit in their work, and how great things seem to be going with them. The temptation is to look back at our own situation, see how little we have to show, and become discouraged. We ask, What can I do to serve the Lord? In many such times, we are bound by family, work, or other constraints that prevent us from taking on anything new, so what should we do when we find ourselves in such circumstances, but still have a burning desire to serve?
Well, let me first say that there is no such thing as “my” or “their ministry.” We are all servants of the Most High, and He works through us to accomplish His purposes. We are merely the vessels He chooses to use. Any good that comes about from any service, witness, or ministry comes from Him, and from Him alone.
It is this fact that gives believers comfort when the ministries the Lord has entrusted to them seem to pale in comparison to others. In the Corinthian church, divisions had crept in and factions had arisen over which spiritual leader the members were following. Some still clung to Paul, others followed after a young charismatic named Apollos, others chose Peter. Still others claimed in a self-righteous attitude, “Oh yeah? Well, I follow Christ” (my paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 1:12). Paul had come to plant the church, but Apollos took his place when he left, continuing to strengthen and guide the church there (Acts 18:1-11, 24-28). This distinction in the church continued to grow, causing many there to even question Paul’s apostleship.
Yet Paul does not write to beat the believers over the head about why some were following Apollos instead of him. Rather, he implores them to live in harmony and grow in the Lord. Key to his discussion is increasing spiritual maturity, and he points out that all the growth any person had experienced came from God alone. He writes, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:4-5). It did not matter who was in charge, which preacher they appreciated more, the fact was that God was working through each of them to grow the Corinthians spiritually.
This was Paul’s attitude when he wrote to the Philippians. He was in a Roman prison for preaching the Gospel, and the Gospel was continuing to go forth. The only problem was that some people were doing it to try and steal his show as it were (Philippians 1:17). Yet he told the Philippians not to be concerned about that fact. He writes, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached, and in this I rejoice” (Philippians1:18). For Paul, it did not matter who was preaching the Gospel, so long as it was being proclaimed.
As in his letter to Corinth, Paul emphasizes unity, urging the believers there to work together as they grow in Christ and spread the Gospel. The church in Philippi was very dear to his heart, and he wanted to be able to glory in them when he met Christ. But after expressing that desire, he makes a very significant statement by saying, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (Philippians 2:17). In the sacrificial system of the time, the major emphasis was on the burnt offering; the drink offering was only a small accompaniment. However, Paul was saying that he was willing to be that, to be seen as insignificant if it meant that the Philippians themselves would grow and be seen to serve God mightily. It did not matter to Paul who was recognized; he desperately desired them to grow in Christ and devote themselves to serving Him alone.
Through these examples of the life of Paul, we see that we should refrain from comparing ourselves or competing with one another for who has the most prominent ministry, jockeying for prominence or recognition. No, that should not be our attitude. Rather, we are to rejoice with one another and how the Lord is working through those around us, even if it seems our own lives our insignificant. For when we stop and think about it, His glory is what we really are living for, not ourselves. At least, that is the way it should be. Christ has bought us with His own blood, and we must give our all’s to serving Him, regardless of what reward we get from man.
This may all seem well and good, but what about those times where we try and try, but there do not seem to be any open doors of service for us? We have prayed, we are not competing with others, but we have prayed and we earnestly desire to serve the Lord someway, anyway. I have found myself in this situation several times.
Though the desire to serve the Lord is good, right, and admirable, we should not think that these times of quiet are wrong. Instead, the Lord wants us to recognize that there are times of preparation in our lives where He equips us for the task ahead of us, a task we might not yet even dream about.
Look at the life of Paul. He was a persecutor of the Church, a violent man and full of passion (Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13). Yet on the road to Damascus, the Lord Jesus appeared to Him, and in the days that followed, Paul believed on Him for eternal life.
Even so, Paul did not become the stalwart preacher and missionary we know him as just overnight. It did not take a month, year, or even a decade. The Spirit prepared him in the wilderness for three years before he began truly preaching, and even then, he waited another fourteen years before he began proclaiming Christ in earnest (Galatians 1:18; 2:1). There had to be a time where the Lord prepared his heart for what he would face as he preached, was persecuted, and ultimately martyred.
And he was not alone. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness tending sheep before the Lord gave him the commission to return to Egypt and lead Israel to freedom (Exodus 7:7; Acts 7:23, 30). It was during that time that the Pharaoh died in whose court Moses had grown up, and Moses was prepared for the task of leading Israel out of Egypt. This period was echoed by Israel’s wandering in the desert for forty years after they crossed the Red Sea (Numbers 14:33; Deuteronomy 8:2-6; Deuteronomy 29:5-6). This was to purge Israel of the rebellious spirit within them and allow a new generation to rise up to take the land of Canaan. This time of preparation was even a part of David’s life. He spent many years fleeing from Saul, drawing closer to the Lord and writing many of the beautiful Psalms we have in our Bibles. In the book of 1 Samuel, the saga of David’s constant flight from Saul is played out again and again (1 Samuel 18-27).
Even the Lord Jesus had times of preparation. At the age of twelve, He amazed the religious leaders of His day with His wisdom, yet He waited until He was about thirty to actually begin His ministry (Luke 2:41-47; 3:23). Even after that, after He was baptized, He was tested for forty days in the wilderness before He selected His disciples for full-time service and began preaching in earnest (Matthew 4:1-11). These periods were to allow Him to be tested like we are in all things and to fulfill His role as our Great High Priest (Numbers 4:3; 1 Chronicles 23:2-5; Hebrews 4:14-16).
The point is that God sometimes brings times of waiting into our lives to prepare us for something more, something beyond what we may see at the time. We can get so caught up in “having” to do something, but miss God’s greater purpose in our lives. Visible ministries that have tangible results are not always God’s plan. In fact, one of the primary reasons He gave spiritual gifts to the Church was not just for evangelism, but for growth of believers (Ephesians 4:11-15). God has a purpose for every period, every season of our lives, and He calls us to be content with what He has given us.
It is hard to do that. It can be extremely hard. But as we look and see those round us who have been given ministries that seem so profitable, so noble, we are not to be discouraged. We are to rejoice with our brothers and sisters for how God is working through them and be faithful with what He has given us at the moment. He may be working in us to grow us and those around us more like Christ, and HE may be preparing us for something else He has in store. Regardless of which it is, we are called to serve God faithfully with what He has given…even if it may seem insignificant to us. It is not to Him. He knows what He is doing, and we just have to follow Him as He leads.