Thursday, September 18, 2008

Are You Diluted?

My post yesterday never happened because my baby was sick. It appears that she has a virus, but she has been rather miserable, and just wants to be held. She has slept very little the last two nights. Consequently, my morning cofffee has felt more like a need than a want! Because I missed yesterday, today's post will be about ministry, and tomorrow's will be about music.

This week, we've been talking about coffee, and our lives. Weakness can come from a variety of reasons. One is not having sufficient strength to start with. If I brew my coffee without enough coffee grounds, it is going to be weak. However, another source of weakness is dilution. When something gets watered-down, it loses flavor and potency. One of my least favorite things is a watery drink, whether it's coffee, tea, Pepsi, or Kool-Aid, there is just nothing good about it when it gets diluted.

Today, I'd like to take a little about our ministries. What would you consider your ministry to be? Ministry is more than just what the preacher (or preacher's wife) does. Ministry is something that every Christian should have some part in. Ministry is service to Christ. While we may serve in different aspects or different roles, every member of the body of Christ has an important function, and needs to be performing it.

Many times I think we confuse activity with ministry. Mary and Martha are the classic examples of this. Martha was busy and was serving, but in Christ's eyes, she had lost focus of what real ministry was all about. If we are not careful, we can do the same thing. We can be "cumbered about much serving", and yet be missing the point of ministry altogether. Our ministry, instead of being vibrant and powerful, can become diluted and weak. Just as a weak cup of coffee is barely palatable, so a weak ministry is ineffective and unappealing to the very ones we are seeking to minister to.

So what causes our ministries to become diluted? Our ministry will be diluted if....

I. We Forsake the Person

We must never forget that ministry is supposed to be all about Christ. Most of the time, we serve Christ through serving others, but our true motive is serving Him. If we get our eyes off of Him, and on those around us, we will become discouraged and often weak. Mary's focus was on the person of Christ (Lk. 10:42), and Jesus said that she had "chosen that good part...". If we do not spend time with the Lord in a personal relationship, if we fail to read His Word, and walk with Him, all of our activity is in vain. Jesus told Martha, " thing is needful." We must never lose sight of why we do what we do. It is about a Person, not people. It is about a relationship and fellowship with Him, not just the amount of busyness we can involve ourselves in.

II. We Forget Our Purpose

As we walk with Christ, He leads us by His own example to our purpose, which is to please the Father. Jesus gave His first statement about His ministry in the Temple at the age of twelve when He said, "....I must be about my Father's business." As His ministry continued, He did many wonderful things. He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the hungry, and more. Yet, He said in John 5:30, "...I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." He said in John 8, "I do always those things that please Him." Even in the Garden, before He was taken to be crucified, He prayed, "Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." While the ministry of Christ achieved everything He was sent to do, He did it all by fulfilling the will of His Father.

Christ is our great example. If we will simply focus our purpose on pleasing our Heavenly Father, He will see that we fulfill all that He desires us to do. When we get sidetracked into pursuing our own ideas and purposes, our own ambition and desires, even in the name of ministry, we become diluted and lose the power God desires us to have. We must learn to pray, as Christ did, "Not my will, but thine, be done."

III. We Are Not Filled with the Power of the Holy Spirit

When we seek to do the work of God in our own power and strength, it is doomed to weakness and failure. While I may appear to accomplish great tasks for a period of time, spiritual ministry cannot succeed through the power of my flesh. This is true whether our ministry is in our homes, our churches, or our communities. I cannot be the wife, mother, teacher, musician, or anything else that God desires me to be without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit is not a mysterious or "charismatic" thing. I think it can be summed up in one simple verse, "He must increase, but I must decrease." The less full I am of myself, the more full I can be of the Holy Spirit. As I die to self, and surrender to His ways and His will, and am obedient to His Word, I will be filled with His Spirit.

A Spirit-filled ministry will be strong and powerful. A self-filled ministry grows continually more diluted and weak.

IV. We Fail To Pray

The first three things we looked at are the keys to a strong ministry. They are the crux of the matter and are vitally important. These last few things can cause us to be distracted or to lose sight of the person of Christ, the purpose of the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

When we fail to pray, we are not making use of one of the greatest ministry tools God has provided us with. Prayer is our open access to the throne room of God. It is there we meet with Him, fellowship with Him, praise Him, and seek for His guidance and wisdom. When we neglect to pray, we are essentially saying that we do not need God. How sad!

Have you ever tried to make a pot of coffee and forgotten to plug it in? You added the water, put in the filter and carefully measured out your coffee grounds. Then, you turned on the pot and walked away. But when you came back in 15 or 20 minutes, there was no coffee. What happened? You neglected to "plug in" to your power source.

Many of us are like that in our Christian lives and ministries. God has given us everything we need to be effective for Him, and yet we never really get "plugged in" because we try to do it in our power. We must not neglect to seek the Lord's guidance, help and provision in our lives every day.

V. We Feel Things Too Personally

I believe this is an easy trap to fall into, especially for women. When we minister for the Lord, and we minister to people, not everyone is going to appreciate our efforts. As a pastor's wife and a pastor's daughter, I have been involved in some aspect of "the ministry" for almost 30 years. When we, or the ones we love, receive criticism, blame, false accusations, and more, it is often very hurtful. However, we must be careful not too allow this to taint our view of ministry. Again, we must examine our own hearts and motives. Why are we doing what we're doing? Is it for the appreciation or applause of others, or because we love and desire to please Christ?

The great prophet Samuel ran into this very difficulty. After years of sacrifice and service to the children of Israel, they rejected him and wanted a king. Samuel was grieved and hurt by their sinful choice and their personal rejection. God reminded him that their true rejection was not of Samuel, but of the Lord.

If we are truly seeking to please God, then we must, as always, look to Jesus Christ as our example. "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:" That entire passage (I Pet. 2:19-25) is a great comfort and encouragement to me. When I'm feel a little blue, or a little "black and blue", I try to remember that Jesus never did anything wrong to anyone, yet He was "despised and rejected of men". I often fail and disappoint those I am seeking to help, but Christ never did. When I keep my focus on Him, I realize that He has never failed me, and He will never forsake me.

VI. Lose Focus of our Priorities

I believe this is also a special area of danger for women. We know that our first priority should be our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, but after that, it can get a little confusing when it comes to ministry. We are often bombarded with opportunities for service and each seems important. It is hard to know when to say no, and is often hard to do so even when we know we should.

My mom has helped me with this so much. We must learn to examine and prioritize our lives by what is important in God's Book, not ours, or anyone else's.

I am a wife, and now a mother. It is my responsibility to care for my home and family, and to do it with all my might (Eccl. 9:10). I believe that, after my walk with the Lord, my priority list goes like this:

1. My husband ~ meeting his needs, loving and caring for him (Eph. 5; Tit. 2)
2. My child/children ~ meeting their needs, loving them, training them (Eph. 5; Tit. 2; Deut 6)
3. My home ~ keeping my home, guiding the house (Tit. 2; I Tim. 5; Pro. 31)
4. Other service ~ extra ministries in my church and community, as I have time

Faithfulness to church is part of our faithful walk with the Lord, but there are many extra avenues of service through my church that I can be involved in. I need to examine these carefully, prayerfully, and with the counsel of my husband, choose wisely what to be involved in and what not to be.

Each person's level of availability is different. When I was single, my priorities were totally different than they are now. Before I had a baby, I had much more flexibility in my schedule, and there were activities that I could be involved in that I may not be able to do right now.

We must be careful not to lose focus of our God-given priorities. If I am busy serving at church, to the neglect of my family and home, I have lost focus, and my ministry will weaken. My home and family are my primary mission field, not my only one, but my primary one. If I am weak and ineffective there, how can I have a strong ministry elsewhere?

VII. We Faint Under Pressure

"If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. " (Pro. 24:10) We all face adversity, pressures, and stress. If you are seeking to minister to the Lord, you can be assured that you will face adversity, because "your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:".

Someone once said that pressure does not test your character, it reveals it. That's not an exact quote, but I believe it is true. God often allows us to go through the "furnace of affliction" to refine and purify us. Job said, "when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold."

It is often difficult not to give up when the going gets tough. But if we do, we dilute the message that God is seeking to send through our lives. If we are seeking to tell the world that His grace is sufficient, that His power is unfailing, and that His promises are true, then we must allow God to prove these things in and through us.

So, let me ask you, how strong is your ministry? Has it become a little diluted? If so, take heart. His strength is made perfect in weakness. We must simply get our eyes back on Him.

Tomorrow's Topic: Pep or Power?


lottfam said...

Niki~ First of all, thank you so much for starting this blog. I think it will be one of the highlights of my day! You have so many wonderful talents. I'm so glad you decided to share some of them in this venue. Your thoughts on our priorities were such an encouragement. There are many times when there are needs in our church or with friends, but we can't forget one of our main purposes as wives and mothers. What an awsome responsibility! Thanks again! I'm going to share this blog with friends & family!

Niki Lott said...

Thank you so much.