When I served overseas in the Marines many years ago, I had a bunkmate named Eddie. When he found out I was a Christian, he told me in no uncertain terms:
“Hey, I want to tell you something, Swindle. I didn’t come over here to Okinawa to be evangelized. So just back off, okay?”
“Sure, that’s no problem,” I answered. So, I’d lie up on my top bunk and I’d try to figure out how I could get Eddie interested in the Lord Jesus. One day I said, “Hey Eddie, can you help me with some of these words?” I dropped down about forty of my verse cards, and I said, “Let’s see if I can do these.” They were verses like John 3:16 and other verses on salvation. So I began: “For God, uh . . .”
“SO,” Eddie added impatiently.
“Oh, okay,” I’d reply, “For God so . . . uh . . .”
“Yes, yes, that’s it. For God so loved the world.” We went through dozens of verses just like that.
Fast-forward thirty years . . . and the phone rings one day in my study.
I said, “This can only be a guy named Eddie.”
“Yeah,” Eddie answered, “Hey, you know that trick you played on me in Okinawa? Well, it worked! I’m loving Jesus now.”
Isn’t God good? The power of the Word of God never fails to amaze me. It’s just as the prophet Isaiah recorded:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11)
God’s Word will never return empty. It will always serve a purpose—primarily in the lives of those of us who digest it, who apply it, who memorize it, who meditate on it, who ponder it, who declare it, and by God’s grace, who live it out.
That’s our calling. God’s Word will never return void.
“Elijah was a man just like us,” James reminds us (James 5:17 NIV). Not only was Elijah like us in that God can powerfully use our prayers, but Elijah was also like us in that we can get very discouraged. Because of an enemy’s threats to his life, Elijah, this great man of God, was reduced to a heap of self-pity (1 Kings 19).
Ever been discouraged in ministry? Of course you have! Most pastors—if not all—have. Maybe you’re there even now. Believe me; I understand those lonely, desperate places.
This week, let me share with you a message I gave in a Dallas Theological Seminary chapel service to those about to enter ministry. My hope is that you will find encouragement, as I have, to persevere when you never thought you could. There is hope, my friend.
While preparing the Twelve for a lifetime of serving others, Christ promised an eternal reward even for giving someone a cup of cool water.
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“He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:41–42)
Those words tell us that “improving our serve” begins with little things.
It begins with thoughtful things—an understanding embrace of one who is hurting, a brief note to one who is lonely and feeling unappreciated and forgotten, a cup of cool water for one whose lips are parched from the hot blast of a barren desert when all seems futile and worthless.
God takes special notice of all these efforts.
These words take on a new shade of significance when we read that familiar account in Matthew 25. Jesus said:
I’ll be candid with you. I have never read anywhere else in the Bible what God revealed to me in the latter half of 2 Corinthians 4:10–11 . . . let’s take a look!
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We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Corinthians 4:10–11 NIV)
Do you observe the temporal reward woven into the lines of those verses?
It is this: the quiet awareness that the life of Christ is being modeled.
My word to those of us engaged in ministry is, keep a healthy balance. Here are ten tips I’ve found helpful . . .
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- Because you teach, also remain a good student. Stay teachable.
- Read more.
- Listen better (especially to your spouse).
- Be ready to change. And change!
- Admit wrong where you are wrong.
- Stand firm when you know you are right (but be nice).
- Because you are called to be a leader, follow well.
- You cannot do it all, so delegate.
- You have a big job to do, so let others help you do it. And when they do it well, make sure they get the credit.
- The ministry is serious work, so keep a good sense of humor.
Here’s a bonus tip: take God seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously.
Hebrews 6:10 is my all-time favorite verse about how God faithfully takes special note of those who serve Him.
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For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.
Consider that verse! God is not unjust to forget our service to Him. He is faithful. The verse goes on to tell two things God faithfully remembers about His servants:
One of the most encouraging things about a new year is the word new. It means “unfamiliar . . . made or become fresh . . . different from one of the same category that has existed previously,” says Webster.
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Simply put, it’s a place to begin anew.
Starting over requires knowing where you are. Honestly admitting your present condition. Facing the music.
Remember Jonah? Somewhere down the line, he got his inner directions cross-wired. He wound up, of all places, on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea bound for a place named Tarshish. That was due west.
But God had told him to preach to Nineveh. That was due east.
Jonah never got to Tarshish, as you remember. Through a traumatic chain of events, Jonah was forced to get his head together in the digestive tract of a gigantic fish.
Did you feel the tightening squeeze this time of year brings? On top of an already demanding schedule of preaching, teaching, counseling, and calling, you had to add Christmas parties and programs, a creative Christmas series that you’ve never preached before—and still another eloquent sermon for the Christmas Eve service.
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Such a schedule has a tendency to turn us into Scrooge-like characters, doesn’t it? (We secretly think: Humbug!) Work, work, work . . . nothing and no one will get in our way.
May I assume the role of one of old Scrooge’s ghosts for you? Let me escort you to your home. Peer into the window. Look closely. Is your chair empty at the dinner table?
If I may borrow from Charles Dickens’s famous opening line, Christmas can be “the best of times, and the worst of times.” As pastors, we have them both, don’t we?
Who hasn’t cringed in September as stores drag out and display the artificial Christmas trees? Who hasn’t felt uneasy about the obligatory exchange of gifts with individuals you hardly know?
Something about those annual experiences can make them seem like “the worst of times.”
But they don’t need to be.
It’s baaaack! The age-old yuletide season is about to slip in the door once again. Better not shout, better not pout, for the malls will be playing “Jingle Bells” several thousand times between now and December 25.
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If you’re not careful, the crowds and commercialism will weigh you down like that fourth helping of stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner.
And there’s nothing worse than a jaded attitude that resists the true spirit of the season.
Although this has been a challenging year in numerous ways, we have a practical reason to look back over it with gratitude for God’s protection and grace.
This reflection sets in motion the ideal mental attitude to carry us through the weeks ahead.