Potential Pitfalls of Ministry

Nov. 4, 2011 Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Session Transcript

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Lord, I thank you for grace, and for Your grace to me—over  something like thirty-five years of serving You vocationally—for this calling. I’m also so mindful, even as I’ve been working on this message, that a lot of these pitfalls I’ve been in, and some of them, today, I am perilously close to the edge.

So I pray that You’d speak to me, and that You’d speak through me, to these women. I pray that it would be You speaking and that You would just “do business” with our hearts and rescue us where needed; that we might be faithful to You over the long haul.

May the words of my mouth and, even more importantly, the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight. Lord, I just want to speak for an audience of One here, ultimately. May it be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and our Great Redeemer. Amen.

I consider it a great, great privilege to be involved in serving the Lord. Every Christian is supposed to be involved in serving the Lord, but I’m speaking specifically of the privilege of being set apart for gospel ministry—ministry into the lives of others.

I knew from the time I was actually saved, at the age of four—it’s my first conscious memory—by the time I was six or seven, maybe eight, I just knew that God had put His hand on my life and set me apart to serve Him in some way. I had no clue what that would look like, what it would mean, whether it would be vocational or not, but I just knew that my life was His and that it was to be made available for His kingdom purposes.

I’ve been blessed all through my high school years. I taught my first Sunday School class at the age of eight (just one Sunday). And from that point on, I’ve loved teaching the Word. I got out of college, and have been in vocational ministry ever since.

I consider ministry, at the heart of it, with all of its challenges—and it does have those—a great privilege. It is a high and holy calling, and I’m not just talking about paid staff positions—I’m talking about the call to serve the Lord by serving others. We’re doing that in a lot of different ways.

So ministry’s a privilege. I also realize, though, that ministry is a heavy and weighty responsibility. The longer I’m in ministry, the more I realize how vulnerable we as leaders are to falling, even while serving,  to not finishing well. The older I get, the more I think about finishing well, and the more friends I have who are coming to that stage of finishing well—or not—and I think about these things more now that I’m in my fifties.

I realize that it is only by the grace of a faithful God that we can stay faithful and finish well. There are days when I’m thinking, “O Lord, I just don’t think I can hang on any longer.” Have you been there? You feel like you’re hanging by your toenails. It’s the pace, it’s the schedule, it’s the demands, it’s the people.

I would love ministry if it weren’t for people! There are times when I just wish God would call me to the uninhabited regions of the world, and I think, “I could do a great job there!”

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that way, but in those challenging times when I’m thinking, “I don’t think I can hang on,” I’m reminded, it’s not me hanging on to Him that determines whether I end well . It’s the reminder and the assurance that He is hanging on to me. It’s not my faithfulness; it’s His faithfulness that I count on. I need that reminder repeatedly.

I’m so grateful for the example and the encouragement of people I have known who have run the race well and faithfully, all the way to the finish line. One name comes to mind. This week, most of you have probably heard that Evelyn Christenson went home to be with the Lord.

What a faithful servant of the Lord. I’ve had the privilege of knowing her over the years, of interviewing her.  She’s been on Revive Our Hearts, and we talked about aging, probably eight or so years ago. I asked her about her walk with God, and ministry, in the later years of life.

She’s been such a prayer warrior and an encouragement to many of us on our journey, and now she’s with the Lord! I just think, “Thank you, Lord, for the encouragement of an Evelyn Christenson.” And perhaps someone else comes to your mind who has run the race and has finished well.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen some servants of the Lord, at least they started out that way, who ran the race well for a while, but ended up, for some reason, becoming disqualified, getting out of the race. It may have been through discouragement, through exhaustion, through pride, through sin. For some reason, they’re not still running well today.

In many cases, they’re out of the ministry. Sometimes they just keep going and doing things in ministry, but they are not being effective. But in some cases they have actually ended up discrediting Christ and the message that they once loved and served well.

I don’t know about you, but when I see that, it makes me think real hard. It prompts me to just say, “Lord, please, don’t let me ever bring reproach to the Name of Christ. Give me grace to run well and to finish well.”

The problem is, we have an enemy, and he’s active, he’s tireless, he’s relentless, and he’s determined to cause God’s servants to stumble. I think about this, not every day, but I think about it often, and realize that if I renege on my commitment to Christ, if I am not faithful to Him, if I bring reproach on His Name, it’s not just my own walk with the Lord that will suffer—there will be a whole lot of other people who will be impacted by the fallout.

That’s certainly not the highest reason to stay devoted to Christ for a lifetime, but it’s sure one reason. You realize that we affect other people, and when we fall and stumble we bring others down with us, others are impacted.

So over the years as I’ve been on this journey and in this race, I’ve done a lot of thinking about, “What are the pitfalls?  What are the things that can keep us from running well, and keep us from ending well, as servants of Christ?”

Today, I want to just put the spotlight on nine of those pitfalls. We obviously won’t have time to spend long on any of them, or most of them. This list certainly is not exhaustive. I’ve talked with Moody Publishers over the years about someday writing a book from this message, Potential Pitfalls of Ministry. Our publisher, Greg Thornton, brings it up every once in awhile, and says, “Are you ready to write that book?”

I’ve told him, “I don’t want to write that book until I’m at least sixty,” because I want to make sure, by God’s grace, that I’m still running in the race. I’m a lot closer to sixty than when we first started having that conversation.

This is a list of pitfalls that I have found are the most recurring ones in my own life. You might make a different list, but as I’ve looked around and talked with others, I’ve found that these are pitfalls and temptations and vulnerabilities that many of us have in common, in ministry.

The first pitfall—Losing the Wonder . . . the wonder of what it means to be a child of God, of the great theological truths of our faith . . . these truths that we repeat so often that we cease to be amazed by them. We lose the wonder of the God we serve, of what we’ve been called to do, of the message that’s been entrusted to us . . . losing the wonder of the fruit of ministry.

There’s a danger of the supernatural becoming commonplace: one more person saved, one more marriage restored, one more person growing in the faith. If you see a lot of fruit in the ministry, it’s easy for the supernatural—things that would have just astounded us when we were young in ministry—we start to just . . . it’s one more conference, one more event.

It was good, yes. People were helped and blessed. We lose the wonder of the fact that God is at work and He is letting us participate with Him in what He’s doing. Heaven rejoices every time a sinner repents. Do I? Do you?

You’ve heard it said that “familiarity breeds contempt.” I think that’s true, but I think it’s also true that familiarity can breed complacency or neglect. Just becoming familiar with these things makes them no longer sacred to us, no longer holy, no longer special.

When this happens, ministry becomes a “job,” a job versus a passion for a person, Christ Jesus. Do you know the difference? Sometimes we go from the passion for the Person over to the job, and we don’t even know where or how it happened. It happens subtly. We don’t just wake up one morning, having gone to bed the last night full of wonder, and this morning we wake up and we have no wonder.

It doesn’t usually happen that way. It’s usually maybe more of a slow leak. We gradually lose the wonder. I think one of the biggest things in my life that leads to losing the wonder is busyness. Do I hear an “Amen!?” Yes, just tasks and tasks, and I find that when my life is wall-to-wall tasks, I lose the wonder.

I start turning out the ministry; I start turning out the work; I start just doing the mechanics. When I get really scared is when I realize I’m operating on “autopilot.” I’m going through the motions; I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but I’ve lost the freshness, I’ve lost the passion, I’ve forgotten why I’m doing this and for whom I’m doing this. I’ve lost the wonder.

I thank the Lord that I had a dad, Art DeMoss, who’s been with the Lord now for thirty-some years. He died on the weekend of my twenty-first birthday, so I never knew him as an adult. But as I think back to my dad, I think of a man who never lost the wonder of the fact that God would have saved him and would use him in ministry.

He was a businessman, but he had a heart for people and for ministry, and he never ceased to be amazed that God would use Him. That’s the wonder that I want to have. The apostle Paul never lost the wonder, as far as we can tell in Scripture.

First Timothy chapter 1, verse 11 talks about the “glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” Does that sound like wonder?  Using those kinds of adjectives, he says, “This is a wonder that I’ve been entrusted with the glorious gospel of the blessed God.”  Do you feel that way about the gospel? Do I?

I confess that lots of times I don’t feel that way. We’re not just talking about feelings . The gospel is glorious, whether I feel like it is or not, and God is blessed, whether I feel like it or not. But do I have a sense that it’s a wonder to be entrusted with that gospel?

Paul considered ministry a great privilege. He said in verse 12 of 1 Timothy 1, “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.” When was the last time you stopped and thanked the Lord for the privilege of ministry?

Some of you remember the name, Pastor Ray Ortlund. There’s a second pastor Ray Ortlund, who is “junior,” the son, who pastors in Nashville, Tennessee. Pastor Ray Ortlund, his father, was my pastor when I was in college at the University of Southern California. I can remember Pastor Ray encouraging us about the wonder. A number of years after I got out of college, Pastor Ortlund sent me a letter—and I can’t even remember now the occasion for the letter—but I remember  a line in that handwritten letter that I highlighted, and I’ve taped it up over my desk.

He said in his letter, “Keep pointing us all to Jesus in your writing and in your speaking, and keep thanking Him, remembering that ministry is a great privilege from the Lord.” We forget it’s a privilege, and on those really hard days, it might just do us good to stop and say, “Lord, thank you for choosing me to serve You. That is a great and high and holy privilege.”

So, we ask these questions:
“Do I have a genuine passion for Christ, and for ministry, or have I lost the wonder of my relationship with Christ, and of the call to ministry?”
“Am I just going through the motions?”

We’ll give you time at the end of the session to go back and think through these questions, but as we go through, if there’s something that really strikes your heart, just circle it or put a check mark next to it so you can go back and consider that again with the Lord.

Here’s a second pitfall—Neglecting our personal relationship with the Lord. I can tell you that this is connected to the first one, because if we neglect our personal relationship with the Lord, we will lose the wonder. Those two are tied together. I love that verse in the Song of Solomon, chapter 1, verse 6, where the bride says, “I’ve tended the vineyards of others, but my own vineyard I have not kept.”

Does your heart resonate with that at all? I think it’s a picture of what it’s often like for us in ministry. We’re constantly tending the vineyards of others, counseling, teaching, encouraging, exhorting, administering, serving, blessing, giving, praying for others and their needs . . . tending the vineyards of others, but neglecting our own vineyard, our own spiritual well-being.

What am I talking about here? You know what I’m talking about. It’s the failure to maintain and cultivate and prioritize our own personal walk with the Lord. It’s taking shortcuts. I want to just tell you, the reason I know a lot about some of these points is because I’ve been there so many times.

In fact, I’ve found myself within the last week—I’ll just be honest here—as I’ve been preparing for this conference, feeling like I don’t even know that I really can give this message. These things are so autobiographical for me. In differing degrees and in differing seasons—and I have been living a pretty marginless life over the last several weeks. I find myself taking shortcuts— not wanting to, not intending to, not setting out to lose the wonder or to neglect my personal relationship with the Lord.

But I look around and I realize a whole day has gone by and I haven’t really spent time with the Lord. You can do that for a day or two or three and probably no one else in your women’s ministry is going to know (partially because we have such a low state of Christianity today that we don’t even recognize backsliding very easily).

The people in your family, the people who work closely with you, they may recognize it a little sooner but you’re going to be, hopefully ,the first to know it, and to be able to say, “Lord, I need to stop.” I need to stop taking shortcuts and make a beeline to His presence. Trying to live on yesterday’s manna and yesterday’s experiences with God is not the way to do it.

We cannot stay faithful in the race if we’re trying to live on past experiences with God. It’s the danger of service without devotion. You know the classic passage on that. We all know it, we’ve taught it, we’ve taught it to others: Luke chapter 10, the two sisters. One of them sitting at the feet of Jesus, the other—Martha—is serving without devotion.

What happens? She ends up high strung, critical, impatient, exhausted, frazzled, frenzied, the way some of us find we are when we look in the mirror . . . service without devotion. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said it this way: “No amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King Himself.” Remember that. That’s why I put it on your notes, so you could remember it.

In the Song of Solomon, the bride describes her relationship with her beloved, and it’s a picture of intimacy. She says in chapter 1, “Draw me. We will run after you. The king has brought me into his chambers.”

Chapter 2, she says, “He brought me to the banqueting table, and his banner over me was love.” She says, “I sat down under his shadow with great delight and his fruit was sweet to my taste. His left hand is under my head and his right hand embraces me. My beloved is mine, and I am his.”

I know that this is a picture of intimacy in human marriage, but human marriage is intended to be a picture of that eternal relationship that we have with our heavenly Bridegroom. I see here a description of the kind of intimacy that we’re intended to enjoy with the Lord Jesus. It’s a picture of our relationship as the Bride of Christ with our Beloved.

I face every day of my life the danger of neglecting intimacy with Christ. Here’s the thing about intimacy with Christ—it doesn’t just happen. It has to be cultivated. You don’t drift into intimacy with Christ, you drift away from intimacy with Christ. If we’re not being intentional in cultivating that love relationship with Him, we are going to drift away.

I find, I don’t know about you, I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or if it’s because the things in this world are changing, or both, but I find it increasingly difficult to get a quiet place and a quiet heart to seek the Lord.

For me, the biggest intruders have to do with technology. I heard a little bit of a groan there. It’s not that technology itself is evil. It’s a tool, but I find that the more tools I have that you have to plug in to charge, the more difficult it is for me to have an undistracted time with the Lord. I’ll be honest—I struggle with email, with Facebook, with Twitter, with these things.

There are days when I think, “Maybe I just need to get rid of all of it.” Let me say this, we ought to ask ourselves, if that’s what it took for me to be where I need to be in my relationship with the Lord, would I be willing to unplug? Like, get rid of it?

I’m not saying God’s asking that of us, but I sure think we ought to ask the question, “If that’s intruding, if it’s stealing . . .” Wouldn’t Satan love to just keep us busy doing ministry, but not have relationship with the Lord?  We will be of great service to his efforts if that’s true of us.

So we have these constant distractions, and we have to be willing to be ruthless in eliminating unnecessary clutter. I think we need to be willing to challenge one another to eliminate anything that is encroaching on our relationship with the Lord.

I want our staff and the people who I live and do life with to have the freedom to say to me, “Is this stealing your heart for Christ?” When they see the time stamp on my emails, I want them to have the freedom to say, “Have you had time with the Lord today, without email?” We need to do that for each other, because sometimes we just lose objectivity, and we need to have these intrusive relationships—it got really quiet in here! You don’t want those kinds of relationships?

I don’t want those kinds of relationships, but I need them. We need intrusive relationships to help us make sure that we are cultivating and prioritizing our personal relationship with the Lord. Questions: “Do I have a vital, growing relationship with the Lord Jesus?”
Am I nurturing my vineyard through daily time in His presence . . . in the Word and in prayer?”

The number three pitfall is: Proclaiming truth that we’re not living. This has to do with the whole matter of what, in our ministry, we call a “life message.” The power of a life message. The danger is that so many of us, in areas of our lives, are talking further down the road than we’re actually walking.

This is something I honestly struggle with, because we have, on daily radio, 260 programs a year, and it doesn’t stop just because I say, “Stop, I need to let my life catch up.” The program still has to go on, and this is a struggle for me, because we’re talking about so many areas of life and ministry where I’m challenging women to be right with the Lord, to be loving Him and passionate about Him, and on any given day I can point to areas of my life where I know my life is not caught up to the truth I’m trying to share with others.

Sometimes the enemy can really use that to blackmail me. Has this ever happened to you? And I feel like, “You hypocrite! What are you doing, getting up there talking about distractions and—think about your time with the Lord over the last weeks.”

So, the objective, the standard, is not that in every area of our lives we’re where we know we ought to be, or where we know we want to be. But the standard is that we’re pressing into that, that we’re not content to be teaching others truth that we ourselves have not living, that we are not setting out to live. The goal is that we’re not practicing pretense.

You’ve heard it said that the last one to get a will is a lawyer. The last one to get a complete physical, sometimes, is a physician. Could it be that the last ones to know that they have a spiritual need is someone in ministry? Someone who is serving the Lord?

I believe it was Tozer that said that the curse of the twentieth century (and it’s even more so in the twenty-first) is that we think that because we know something, therefore we have it, when in some cases, nothing could be further from the truth.

We know about prayer, we know about a devotional life, we know about walking by faith, we know about an attitude of gratitude, we know about putting on compassion and kindness and humility and meekness and patience. We know these things so therefore we assume that we “have” these things when in some cases our lives are way far behind what we’re teaching others.

We’re talking further down the road than we’re actually walking. That’s why I think that it’s an amazing thing that the apostle Paul was able to say to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ. Follow me.”

He didn’t say, “Read my notes, listen to my messages, download my podcasts . . .” He said, “Follow my life, because by God’s grace, I am following Christ. So when you follow me, you will be following Him.” It’s not just the life that we have in public, or on the platform that matters here. We can all make the necessary adjustments to be who people expect us to be on the platform.

And when I say, “on the platform,” I don’t mean just speaking at conferences, but when we’re counseling with others, when we’re discipling others, when you’re leading a small group or a Bible study. That’s public ministry, right?

We all know you’re not going to be rude, unkind, selfish, when you’re out doing ministry. But that’s not the only measurement here. It’s who we are in private, when our public doesn’t know what we’re doing or what we’re like or who we are.

When no one else sees, or no one else knows the choices I make—where I am on my laptop, where I am searching on the Internet, what time I’m spending on computer games or my attitude within the four walls of my home or within the office, with those who know me best. It’s who I am in those hidden, private moments that matters.

What I do with my free time, how I respond to my family behind the scenes. Who I am in those obscure and hidden times has a lot to do with whether I will be able to stay in the race and honor the Lord all the way to the finish line.

The apostle Paul talked to the Romans about the power of a life message. In Romans chapter 2, he said, “You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?”

Here’s the sad part, “As it is written, God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (vv. 21-24). You see, if we proclaim one thing and live another, those who know us best and who see the discrepancy—they see the gap—they’re going to have every right to come and say, “I can’t believe what you’re saying. You’ve lost credibility.”

 It’s our lives, walking with Christ, that gives credibility to the message we’re teaching to others. Oswald Chambers says it this way, “The message must be part of ourselves. Before God’s message can liberate other souls, the liberation must be real in you.”

So ask these questions:
“Is there any issue God has revealed in His Word that I’m not obeying?”
“Am I living and walking as a repenter?”

Not just did I repent twenty-three years ago when I got saved, but “Am I living today as a repenter? When God reveals something to me in His Word, where His standard and my life are at odds with each other, am I quick to say ‘Yes, Lord,’ to turn from my own way, to turn to Christ? Am I walking as a repenter?”

“Is my private lifestyle consistent with what I proclaim to others?”

Let me just take a moment to meddle here. You say, “I think that’s what you’ve been doing for the last thirty minutes.” Ladies, I carry a real burden, and I don’t know who I’m talking to, but I have met so many women who are doing various kinds of ministry, and not tending to things on the homefront.

There are so many different stories, and maybe you’re married to a man who is not a believer or doesn’t have a heart for the Lord. Let me tell you, if your Christianity is real, if it’s authentic, it will work in the four walls of your home. You cannot be out there—I mean, you can be. But it’s so wrong for us to be “out there” serving the Lord. I want to speak especially to wives and moms.

We all have a different kind of homefront, but those of you who are wives and/or moms, it’s so concerning that you would be spending thirty hours a week down at the church leading this or that, starting this or that, running this or that, teaching this or that, and then if we were to talk to your husband or your children, they would say, “That stuff on that tote bag? That’s not my mom. [Quote on totebag:] Compassion, kindness, meekness, humility, gentleness, patience—I don’t think so.”

You see, that’s the test. Does it work there? And you cannot be running around trying to save all the women of the world and neglecting the people that God has given to you as your first ministry. That is your husband and your children.

What that looks like, how that fleshes out, God has to give you wisdom in that. I carry a concern for women who are losing their children, losing their marriage. All is not well at home, and yet they’re out there trying to salvage everybody else’s life. There’s such an importance in living out, with those who are closest to us, the message we’re proclaiming to others.

“Is my private life-style consistent with what I proclaim to others? Can I say to others, ‘Live your life just as I do, and God will bless you. Study God’s Word like I study God’s Word—give it that place in your life—and you will be a blessed woman. Love others as I love others, love your mate, love your children as I love my mate and children, and God will bless you. Have the kind of prayer life I do.’” I’m going to stop right there, because I don’t have the kind of prayer life that I want you to emulate. Not even close.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t teach on prayer. By God’s grace, someday I would like to be able to, I’m not satisfied to stay here. But I get asked sometimes, “Would you come and speak at this conference on prayer?” And I say, “I can’t do that. I want to be able to, I’m not proud of the fact that I can’t, but I want to have the kind of prayer life that I could say to you, ‘Look to the way I pray,’ to give you some help and instruction in your prayer life.”

We need to let the Lord search us and evaluate us in every area of our lives.

Number four, here’s another pitfall: Relying on the natural versus the supernatural. I think there are two ways we do this. Let me comment on both of them.

First is natural gifts and abilities. One of the reasons, probably, that you have the position that you do in ministry (this isn’t true of everyone, but it’s true of a lot of people in this room), that you’ve been asked to serve in the ways that you are serving, is because you have some natural gifts and abilities. You’re a natural leader.

I get in a room full of women’s ministry leaders and they are awesome women. I’m telling you ,they are go-getters, they are leaders. I walk into a normal (not that you’re not normal), an average, group of women, and when I walk in the room, they stop talking, because Nancy Leigh DeMoss just came into the room, and they want to hear what I have to say.

Not true when I get with women’s ministry leaders. When I walk in the room, I can’t get a word in edgewise, which is fine, because they’re communicators, they’re leaders, they’re go-getters, they’re strategists, they’re thinkers. That’s why you’ve been asked to serve in that way.

But the more gifted you are naturally, the greater the potential danger of relying on those natural gifts and abilities rather than on God. When your natural gifts can carry you, then you don’t have to be dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s evidenced in prayerlessness, among other things.

“I can do this.” And ministry becomes the sum total of our combined efforts and abilities. We would never say that we can do ministry without God, but we live as if we can do ministry without God. Early in my ministry life, one of the things I asked the Lord—I was very good student, and that’s partially because I never took any courses that I didn’t think I could do easily. I’m one of these people who only attempted things I knew I could do well, so I was a really good student. I got through college without taking math, history, English, or science, if you can imagine. That’s pretty pathetic.

I had Old Testament History, they counted that for history. I took easier courses and did really well, and I had some natural abilities. I had a major in piano, and music came easily for me, certain things came easily. As I found myself getting into vocational ministry, I realized that a lot of the things I was going to be doing were areas where I had some natural gifting.

I began to ask the Lord to never let me get to the place where I could do whatever it was He was calling me to do without Him. Do you know, that is one prayer request that the Lord has been very faithful to answer? I cannot tell you how many times over the years, probably hundreds of times, that I found myself going into a weekend like this, or a responsibility, where I feel so utterly helpless, inadequate, needy, unable to do what God has called me to do, feeling like somebody else (I’ve had this thought in the last twenty-four hours) should be doing this job.

And it’s not just false modesty. I really feel this keen, desperate sense of my need for God. It’s a scary place to be, I’ll just tell you that, but it’s a really good place to be. It’s where you want to stay. It’s what the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (v. 3). The apostle Paul!—weakness and fear and trembling.

“And my speech and message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (v. 4). Do you want a ministry that’s explainable? Then just do it with your own natural gifts and abilities.

You say, “Wow, she’s a really gifted whatever.” That could be the explanation. But I want a ministry, I want to be a part of a ministry, that cannot be explained in terms of my gifts and abilities, or the collective gifts and abilities of our team. I want a ministry that can only be explained in terms of God, the supernatural.

William Gurnall is one of my favorite old-time writers. The Christian and Complete Armor—I don’t know if Moody still publishes this. If you can, get hold of a modernized version of The Christian and Complete Armor, that’s broken down into daily devotions for a year, and it’s very readable. It has just so many really great quotes for people in ministry. He says, “If there’s any explanation for our Christian service, then however impressive our work may appear in the eyes of men, it will be burnt up in the day of testing, as wood, hay and straw. The only work that will abide for eternity is that which is produced in humble dependence upon the power of God’s Spirit.” Are you finding yourself relying on natural gifts and abilities, or on God?

Here’s something else we rely on—it’s natural tools, resources, or programs. Tools, resources, and programs. We have tools, we need them in ministry. We need them in however we’re serving the Lord. Bible studies, books—some of you encourage your women to listen to Revive Our Hearts. That’s a tool, that’s a resource.

You have programs, you have Mother-Daughter “this,” and events like that, and different kinds of ministries going on in your church. There is nothing wrong with these things, but I want to tell you that tools are lifeless and impotent unless they’re energized by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There’s a great illustration of that in 2 Kings chapter 4. Remember the story of the woman who Elisha had prayed for, and God had given her a son? Then the son grew up, became a teenager or a young man, and he became sick and died. The mother was distraught, she was beside herself with grief, and so she ran to the man of God and begged him to come and help.

Elisha had a servant named Gehazi—you remember the story. I can just imagine him thinking—this is a little sanctified imagination, okay, that I’m supplying to the text here—“Elisha has that staff, and when he puts that staff down, amazing things happen. I’d like to see what I can do with that staff.”

Gehazi has seen Elisha do all these miracles, and he runs ahead to the child. He takes Elisha’s staff and he puts it on the child, because he’s seen Elisha’s staff do amazing things, right? The staff didn’t do anything amazing ever—it was God working through His servant Elisha and using the staff as a tool.

So Gehazi has this tool and he puts it on the child, and what happens? Nothing.  Just a lifeless body, and a lifeless, inanimate staff, a rod. You know what I’m talking about? Then Elisha comes in behind the servant. And what does Elisha do? He puts himself on that lifeless body. We’re talking head to head, arm to arm, body to body, leg to leg, and he prays and he breathes, and the breath of God, the Spirit of God, flows through the man of God into this lifeless body, and the child comes back to life.

I think that’s such a picture of two different ways of doing ministry. Nothing wrong with having tools and resources, but just realize, that’s all they are. They’re useless, they’re helpless, unless they’re in the hands of a woman or a man who recognizes their dependence upon the power of God’s Spirit, and is willing to lay her own life on those people she’s trying to disciple.

You think about some of these women in your ministry who just don’t get it. They’re constantly needy, they’re constantly struggling, they’re constantly in bondage. You’ve given them every program, every book, every resource you know to, and nothing is changing. Maybe try laying yourself on that life, your heart, your compassion, your prayers and faith, and asking the Spirit of God—I’m not saying you are the person God is going to use to bring spiritual life to every person you’re ministering to—but we’ve got to realize that we cannot rely on programs, on methods, on resources, on tools. Our reliance is on the power of God.

That’s why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2—by the way, those first two chapters of 1 Thessalonians are such a great primer on doing ministry God’s way. Go through and study those chapters and see the qualities of effective ministry and the qualities of an effective minister. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you, not only the gospel of God, but our very lives as well.”

Dependence on the natural is a cheap and ineffective substitute for the power of the Holy Spirit coursing through our souls and impacting the lives of others. So, ask these questions,

“How does my life evidence a dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit?”
“What is there about my life and ministry that cannot be explained apart from the Spirit of God?”
“Am I allowing God to stretch me, to push me out of the comfort  zone of what I think I can handle?”
Am I walking by faith,am I laying down my life for people, or am I just applying principles and programs to their problems?”

Number five, another pitfall is: Leaving the pathway of humility. It’s the pitfall of pride. We become so easily, in ministry, self-absorbed, self-centered, enamored with ourselves, concerned about “how does this impact me?”

It reminds me of King Saul in the Old Testament. Do you remember when he was first anointed king, he was a big tall man, but had such a sense of inadequacy and need, but he began to get “I” trouble, to see himself as big and God as little. It happens.

We get to the place where we’re no longer little in our own eyes. Do you remember when somebody first asked you—maybe your pastor came to you and said, “We have a small women’s ministry . . .” Or maybe they didn’t have a women’s ministry, and someone approached you and said, “We see in you a heart for God, and we wonder if you would take this area of responsibility?” And you said, “Who, me? Me? Lead a Bible class? Are you kidding? I . . . I . . . I . . . can’t talk, I can’t teach, I can’t lead.”

But you prayed about it, and God gave you faith, and you stepped out into the deep. Now it’s twelve years later, and you’ve realized you’ve got some gifts in this area. You’ve gotten good at this; people respect you, they look up to you; they line up for appointments with you.

They’re sending you emails asking for help with this and that. Are you still little in your own eyes, or have you gotten big in your own eyes? We start to believe our own press. We secretly relish hearing our name mentioned, and we want to be sure that we get the credit we deserve for our accomplishments.

I can only talk to you about this because I know what it is to have those thoughts in my own heart. We’re proud of what we know, proud of what we’ve done, proud of our reputation as a ministry. No longer surprised that God would use us. We become blind to our own needs—everybody else can see them, but we can’t, and we’re not soliciting counsel and input from others, which is one of the primary marks of a wise person in Proverbs, that they solicit counsel.

When was the last time you went to someone who knows you well and said, “Are there any blind spots in my life that others may be seeing but I’m not?” The founder of our ministry, who’s now with the Lord, used to say, “The last guy to know that he’s got a rip in his jacket is the guy who’s got it on.”

Are you teachable when people do come and try and correct you, challenge you? Do you have a servant’s heart? Lack of a servant’s heart is an evidence of pride, love of the praise of men, easily offended if not recognized, appreciated, and thanked. Are you elated by praise? If you are, you will be deflated by criticism.

Professionalism—that’s another symptom of pride. The larger the ministry, the larger the organization, the great the tendency to become professionals rather than humble servants. We have an image to maintain, a reputation to live up to, and people look up to us. So it gets harder to be transparent, to be vulnerable, to be honest about our needs.

Let me tell you another area where pride comes out in ministries, and I want to just challenge you as women’s ministry leaders in your local church to be really, really careful about criticizing other leaders . . . . criticizing your pastor, criticizing the elders, criticizing the staff. Let’s just all start by agreeing that they are human and flawed like we are, right? Some of them maybe more so than others.

I’m not saying they don’t have issues, but when we’re proud, we don’t give others room to fail. We don’t give others room to be in a place of growth, in a process. If you find yourself talking to others in the church or in your family about the faults of those that you serve with, or under, then that’s a symptom of a proud heart. You’ve left the pathway of humility.

Now, you can talk to God about it. Become an intercessor rather than a critic. William Gurnell, again, let me quote him, said,

“Knowing your strength lies wholly in God, and not in yourself, remain humble, even when God is blessing and using you most. I would just say, especially when God is blessing and using you most. God’s favor is neither the work of your own hands nor the price of your own worth. How can you boast about what you did not buy? If you would embezzle God’s strength, and credit it to your own account—you take credit for what God is doing in and through you—He will soon call an audit, and take back what was His all along.”

Searching words, huh?

Here are the questions:
“Am I walking in humility?”
“Am I amazed that God would use me?”
“Do I have a teachable spirit; do I have a servant’s heart?”
“Am I committed to make those around me a success?”
“Do I esteem all others as better than myself?”

Number six, here’s another pitfall: Settling for the status quo. What do we mean by that? It’s coming to the place where we walk by sight, instead of by faith. Where we “rest on our laurels.” We’re satisfied with what God has done in the past and not believing Him for God-sized things today and in the future. We’re just content to keep the machinery going.

My dad, I don’t know how many times when we were growing up, would quote this—it’s not original with him—he would say, “Attempt something so impossible that unless God is in it, it’s doomed to failure.”

What are you attempting in your church ministry, wherever God has you serving, that if God’s not in it, there isn’t any way it’s going to happen. Where are you stretching out by faith? I love the story in Joshua 14 of Caleb, who at eighty-five years of age says, “Find me a nice retirement home.” No way! The man says, “I want another mountain to conquer. I want more territory for the glory of God.”

I can remember as a younger woman asking the Lord, “Lord, I want to be like Caleb. Would you let me serve you until I’m eighty-five years old?” Now, I will confess that once I hit fifty I wasn’t quite as eager to pray about getting to eighty-five. I’m not sure why that is, I guess I just live a little more tired these days.

I am looking forward to what’s beyond this life, but I want—however long or short it is—if God will give me the eighty-five, I want to be walking by faith! I don’t want to just settle in to be content with the status quo.

“Am I exercising faith in the power of God?”
“Am I seeking God for fresh vision and opportunities?”
“What am I believing God for that only He can do?”

I can tell you that when we started Revive Our Hearts, I was in my early forties and brim full of vision and faith, scared but knowing that God was bigger, and ready to launch out into the deep with Him. Now we’ve been in the deep awhile, and I find as I get older, when I get challenged to step out further into the deep, I find myself wanting to pull back some.

I find myself not wanting to be as adventurous, not wanting to be as courageous, not wanting to look foolish for stepping out into the deep. In fact, when we talked about doing this conference, that was “deep” for me. We’d never done anything like this before, and honestly—our team will tell you—it took me quite a while to say, “Let’s go for it,” because I was kind of wanting to measure things. “Are we sure can do this? Are we sure we can pull it off? Do we have the resources financially and the strength and the ability to do this?”

Yes, we need to count the cost, but when it comes down to it, when God is saying, “Let’s move forward,” I want to be willing to move forward and to say, “Yes, Lord, we’ll walk by faith.”

Three more: Number seven pitfall is: Serving without love. You know the two greatest commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and the second, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If those are the two greatest commandments, what would be the two greatest sins? Could it be that the two greatest sins are to love God with less than all of my being, and not to love others as I love myself?

Love for God, love for the people that we serve with, love for one another within our ministries. I know within our team, we work together, we’ve had team members who’ve been with us for years, and they’re so faithful. It’s easy to take each other for granted or to start to not assume the best about each other, to hold each other to impossible perfectionistic standards, to not love the people we’re serving with.

First Corinthians 13, that’s a great measurement, isn’t it? Do I have the kind of love for those on my women’s ministry team, for those on our team, your church staff? Do you love them in a way that meets that 1 Corinthians 13 love? And then love for those that we’re serving. There’s probably no one here like this other than me, but I’ll just be honest and tell you, there are times when I’ve thought, “I don’t have anything left to give.”

I find myself, at times, really resenting the very people the Lord has called me to love and serve. What is ministry if we don’t love the Lord and those with whom we serve, and those we’re called to serve? What is it? It’s nothing. It’s a loss, it’s a waste, it’s a failure . . . zero, zilch, nada . . . it’s worse than that . . . it’s making a lot of noise, doing a lot of stuff.

So where do we get that love? There are some days when my love for Christ really wanes, too, and so you can’t work it up. That’s when we go in humility to Christ and to His cross and say, “O Lord, I am selfish. I love me more than I love anything or anyone else, and I don’t have the energy, the capacity, the strength to give and love and serve, but I know You do. Would you fill me with your Spirit? Would you love these people on our staff, the people—maybe it’s the person you report to, who doesn’t really have a heart for women’s ministry like you wish they would, maybe you find yourself being critical and not treating with respect and encouragement and grace the leadership that God has placed in your church—ask God to give you His love.

“Is my service motivated by genuine love for God and others?”
“Am I an encourager, a cheerleader for my fellow staff.”
“Do I pray for, support and lift up the hands of those entrusted with the leadership of the church or the ministry where I serve?”

Number eight: Losing perspective. This is where we lose sight of the big picture, and it’s so dangerous. I think we do this in two ways. Number one: We forget how big God is, and that leads to discouragement, because the problems mount bigger and bigger and they seem bigger than God. We lose heart. We think, “What’s the use? Nobody cares about women’s ministry,” or “Satan has got just such a toehold.”

We forget how big God is, which is why praise is so important. We keep reminding ourselves how big God is. I love this quote, love it, love it, love it. It’s by G. Campbell Morgan; I need it all the time. He says, “The supreme need in every hour of difficulty and distress is for a fresh vision of God. Seeing Him, all else takes on proper perspective and proportion.”

Have you forgotten how big God is? Do you remember that story in 2 Kings chapter 6 where Elisha’s house was surrounded by the Syrian army, and the servant looked out the window and all he could see were the enemy’s troops, and they were surrounded. He was desperate, “What are we going to do?”

And Elisha prayed, “O God, open his eyes so he can see what’s really out there.” Those enemy troops were out there, but when the man had eyes of faith to see the supernatural realm, what did he see? He saw that the hills were filled with chariots and horses of fire; the angelic heavenly hosts were all there, surrounding the enemy. They had been there all along, but the servant just hadn’t seen them until his eyes were opened.

No matter how many obstacles, no matter how many frustrations and struggles and problems and challenges, God is bigger. He is bigger; He is greater; He is able. Don’t forget how big God is. If you do, you’ll become discouraged. You’ll get caught up in the little daily frustrations and annoyances, organizational issues. Ask God to give you eyes of faith, to see spiritual realities.

Oswald Chambers said it this way, “Our circumstances are the means of manifesting how wonderfully perfect and extraordinarily pure the Son of God is.” Every one of those circumstances, every one of those challenges becomes a means, an opportunity, for us to manifest how wonderfully perfect and extraordinarily pure the Son of God is.

Not only do we forget how big God is, but we forget how little we are. That leads to pride, self-sufficiency. O, ladies, we’ve got to remember that we have this surpassing treasure of the life of Christ in earthen vessels . . . clay pots. That’s all we are. The surpassing treasure is not us, it’s Christ, and in our weakness and in our frailty and in our littleness—do you just feel so little sometimes?—I feel it so much of the time. I think, “Lord, what You’re doing, and what You’re asking us to do—who is adequate for these things?” The answer is, “No one but Jesus.”

I say, “Okay, Lord, I’m a clay pot.” It’s not the instrument, it’s not the servant. That piano, didn’t it sound beautiful? But that piano can’t do anything. It’s wood and whatever else it’s made out of. It can’t do anything until someone like Fernando, who knows how to play it, sits down and puts his hands on the keys. It’s just an instrument.

Ladies, we’re just instruments for God to play, for Him to make His music on. If we forget how little we are, we lose perspective. Does my life demonstrate a conviction that God is omnipotent and sovereign? Do you need a perspective adjustment?

And Number nine, here’s another pitfall: Seeking comfort and convenience. This expresses itself in some different ways. I think one way is that we grow weary in well-doing. We get weary of the battle, weary of the race. If you are not energized and fueled and enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, you will get weary in well-doing. You will get discouraged; you will give up; you will want more comfort, more convenience.

We become more vulnerable, I’m convinced, to this pitfall the longer we’re in ministry. We begin to think subtly, “Look how much I’ve sacrificed, look how much I’ve given up, look how many late nights—I honestly had this thought in the middle of the night, last night. “Do these women know that, for one thing, at 11:30 last night I realized I did not have my notes for this message with me?” I brought the wrong file, so I was up reconstructing. Feel sorry for me, okay?

There are times when you’re thinking, “Everybody else that I’m serving has gone to bed, they’re getting a good night’s sleep . . . they don’t have to do this on Saturday night . . . but look at what . . .” And we begin to think, “I deserve a break today. I can feel free to sin . . . not any great big sins, but just  . . . give me comfort. Food!”  I think we hit a nerve there.

We want to coast; we want to let down our guard; we’ve done so much. Second Samuel chapter 11 is a really, really important chapter. David stayed home in the palace at the time that kings go out to battle, and he got in trouble. He was in his fifties, probably, after years of serving the Lord, and loving God, and writing Psalms and all kinds of things like that. Don’t think it can’t happen to you!

It’s one of the biggest reasons for moral failure among people in ministry, because they get discouraged, or they get to thinking that they deserve a break. They want comfort; they want convenience; they want pleasure, and it happens in a progression, with little things first, perhaps, and then in bigger areas . . . wanting to coast.

The battle didn’t need David, but David needed the battle. As I get older, I find myself thinking, “I’d just like to have a more normal life, and not have to be so stretched and pulled with so many demands.” God apparently knows I need those demands in my life, to protect me, to keep me leaning hard on Him.

There’s a danger of riding the spiritual coattails of others, becoming careless, lacking vigilance, letting your guard down because we want comfort and convenience. One old-time writer said it this way, “Let us press on in patient self-denial, accept the hardship, shrink not from the loss. Our portion lies beyond the hour of trial, our crown beyond the Cross.”

I love that prayer of David Livingstone’s—I’ve prayed it many times over the years, “Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever every tie but the tie that binds me to Thy service and Thy heart.”

Ladies, the servant is not greater than his or her master, and our Master walked a blood-stained road. “Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas?” There’s a time coming for comfort, there’s a time coming for the end of the battle, but that time is not now.

Ask yourself these questions,
“If the church or the ministry where I serve were no more virile than my walk with God, what would be the condition of the ministry?”
“Am I self-seeking, or self-denying?”
Have I surrendered all my rights to myself, to my personal desires, comfort, and convenience?”

Let me close where we started this session, by saying that ministry is an awesome privilege, but it’s also an awesome stewardship, and a huge responsibility. We have to press on day after day as those who will one day give account, but also as those who will one day receive a great reward. Don’t lose sight of that.

There’s a great little picture of that, a little nugget buried in Ezra chapter 8. I want to call your attention to it. You can just listen or you can turn there if you want. As Ezra was getting ready to leave Babylon and take a group of exiles back to Jerusalem, he called for a select group of men, twelve of them priests. In verse 24 he handed over to their keeping all the gold and the silver and the precious vessels that had been donated for the temple in Jerusalem.

They had a journey of 900 miles, I think, ahead of them. He put these precious gifts into their hands, and then he said to them, verse 28 I think it is, “You are holy unto the Lord. The vessels are holy also, and the silver and the gold are a free-will offering unto the Lord God of your fathers. Watch them and keep them until you weigh them before the chief of the priests in the chambers of the house of the Lord.”

So you’re given this treasure. You’re told to hold on to it, to watch it, to guard it, to keep it, because one day you’re going to have to give account when you get to the end of your journey. In verse 31, the Scripture says, “We departed from the river of Ahavah on the twelfth day of the first month to go to Jerusalem, and the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and from ambushes by the way.”

Verse 33 goes on to say that on the fourth day after they arrived, finally, in Jerusalem, “within the house of our God the silver and gold and vessels were weighed into the hands of [then it names the priests] the whole was counted and weighed and the weight of everything was recorded.”

I think that’s just a helpful picture of the fact that God has put into our hands an incredible treasure, the gospel, the ministry of the gospel, the people whose lives we serve, people who need the gospel. That treasure, that stewardship has been weighed into our hands as precious treasure.

On our journey, as was true of the Jews in Ezra’s day, there are ambushes along the way, there are enemies, there is opposition, and if we do not have the hand of our God upon us, we will not make it. But we do have the hand of our God upon us, as they did, and He’s accompanying us, going within us and alongside, in front of us, behind us, to deal with the enemies along the way. They’re His to deal with, not yours.

Soon, relatively speaking, soon we’ll be at that heavenly temple in the presence of our Great High Priest, and O, can you imagine the joy when we’re able to hand Him those treasures? Those lives He entrusted to our care, the incredible message of the gospel. And we can give Him all those treasures and say, “It’s all here, it’s all accounted for. You kept me; You helped me keep it, now I’m giving it all back to you. It’s all by your grace. It’s all accounted for; it’s all, all, all for You.”

Don’t you think that, at that moment, every hard day, every tear that was shed, ever obstacle you faced, every burden that you bore here on earth will seem like dust, feathers, nothing, in light of that exceeding, eternal, great reward that we will share in His presence?

So my prayer for you at the start of this weekend, but also as we go from this place, is that God will keep His hand on you and keep you faithful all the way to the finish line.