Pre-Event: Portrait of an Effective Servant: 12 Ministry Characteristics

Oct. 9, 2014 Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Session Transcript

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I want to invite you to open your Bible, if you have one or if you can click on one, to the book of 1 Thessalonians. I just want to start our whole weekend by grounding us in the Word of God, because really, it's not my books . . .

Mary Kassian is here. By the way, how many of you have done True Woman 101? [cheers and applause] You're ready for True Woman 201? Pray for us as we finish that up right after this conference. Mary, come up here. Now, I have to take my heels off . . . If you haven't ever seen us together, we're real careful how we do this on video.

This is my twin sister . . . what do you think? But I am so cool, and Mary is so traditional-that's what bothers me about the two of us [said tongue-in-cheek].

Mary, it's great to see you, all the way from Canada! Is your daughter-in-law Amanda with you? There she is. She is a Young Adult ministry leader from her church. Our Canadian sisters are glad to see you, Mary. It's good to have you with us.

Mary Kassian: There are a bunch of Edmontonians [woo-hoo] . . . where are they?

Nancy: Women from Edmonton, where are you? Okay, front-and-center up here. Oh, you've got to love these Canadians!

What I started to say was, what we ultimately need is not more books-books by Mary or me, or whoever-Susan Hunt is here-I love her books. All those are beneficial to the extent they point us to His Book, right? So that's what we're trying to do. We just want to ground our lives, our ministry, in the Word of God.

When I was in the seventh grade, a man came on staff at our church (which was a small start-up church that actually started in our home and by this time was in a rented school facility). This man came on staff as the Director of Christian Education, and I went to him (mind you, I was in seventh grade) and I said, "Ron, would you teach me everything you know about ministry, and local church ministry, and Christian Education, and I promise you, whatever you teach me I will share with others."

Now, I'm trying to imagine a seventh-grader coming to me and saying this, but you know, he was up for it. The first assignment he ever gave me, he said, "I want you to take the book of 1 Thessalonians, chapters 1 and 2, and I want you to make a list of characteristics of effective ministry and characteristics of effective people who do ministry-ministers."

And so that was my first assignment in this kind of mentoring, discipleship thing about learning about ministry. I want to take some time today for us to look at 1 Thessalonians 2. I'd encourage you to take that challenge and go through both those chapters.

I've been reading the book repeatedly this week and just looking for the characteristics of ministry that God uses, and what are the characteristics of a person that God uses in ministry? Just a little bit of context here: On his second missionary journey, Paul and his companions took the gospel to Thessalonica. That was the capitol of the Roman province of Macedonia-you see that in the Scripture.

Thessalonica had a population of over one-hundred-thousand in those days, so it was a good-sized city. A short time after they got there, Paul and his friends were forced to leave because there was severe opposition. They were used to that, you know.

They had to leave. Then Paul went on to Athens, then went to Corinth, but he couldn't get these Thessalonians out of his mind. They were in his heart, even though he hadn't been there for that long, and he was concerned about how this little newborn church was doing, so he sent Timothy-his son in the faith, his partner in ministry-back to Thessalonica. He said, "Go see how those people are doing. Check it out. Are they standing strong in faith, are they standing strong in hope, and are they standing strong in love? How are they doing?"

So when Timothy returned to Corinth with his report-which was a good, encouraging report (don't you love those reports about how people are doing?)-Paul in response to that report wrote this letter to the Thessalonians. So that's a little back-drop here.

Throughout this book-but we're going to focus on chapter 2-we get a lot of insights about the messenger, the motives, the methods of the servant of God that I think have great application for our lives. So I'm going to read the text, and then I'm going to give you a few minutes around your tables (I'm telling you this now so you can be thinking about it while I read the text, 1 Thessalonians 2) . . .

I'm going to ask you to talk about, around your tables, what characteristics of effective ministry do you see in this chapter? What observations do you see about the life, the labor, and the love of a servant of God? So be looking for those things as I'm reading 1 Thessalonians 2.

"For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts."

"For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

"For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory."

"And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved-so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!"

"But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you-I, Paul, again and again-but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy." (1 Thess. 2:1-20 ESV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

As I keep reading this, I keep seeing more things. But let's just walk through it together, and I want to point out some things that stand out to me.

Let's start with verse 1, "For you yourselves know, brothers . . ." Now, there aren't a lot of "brothers" in this room, but that's word that can be translated brothers or sisters; brothers and sisters, so that includes us girls. You find that word "brothers" four times in this chapter; you find it nineteen times in the letter of 1 Thessalonians, and it says to me that Paul viewed these believers, baby Christians though they were, as family. He viewed them as family.

In Christ, they were family. Some were Jews, and some were Gentiles. Some were well-educated, and some had no education at all. They were from different socio-economic backgrounds. Some had responsible positions of authority. Some were slaves and had no authority at all.

Paul was a mature believer; these were brand-new baby believers, but they were all part of the same family, and Paul didn't look down on them. He talked them as if they were peers, brothers in the same family (maybe he was an older brother, but he was a brother). He wasn't intimidated by them either, because they were part of the same family.

Now you see later in this chapter, in addition to his thinking of them as siblings, brothers, he also had a heart toward them as parent. In verse 7: "Like a nursing mother taking care of her own children . . ." Verse 11, "Like a father . . ." Still framing it in the context of family relationships.

That says to me, the women we minister to are family. We have a blood bond with them. They may be very different from us. They may be some of those, you know, odd aunts and uncles in the family, they may be family members that drive you a little crazy-but they're family.

We have a responsibility and a privilege to minister to them, to care for them, and to serve them. They're not just names out there, they're not just people on a list . . . they are family.

Then right up front here at the beginning of the chapter, Paul introduces the concept of suffering. In chapter 1:6 (we didn't read that) he first introduced that concept by saying, "You received the word in much affliction." Then he expands that whole concept of suffering at the first part of chapter 2 (vv. 1,2): "For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict."

And that same theme continues in chapter 3:3: "That no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. [What's the "this?" Affliction.] For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass."

By the way, the theme of suffering is not just a lesson for advanced Christianity, for graduate degree people. These were baby Christians when Paul started teaching them about affliction. I wonder if some people wouldn't get so thrown by affliction when it comes, if from the beginning we would explain that this is a message about a cross-that there is affliction involved.

So as I read this passage, it says a couple things to me: First, expect suffering. Expect opposition. Don't be surprised by it. Don't expect ministry, or the Christian life for that matter, to be trouble-free, pain-free. Suffering affliction, hardship, conflict is part and parcel of our calling, this side of heaven. So don't be surprised by it.

Secondly, don't stop what you're doing just because it's hard. That's no reason to quit. We see that Paul said, "We kept proclaiming the gospel to you in the midst of suffering." Now, eventually the Spirit directed them to leave town, and sometimes it's right to leave town, but don't stop what you're doing. Keep proclaiming the gospel!

Then, in verses 3 through 6 (1 Thessalonians 2), we see some helpful, challenging, searching words about motives-why we do what we do. That matters to God, not just what we do or how we do it, but why we do it. Paul talks a lot about this in verses 3 through 6. He talks about some motives that are inferior motives, self-centered motives. Look at verse 3, "For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive." He says, "We have no ulterior motives here."

Verse 4, "We speak, not to please man." Paul says, "We're not trying to impress other people, we're not trying to curry favor with them." Verse 5, "We never came with words of flattery, as you know." That says to me, Paul didn't tell people what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear. His goal wasn't to make people feel good about themselves or to get people to like him; that was not his motive.

Verse 5, continuing, "nor with a pretext for greed." He wasn't trying to get something from them; he wanted to give something to them-that was the gospel . If you're going to be a taker, you're always going to be hurt in ministry. You're always going to be frustrated, because people are going to want to be taking from you. So you have got to go into ministry saying, "I'm not in this to get something-I'm in this to give something God has given to me. "Freely you have received, freely give." No pretext for greed.

Verse 6, "Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others." The goal in ministry is not to get more "likes." It's not to get more Twitter followers or Facebook friends. The goal is to get His "like," His "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Paul says also, "We could have made demands as apostles of Christ." The implication is, "We didn't do that. We didn't abuse our authority." Paul was not controlling, overbearing. He came as a humble servant, to lift them up, not to tell them, "This is who I am, this is who you are; you do this."

You know, there's something about authority and how it can so corrupt us and it can bring out that controlling part we have, particularly as women. I think it's kind of ingrained in us. Paul says, "We didn't do that."

Now, he's going to tell what they did do: Verse 4, Paul says, "Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts." Verse 5, "God is witness." What's God witness to? He sees what I do, but He also sees why I do it-what's in my heart.

Paul is saying we minister for an audience of One. We live to please Him. God is the One who chose us to do this; God is the One who set us apart; God is the One who has entrusted us with this holy, sacred calling and message. And He knows our heart motives; He tests our heart motives, and He is our witness . . . the witness of our hearts.

At a conference like this, I just find myself wanting to live in the fear of the Lord, because there are so many people surrounding an event like this who will say, "That was so wonderful. I love what you're doing. I love your radio program. I love your books." Or some who don't quite care for it all (and we hear from a little bit of that, too).

If I'm living not to please the crowd, and people-pleasing is a huge, challenging, difficult root issue in my life that the Holy Spirit has to keep rooting up. I've got to keep confessing it, keep bringing it to the light, keep agreeing with God and keep being reminded that I live to please Him . . . not you, but Him.

"The fear of man brings a snare." It puts us in bondage . If human praise unduly inflates you, then the criticism of others will devastate you. If you're too influenced by the praise of men, then you're going to be wiped out when you get criticized. So live for the praise of God, not the praise of men.

I can just assure you-some of you are kind of new in women's ministry-that you will not be able to please all the people around you who have ideas about how you should be doing what you're doing. It's good to be humble. It's good to listen, to take counsel. It's good to listen to ideas.

I always tell our team when we get critical letters ("You shouldn't have said this . . . You shouldn't have said that . . . I don't like it when . . ."), "Always write and thank them for coming to us to share their concern." And then, I want to see, "Is there some kernel of truth-maybe some big kernel of truth? Is there something we can learn from this?"

Listen, your critics can become your best friends if you'll listen to criticism with a humble heart, but don't let it run or ruin your life.

That heart motive was reflected in the way that Paul and his companions ministered. In the kind of relationship they had with these young believers and the way they interacted with them. We see this in verse 7: "We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us." You see here a mother's heart.

Paul says, "It's like a nursing mother taking care of her own children." Being in ministry isn't being a babysitter, it's being a parent. With that sense of having your own children comes this enormous sense of responsibility that you can never get away from . And by the way, no matter how old your children are . . .

My mother called me this morning to tell me she was praying for me and for us today, and I'm so thankful that here I am at fifty-six, and I've still got a mother who cares for me as a mother. So, you don't just mother little ones; you mother them through their whole lives.

But these "kids" that we've been called to serve, they don't belong to somebody else. They're your kids, and you can't pawn them off on somebody else if you don't like their personality or you don't like how they're acting. You're the parent. And ultimately, you're responsible.

Now, a parent isn't the only relationship you have with the women in your church, but there's a sense of having that mother's heart. It's a 24/7 responsibility if you're a mom, right? No days off, right? Often it's inconvenient to be a mother. It requires sacrifice and selflessness. And, might I remind us-for those of us who haven't had children in a while-that babies and children are messy?

They make messes! They're helpless when they're little. They're needy, they're demanding-sometimes when they're not so little-and so are the people we serve. And you know what else? So are we. We need a Father, God, who has a parent's heart toward us, and He wants to give us that heart for others-the spirit of gentleness and affection and longing and fondness.

This is something, as I've been studying this again, that I've been asking the Lord to give me. I'm asking for more of that kind of heart where people are very dear to me. I'm not naturally a mercy show-er. I'm not naturally relational. I'm more introverted, and frankly, I find sometimes I wish God would call me to an uninhabited region of the world-mostly because I'm a selfish woman.

But I want to love people, and I think you do, too-that's why you're doing what you're doing. Say, "Lord, give me this heart for people, that they are very dear to me."

And then, give them the gospel, but not only the gospel. From the verses we just read here, we realize that we need to give them ourselves. Give them ourselves, as Christ did for us. Paul says, "We didn't just give you the gospel." That's huge . If you give them yourself and don't give them the gospel, you haven't won anything for eternity.

Give them the gospel. But as you do, give them yourself. It's not enough to give these people we serve good Bible studies, curriculum, teaching, helpful programs, activities. With all of that, we need to give them our lives-self-giving, self-sacrificing, serving others with ourselves. That means we have to spend time with them in the laboratory of life, where they live, where we live.

Listen, standing behind a podium is the easiest thing I do, in a sense, because I don't have to really love people here. Being in my study is easy, because there are no people in my study. But you get out in the laboratory of life, where people are messy, where they have broken relationships, where they have broken lives, where they have complexities they have to deal with, where they have hard things . . .

I've talked already today with some women who are in hard places . To touch them and love them and have compassion and feel with them and carry their burdens with them, that's ministry-giving yourself.

Now, Paul says in verse 9, "You remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." In the previous verses we saw the love of the servant of God. "We were affectionately desirous . . . we loved you so much that we gave you ourselves."

But now you see the labor, the toil, the work of a servant of God. Again, it's not just eight-hour shifts he's doing this. He says, "Night and day we worked so that we might not be a burden to any of you." Paul did not use these believers to make his life easier. He worked hard so that he could lift their burden and not be a burden to them.

He didn't neglect other personal responsibilities. See, Paul was earning a living at the same time he was being the apostle Paul. He was making tents; he was working. He didn't want to be a burden to them. So he didn't neglect his normal daily human responsibilities in order to go be a minister.

I think it's very easy in ministry for us to think, I'm in ministry. I can go do ministry stuff, but I don't want to keep my house clean. I don't want to make meals. That's just normal stuff. No, that's ministry. It's all ministry. I'll tell you, I have a real concern about how many women in ministry-paid staff, volunteer, whatever kind of responsibilities you have-(I'm sure it's not intentional) end up neglecting their home, their family, in order to "minister" to others.

Listen, if your children are not being ministered to, if your husband is not being loved well and blessed, your home isn't in order, then you've got your priorities out of whack . It's all ministry, and it all makes you a more effective servant of the Lord.

These verses point out to us that ministry is hard work. There is hard work about parenting, about teaching, about discipleship-any kind of human life-to-life ministry. It's hard work; you will work long hours. You will be up late planning, studying, preparing, cleaning up, mopping up, putting up when other people are sleeping or playing or having vacations. And I'm not saying you never sleep, you never play, you never have a vacation.

But how many times have you found yourself doing hard work in order to serve others, while they're out there just having fun? Well, you need to learn that what God has called you to do, and you need to redefine fun. This is fun! Keeping up with normal everyday responsibilities, in addition to everything else you're doing, writing studies, preparing.

It's like fixing a big meal. You spend hours preparing it, you serve it, they eat it in eight minutes, and then they're off doing the next thing, and you've got two hours of clean up left. Does that ever bother you? Yeah! But that's part of our calling. When we're told to serve the Lord with gladness, part of that is working hard behind the scenes, un-thanked, uncredited.

"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen," and I'm not back there grousing, resenting. Now, I have been many times. That's why I can say this so like I know what I'm talking about, because I do. It's all part of serving the Lord with gladness-not resenting. Ministry is hard work. It's part of the price to be paid, to be an ambassador of Christ.

So don't shrink back from hard work. Don't resent it. Let me say to those of us who are middle-aged and older, I find as I get older (I've been in vocational ministry now for thirty-five-plus years) that it's easier to think, I've paid my dues; let somebody else do the heavy lifting.

Now, there is a transition, there is a passing of the baton, there are seasons to life, so I don't want to overstate this. Let me just say, as we get older, we don't get a free pass to heaven without any affliction or hard work or effort. I love people like Susan Hunt, my friend, who has been such a grandmother to this True Woman Movement. I love her young heart, and I love the fact that she keeps laboring and serving the Lord. She keeps pressing on.

I've seen this in some of you older woman, and that's the kind of woman I want to be as I move into that season of life. Hard work-don't shrink back from it! Ministry, someone has said:

  • is giving when you feel like keeping

· is praying for others when you need to be prayed for

  • is feeding others when your own soul is hungry

· is living truth before people even when you can't see the results

· is hurting with other people even when your own hurt can't be spoken

· is keeping your word even when it's not convenient

· is being faithful when your flesh wants to run away

That is ministry, and that's the heart we see here in the apostle Paul.

Now, as you labor and toil, don't lose sight of the goal. Why are you doing what you're doing? The goal is not to run a program; the goal is not to entertain women. The goal is not to fill their notebooks, or give them a social outlet. Some of those things may happen in the process, but the goal is to proclaim the gospel of God.

That's what Paul says in verse 9, to see women reconciled to God, to see them transformed into the image of Christ, to see them become faithful fruitful followers of Christ who are living and serving in community with other faithful fruitful followers of Christ, and who themselves begin to proclaim the gospel to others. They are building spiritual reproducers, wholly devoted followers of Jesus Christ. That's the whole concept of proclaiming the gospel-it transforms lives, it makes people new people, it gives them a new vocation and a new calling, it gives them a whole heart transplant! And that's what the goal is. That's why we work; that's why we labor.

Now, Paul says in verse 10, "You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers." So we've seen the love and the labor of the servant of God and now we see more of a glimpse into the life of God's servant.

Paul says, "You are witnesses." He's already said that God is witnessing, but now, "You are witnesses." Can I just remind you that people see? They see; they're watching. They don't just hear what we say-they see how we live. They see our countenance; they see the spirit with which we respond; they see if we just do tasks or if we have a heart of love behind our actions.

They see if we're whiners and complainers and if we're grumpy. Don't be an Eeyore if you want to be in ministry. Have a happy heart. Now, I'll tell you, I am more naturally constituted to be an Eeyore. If there's something negative in a picture, I can find it. I'm the person who opens a book, and the first thing I see is the typo. That's just the way I'm wired. It's not a gift; it's not a blessing.

But, realize people are watching, and God also. He sees what others can't see. What I am in the privacy of my own heart, in the privacy of my own home, off the platform, in my free time. And Paul says, in all these times, "we were consistent examples of holiness." Our behavior matters; our attitudes matter.

If you want to be a servant of the Lord, we're called to the highest possible standard . We need a life message-not just giving people truth, but giving them truth embodied, incarnated, so they can see a living demonstration of how Jesus is in these areas.

Paul says in verse 5 and 6 of 1 Thessalonians 1, "You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord." Life begets life. If the people you're serving imitate you-not just what you do, but your heart attitudes and your spirit, how you do what you do, will they be coming more like Jesus? That's the question.

He says in verse 7 of chapter 1, "You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia." The goal is spiritual reproduction, to develop followers of Christ for future multiple generations.

I can't say enough about the importance of a life message. Jesus said it this way in Luke 6:40, "Everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." Notice he doesn't say he'll know what his teacher knows. It says he will be like his teacher.

Philippians 4:9, "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." Can people see in us what they have heard from us? That's the power of a life message.

Now, let me move on quickly. Our ministry needs to be tuned and tailored to where people are. Verse 11, "For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God." So we saw a mother's heart earlier; now we see a father's heart.

We see how this father deals with his children as individuals; "Each one of you," he says. These children are all different-they have different needs, they're in different places of growth, and this father is attentive to where his children are in their growth and their development. He deals with them according to what they need. How they are responding may look different at different times.

So he exhorted them. That word means "to admonish, to entreat, to encourage, to comfort, to console, to strengthen." You see, it's a broad type of ministry. What does that person need? What kind of exhortation do they need? He says, "We encouraged you." That word means to calm and to console.

Some women need to be encouraged. Now, if they're sinning willfully, encouragement is not what they need. But if the enemy has planted seeds of doubt and is throwing darts into their hearts, they need to be encouraged, calmed ,and consoled.

Sometimes they need to charged. He says. "We charged you." That word, in one translation, is "to implore." "We implored you." It means "to beseech, to exhort solemnly." Sometimes you need to just take a woman's face in your hands and charge her, implore her, beseech her. "You're in a burning house. Get out! And let me help you do it!"

So, knowing what is needed. People are at different places in their walk, in their growth, in their journey. They need different things at times. Paul says it this way in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, "Admonish the idle [that word is "the disorderly, the undisciplined, those who are out of control"], encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." That's the hard part-"be patient with them all."

You say, "That woman has been to my office sixty-seven times, and I don't think she's getting it!" Holly Ellif, my friend, is here. I've seen in her a patient heart She has eight kids, too, and maybe that's where she's developed some of this, a patient heart. What they need, but they need it with patience.

Ask God for wisdom to discern what they need-grace, truth. They need both. Which do you need to lead with, in a given situation? "By grace and truth iniquity is purged." Lead with truth, lead with grace-you need both. Ask God for wisdom, and keep the objective-the goal-in mind, that each person we serve would (what does Paul say?), "Walk in a manner worthy of God." That's the goal. In their thoughts, their attitudes, their words, their actions, their public life, their private life, their family life, their relationships, their finances, their spending, their use of time, their values, their choices, their habits, their morals, in every area of their lives they would walk-what they read, what they watch, what they listen to-that they would walk in every area of their lives, "in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." I love how Paul holds up to these young believers a vision for God's ultimate purpose in their lives. This is not legalism. There's a joy to be had.

There's a reward to be had: "God's calling you to his kingdom and to his glory to share in that, to be partakers in that, so I want you to live lives that in every way are worthy of God."

It goes on and says in verse 13, "We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers." I love that verse. Paul gave them the Word, he gave them the gospel of God, and that's what people need. They need His Word, not ours.

Our word may be able to inform their minds, to reform their behavior, but His Word is what transforms their lives and their hearts from the inside out. It's a powerful Word! It's alive! "It's at work in you believers." What is said of God's Word in that verse could never be said of my books or Susan Hunt's books or Mary Kassian's books or anybody else's books. The Word of the Lord is powerful. Get them to the Word; get the Word to them.

Give them the Word. Pray that they will receive it as the Word of God. I think so many believers today have a ho-hum attitude toward God's Word. You don't see much of what Isaiah 66:2 talks about, trembling at the word of the Lord. This is God's Word. Pray that they'll receive it that way, and understand that this to be taken seriously. This is not optional. We're to submit our lives to this! We're to say, "Yes, Lord!"-whether I understand it or not, whether I agree with it or not, whether I think it makes sense or not.

There's a crisis today in evangelicalism of trusting and submitting to the authority of the holy, inspired Word of God. When this Book speaks, God speaks. So, give them the Word.

First Thessalonians 2:14, "For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved-so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!"

There's a lot there, but let me just summarize it this way: We have an enemy and while God is working through His Word, the enemy is also at work, and he often works through people; even people who are well-intentioned, well-meaning, and who others may think are good people. The enemy often works through people, and he opposes God and God's people and he opposes unbelievers, and he seeks to hinder the gospel from going forth.

Sometimes he will do that through women in your church. You need to be aware of that, alert to it, and pray for wisdom to deal with it. But when you see it, remember who the enemy is. It's not those people. Satan's the enemy, so don't get mad at people who are being used by Satan to accomplish his purposes. Pray for their deliverance. Pray that they will see truth and remember, that in God's way and time, God's judgment will come to all unrepentant opponents of Christ and His gospel. So you don't have to be the one to mete out the judgment.

Jesus said, "Let the tares and the wheat grow up together." That's hard, sometimes. You want to start tearing out people. "Move this woman to another women's ministry!" Right? And church discipline is important-that's a biblical teaching as well-but sometimes you've got to just let them be together and let God expose what needs to be exposed, when it needs to be exposed and dealt with.

Verse 17, "Since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you-I, Paul, again and again-but Satan hindered us." In verse 6 of chapter 3, Paul says, "We long to see you." In chapter 3:10, he said, "We pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith."

Let me just summarize those verses by reminding us that ministry is relational, up-close, personal. You may need to spend time, as I do, in your study, in your office, but ministry is ultimately about being with people. Remember at the Last Supper Jesus said, "I have eagerly desired to eat this supper with you."

When He chose His disciples, Scripture says He chose them to be "with him." You can't always be "with" those you love and serve, in person. Sometimes they're in their homes, sometimes they're traveling. You can't be with all the people all the time, but ministry has a heart that wants to be with the people we serve. Face to face is ideal. It's not always easy, but it's ideal.

But when you can't be face to face with people, when you can't love them in person, you can still have a heart for them. They're still in your heart, and you can still find ways to minister, to bless, to encourage and to exhort, as Paul did through this letter from Corinth to the Thessalonians.

"I can't be with you. I want to be with you. I can't be. I've been hindered. Satan has kept me from being able to come back." Satan was working through those opponents who were instrumental in getting Paul thrown out. So he sends Timothy to see how they're doing, and when Timothy comes back, Paul sends this letter.

Use every means you can to be with people, and that's a great use for Facebook, for email, for Twitter. When you can't be with them, look for ways to minister to them, to bless them, to encourage them, to lift them up.

So, we do ministry in these ways, and then there's this question. What kind of reward can we expect when it's all said and done? At the end of the day, what are we going to get out of this investment? Do you ever wonder that? Did you ever wonder if it's worth all the time, the investment, the energy, the tears, the trials, the disappointments? Am I the only one who wonders that? You wonder that!

Well, look at what Paul says in verses 19 and 20, "For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy." A couple observations I'd make about those verses: First of all , the joys and rewards of ministry will not be fully experienced until Christ returns. You're not going to have all the joys and the benefits and the blessings this side of heaven. There are some, but they won't be fully experienced until Jesus comes back at the second coming-which, by the way, is a major theme in the book of 1 Thessalonians. You see it in all five chapters-the coming of Christ.

Keep your eyes fixed on that, keep your hope fixed on that. That will keep you from distraction, from discouragement, from throwing in the towel, from wrong, temporal priorities-if you keep your heart and your eyes fixed on the return of Christ, that great hope that is true for every believer.

And then, this observation: The people whose lives have been touched and transformed as we have given them the gospel, given them our lives, those people are our reward. They are what bring us joy. While I was working on this message a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a good friend.

Without going into details, I will say that this younger woman has recently found herself in an extremely difficult, messy ministry situation. A lot of circumstances that have radically changed her life, but circumstances over which she had no control.

And so, for the last several weeks she's taken a time-out, and she's been seeking the Lord for direction for what's next. Well, in the midst of that time she's had an opportunity to transfer to another ministry where she could serve, and it would be a much more comfortable environment than the one she's just left.

She would be wanted, she would be loved, she would be appreciated and valued. She's got family, she's got relationships, and that other ministry would love to have her. She called to share with me that the Lord has made it clear to her that she is to go back to the original situation and serve a group of women that most of us would not have a heart to serve.

She's returning, shortly now, to an environment that is difficult at best and hostile at worst. Let me tell you a little bit of what she said to me on that call, as she explained how the Lord is leading her. She said, "Nancy, it would be a lot easier to stay where I am now. It's a great environment, sense of family, but I know that the Lord called me. He's given me a purpose, and I have to go back to what He's called me to."

She said, "I know it's not going to be easy, it's not going to be comfortable, it's not going to safe. I know it's going to be a battle, it's going to be messy, but God has not called me to 'easy,' to 'safe,' or to 'non-messy.' God has always been faithful in the hard places to bring me through and to reveal something about Himself in the midst of it. Right now that calling looks very, very messy, but I believe this is my 'for such a time as this' moment, and the question is, am I willing to go back into the trenches and follow Him?"

Now, I can't tell you-knowing this woman as I do-how thrilled I was to hear what she expressed. Because you see, for some years, this woman has been something of a spiritual daughter to me. I'm one of many who have invested in her life and in her discipleship. We've walked together with her through some very deep waters.

There have been frequent texts, late-night calls, a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of sacrifice invested in this woman's life, and there have been times when she has struggled with her obedience. There have been moments when I've wondered, Is she going to make it? Sometimes you invest in people, and they don't make it, right?

Sometimes they get sidelined, they call it quits, they throw in the towel, they disappoint you. But this all from this woman brought incredible joy to my heart. Besides being happy for her, for being obedient to the Lord, there was just this huge sense of joy because of the fruit of years of giving and serving and caring and loving and exhorting and being engaged in this young woman's life.

And now, she's not a baby Christian anymore. She's a mature, valuable, dearly-loved friend and partner in the ministry of the gospel. And what I experienced on that call is just a little glimpse of what we'll experience in a big way on that day "For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy."

Let me pray a blessing on you, if I could. Lord, I thank you for these women, and I would just pray that You give all the grace they need to be faithful, faithful right where they are-some of them in really hard places, and some of them who are getting ready to face really hard places they don't even know about yet.

Give them joy in the serving, gladness, wholeheartedness. May we serve as those who live under the spotlight of Your assessment of how we're doing. You search our hearts. May we not do it for stuff, for time, but for eternity. And thank you for the women that these women are touching through their lives, their ministries, their labors. Bless them, Lord!

Encourage them, strengthen them! Satisfy them deeply with Your love; keep them faithful in the battle, and may we together one day experience the joy, the full reward in that day, of seeing those lives-the ones who were challenges, the ones who were difficult, the ones who were high maintenance women, the ones we struggled to love, we struggled to like, the ones who were knocking on our door, texting us, calling all hours of the day and night-may we some day have the joy of seeing them as mature followers of Jesus Christ. Lord Jesus, it's all for You. It's all about You. So I ask your blessing on these women as they serve You, in Jesus' name, amen.