Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Danger of Relying on Natural Abilities

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss with a question and a warning.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Are you elated by praise? If you are, then you will be deflated by criticism.

Leslie: You’re listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, June 17, 2014.

Yesterday, Nancy began a message called, “Potential Pitfalls of Ministry.” It was an important reminder for all of us—whether we are officially in ministry or not. We're all leaders and disciple makers in some way, so I think everyone will benefit from this message.

The first two pitfalls Nancy described were, “Losing the Wonder” and “Neglecting a Personal Relationship with the Lord.” If you missed those, you can read about them or hear the message at ReviveOurHearts.com. Here’s Nancy to pick things back up.

Nancy: 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. It doesn’t stop just because I say, “Stop, I need to let my life catch up.” The program still has to go on. 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 no intention of 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 home front.

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 home front, 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 lifestyle 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 vs. 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 alpha 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 toRevive 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.”

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. There is 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 lay

ing down my life for people, or am I just applying principles and programs to their problems?”

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been asking some important questions, showing us why acting in our own strength is never enough.

Those thoughts are part of a message called, “Potential Pitfalls of Ministry.” She delivered it at Revive '11, a conference hosted by Revive Our Hearts for women’s ministry leaders.

It’s a big priority at Revive Our Hearts to help women’s ministry leaders become more effective in what God’s called them to do. It’s why we host conferences like Revive. And it’s also why we’re inviting these leaders to get together October 9. 

Before the start of the True Woman conference, women’s ministry leaders will gather for a half-day session with Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Leslie Bennett. It’s a time to connect with other leaders, hear their ideas, and share what God’s doing in your ministry  We want you to come away energized and encouraged.  And we want you to come away better equipped for your ministry. 

For all the details on this women’s ministry gathering October 9, visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

When God gives you success in ministry, it’s tempting to slow down and take it easy. Nancy shows you how to keep believing for new, God-sized challenges. 

Nancy: We want to coast, we want to let down our guard, we've done so much. Listen, 2 Samuel chapter 11 is a really, really important chapter. David stayed home in the palace at the time kings go out to battle, and he got into trouble. He was probably in his fifties, 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.

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. 

Leslie: That's tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is a ministry of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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