I can distinctly remember the moment when I realized that something was off. I was working full time in ministry, studying Scripture regularly for writing a children’s discipleship curriculum, lived in a strong community that was passionate about seeking Jesus, and yet I felt dry…empty…weak. God felt distant. Honestly, my personal walk with Him had slowly dwindled away to almost nothing—all in the midst of ministry. Ministry had replaced God, and it wasn’t enough. I was in and around truth, but it wasn’t getting in me: it was like suffocating in the open air.
God used this time to bring me back to Himself and teach me (and He continues to teach me) truths about my relationship with Him, my identity, and the place ministry ought to have in my life.
What had gone wrong?
As I sat there on that cool day, looking out on the glorious autumn beauty that surrounded me, the Lord began to quietly bring Scriptures to my mind and truth to my heart that would begin to realign me with Him.
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, my practical devotion to Christ had been slipping away and was being replaced by devotion to my ministry work. What mattered wasn’t spending quality time in the Word anymore, but moving a project forward. I didn’t study Scripture out of love for Christ or hunger for it, but because I had to; it was on my todo list. My Christian walk became an external thing, something driven by deadlines, checklists, and content creation.
I had been deceived into believing that my hope and identity was based on how well I did ministry. In this passage in 2 Corinthians, Paul is warning his people of the danger of following another gospel, another Jesus, another hope. Anything that replaces our faith and hope in Christ alone is a deception and lie. This is what I had allowed in my life: ministry was my means of maintaining spiritual life, strength, and hope, not Christ.
Paul’s message sounds so simple and obvious, especially for those of us who work in ministry. Yet the warning is needed; otherwise, Paul wouldn’t have given it. And deception is, well, deceptive. We wouldn’t be deceived if we didn’t think the deception was truth. This is why it is so critical that we vigilantly maintain devotion to Christ Himself and not our work for Christ. Your ministry can become a distraction from your relationship with God.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. (Psalm 62:5)
Psalm 62 is replete with the refrain of the centrality and singularity of God as the only true source of hope. In fact, all throughout the Psalms we see that God is the center and focus, not anything else. Read Psalm 33:10-22. Ministry often becomes our “army,” or our “great strength,” or our “war horse.” It can genuinely be a good thing and powerful tool in the Kingdom of God but if any sliver of our hope, trust, or confidence turns from God to that tool, there lies our downfall.
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 33:18-20) What sweet words to the hungry soul, like mine that day, that is in the midst of trusting something other than God. The simplicity of it! Simply look to Christ and trust Him. His eye is not on those who try to fight their own battles or attempt to please Him with their spectacular ministry performance, but on those who quietly hope and rest in Him.
Where is Your Trust?
What place does God have in your life? Where does ministry stack up? Think about the following words and what they mean to you: joy, hope, security, identity, purpose, satisfaction, justification or rightness before God. Now honestly, where do you go to find each one of those? Is your joy found primarily in Christ? Do you hope in Him? Is He your security? Or does ministry give you your identity? Is your purpose tied to what you do? Do you find more satisfaction in completing that project for the church than you do in getting an hour alone with Jesus? Do you not feel right with God if you’re not hitting the ball out of the park in your ministry?
All of these questions hit home for me. I was the guilty one, but God in His mercy was opening my eyes and teaching me to trust Him again. I urge you to prayerfully consider these things and allow God to convict you if you have allowed other things to begin to fill the place only Christ can truly fill. It’s not wrong to derive joy, satisfaction, and other good things from our ministry, but the question is, what is primary?
Here are a few questions to help you to begin to practically apply these principles:
- If you feel that ministry has taken the place God ought to have in your life, what are a couple practical changes you can make that will help make your relationship with the Lord primary?
- If you’re relationship with God is strong and not distracted, what are some things you can do to be vigilant to maintain your devotion to Christ?
When ministry is big and God is small, we begin to draw from empty cisterns that do not give life. But when we decrease and God increases in our lives, we will be satisfied by the ever-giving Fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13).
This is the message that refreshed me that autumn day. It is my prayer that it is life-giving for you as well.