Don’t have time to read? Scroll down to listen to our latest podcast!
Too often in ministry we function as though Jesus’ main focus was to fix problems.
This isn’t unreasonable; after all, he did heal broken bodies and fill empty stomachs. As a result, when we seek to make ministry a part of our lives, we see the things Jesus did, hear his words to “Go and do likewise,” (Luke 10:37) and set out to fix the problems of the world.
The thing is, Jesus did not come to “fix problems”, but to sacrificially love people. He did not come that they may have problem-free lives, but that “they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) This is important to understand because it utterly shapes why and how we serve others… and if we are actually serving them at all.
When my oldest child was a baby, there was a period when he could not yet crawl; he would see his “squeaky bird” toy just out of reach, be unable to move to it, and grow frustrated. As a loving father, I would hear his cries and want to comfort him; very quickly I could assume that the problem was that his toy was out of reach, and could easily solve it by grabbing it for him.
One time, however, I paused; “what if something important is happening here?” It was difficult to hear my son’s cries as he reached with all his might for a toy he could not attain, but something told me to wait. I stayed close to him as he rocked his body back and forth, kicked his tiny legs, and shifted his weight, little by little, until “Squeaky bird” was almost within reach.
And then, in a moment, everything changed. He had managed to move his body across the floor and grab hold of his toy, but something else had happened: he discovered that reality was not what he thought it was. To that point, he had only known a reality where he could not get from A to B without one of the big people, and that something out of reach would forever remain that way without someone’s intervention. Now, he knew that he had been created for more than he realized; his tiny limbs that once seemed useless now had potential, and impossibilities like far-away-toys were no longer hopeless endeavors.
At least, that’s what I imagined as his cries immediately stopped and his contentment seemed to be about more than a toy.
Scripture often refers to us as children, and realistically that’s how we tend to act with God; like babies we see what we want and cry out. This isn’t a bad thing — I didn’t fault my child for crying or love him less — but I also knew that there was “abundantly more than he was asking for or imagining.” (Ephesians 3:20) His understanding of a good life was that “squeaky bird” was always within reach; I knew that full life for him would include crawling, and walking, and running, and creating his own toys, and experiencing things he did not yet know existed. I could always grab out-of-reach-toys for him — and sometimes did — but I knew the problem wasn’t the location of the toys, but his limited understanding of who God created him to be.
We often approach ministry as grabbing out-of-reach-toys for others; we see problems, and decide how to fix them. While Jesus did frequently meet practical needs, his primarily focus was on authentic love and presence; he knew that everyone he encountered had not yet grasped that their understanding of reality was limited, and he offered glimpses of “full life.” To that point, they had only known a reality where poverty or sickness could ruin their lives. When they truly encountered Jesus, they discovered they had been created for more than they realized; their “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17) no longer overpowered them and they could say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Jesus does not invite us to serve others as a way of eliminating problems, but so that he can be in the midst; we are his ambassadors, his conduits of Love, and his presence is more powerful than any practical solution. Our ministry must not focus solely on removing hardships (after all, Jesus said in Matthew 26:11 “The poor you will always have with you”) but representing Christ well. Jesus has compassion for the hardships we navigate, but more than healing and feeding physical bodies that would eventually fade away, he wants everyone to discover that reality is bigger than we realize, and that “all we ask for or imagine” is deeply limited. The moment we encounter that Truth, hardships lose their hold on us and death loses it’s sting.
Our ministry is to be representatives of that Truth wherever we go, and if the Spirit equips us to meet practical needs, to do so with humble generosity, knowing that “we love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:55-58
God has invited YWAM Richmond to serve neighborhood children who are facing significant hardship; hear how they are taking steps to ensure their ministry will not harm those they seek to serve in the video below.