Knowing Christ’s Ministering Heart
Those who claim to be Christfollowers must choose often between two very different courses. One is to cultivate a small heart. That is the safest way to go because it minimizes our sorrows. When you cultivate a small heart you minimize entangling relationships and carefully avoid elevated and noble ideas that might otherwise provide you with a host of afflictions.
Cultivate deafness, and you will be saved from the discords of life.
Cultivate blindness, and you will not see the ugly.
Cultivate a cold heart, and you will not feel the pain of others around you.
It is a universal truth that to get through life with a minimum of trouble all you have to do is reduce the compass of your heart.
There is another way.
Open yourself to others and become susceptible to a gamut of sorrows that a shriveled and small heart knows nothing about. Enlarge your purpose and you will increase your vulnerability.
Picture: “A sentence in the diary of James Gilmour, pioneer missionary to Mongolia, written late in his life, must have been written in blood.
“In the shape of converts, I have seen no results. I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.”
Painful words are they not? Contrast now those words with what he wrote when he first arrived in Mongolia:
“Several huts in sight! When shall I be able to speak to the people? O Lord suggest by the Spirit how I should come among them and guide me in gaining the language, and in preparing myself to teach the life and love of Christ Jesus.”
James Gilmour would never have written those later pathetic lines if he had not decided to go for it all in his service for Christ. In fact, there is a very real sense in which James Gilmour’s being in this position was his fault because he had decided to follow Jesus!” -- R. Kent Hughes
Enlarge your heart, cultivate a ministering spirit and you will enlarge the potential for pain. Will you serve Christ and others or yourself? Little hearts, though safe and protected, never contribute anything. No one benefits from restricted sympathies and limited vision.
On the other hand, ministering hearts, though incredibly vulnerable, are also the hearts that experience the most joy and leave their imprint on the world. Cultivate deafness, and you will never hear the discords of life, but neither will you hear the glorious strains of Christ’s life symphony. Cultivate blindness, and you will never see the ugly, but neither will you see the beauty of God’s creation. Cultivate a small heart, and you may have smooth sailing, but you will never experience the winds of the Holy Spirit in your sails as you minister to others.
The story of Jesus with the woman at the well found in John 4 gives us insight into the ministering heart.
Let me tell you why this message is so important. This message is about you and me personally and it is about the mission of this church. It is critical that we keep hammering on the mission of the church because so many of us have been affected by a misguided American church culture and really subconsciously I think a lot of us are tempted to think that church is about us. Being the church is not about having meetings. We gather and hopefully we gain something from seeing other Christfollowers but the church has one calling and only one calling. MAKE DISCIPLES! (Baptize them and teach them)
There is nothing hard about that yet the church and individual Christians often will make the mission of the church about themselves because it is a whole lot easier to minister within the walls then it is outside the walls. It is a whole lot easier to deal with one another in here then it is to deal with the problems of a sin entrenched world and culture. Yet we are called by Jesus Christ clearly and with conviction to go. . .and then go some more in the pursuit of the mission.
Having said that here is an example of what ministry looks like from a story about Jesus Christ.
A Ministering Heart is a Tired Heart: Motivated
So he left Judea and returned to Galilee. 4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. John 4:3-8 NLT
When you and I sign on as Christfollowers it means that we are signing on for a life that reflects the life of our Lord. In the 3 years that Jesus did ministry on this earth he hardly had a moment to Himself. The Disciples were constantly asking Him questions and were about as needy as anybody else in the crowds that flocked to hear Him and see the miracles. There is record of Jesus occasionally going away alone to the mountain or somewhere even at night to be alone a pray and find renewal.
When Jesus sat down at this well it is quite possible that He sat in the sun and closed His eyes for a little rest. He was alone and in the middle of this short rest when a woman came to draw water. He had choice just like you and I make every day of our lives.
He could have stood up and moved away to continue His rest or He could engage her in conversation even though He was tired and weary.
A. A ministering heart will still minister even at the edge of its capacity
Oswald Sanders said, “The world is run by tired men (and women.)” Annie Ortlund said, “Nowhere in the Bible are we told to slow down and take it easy.”
Kent Hughes wrote that: Most souls are won by tired people (Most people are led to Christ by tired people.)
The best sermons are preached by tired people.
The best camps are run by exhausted student and youth staff and volunteers
Third world areas are being evangelized by tired missionaries.
Show me a successful Mega Sports Camp or an effective Vacation Bible School and I will show you some tired men and women.
I am not advocating never taking time off or resting but I do believe that we are in the people business and people will wear you out because the needs never stop coming.
B. A ministering heart is a working heart
The apostle Paul was constantly working to bring people to faith in Christ and to push them to be authentic followers. In 1 Thessalonians he wrote:
“Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” (1 Thess. 2:9)
Who can forget the classic word he wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NLT
23 Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.[c] 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.
Reformer Martin Luther said he worked so hard he literally fell into bed at night. Dwight Moody’s bedtime prayer more than once was, “Lord, I am tired. Amen” John Wesley rode sixty to seventy miles by horseback a day and on average preached three sermons a day.
A Ministering Heart is a Tired Heart: Motivated
We also see that Jesus overcame barriers:
A Ministering Heart Overcomes Barriers: Merciful
7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
John 4:7-9 NLT
There was a hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans that went back hundreds of years. In 721 B.C. the Assyrians swept through the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took the inhabitants’ off the Assyria. While there many of the Jews intermarried with Assyrians. In 587 B.C., Babylon conquered southern Judah and took many Jews to Babylon but there was no intermarriage and so when they returned home the southern Jews hated the northern Jews because they had intermarried. In fact the hatred went both ways. Jewish Rabbis said, “Let not man eat the bread of the Samaritans, for he who eats their bread is as he who eats swine flesh.” A popular prayer in those days said, “And Lord, do not remember the Samaritans in the resurrection.”
It was amazing when Jesus crossed the line. It wasn’t just a racial line but he crossed another line by speaking to a woman. Strict rabbis forbade other rabbis to greet women in public. Jesus not only spoke to this woman but asked to use the woman’s drinking utensil and so became defiled. This was a radical departure from the accepted practice of racial hatred and discrimination.
When Jesus spoke these words, “Please give me a drink,” the then known civilized world was cleft by great, deep gulfs of separation. Language, religion, national animosities, differences of condition, and saddest of all, difference of sex, split the world up into fragments.
A stranger and an enemy were expressed in one language by the same word. The learned and the unlearned, the slave and his master, the barbarians and the Greek, the man and the woman, stood on opposite sides of a great gulf.
It was into this world that the Gospel of Christ came. Then the Barbarians, Scythian, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and unlearned, clasped hands and sat down at one table, and felt themselves ‘all one in Christ Jesus.’ They were ready to break all barriers. The world looked on and the early Christians and accused them of sorcery and conspiracy because they could not understand what was going on.
The greatest glory of authentic Christianity is the ability of the gospel of Christ to cross barriers.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King stood up and passionately spoke these words into a supposedly Godly country imploring for people to open their eyes and ears and truly see like Jesus would see:
“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
We cannot walk alone. We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only."
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."2
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
The words of this man written from a Birmingham jail are even more direct and clear about the church.
I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"
Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.
There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.
I include all of this because if there is one thing as a follower of Jesus Christ that I truly cannot stand and tolerate it is injustice. The color of a person’s skin gives them no corner on evil of reason’s to be hateful toward them. I can so you plenty of people of my own race that are evil to the core, disgusting and vile, and a disgrace to the very notion of being a human being.
Jesus Christ sees no barriers within His creation. We are equal. We are all created in His image and ministering heart will know that and let nothing stand in the way of ministry.
A Ministering Heart Sees God’s Hand in Relationships and Circumstances: Missional
4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. John 4:4 NLT
The old translation says that Jesus told his Disciples, “I must need to go through Samaria.”
Raymond Brown says of this expression of Jesus, “This expression of necessity means that God’s will or plan is involved.
One pastor wrote of taking some young people 250 miles across the Mojave Desert to share their faith with people that didn’t know anything about God. He said when we got there, we could not find a place to cam. We drove up and down that stretch near Parker Arizona, trying to find a place, and it was getting dark. Finally we pulled into a camp and found a place to pitch a tent – right next to five boys who eventually were led to accept Christ as their Savior. Three of them are now in the ministry today. In the midst of his frustration this pastor came to understand that his frustration and inconvenience was a prelude to God’s sovereign appointment.
Stuart Briscoe shared a story from his days at Capernwray Bible School. He and his wife became separated one day. He had left her the car, but he had accidentally taken the keys with him. After a couple of hours his wife, Jill, borrowed another car, and as she was driving down the road she saw some girls hitchhiking, so she picked them up. They turned out to be three German girls visiting England. She managed to persuade these girls to come with her to a conference for German Christian young people and one of them heard the message of Christ and became a Christfollower. This young ladies story as told by Stuart is this: She was a theological student in Germany. She had come under the influence of some teaching that, instead of leading her closer to God had filled her with much doubt and confusion. She had delivered an ultimatum to the God whose existence she was starting to doubt. She told God that if He was there he should show himself to her in some way. He must do this within three months. If He didn’t, she told Him, “I’ll quit my schooling, quit theology, quit religion, and I think I’m going to quit living because there is nothing ot live for.” After explaining this, she turned to his wife with great emotion and said, “The three months end today.”
God appointments happen every day in the lives of Christfollowers. My only question is do we have the eyes to see them and the ears to hear His voice gently nudging us to get involved in the human need. A ministering heart and a ministering church will minister when they are weary. A Christ like heart will cross racial, social economic boundaries and any other boundaries drawn by men to separate others from the message of Jesus Christ. We are to me mission driven in everything we do as a church and as Christfollowers. To do this will mean that we love like Jesus.
C.S. Lewis: “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers (and perturbations )of love is Hell.”
Cultivate deafness, and you will never hear the discords of life, but neither will you hear the glorious strains of Christ’s life symphony. Cultivate blindness, and you will never see the ugly, but neither will you see the beauty of God’s creation. Cultivate a small heart, and you may have smooth sailing, but you will never experience the winds of the Holy Spirit in your sails as you minister to others.