When I launched my blog a few months ago, I received positive response from a series of articles. Excited about the feedback, I voiced these words to a circle friends, “It is totally worth it to me if I helped someone.”
A wise friend stopped me after the conversation and pulled me aside to tell me that she writes for God’s pleasure and no one else’s. I thought about that for a moment and had to agree with her. Before her comment, I had started thinking of posts that would draw more favorable reaction, topics I could talk about that would appeal to readers. But I had to stop myself.
It is totally worth it to me if I please God. Even though I very much want to help others with the content of my blog, I write the posts that God gives me and directs me to write. I know they will help people, but I must do it not for my readers but for my audience of one: Him.
I can’t let my desire to attract readers and grow a ministry distract or divert me from what God tells me to do. An important observation that Oswald Chambers makes about Christian service is this:
The great dominant note is not the needs of men, but the command of Jesus.
My motivation for what I’m doing is because He told me to and no other reason. If I orient myself instead solely around the needs of others, I’m bound to get burned out, frustrated and irritated. I’m also bound to get caught up in self-worship and set myself up as the object of others’ worship rather than just the conduit God uses to channel their worship to Him.
Paul was very careful to always point his ministry back to Jesus. When a crowd started to worship him and Barnabas for healing, he “tore his clothes” and declared, “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you” (Acts 14:15).
My tendency is to want the praise and want the spotlight. But God wants me to worry about pleasing Him alone. I need only look at the ministry of Jesus to discover what boundaries I need to set up in my relationship and ministry endeavors to ensure that I do just that.
Jesus Practiced Self-Care
Although it may appear like an illogical place to start, one of the best ways I can serve others best in ministry is by first taking care of myself. A guest blogger I had post several months ago wisely noted that we need to apply the oxygen mask to our face first before we can assist others with theirs. She was speaking in the context of motherhood, but the same can be true in a ministry sense as well.
The oxygen mask I need in ministry is time spent alone with God.
Serving on a worship team a few years back, I was totally unprepared for the spiritual attack that came against me on the weeks I would sing. I assumed that since I was ministering to the body of Christ that I would have some sort of special grace and protection — and God does protect those who serve Him. However, I had more than a normal amount of appliances break down within a few month span; instances where my children contracted strange illnesses; foreboding thoughts and moments waking up afraid at night; and situations where conflict would break out despite my best attempts to be peaceable with others.
I collapsed under the weight of the spiritual hurricane like a cheap tent. I was a complete wreck. I didn’t realize I had to prepare for spiritual battle by immersing myself daily in the Word and communion with Him.
The same has been true of my blog writing. The attack has come in the form of fear and doubt every time I write a post. Ugly thoughts invade my mind: No one is going to read this. You’re not a good writer. Why can’t you sound like this other writer? You probably didn’t hear God right. Are you sure you understood that verse?
The onslaughts are real and exhausting and make me want to close down my site and hide from the internet. They make me cry out to God, “Where are you, Lord? Why is this happening to me? This isn’t normal!” And I think that serving God can’t or shouldn’t possibly be this hard. But it is. I wish my Christian walk only consisted of those graceful moments sitting in my Grandma’s church watching sunlight beam through stain glassed windows casting patterns of bright color on the floor, the choir singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” — Luke 5:16
Jesus modeled how to combat the pressure and conflict He experienced as a public figure in ministry by going into the wilderness alone to pray. Jesus made Himself available to the masses, but He also was intentional about the time He spent in solitude.
He knew the importance of drawing boundaries around Himself. He didn’t apologize or make excuses for the times He slipped away from the crowds. He knew that He had to spend time with God to carry out God’s will — to know the words to say and have the energy to meet the demands of those who continually pressed in on Him. As commentator Adam Clarke observes:
A man can give nothing unless he receive it; and no man can be successful in the ministry who does not constantly depend upon God, for the excellence of the power is all from him.
Others’ Expectations Can’t Trump God’s
Not only do I need to make time for solitude; I need to set clear boundaries so the needs of others don’t distract me from what God has asked me to do. For a long time, I thought that being a Christian meant being nice to everyone, and I mistakenly equated nice with doing what other people wanted me to do even if it meant that I had to suppress how I really felt about a situation inside.
However, Jesus never put others’ wants above His Father’s commands. Note what He says when He is teaching a crowd and someone informs him that his mother and brothers are waiting outside to speak with him:
Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? (Matthew 12:48)
Ouch! Jesus is painfully forthright here. Jesus clearly wants everyone to know that there is “no tie of relationship more sacred than spiritual relationship” (John Calvin commentary). Although we are not told why His mother needed Him, she clearly felt that the matter was urgent enough to interrupt His teaching to get to Him. He, however, lets the informant know that His Father’s work cannot be interrupted, and He gives His reply in the hearing of all listening to make a lesson out of the incident.
Jesus’s answer demonstrates how I am to handle those persistent matters that press in on me each day as I decide what tasks to invest my time in. Jesus doesn’t intend for me to starve all of the relationships in my life and spend every waking hour working on ministry projects. However, serving God means putting Him above the other relationships or other obligations in my life. That means that I may have to disappoint other people at times or do things that aren’t always comfortable for me.
Several years ago, in a different season as a new, scared young mom, I held my daughter out of the nursery on Wednesday night services up until the time she was seven months old because I was afraid that she would get sick if I put her in with other babies, and I would have to call off work. I had watched other co-workers provoke irritated responses from superiors when they had to leave early or call in sick to tend to sick little ones.
Petrified of disappointing my administration at my job but very much wanting to get back into Wednesday night choir practice, I didn’t know what to do. As I was trying to come up with a solution while walking the hall of the church one night, I felt the Lord very clearly speak to me and say, “Carol, you are putting your daughter above me.”
Whoa! I felt for sure that God would admire me for being a protective mother, but I learned that God was asking me to obey Him and get back into singing in that season without letting the expectations of my work or my own self-generated expectations about being a good mom take precedence over what God was asking me to do. (Rest assured that there are certainly times God asks us to set aside time just to mother, but for that particular time He had called me to another role as well.)
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galations 1:10)
What my biggest assignment truly entails is being a daughter of the King and letting my service to others flow out of that secure place I find when I put my relationship with Him first. Although I have other important jobs that I am called to — mom, blogger, friend, wife, sister — when I keep my eyes fixed on Him, He helps me prioritize and balance the demands in my life so that I don’t end up sidetracked or overwhelmed.
Because when I fillet open my motives, lay them bare like a fish on a carving board, what lies underneath my desire to have glowing feedback to my writing and ministry is me. My desire to look good. And my job is actually to make Him look good. Yes, I am called to lay down my life for others, but I am called to lay down my life for Him first.
And His approval of me must be more important than the fleeting words of those around me.