When I joined the NewSpring staff and stepped into vocational ministry in 2005, I knew I had a heart condition. At the time, for some reason, I thought that this “step of faith” would be the cure for that condition. It wasn’t. In the spring of 2006 I was sitting in the same position that you gentlemen are right now and had this thought, “being ordained must be the ultimate cure for this heart condition”… It wasn’t.
My heart condition is something I have had all of my life and so have each of you. It’s the condition the prophet Jeremiah speaks of when he writes this “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). You see, I knew this was true of me before I accepted Christ as my savior… that’s why I cried out to him for help. But, I had this notion that salvation or vocational ministry or certainly ordination would be the cure for this condition… but as I have found out over the years, none of those things are a cure but more of an amplifier.
I will not try to explain the paradox that is the life of a follower of Jesus. The life that is at the same time completely forgiven and restored in our relationship with the Father but also not free from our battle with sin. I will simply state that I know this to be true from Scripture and my own personal experience.
So, what do we do?
King David knew also of this permanent heart condition. We see this in Psalm 51 where he prays for the Lord to forgive him after he, like all of us have at some point, had been found out for what he was… a sinner in desperate need of help. I love what David writes in verses 15 and 16, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David knows he has done wrong and would love to make amends with God by bringing God something He would accept as payment or proof that David was sorry and wanted to change. But David knew that he could not offer God anything except a “broken and contrite heart”.
You see, the biggest danger in ministry is that we will get to do or be a part of some awesome things that at some point will tempt us. It will tempt us – when confronted with the remaining sin in our life – to offer it up to God as a sacrifice to try to say to him “look what I have done that is so good… will you take this as proof that I love you and that I am sorry”. What David knew and shares with us is that there is NOTHING we can offer to God that He will accept… Nothing except a “broken and contrite heart”.
With that said, I have learned that if I don’t actively pray for five things everyday (really just one thing with four ‘sub things’), I will lose the fight with the condition of my heart.
I have to Pray for… actually, I have to beg God to…
1. Break My Heart
Scripture shows us that in our heart lies our ultimate intent or motivation for anything we do. If I want to overcome this permanent heart condition I must beg God to break my heart so that I see things, people and situations the way Jesus does. If my heart is not broken then I will drift to the primary intent of my heart and that is to serve my own needs and to simply live to please myself.
2. Make Me Diligent
Because of my heart condition, I will drift toward ease. If I’m not careful, I will start to strive for ways to relax and just get by as opposed to actually work and work hard to honor this call on my life. Vince Lombardi once said that “the difference between successful people and others is not a lack of strength or knowledge but rather a lack of will”. Coach Lombardi is no theologian, but his principle is supported by Scripture. There are times when we simply can’t get by on what we know or our talent and have to persevere as a matter of will.
3. Make Me Thankful
My efforts will cause me to drift toward a sense of entitlement… its that nasty heart condition I have. I have to remind myself each day that nothing good or fruitful in my life has ever been earned by me… everything is a gift from God… no exceptions. Pride is the scariest of all demons and an antidote that keeps it at bey is a truly thankful heart.
4. Make Me a Good Steward
As my heart leads me, I will quickly begin to think like an owner and forget that I am, at best, middle management when it comes to everything I have. The three main areas I must steward well is my time and talent and my treasure.
I need to be reminded that when it comes to my time I must fight to steward well every opportunity to focus on my wife (& subsequently my family). I don’t believe the Lord will ever (ultimately) put my marriage at odds with my ministry. He chooses to use the metaphor of marriage to explain my relationship to Jesus. So, at what point does my relationship with Jesus put me at odds with the Father? It doesn’t. I believe I can know the condition of your relationship with God by looking at the relationship you have with your wife. For us all, our relationship with God and wife will always be in concert, never in conflict.
When it comes to my talent and treasure its this simple. In ministry I do not work a job, I steward a call. Therefore, my talent is nothing more than a gift. One that God wants to use to build his church… not my notoriety. And when it comes to “my” treasure, I need to be generous. I need to tithe and then ask the Lord “what else should I give?” And, if I’m ever in doubt (about whether or not to give)… give it away, no matter what it is. I have learned that the Lord does not bless hoarders and He has always made good on every promise in Scripture to provide for me… why should I fear giving?
5. Make Me Loving
Expressing love is tough for men. But, Jesus proved that a REAL man has a broken heart that LOVES. He even said in John 13:35 that “by this (love) they will know that you are my disciples”. So, if Jesus chose LOVE at the characteristic that distinguishes his disciples… how much MORE should it distinguish those of us who are called (by God) into and affirmed (via the church) by this thing we call ordination.
Finally, I want each of you to embrace the reality of something I have learned and come to trust. A heart that is truly broken and diligent and thankful and a good steward and loving is a powerful thing in the hands of an almighty God.