There is nothing wrong with enjoying the glorious honour of preaching Christ.
Indeed, preachers should worry if they don’t enjoy it. However, they must never allow it to take the place of Christ.
A few decades ago my wife became seriously ill with a neurological condition, which could have resulted in the end of public ministry for both of us.1 I remember having to face this as a very real possibility. Amidst the tempest of painful and confusing thoughts that roared through my mind at the time, one of the greatest challenges was the realisation that I might never preach again.
It felt like a bereavement.
The Lord challenged me about my love for him. What was first in my affection? What did I love more: the proclamation of Christ or the Christ I proclaimed? I knew the right answer. I also knew my own heart. After a fierce battle, I remember sitting on a bench and then getting down onto my knees and praying something like this: ‘OK, Lord, I surrender. I want to love you more than my ministry. If you are going to take it from me, then I accept your will. Help me to delight in Jesus.
My ministry did not end. In fact, my wife and I discovered that we were able to minister out of the pain that we felt. And that’s another story. But the battle to keep Christ central has never gone away. It is a daily battle. Something in my heart always wants to replace the love of Jesus with the love of the things that I do for him.
What is the secret of victory?
It is to be utterly captivated by the beauty and glory of Jesus. We need to keep the worship of Christ at the centre of all that we are. Even when ministry is demanding, people are difficult, time is short and life is arduous, we need to maintain our adoration of Christ.
George Müller (1805–1898) was a remarkable servant of Jesus. Working out of the city of Bristol, he was both an evangelist and a philanthropist. He founded the Ashley Down orphanage and during his lifetime cared for over 10,000 orphans.
He was a remarkable man of faith and prayer, and the record of his answered prayers is almost unbelievable. His philosophy in life was quite simple: ‘Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends. Be assured, if you walk with him and look to him, and expect help from him, he will never fail you.’
In the midst of this incredibly busy life, Müller worked exceedingly hard to maintain a warm relationship with Christ. He wrote these words in his journal: ‘I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. How different each day is when the soul is refreshed and made happy early.’
Sometimes we have to stop and allow our souls to catch up. If the purpose of ministry is to enable people to see the glory of God, how can we be effective if we ourselves are not delighting in the glory of God?
It may come as a bit of a surprise, but Christians are supposed to be joyful! Joy is not an optional extra which marks out certain kinds of people. If you are not enjoying God, your ministry will be critically impaired.
We would see Jesus
Do you adore Christ as you should? Think of who he is:
• He is the theme of the Bible. It’s all about him. Jesus made it clear to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament was about him (Luke 24:25–27, 44–49). He was proclaimed in its feasts and festivals and symbolised in its sacrifices. He was promised in its prophecies and praised in its psalms. He was the tailor in the garden who prepared clothes for Adam and Eve. He was the heavenly friend who walked with Enoch and the angel of the Lord who appeared to Abraham and the captain of the armies of heaven who met Joshua before the walls of Jericho. And in the New Testament he comes to walk the dusty roads of Israel. He is present in the Gospels and proclaimed in the Epistles and pre-eminent in the book of Revelation. In the Bible we hear his voice and see his face.
• He is the delight of heaven. I used to preach in a little village chapel in Wiltshire. The church secretary retired when he was 100 years old – no slacking there! He would always pray the same prayer in the vestry before the service: ‘Thank you for bringing this young man to see us, Lord. And now help him to show us Jesus. Oh, Jesus is so precious to us. He is precious to you, Father. He is the darling of heaven.’
I have never forgotten that phrase. He was the delight of a billion burning seraphim and the source of wonder to countless resplendent angels. But more than that, he was the darling of the Father’s heart.
• He is the only hope of the world. This world is in rebellion against its creator. It is sophisticated and proud, but totally lost. The people we meet every day live in spiritual darkness and die in despair. But that is the not their most serious problem. Their greatest peril is that they are rebels against a holy and just God. There is nothing they can do to change their circumstances and win acquittal.
And into this situation strides the strong Son of God. He does not offer a new code of ethics or some authenticating experience or a second chance to make things better. He offers himself, and with himself he offers a full and free and total salvation.
• He is the treasure of his people. When we come to know Christ, we discover that he is the treasure beyond price. Look at Paul’s short letter to the Philippians. In 104 verses he mentions Jesus over 50 times. What controls his life and expectations? It is Jesus: ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (1:21). His ambition in life is to know Jesus, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings (3:10–11). Paul was a Christ-intoxicated man. As we struggle through the battles of an average day, we need constantly to turn our minds to Christ and dwell on the blessings with which he floods our lives. If we have the Son, we have everything.
• He is the cruciﬁed one. We can never really know Jesus until we know him as the crucified One. All our living and thinking and loving and suffering must be done within earshot of Calvary. Although a stigma and scandal to both first-century and 21st-century people, this is the heart of our faith. Here the purpose of God is fulfilled. The cross was not an afterthought, but a plan wrought in eternity. Here the justice of God is demonstrated and the wrath of God is satisfied. Jesus is the substitute for sinners who takes our punishment and pays our debts. Here the love of God is revealed. Here God’s enemies are defeated. In apparent weakness, Christ crushes sin and Satan and death. We witness the death of death in the death of Christ.
• He is the Lord of the church. We should long to meet him in the context of the worship of his people. We should desire to please him above everything else.
• He is at the heart of the hope of his people. Christ rose from the dead and became the Lord of life. One day we will see him as he is now. When that happens, we will become like him, and then forever and ever we will gaze at his glory and sing his praises and delight in his beauty. Eternity will be dominated by the deepening relationship that we enjoy with the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, through the mediation and merits of Jesus, our captain and saviour and king.
As we rejoice in Christ, we find that he becomes the delight of our hearts. This is the only antidote to turning our service for the Lord into a demigod that controls our affections and demands our allegiance.
This article is an edited extract from Staying Fresh: Serving with Joy by Paul Mallard, recently published by IVP and is used with permission.