I don’t know what you expected when you left home. I don’t know what you expected when you, perhaps, graduated from college and started working. I do know that many of us expected to experience much more zest/joy/passion/happiness (or whatever word you might prefer). So often, I found myself saying, "If only."
In fact, I can recall thinking or even saying "If only" when I was still a child. As I got older and into my teen years, I continued to say "If only." Here are some statements I can remember:
- If only I were in high school.
- If only I had a car.
- If only I had a job.
- If only I had a girlfriend.
- If only I could move out of my parents’ house.
- If only I could go to a particular university.
- If only I had enough money to drive a certain kind of car.
- If only I had enough money to travel like some college students.
- If only I had a great job after graduation.
- If only I could get married.
- If only we had children.
Perhaps you were never like this. Maybe you lived with a sense of contentment and peace. For whatever reasons, I did not.
I wish I could tell you that all of this never interfered with my ministry. It certainly did. Here are a few statements I remember thinking:
- If only I could preach for a church.
- If only I could preach for a certain church.
- If only I could preach for a large church.
- If only I could be noticed.
- If only I could have a ministry that really seemed to matter.
- If only I could have a ministry that seemed successful in the sight of others.
Now let me quickly say that I would NEVER have uttered any one of these sentences to anyone. Furthermore, I am not even sure that I consciously thought about these desires. Yet, I can look back and recall different times in my ministry when I know these desires were in my heart. I say that with embarrassment.
What helped was reading and re-reading II Corinthians and hearing Paul reflect on his own ministry. Paul’s reflections reminded me once again that this is a calling not a career. The goal is not to be able to present a stunning resume to someone hoping that they might be impressed. Rather, the goal is to yield myself in surrender to what God is doing in Christ. Passages such as the following remind me that it is God who is at work in Christ and through the Spirit. Ministry matters not because we are proving ourselves to others. Ministry matters because God is at work, leading us in triumphal procession in Christ. We know that much good is being done because the fragrance of the knowledge of him is being spread wherever we are and wherever he is present.
This reality makes life and ministry — as it is at the present — just right.
be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and
through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17Unlike
so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary,
in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.