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Category Archives: Acronyms & Acrostics

An acrostic as an arrangement of words, lines, or verses to form a word, phrase, or alphabetical sequence where key letters or syllables are found in certain positions. Alphabetical sequences occur in Pslams 9-10, 25, 34, 37, and 119. A Christian example is ichthys, the combined letters of “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior,” which form the Greek word for “fish.”

Great Article on Journaling Your Prayers by Bill Hybels

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Note from Dr.David Craig – The book Honest To God? by Bill Hybels is unfortunately out of print. The article below is adapted from Chapter Two of the Book. I include it here with the hope that those who read it will be especially helped with regard to their prayer lives. I can still remember reading this chapter as a young youth pastor trying to develop an authentic and intimate prayer life with God. The example Hybels gives of journaling prayer has been immensely helpful to me over the last 28 years of life and ministry. May God use this article to help you connect intimately and authentically with God. 

*”A New Dimension in Spirituality” by Bill Hybels

I backed the car out of the driveway as I do every morning at 5:45. I switched the radio from a program on ethics to the Tokyo stock closing. While I drove through the neighborhood subdivision, I critiqued architectural designs. I bought coffee at the twenty-four-hour coffee shop and successfully avoided the talkative cashier. As I turned onto the church campus, I formulated a convincing defense for a ministry plan I hoped the staff would adopt. I climbed to my third floor office, wondering about the productivity of the nighttime maintenance crew. I shuffled through the mountain of mail on my desk and wished someone else could answer it.

I spun the my chair around and looked out the window at the church lake, steaming in the crispness of the morning. In that quiet moment I saw the previous quarter hour for what it had been—an hour tainted by purely human perspective. Not once during that hour had I seen the world through godly eyes. I had been more interested in international finances than in the moral demise of out nation. I thought more about houses than the people inside them. I had considered the tasks awaiting me more important than the woman who served my coffee. I had been more intent on logically supporting my plans than sincerely seeking God’s. I’d thought more about staff members’ productivity than their walk with the Lord or their family life. I’d viewed correspondence as a drudgery rather than a way to offer encouragement, counsel, or help.

It was 6:00 A.M. and I needed a renewed heart and mind. Like a compass out of adjustment, my thoughts and feelings were pointing in the wrong direction. They needed to be recalibrated—to be realigned with God’s accurate, perfect perspective.

You see, in the space of a day my relationship with Jesus Christ can fall from the heights to the depths, from vitality to superficiality, from life-changing interaction to meaningless ritual. That’s a humbling admission, but it’s true. In a mere twenty-four hours, I can slide from spiritual authenticity into spiritual inauthenticity.

Some years ago I got tired of this daily descent. I decided then to either do something to stop it, or to get out of the ministry. Christendom didn’t need another inauthentic leader.

I began to pray for guidance and to experience with various disciplines that would help me be more consistent. Eventually I developed a three-phased discipline that I employ every day to keep me truly “connected” to God. It’s not the only path to spiritual authenticity, but for me and many of my friends, coworkers, and church members, it’s proven to be a genuinely life-changing discipline.

YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?

Over the years, as I traveled and spoke at churches and conferences, I occasionally met leaders who somehow seemed to avoid the daily slide into artificial Christianity. Whenever I could, I asked what their secret was. In almost every case, they said “journaling”—the daily process of examining and evaluating their lives in written form.

Now if you think I heard that and ran out to buy a journal, you’re dead wrong. I thought the idea was ridiculous. I envisioned the saints of antiquity, with fragile parchments and ink-dipped quills, waxing eloquent in the flickering light of a candle. People who had time for that were not like me. They didn’t have my schedule or live with my kind of pressure. Besides, blank sheets of paper scared me. I’m not the “deep” type; I haven’t had an original thought in my life. What would I write?

Still I had to admit that too often I repeated the same mistakes again and again. Too often I went to bed with regrets about my actions. Too often I made decisions inconsistent with my professed values. In a rare moment of honesty, I faced the fact that I was living under the tyranny of an unexamined life.

At that time, I was chaplain for the Chicago Bears. Occasionally before the Monday morning Bible study, I’d join them at Halas Hall while they watched films and did postgame analysis! They would go over every play of the previous day’s game so they could learn from their mistakes and not repeat them in the next game.

Finally, I understood. The journal’s were simply telling me to do a postgame analysis! How could I expect to be conformed to the image of Christ without evaluating my mistakes and progress? How could I grow without examining my character, decision-making, ministry, marriage, child-rearing? Maybe journaling was for me.

YESTERDAY

I was still worried about facing a blank sheet of paper, but a well-known author offered a simple suggestion: Buy a spiral notebook and restrict yourself to one page a day. Every day start with the word “Yesterday.” Write a brief description of people you met with, decisions you made, thoughts or feelings you had, high points, low points, frustrations, Bible-reading—anything about the previous day. Then analyze it. Did you make good decisions, or bad? Did you use your time wisely or waste it? Should you have done anything differently?

Evaluating my day would help me avoid repeating my mistakes. But writing for five or ten minutes would also slow down my pace. I knew I needed that. I’m a morning person, and when I get to the office at 6 A.M., I’m ready to roll. The phone starts ringing, the adrenaline starts pumping, and there’s no stopping me. If journaling could slow me down, I would be ready to really connect with God.

I decided to try it. My first journal entry says this: “Yesterday I said I hated the concept of journals, and I still do. But if this is what it takes to rid myself of inauthentic spirituality, I’ll do it. If this is what it takes to reduce my RPM’s enough to talk and walk with Christ, I’ll do it. I’ll journal.

And I have—nearly every day. I’ve never written anything profound, but in simple terms I’ve chronicled the activity of God in my life, relationships, marriage, children, and ministry. I’ve also worked through feelings, confronted fears, and weighed decisions. And I’ve slowed down enough to meet with God.

NOW WHAT?

The only problem with slowing down and meeting with God was that I realized I didn’t have much to say. The second part of my path to spiritual authenticity, my prayer life, was amazingly weak, and had been for years.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to pray. I always had good intentions. I tried to pray. But I would get down on my knees and say, “Dear God…” and in five seconds my mind would be in outer space. I would start thinking of people I hadn’t seen in years, making up problems for solutions that didn’t exist, strategizing for new ministries, or planning family vacations. 

It was so frustrating. I normally have a tremendous ability to concentrate. I pride myself with an ability to stick with a project till it’s done. But prayer did me in every time. I would hear of people speak of praying for four hours, and I would feel terrible knowing I couldn’t pray for four minutes. 

I would probably still be a prayerless man if a friend hadn’t suggested his habit of writing out his prayers. He said God created him with a very active mind, and the only way he had been able to “capture” it and focus on God was to write out his prayers. I thought to myself, “That’s me! That’s what I need to do.” 

Another concern I had about my prayer life was imbalance. I knew how easy it was to fall into the “Please God” syndrome. “Please God give me…help me…comfort me…strengthen me…” I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to pray with balance.  So adopted a simple pattern of prayer that’s not original with me. But it includes the four sturdy legs of balanced prayer.

ADORATION

Each morning after filling out my “yesterday page,” I write a big A on the next page, then spend a few minutes writing a paragraph of praise to the Lord. Sometimes I paraphrase a psalm, or attempt to write a poem. Sometimes I write the words to a praise song, then sing it quietly in the privacy of my office. Often I focus on the attributes of God, sometimes listing them all, sometimes meditating on just one. 

Though I’ve been a Christian for years, I never privately worshiped God on a consistent basis—until I started writing out my prayers. Worship os foreign to us. We were made for it. Yet because of sin, worship doesn’t come naturally. We have to work at it; we have to be disciplined at it. And like any other learned activity, the first few times we try it, we feel awkward. But our sincerity, not our eloquence, is what matters to God.

There are several reasons for beginning prayer with worship. First, worship reminds us that we’re addressing the Holy Majestic God and prevents us from reducing prayer to a wish list—the “Please God…” syndrome again.

Second, worship establishes the identity of God. It reminds us that God has power to intervene in any situation, that He cares about us, and whether we are in a car, an office, or an airplane, He is always available to us.

Adoration also purges. After five or ten minutes in adoration, I find my spirit has been softened. My heart has been purified. My agenda changes. That burning issue I just had to bring to God’s attention suddenly seems less crucial. My sense of desperation subsides. I begin to say, and mean, “It is well with my soul. I am enjoying You, God. I am at peace.”

Finally, adoration is the appropriate introduction to prayer simply because God deserves it.

Begin to worship God when you pray. Be creative. Experiment. Use verses and psalms to get you started. Don’t worry if you feel clumsy at first. God’s heart is thrilled by even our most feeble attempts.

CONFESSION

I used to be an “oops” confessor. I would say an unkind word to someone, then say, “Oops, Lord, I’ll have to confess that to You later.” Then I would exaggerate a story, and say, “Oops, Lord, I’ll catch that one later too.” All day I would add the tally, fully intending to clear the bill later.

But later seldom came. When it did, I would make a blanket confession of “my many sins.” I thought I was wonderfully honest and humble, claiming my sins like that. In reality, it was a colossal cop-out.

You see, blanket confessions are nice, virtually painless. But they do nothing to transform our hearts. It seems confession has to hurt a bit, even embarrass us, before we’ll take it seriously. 

One way to make confession hurt is to write out specific sins. Do you know what it’s like to see your sins in print? Try writing something like this: “Yesterday I chose to wound Lynne with my words. I was cruel, insensitive, and sinful.” Or, “Last night I told Todd I would play ball with him, but I didn’t keep my word. I lied to my son.”

It’s easy to justify our behavior: “I had a rough day. I was busy. Lynne shouldn’t have expected so much from me.” Or, “I intended to play ball. It just didn’t work out.” But we need to see our sins for what they are. Writing them out helps.

In one particular Sunday message, I emphasized the fact that we’re all sinners who need a Savior. After the service, a salesman informed me that he didn’t consider himself a sinner. I asked If he had been faithful to his wife. “Well, I travel a lot you know…” Then I asked about his expense account. “Oh, everybody stretches the truth a little bit…” Finally, I questioned his sales techniques. Did he ever exaggerate or overstate a claim? “That’s standard in the industry…” “Well,” I said, “you just told me you’re an adulterer, a cheater, and a liar.” “How dare you call me those things?!” He was appalled by my “brash insensitivity.”

As hard as it was for him to hear those words, I believe I did him favor. I also believe I do myself a favor when I write in my journal, “I am a liar. I am greedy. I have a problem with lust. I am envious.: Two things happen when we confess our sins honestly.

First, we experience the freedom of forgiveness. For years I tried to run the race of faith with chains of unconfessed sin tangled around my legs. I didn’t know how much they were hindering me until I quit playing games and got honest with God.

Second, gratitude for God’s forgiveness motivates us to forsake our sin. Why hurt Someone who loves us that much? Why disobey Someone who extends so much grace to us?

There doesn’t appear to be much true confession in Christian circles. That’s a shame, because exciting things happen when God’s children get honest about their sin. Five days of having to call oneself a liar, a greedy person, a cheat, or whatever, is enough to drive any spiritually sensitive person to forsake that sin.

A man in my church recently began “confessing” in his journal. He said, “My sins didn’t bother me much before. Now I realize I have to take them seriously, and do my best to forsake them. When it comes to this sin business, I have to fish or cut bait.”

We all need to realize that sin is serious business and enlist the Holy Spirit’s help in forsaking it. Then we can make progress in rooting specific sins out of our lives, and we’ll know what the Scripture means when it says, “the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

THANKSGIVING

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” For years I misunderstood this. I thought having feelings of gratitude toward God was the same as thanksgiving. It isn’t.

Do you remember the ten leapers described in Luke 17? They begged Jesus to heal them, but when He did, only one bothered to thank Him. Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?”

I am confident that the other nine were thankful. They had to be. If you had a debilitating, terminal illness that rotted your limbs and made you a social outcast, and suddenly you were cleansed and healed, wouldn’t you have tremendous feelings of gratitude toward your Healer? Of course you would. But nine lepers didn’t take the time to say it. And that mattered to Jesus.

One summer I took my son Todd for a helicopter ride at a county fair. He was so excited he could hardly stand it. Later, I thought he was asleep in the car until he slid his arm around my shoulder and said, “Dad, I just want to thank you for taking me to that fair.” That expression of gratitude tempted me to turn the car around and go back to the fair for round two.

When I understood that distinction between feeling gratitude and expressing thanksgiving. I decided to become a more “thanks-giving” man. I want to be like the one leper who ran back and showered Jesus with thanks. I want to be like Todd, who warmed my heart with his gratitude.

We’re God’s children. We have the power to offer Him joy through thanksgiving. In my journal, I thank God for answered prayers, and for specific spiritual, relational, and material blessings. Almost everything in my life fits under one of those categories. By the time I finish my list. I’m ready to go back to adoration.

An added benefit of giving thanks is a transformed attitude. I used to be a very covetous man. I struggled hard with wanting more than I had. But a daily look at my blessings has led me from covetousness to contentment to awe at the abundance in my life.

SUPPLICATION

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). After adoring God, confessing our sins, and thanking Him for His goodness, we’re in the right frame of mind to ask God for what we need.

Nothing is too big for God to handle or too small for Him to be interested in. But sometimes I still wonder if my requests are legitimate. So I’m honest with God. I say, “God I have told You how I feel about this situation. You’ve asked me to make my requests known, so I have. I would love to see You do this. But if You have other plans, I don’t want to get in the way. If these requests are wrong, or the timing isn’t right, that’s fine. We’ll go Your way.”

Sometimes I don’t even know how to begin to pray about a certain situation. Then I say, “I don’t know what to say, Lord.” If You’ll tell me how to pray, I’ll pray that way.”

God honors that kind of prayer. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” 

I break my prayers into four categories: ministry, people, family, and personal. Under ministry I pray for my church. Under people I pray for my staff and elders, and I pray for my friends, both Christian and non-Christian. Under family I pray for Lynne, Todd, and Shauna. I pray that I would be a godly father and husband. I pray about finances, education, vacations, and other areas of my family life.  Under personal I pray about my character. I pray that God would help me be more righteous man. 

Make up your own categories of prayer. Then keep a list of what you’ve prayed about. After a few weeks, look back over it. You’ll be amazed at what God has done.

LISTENING

Journaling and writing out my prayers slow me down enough to hear God’s still, small voice. The third step in my daily discipline is to listen and ask God to speak to me.

Scripture says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). It’s these quiet moments after prayer that really matter. They nourish authentic Christianity. Power flows out of stillness, strength out of solitude. Decisions that change the course of our lives come out of these quiet times. 

I begin with these words: “Lord, You talked to Your children all through history, and You said You’re unchangeable God. Talk to me now. I’m listening. I’m open.”

Then I ask four questions. I never hear an audible voice, but often I get impressions that are so strong I write them down.

First, I ask, “What is the next step in my relationship with You?” Sometimes I sense nothing, and interpret that to mean, “We’re all right. Don’t worry. If I wanted to say something I would. Just relax in My presence.”

At other times He tells me I need to learn more about His character. One time I sensed God telling me to loosen up. I was too concerned with how to please Him, and had to learn to enjoy Him more.

Second, I ask, “What’s the next step in the development of my character?” I always get a response from this one. There seems to be plenty of rough edges for God to chip away at! “Honesty,” He’ll say, or “Humility,” or “purity.”

God has taught me that in regard to character, little things matter. At the office, I usually do only ministry-related correspondence; the church pays the postage. Occasionally, however, the distinctions between ministry and personal correspondence blurs. Once during my listening time, I sensed God telling me to be more scrupulous in distinguishing between ministry and personal mail.

That afternoon I taped quarters to two of my outgoing letters. My secretary said, “What’s this?” I said, “Just pay the meter. It’s important.” It’s such a little thing, but not to God.

Third, I ask, “What’s the next step in my family life?” Again, God gets specific. “Be more encouraging Lynne. Take time to serve her.” Or, “You’ve been out of town a lot. Plan a special getaway with the kids.” Being a godly husband and father is a tremendous challenge for me. I need God’s suggestions.

Finally, I ask “What’s the next step in my ministry?” I don’t know how anyone survives ministry without listening to God. Most of my illustrations, messages, and new ministry directions come out of this time of listening. I would have little creativity and insight without it. 

You might ask other questions: What’s the next step in my vocation? In my dating relationship? In my education?

Over time, you’ll become more adept at sensing God’s answers to these questions. You’ll receive Scripture verses, ideas, or insights that are just what you need. Those moments of inspiration will become precious memories you carry with you all day.

The great adventure of listening to God can be scary sometimes. Often God tells me to call or write someone, or apologize for something I’ve done, or give away a possession, or start a new ministry, and I think, “Why? I don’t understand?”

But I’ve learned to walk by faith, not by sight. God’s leadings don’t have to make sense. Some of the wisest direction I’ve received has been ridiculous from a human viewpoint. So If God tells you to write someone, write. if He tells you to serve somewhere, serve. Trust Him, and take the risk.

PURSUE THE DISCIPLINES

Several years ago, I played on a park district football team. During the warm-up before our first game, I learned that I would play middle linebacker on the defensive unit. That was fine with me; my favorite professional athlete is Mike Singletary, All_pro middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

The game started. When it was time for the defense to take the field, I stood in my middle linebacker position, determined to play with the same intensity and effectiveness I’d so often seen in Mike. Scenes of nationally televised Sunday afternoon football games flashed through my mind and psyched me for a major hit.

The opposing offensive unit approached the line to run the first play. Mimicking Mike, I crouched low and stared intently at the quarterback, readying myself to explode into the middle of the action in typical Singletary style. The battle raged…and reality struck with a vengeance. Using a simple head fake, the quarterback sent me in the opposite direction of the play, and the offense gained fifteen yards.

So went the rest of the game. By the fourth quarter I came to a brilliant conclusion: If I wanted to play football like Mike Singletary, I would have to do more than mimic his on-the-filed actions. I would have to get behind the scenes, and practice like he practiced. I would have to lift weights and run laps like he did. I would have to memorize plays and study films as he did. If I wanted his success on the field, I would have to pursue his disciplines off the field. Discipling is no less important on the field of Christian living.

One of the most positive trends in the contemporary church is the recent interest in the spiritual disciplines. Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, has been called “the book of the decade,” and I believe it is. After five years of journaling, writing out my prayers, and listening to God, I am delighted to discover additional disciplines to further enhance my pursuit of a consistent spiritual life.

Willard asserts that the key to being conformed to the image of Christ is to follow Him in the overall style of life He chose for Himself.

If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988, ix.).

If we want to be like Christ, we have to live as He lived. That doesn’t mean we focus on the special moments when His character and compassion shone in the public spotlight or try to mimic Him in the way I tried to mimic Mike Sigletary on the football field. It means we imitate His entire life, including the behind-the-scenes disciplines that prepared Him to shine when the pressure was on. It means we “practice the activities he practiced.”

What are these activities? The disciplines include “solitude and silence, prayer, simple and sacrificial living, intense study and meditation upon God’s Word and God’s way, and service to others (See Willard, ix).

Every true Christian wants to live like Jesus lived—to love the unlovely, to serve with grace, to resist temptation, to uphold conviction, exhibit power. But we can only live that way if we devote ourselves to the same disciplines He practiced. If Jesus pursued these disciplines to maintain spiritual authenticity, how much more must we.

In his book, Willard suggests disciplines of abstinence and engagement. The former include solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice. The latter include study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission (See Willard, 158). 

We have looked at the discipline of prayer. I conclude with a discussion of solitude and fasting.

SOLITUDE

The discipline of solitude isn’t entirely new to me. For years I’ve spent my first hour at the office alone, journaling, praying, and listening. After that, I spend time in quiet message preparation before meeting with other staff members. I’ve also made periodic use of brief getaways for solitary retreats.

Recently, however, I have incorporated even more solitude into my schedule. As I get in better touch with the natural ebb and flow of my life, I see a direct correlation between ministry effectiveness and the amount of time I spend alone. Solitude builds my emotional and spiritual reserves and increases my ability to help others.

I am a relational person. I thrive on the stimulation of being with people. I’m learning, however, that there is a danger in being with people too much. It can drain my spiritual vitality and dilute my effectiveness. I may still enjoy being with people, but I have nothing worthwhile to offer them. Lately, when I’ve noticed my life getting too crowded with people and activity, I’ve scheduled lunchtimes alone. I go to a local restaurant, eat by myself, and let God refresh me.

Because of the demands in my work, I was often tempted to schedule ministry appointments one after the other. If I had an evening meeting at church, I would return to my office immediately after dinner so I could “get some work done” before the meeting. I’ve learned however, than an hour of “disengaging” may be a better use of time. If I sit for an hour in my backyard, and enjoy the evening sun, I can attend the meeting refreshed and offer something worthwhile.

What do I do in these occasional hours of quietness? I step out of the day’s frantic pace, and focus my attention on God. I remind myself that He’s in control. I ask for the infilling power of the Holy Spirit. I dwell on His love. Sometimes I sit and watch my kids play, or just sit quietly with my wife. Sometimes I walk in the country. There are no set rules for making solitude count. Just be quiet. Let God do His work.

FASTING

I hesitate to write about fasting, because I’m such a novice at it. But if this book is to honestly chronicle the work of God in my life right now, I have to mention the tremendous impact that fasting has had on me.

There are numerous benefits to fasting. One is the purely physical benefit of cleansing our bodies; another is the psychological benefit of learning self-control and denial. But what has most benefitted me is the increased alertness to spiritual perspectives. Prayer, Bible study, and meditation on Scripture, worship—all are enhanced when I am fasting. I think I feel an inner abandonment that makes me a more usable vessel.

Once Jesus’ disciples complained because they were unable to cast out a certain demon. Jesus said, “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). I’m beginning to understand why Jesus said that. Spiritually motivated fasting seems to unlock a deeper dimension of spiritual power. Recently, I’ve sensed God working in and though me in ways I hadn’t previously experienced. I attribute the excitement and productivity in my ministry to this simple discipline of fasting.

Are you ready for a spiritual challenge that holds a storehouse of rewards? Try fasting. If you don’t know how to begin, read the fifth chapter of Stormie Omartian’s book, Greater Health God’s Way. She gives careful guidelines and thoroughly explains the physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits.

To people who have grown up in food-obsessed America, fasting sounds like a fate worse than death. In reality, it opens the door to freedom and strength.

A WHOLE NEW DIMENSION

I took a giant step on the path to spiritual authenticity when I started journaling, writing out my prayers, and listening to God. The disciplines of solitude and fasting have opened up new dimensions of that journey.

I can’t say what it will take for you to become spiritually authentic. But before I can say this: There are no shortcuts. Wishing for spirituality isn’t enough. Growth that produces power and consistency requires strategy and discipline.

*Adapted from Chapter Two in Honest To God by Bill Hybels, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

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JOHN MAXWELL’S ACRONYM FOR H.O.P.E.

HOPE

H.O.P.E. = HOLDING ON, PRAYING EXPECTANTLY

I listened patiently as he poured out his problems. His work was not going well. Some of his children were sowing their wild oats and he was worried about them. The straw that finally broke his back was that his wife decided to leave him. There he sat, all slumped over in despair. It was the last sentence of his story that alarmed me. He said, “I have nothing to live for; I have lost all hope.” I began to share with him that hope was the one thing he could not afford to lose. He could lose his business, his money, and maybe even his family, and rebound on the court of life if he kept his hope alive.

If hope is so important, what is it? Tertullian said, “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” Hope is holding on when things around you begin to slip away. Hope is praying expectantly when there are seemingly no answers. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan tells of a man whose shop had been burned during the disastrous Chicago fire. He arrived at the ruins the next morning carrying a table. He set the table amid the charred debris and above it placed this optimistic sign: “Everything lost except wife, children, and hope. Business will be resumed as usual tomorrow morning.”

Many men become bitter toward life because of the unfortunate circumstances in which they find themselves. Many quit. Others have taken their own lives. What makes the difference in the outcome? Talent? No! The only difference between those who threw in the towel and quit and those who used their energy to rebuild and keep going, is found in the word hope.

What does hope do for mankind?

Hope shines brightest when the hour is the darkest.

Hope motivates when discouragement comes.

Hope energizes when the body is tired.

Hope sweetness while the bitterness bites.

Hope sings when all melodies are gone.

Hope believes when the evidence is eliminated.

Hope listens for answers when no one is talking.

Hope climbs over obstacles when no one is helping.

Hope endures hardship when no one is caring.

Hope smiles confidently when no one is laughing.

Hope reaches for answers when no one is asking.

Hope presses toward victory when no one is encouraging.

Hope dares to give when no one is sharing.

Hope brings the victory when no one is winning.

There is nothing to do but bury a man when his hopes are gone. Losing hope usually precedes loss of life itself. You don’t need a better environment; you just need more hope. It’s the one thing in your life that you cannot do without!

SOURCE: John C. Maxwell. Think On These Things: A Fresh, New Way To Look At Life. Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1979, pp. 127-128.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: R.C. SPROUL’S “CAN I HAVE JOY IN MY LIFE?”

WHY PUTTING JESUS FIRST RESULTS IN JOY

CIHJIML? Sproul

Book Review by David P. Craig

In this insightful book Sproul helps the reader discern what true biblical joy consists of. It is not based on our circumstances, or even our personality. Sproul writes, “The key to the Christian’s joy is its source, which is the Lord. If Christ is in me and I am in Him, that relationship is not a sometimes experience. The Christian is always in the Lord and Lord is always in the Christian, and that is always a reason for joy. Even if the Christian cannot rejoice in his circumstances, if he finds himself passing through pain, sorrow, or grief, he still can rejoice in the Lord, and since He never leaves us or forsakes us, we can rejoice always.”

R.C. helps the reader by taking you to key passages of Scripture from Philippians, James, Romans, and the Gospel of John and gleans principles on the ground and source of our joy as being in Christ – who never changes and will never leave nor forsake us. The primary enemy of our joy is anxiety. Fear and anxiety rob us of our joy. However, if we understand who Christ is, and what he has done for us it deepens and opens up a new dimension of joy in us.

The acronym J-O-Y is used to demonstrate that Jesus first, then others, and then you – is actually a good way to practice the habit of joy in our lives. If we focus on Jesus – who is perfect, never changing, loving, and so forth – instead of our imperfect selves, or the imperfections of others and changing circumstances we can maintain and equilibrium of and growth in the genuine joy of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us as Christians. According to Sproul the reason that joy is often so elusive s because we put ourselves first, and Jesus last.

I love what Sproul has to say about Jesus’ own joy: “Jesus is the only person in history who spelled the word joy without putting the letter ‘j’ first. He put Himself last in order to make it possible for us to participate in joy.” The greatest joy anyone can possibly have is knowing and being like Jesus – trusting and believing in His redemptive work on our behalf. By participating (abiding) in our new life with Christ as forgiven, reconciled, children of God we have everything we need to live in peace and joy with God, others, and ourselves. Joy is possible because of Jesus alone. Even our continued struggles with sin, doubts, guilt, and so forth can never take away His righteousness in exchange for our sins and His gift of eternal life. Since our names our written in the Lamb’s Book of Life we have reason to rejoice no matter what our circumstances are – because ultimately we win in Him. We can always rejoice “in the Lord” – because the Lord has an infinite supply of unchanging perfections for us to delight in.

 

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How Do I Know If I’ve Been “Called” to the Pastorate?

The Call to Pastoral Ministry

shepherd with sheep

By James M. George

The call of God to vocational ministry is different from God’s call to salvation and His call to service issued to all Christians. It is a call to selected men to serve as leaders in the church. To serve in such leadership capacities, recipients of this call must have assurance that God has so selected them. A realization of this assurance rests on four criteria, the first of which is a confirmation of the call by others and by God through the circumstances of providing a place of ministry. The second criterion is the possession of abilities necessary to serve in leadership capacities. The third consists of a deep longing to serve in the ministry. The final qualification is a lifestyle characterized by moral integrity. A man who fulfills these four qualifications can rest in the assurance that God has called him to vocational Christian leadership.

I often receive calls from men who for various reasons are interested in seminary training. Most of these men believe God is directing them into the ministry as a full-time vocation. This inclination has often been termed “the call.” This chapter will explain what is involved with the call and will seek to alleviate the misunderstandings surrounding this unique experience.

The call of God to vocational ministry has several different dimensions. First, there is the call to salvation. This must be the starting point for any call to service or ministry. The one seeking to identify his call to vocational ministry must first be sure he is called to Christ (2 Cor. 13:5). One dare not contemplate a ministry of the gospel of grace to God’s people until he has experienced God’s grace in his own life through saving faith in Jesus Christ.

The calling to salvation also entails a call to serve (Eph. 2:10). God not only predestined us to salvation, but He also predestined us for a life of service. Service is every Christian’s privilege and obligation. This calling to service means that we as Christians constitute “a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). Our privilege is to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Käsemann sees this as referring to the duty of one who has personally experienced the gracious power of God to publicly acknowledge that fact (Ernst Kasemann, “Ministry and Community in the New Testament,” Essays on New Testament Themes. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964, 80-81). Thus, all believers should engage in the ministry of service as priests of God. To accomplish this, they have the Holy Spirit through whom God has given them spiritual abilities (1 Cor. 12:11). These spiritual gifts are for the express purpose of service for the common good of the church (1 Cor. 12:7). The apostle Paul wrote the Ephesians, “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7). First Corinthians 12:8–10, 28–30 and Rom. 12:6–8 list these gifts. Christians are stewards of these gifts and will give an accounting of their stewardship (1 Pet. 4:10).

Beyond the call of all Christians to use their spiritual gifts, God extends a call to the vocational ministry of leadership. Realizing that every believer should be involved in ministry, we will use the term the ministry in the present context to refer to a specific type of service rendered to the church by a particular group of leaders.

The call to leadership involves gifted men given to the church by the Lord of the church (Eph. 4:12). This responsibility is both general—providing leadership in worship, preaching, teaching, shepherding, and evangelism—and specific—discipling and counseling.

God used Charles Haddon Spurgeon greatly during the latter part of the nineteenth century. He preached to thousands of people weekly in London at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Besides his strong passion for preaching, he had a great desire to develop young men for the ministry. This yearning spurred him to institute what he called the “Pastor’s College” as a part of the ministry of the church. His book Lectures to My Students, a compilation of lectures to students of the college, gives keen insight into the serious nature of the call to vocational ministry. In the early pages of his book, he asks,

How may a young man know whether he is called or not? That is a weighty enquiry, and I desire to treat it most solemnly. O for divine guidance in so doing! That hundreds have missed their way, and stumbled against a pulpit is sorrowfully evident from the fruitless ministries and decaying churches which surround us. It is a fearful calamity to a man to miss his calling, and to the church upon whom he imposes himself, his mistake involves an affliction of the most grievous kind (C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students. reprint of 1875 ed., Grand Rapids, 1980, 22).

Spurgeon continues by stressing the importance of recognizing the call when he says, “It is imperative upon him not to enter the ministry until he has made solemn quest and trial of himself as to this point” (Ibid, 23).

William Gordon Blaikie also ministered in London about the same time as Spurgeon. He too saw the importance of a call to the ministry and gave six criteria for evaluating a call: salvation, desire to serve, desire to live a life conducive to service, intellectual ability, physical qualifications, and social elements (William Gordon Blaikie, For the Work of the Ministry: A manual of Homiletical and Pastoral Theology. London: J. Nisbet, 1896, 18-25).

Calvin divided the call into two parts when he stated, “If one is to be considered a true minister of the church, it is necessary that he consider the ‘objective or external’ of the church and the secret inner call ‘conscious only to the minister himself’” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962, 2:326).

Oden concludes his chapter on “The Call to Ministry” with a discussion on the correspondence between these internal and external aspects of the call, when he concludes,

The internal call is a result of the continued drawing or eliciting power of the Holy Spirit, which in time brings an individual closer to the church’s outward call to ministry. The external call is an act of the Christian community that by due process confirms that inward call. No one can fulfill the difficult role of pastor adequately who has not been called and commissioned by Christ and the Church. This is why the correspondence between inner and outer call is so crucial for both the candidate and the church to establish from the outset with reasonable clarity (Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1983, 25).

Why is it so necessary that a person experience internal and external compulsion to ministry? In his classic volume on ministry, Bridges has stated the reason why a call was so important:

To labour in the dark, without an assured commission, greatly obscures the warrant of faith in the Divine engagements; and the Minister, unable to avail himself of heavenly support, feels his “hands hang down, and his knees feeble” in his work. On the other hand, the confidence that he is acting in obedience to the call of God—that he is in His work, and in His way—nerves him in the midst of all difficulty, and under a sense of his responsible obligations, with almighty strength (Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry. reprint of 1830 ed., London: Banner of Truth, 1967, 101).

As Bridges has stated so eloquently, the issue is with the man himself and with his confidence before God. The man is confident that God has commissioned him for a task that only the power of God can sustain. Criswell speaks of this confidence: “The first and foremost of all the inward strengths of the pastor is the conviction, deep as life itself, that God has called him to the ministry. If this persuasion is unshakable, all other elements of the pastor’s life will fall into beautiful order and place” (W.A. Criswell, Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville: Broadman, 1980). 

Answering the question, “How important is the assurance of a special call?” Sugden and Wiersbe say, “The work of the ministry is too demanding and difficult for a man to enter it without a sense of divine calling. Men enter and then leave the ministry usually because they lack a sense of divine urgency. Nothing less than a definite call from God could ever give a man success in the ministry” (Howard F. Sugden and Warren W. Wiersbe, When Pastors Wonder How. Chicago: Moody, 1973, 9).

The minister of today, like the prophets of the Old Testament, are under constant attack and pressure as they speak of the things of God. Lutzer has spoken of the difficulty of ministry as follows:

I don’t see how anyone could survive in the ministry if he felt it was just his own choice. Some ministers scarcely have two good days back to back. They are sustained by the knowledge that God has placed them where they are. Ministers without such a conviction often lack courage and carry their resignation letter in their coat pocket. At the slightest hint of difficulty, they’re gone (Erwin W. Lutzer, “Still Called to the Ministry,” Moody Monthly 83, no. 7. March 1983: 133).

Believing in the importance of the call as these men do, I suggest four questions that a man can use to evaluate whether he has a call to the ministry. The acrostic CALL summarizes the four steps outlined by the questions: Confirmation, Abilities, Longings, and Life.

Is There Confirmation?

Confirmation is of two types: confirmation by others and confirmation from God.

Confirmation by Others

Acts 16:1–2 gives a good idea of how important public recognition is in confirming the call to leadership and the ministry. Timothy was probably a convert of Paul on his first missionary journey (see Acts 14:6). Paul called him “my true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). As Paul started his second journey, he traveled through the regions he had visited on his first journey “strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41). He arrived in Timothy’s hometown where he found that Timothy was “well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). The result was, “Paul wanted this man to go with him” (Acts 16:3). Timothy’s public confirmation made him a desirable asset to Paul’s missionary team. Later as Paul wrote to Timothy, he reminded him of this public confirmation by referring to the “laying on of hands by the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:14). Both Paul and the leadership in the local community had seen how God had blessed and used Timothy in local service, so they recognized and commissioned him to serve God in the ministry on a broad scale.

Spurgeon agrees that public confirmation is a necessary step beyond the internal feeling that a man has concerning his call to the ministry. He concludes, “The will of the Lord concerning pastors is made known through the prayerful judgment of his church. It is needful as a proof of your vocation that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God” (Spurgeon, Lectures, 29). Many men who have the internal compulsion to enter the ministry are hesitant to subject this feeling to a church for confirmation. For whatever reason, they do not trust the church with this important area of their lives. Spurgeon told his students,

Churches are not all wise, neither do they all judge in the power of the Holy Ghost, but many of them judge after the flesh; yet I had sooner accept the opinion of a company of the Lord’s people than my own upon so personal a subject as my own gifts and graces. At any rate, whether you value the verdict of the church or no, one thing is certain, that none of you can be pastors without the loving consent of the flock; and therefore this will be to you a practical indicator if not a correct one (Ibid, 30).

Bridges also gives sound advice when he speaks of the counsel of others, especially friends and experienced ministers: “[They] … might be useful in assuring the mind, whether or not the desire for the work be the impulse of feeling rather than a principle, and the capacity be self-deceiving presumption” (Bridges, Ministry, 100-101).

The Bible says much about seeking advice and wise counsel. Proverbs is especially excellent in this area: “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (11:14); “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (12:15); “through presumption comes nothing but strife, but with those who receive counsel is wisdom” (13:10); “without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed” (15:22).

Besides the advice and counsel of others is the procedure of ordination, which is the step of publicly recognizing one set apart for the ministry. The Bible indicates that the early church had a specific process whereby bodies of Christians chose and set apart leaders for service. Paul’s instruction that Titus appoint elders (Titus 1:5) exemplifies a number of passages that point to the idea of an ordaining process. The basis of the appointments was the recognition of qualified men in each of the cities. A good definition of ordination is the public confirmation of an inner qualification and giftedness (Clifford V. Anderson, Worthy of the Calling. Chicago: Harvest, 1968, 56-57). It is a public testimony of a man’s gifts, his education, and his ministry experience. Even though the man being ordained is no different than other members of the congregation, public ordination provides a visible affirmation that God has called an individual to use his unique abilities and gifts for the whole church.

Confirmation from God

Newton found three indications of a call to the ministry: desire, competence, and the providence of God. He termed the third indication “a correspondent opening in providence, by a gradual train of circumstances pointing out the means, the time, the place, of actually entering upon the work” (John Newton, cited by Spurgeon, Lectures, 32). 

This factor covers all we have discussed thus far. God’s sovereignty provides for the calling of certain men for leadership in the local church. God gives them the gifts to carry out the functions of the ministry, gives them the desire to serve in this capacity,  and then orchestrates the circumstances to provide for the place of ministry.

All this speaks of open doors and God’s blessing. Paul said in 1 Cor. 16:8–9, “But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me.” He then proceeds to balance the opportunity with the obstacles: “and there are many adversaries.”

These adversaries are a constant element in the ministry and sometimes cause frustration and limit results. Results are not the final indicator of God’s blessing, however. Many have labored throughout their ministries with little or no visible fruit. Jeremiah prophesied for more than forty years (Jer. 1:2–3) without much, if any, response from the people. Adoniram Judson labored seven years in Burma before having his first convert, but he still saw God’s hand of providence in his ministry. The ministry is never easy nor are the results always positive, but a sense of God’s confirmation of the work should always be present.

Besides asking if there is confirmation from God, the man seeking to know whether he has the call must ask himself several practical questions:

Do others recognize my gifts and leadership abilities?

Do they ask me to serve in a leadership capacity?

Am I asked to communicate the truths of God through teaching or preaching?

Are there those who have suggested that I should consider the ministry?

Answers to these questions come only through active involvement in a local church ministry. Receiving public confirmation requires public ministry. This public ministry involves the use of gifts and abilities that others can identify, help develop, and encourage. Without these abilities, confirmation will be missing. So abilities are an integral part in the process of determining the call.

Are There Abilities?

Ephesians 4:11 is the background of this second question, which deals with giftedness. In part, the verse says that Christ “gave some as … pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints.” Pastor-teachers are God-appointed gifts to the church.

Just as God called out men for specific tasks in the Old Testament, so in the New Testament God has His chosen ones to accomplish specific tasks during this church age. The task is that of “equipping of the saints for the work of service” (Eph. 4:12). Fulfilling this responsibility entails an equipping of the called man. Formal and informal education by other men can achieve part of this equipping, but spiritual giftedness from God has the major role in a man’s call to the ministry. Bridges says, “The ability for the sacred office is very distinct from natural talent, or the wisdom and learning of this world.”

Many a man has thought himself a prime candidate for the ministry, because he loved God and was the debate champion in college. As important as these assets are, unless God has selectively gifted the man for the ministry, he labors in vain who builds the house (Ps. 127:1).

Besides the speaking gifts of preaching and teaching, usually considered essential for the ministry, Spurgeon also suggested several other qualifications:

I should not complete this point if I did not add, that mere ability to edify, and aptness to teach is not enough; there must be other talents to complete the pastoral character. Sound judgment and solid experience must instruct you; gentle manners and loving affections must sway you; firmness and courage must be manifest and tenderness and sympathy must not be lacking. Gifts administrative in ruling well will be as requisite as gifts instructive in teaching well (Spurgeon, Lectures, 28).

Many men who want to be ministers go to a seminary or Bible school to get the gifts necessary for the ministry. This is a mistake. Since each Christian at the time of conversion has received all the gifts that he will need for ministry (1 Cor. 12:11), training cannot furnish the necessary gifts, but if the gifts are already there, training can develop what God has previously given.

What are the abilities needed for the ministry? The quotation just cited from Spurgeon alludes to them. Basically the functions of a minister are three types: instructional, pastoral, and administrative.

Instructional. In Eph. 4:11–12 the pastor-teacher’s responsibility is “the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up the body of Christ.” The word equipping is the Greek word καταρτίζώ (katartizō). This word, translated “mending” in Matt. 4:21, occurs in the description of Christ’s call to James and John. He summoned them while they were “mending their nets,” that is, equipping their nets for fishing. This suggests that a major function of a leader is a figurative mending of the saints—getting them ready for service.

In 1 Thess. 3:10 the translation of this word is “complete.” The apostle Paul wanted to return to the Thessalonians to “complete what is lacking in your faith,” that is, to finish what he had started earlier. Galatians 6:1 also has katartizō, this time in the sense of restoring a sinning brother. Abbott-Smith gives the meaning of this word as “to furnish completely; complete; prepare.” Stedman suggests the nearest modern equivalent is “to shape up” (Ray C. Stedman, Body Life. Glendale, CA.: Gospel Light, 1972).

How does this instruction occur? The two major avenues for instruction are preaching and teaching. In 1 Tim. 5:17 Paul refers to certain elders at Ephesus as “those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” The NASB has correctly translated the Greek phrase οί κοπιω̂ντες ἐν λόγῳ (oi kopiōntes en logō) by “those who work hard at preaching.” (BAGD, 477) “Since en logō (“in preaching”) is anarthrous, it should not be identified as the word of God … ,” although the foundation for these discourses was the Word of God (Marvin Edward Mayer, “An Exegetical Study on the New Testament Elder” – Th.D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1970, 129 – translation added). Basically, en logō referred to any general form of oral discourse given in some kind of public assembly. It probably included exhortation, admonition, and comforting, as well as the proclamation of the gospel (Homer A. Kent, Jr. The Pastoral Epistles. Chicago: Moody Press, 1958, 181). 

The second avenue of instruction in 1 Tim. 5:17 is “teaching” (διδασκαλία, didaskalia). Teaching overlaps the function of preaching to some degree. Since preaching is more of a public ministry, teaching is the explanation and application of that which is proclaimed. It can be either public or private, as Paul described his teaching ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:20).

According to 1 Tim. 3:2 a leader must be “able to teach.” In Titus 1:9 he must “be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” In Heb. 13:7 the writer describes leaders as those “who spoke the word of God to you,” thus implying that leaders are communicators.

Shepherding. Both Acts 20:18 and 1 Peter 5:2 have commands for church leadership to feed the flock of God. Feeding the flock relates to the function of teaching. In fact, shepherding duties link closely with teaching duties. In Eph. 4:11 Paul combines the two in the title “pastor-teacher.” Yet the Bible makes a distinction between shepherding and teaching. Teaching imparts a body of knowledge, but shepherding imparts a life more broadly. Paul shows this distinction in 1 Thess. 2:8 where he says, “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God [teaching] but also our own lives [shepherding].”

In Acts 20:28 Paul admonished the Ephesian elders “to shepherd the church of God.” He did not command these elders to take care of their own flock but to take care of God’s flock, the church. First Peter 5:2 notes the same stewardship when Peter tells his fellow elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you.” The church leader is an under shepherd who will give an account to God (Heb. 13:17), so he must shepherd with utmost care.

How is he to do this shepherding? Paul tells the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 to face the reality of enemy attacks (v. 29). Attacks will come through the efforts of “savage wolves” who will arise from within the flock (v. 30). The enemy will try to divide the flock, necessitating constant watchfulness by the church’s leaders (note the command “be on the alert,” v. 31). Leaders must “admonish” and intimately involve themselves with the people “with tears” (v. 31). Ultimately, they must entrust the flock to God through prayer, with the assurance of growth in the flock through study of the Word (v. 32).

Administrative. The basic function of a New Testament leader is overseeing (Harvey E. Dana, Manual of Ecclesiology. Kansas City: Central Seminary, 1944, 254). Acts 20:28 calls the Ephesian elders “overseers.” First Peter 5:2 tells the leadership to “exercise oversight.”

Oversight involves ruling, a function to which 1 Tim. 5:17 refers when Paul instructs Timothy to “let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor.” Also, the writer of Hebrews refers to ruling in his reference to leading: “Remember those who led you” (Heb. 13:7). Two other verses in Hebrews 13 refer to the ruling function: “Obey your leaders, … for they keep watch over your souls” (v. 17); “Greet all of your leaders” (v. 24).

How are leaders to rule? Jesus told His disciples in Matt. 20:25–26 that they were to be servants, not lords. As an obedient disciple, Peter gave the same advice in 1 Pet. 5:3: “Nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” As Christ was a servant (Matt. 20:28; John 13:1–16), so leaders are to follow His example and be servants of the church.

How is your ability to teach and preach? Do you enjoy communicating God’s Word in a preaching or teaching environment? How are your leadership skills? Do you take the initiative or are you a follower? How would you rate yourself as a shepherd? Do you have a heart for people? Do you love to care for those “lost and without a shepherd?”

Is There a Longing?

In 1 Tim. 3:1 the apostle Paul has written, “If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” The word translated “aspires” is ὀρέγομαι (oregomai), a word occurring only three times in the New Testament. It means “to stretch oneself out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something” (Henry J. Thayer, Greek English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. reprint of 1868 ed., Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1955, 452). It pictures a runner lunging for the finish line. The second time the word appears is in 1 Tim. 6:10 where it is translated “longing”—related to money, which is the object of so much love as to make it the very foundation for “all sorts of evil.” The third usage is in Heb. 11:16 where it is rendered “desire,” with the object of desire being a “better country.” So each context determines how legitimate the stretching and reaching is.

The second word speaking of inner compulsion in 1 Tim. 3:1 is ἐπιθυμέω (epithumeō), a verb meaning “to set one’s heart upon, desire, lust after, covet” (Abbott-Smith, Manual Greek Lexicon, 170). The noun form of this verb usually has a bad sense, but the verb has primarily a good or neutral sense, which expresses a particularly strong desire (h. Schonweiss, “epithumeo,” NIDNTT, ed. Colin Brown. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971, 1:456-58). This aspiration for the ministry is therefore an inward impulse that releases itself in outward desire.

Sanders notes that it is not the office but the work that is the object desired (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership. Chicago: Moody, 1967, 13).  It must be a desire for service, not for position, fame, or fortune. So this aspiration is good as long as it is for the right reasons.

Spurgeon gives the following warning concerning the desire for the ministry:

Mark well, that the desire I have spoken of must be thoroughly disinterested. If a man can detect, after the most earnest self-examination, any other motive than the glory of God and the good of souls in his seeking the bishopric, he better turn aside from it at once; for the Lord will abhor the bringing of buyers and sellers into his temple: the introduction of anything mercenary, even in the smallest degree, will be like the fly in the pot of ointment, and will spoil it all (Spurgeon, Lectures, 25).

This inner desire should be so single-minded that the aspiring leader cannot visualize himself as pursuing anything else except the ministry. “Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,” was the wise advice of an old preacher to a young man when asked his judgment regarding pursuing the ministry (Ibid, 23). Bicket said, “If you can be happy outside the ministry, stay out. But if the solemn call has come, don’t run” (Zenas J. Bicket, ed., The Effective Pastor. Springfiled, Mo.: Gospel, 1973, 1). Bridges calls the “constraining desire … a primary ministerial qualification” (Bridges, Ministry, 94).

Do you long for the ministry? Is it impossible for you to function in any other vocation? Do you see yourself only in the ministry? If your answers to these questions are yes, one more area is critical for determining your call to the ministry.

Is There a Lifestyle of Integrity?

The Bible says much about a leader’s character. It is interesting that it says more about what a leader is to be than it does about what he is to do. This is a good clue as to what God thinks about this important prerequisite. It does not matter how much education or how much experience a person has. If he does not meet qualifications of biblical morality, he is unfit to be a leader in God’s church. Phillips Brooks, a prominent clergyman during the nineteenth century, says of this important subject: “What the minister is is far more important than what he is able to do, for what he is gives force to what he does. In the long run, ministry is what we are as much as what we do” (Cited in David Wiersbe and Warren W. Wiesbe, Making Sense of the Ministry. Chicago: Moody Press, 1983, 32). 

Paul told Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself” (1 Tim. 4:16). Why is this so important? The Old Testament priests had to practice elaborate washing and cleansing procedures, as well as sacrificing offerings for their own sins, before they could minister in behalf of the people (Heb. 5:3). How could they intercede for others when their own sin had not been covered? So it is for the New Testament leader. Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity, possibly religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy.

Henry Martyn wrote in his journal, “Let me be taught that the first great business on earth is the sanctification of my own soul” (Ibid, 33). Peter commands every Christian to be “holy as your father in heaven is holy” (1 Pet. 1:15–16) and exhorts the leaders “to be examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). As those who are to assist the people in worship and be examples, New Testament leaders must have lives that set a standard for the rest of the church. The standard for conduct and character to guide the leader as he guides God’s people is the Word of God. The qualified leader is a man of the Book, using it not just to prepare sermons and teaching notes but, first and foremost, to prepare himself. The Bible is not a textbook but a manual for transforming the life of one who aspires to leadership.

Within the covers of the Bible, certain sections are particularly relevant to the qualifications for leadership. First Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 are key passages that deal with a leader’s qualifications. Certainly no man claims that his life measures up to these standards perfectly as a model for what the rest of the church should be, but the Bible gives the standards as an ideal to strive for. As an added safeguard, God usually also provides a core of godly men in each church to supervise and hold one another accountable to fulfilling these standards.

These, then, are the four major questions for a person to ask when considering the ministry.

(1) Is there confirmation?

(2) Is there appropriate giftedness?

(3) Is there an insatiable longing for the ministry?

(4) Finally, is there a life of integrity?

If a man can answer these questions in the affirmative, he can in all confidence say he has the call of God to pursue ministerial options. He can proceed with joy, for God has an exciting and rewarding—but also an incredibly demanding—life waiting for him. To cope with the incredible demands, he has the assurance of God’s help and empowerment.

*Article adapted from Chapter 6 in Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry: Shaping Contemporary Ministry With Biblical Mandates. Edited by John MacArthur, Richard L. Mayhue, and Robert L. Thomas. Dallas, Word, 1995.

 

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An Acronym for Showing L.O.V.E

SHOWING LOVE IS:

Couple walking on the beach

Listening when you are speaking

Offering my help when you need it

Valuing all the wonderful things you do

Encouraging you when times are tough

– Tami Stephens

 
 

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An Acrostic for S.C.R.I.P.T.U.R.E

All Scripture is to/for:

Bible opened image

S-anctify: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:17

C-orrect: “All Scriptures is breathed out by God and profitable for…correction…” – 2 Timothy 3:16

R-ejoice: “The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart.” – Psalm 19:8

I-nstruct: “All Scriptures is breathed out by God and profitable for…instruction…” – 2 Timothy 3:16

P-urity: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth [of the Word]…” – 1 Peter 1:22

T-each: “Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!” – Psalm 119:12

U-nite: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” Psalm 86:11

R-eprove:  “All Scriptures is breathed out by God and profitable for…reproof…” – 2 Timothy 3:16

be E-aten: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.” – Jeremiah 15:16

 

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A Garden That You Should Plant Daily

Butchart gardens 1

For best results, this garden should be planted every day:

Five Rows of “P”eas:

  • Preparedness,
  • Perseverance,
  • Promptness,
  • Politeness,
  • Prayer.

Three Rows of Squash:

  • Squash gossip,
  • Squash criticism,
  • Squash indifference.

Five Rows of Lettuce:

  • Let us love one another,
  • Let us be faithful,
  • Let us be loyal,
  • Let us be unselfish,
  • Let us be truthful.

Three Rows of Turnips:

  • Turn up for church,
  • Turn up with a new idea,
  • Turn up with the determination to do a better job tomorrow than you did today.

– Eugene Prime

 

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