[Danny, I hope you read this. I would not be writing this article if not for the numerous times you pushed me to question my intentions behind serving God.]
I received a text from a friend recently, who shared how he was struggling to spend time with God, be obedient to His Word, and find joy in the Lord. But then, he said something that really shook me for a moment: he’d decided to work through these struggles by volunteering to teach for VBS. You might be a bit taken aback, just like I was. After all, how do you teach kids to love God and obey His Word when you yourself are struggling in the same department? But then I realised that this is not exactly an uncommon response for many of us. Have we not all, at some point, tried to fix our spiritual walk by compensating for one area with another?
I don’t know about you, but I started serving with the music team at my church from the age of four or five, and I can’t think of a time when I sat down to ask myself if I was serving him with the right intention. I started speaking in church and teaching at VBS from the age of 16, and I have to admit there were numerous times I served in these ministries when I had not opened my Bible in months. Even if I did, it was to prepare for the ministry — but that was it.
A few years ago, my friend Danny asked me what motivates me to serve — and the question made me restless for a long time. I realised that I’d been seeing ministry and my service to God as a responsibility… an obligation. Whenever there was a need, I’d step in to help, because I had the ability to meet that need. I’d even feel pretty good about myself afterwards when people complimented me on a job well done. But it was after I took a hard look at myself in the mirror that I realised there were occasions when I sought ministry opportunities even though I was struggling in my walk with God. If I was being honest with myself, somewhere in my heart, I think I hoped that in doing so, I was still pleasing God and, perhaps, making up for the time I wasn’t spending with Him.
Somewhere in my heart, I think I hoped that by serving, I was still pleasing God… perhaps even making up for the time I wasn’t spending with Him
It was a certain conversation between Jesus and Peter recorded in John 21 that has since really changed my perspective on how I serve God. We see Jesus about to entrust a major ministry to Peter, but He has a question for him first. He says: “Simon, do you love me?” I have no doubt that if Jesus were here, it’s a question He’d ask of 21st century believers too. Is it love for Him that compels us to serve Him?
Ministry shouldn’t be seen as a mere responsibility — and certainly not a compensatory ‘fix’. We shouldn’t be leading worship because we’re talented, teaching at Sunday school or VBS because we’re good with kids, or spending hours planning camps and programmes because we have solid organisation skills. Rather, ministry should flow out of us as a response to our love for the Saviour. For sure, it is possible to be part of plenty of activities in church when your heart is struggling to love Jesus — and you will find many who will approve of your service — but Scripture makes it plain that God takes no pleasure in such offerings.
Sadly, the issue does not begin and end with individual hearts — we often lack leadership that asks us these tough questions about the state of our hearts. The general qualifications sought for church ministries tend to focus on whether one has the ability and a relatively good testimony. These are necessary to have, but we know from Scripture that God cares about our hearts and its intentions more than anything else (1 Samuel 16:7).
It’s possible to be part of church ministry when your heart is struggling to love God — but Scripture is clear that He takes no pleasure in such offerings
Perhaps, after reading this, you might feel like quitting everything. I’m sure that’s how Peter probably felt, having just denied Jesus three times right before this encounter by the sea. But Jesus didn’t condemn him — He asked him to follow Him (John 21:22). No one knows the extent of the mess we’re in like God does. Quitting need not be the answer, when He can help us work things out. What can we do?
Don’t just open your Bible when you’re asked to serve — serve because you delight in the Person of Christ Himself
Churches cannot grow if they are being led, or ministered to, by men and women who are spiritually stagnant. Yet, if we were to start asking the right questions, we’d find that this has become an alarming trend among our communities — and one we tend not to think twice about. Is it any wonder that our churches are falling apart?
We absolutely need to encourage those struggling in the faith. But we do so by pointing them to Jesus and taking the time to help them walk closely with the Lord. When they do that faithfully, their desire to serve will flow out of a natural response to Him — and it will be one of which God approves.
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