The Most Necessary Thing
Are you ever tempted to neglect your time with God in the name of ministry? Have your times of personal prayer and Bible-reading been replaced by times of preparation for teaching and other ministry activities? Chances are, you have faced these pressures and like most of us, have at times allowed the busyness of doing for God to distract you from the precious gift of simply being with God.
Those who are in significant ministry roles must be especially careful to guard their time in God’s Word from becoming solely a time of preparation for ministry to others. Our own souls need to regularly feast on God’s Word for the singular purpose of personally knowing and enjoying our Savior, not primarily so that we may be successful in our ministry. The heart is very fickle; you don't have to be born again to have passion and ambition to achieve great things, everyone wants that. The reality is, our flesh may easily infiltrate our ministry ambitions if our time in God’s Word becomes nothing more than a means to something else, like approval from our congregation, notoriety for our gifts, or other accomplishments that make us feel validated, desired, or indispensable.
The most important goal is not that we accomplish much for God, but that we know him and enjoy him personally. In the rush of ministry life, we often get this backward. But look with me to the life of the Apostle Paul, a man of more ministry success than you or I could dare to dream of. Yet, what was his greatest desire? What was the unceasing ambition for which he ordered his life? We find it in Philippians 3, as he recounts the joy of forsaking everything for Christ. In essence, he says, "the most important thing for me, the deepest longing of my soul is that I may know Christ."
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)
Or consider the words of Jesus in what we often call his “High Priestly Prayer” of John chapter 17,
“And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
Brothers and sisters, the greatest gift of the gospel is God himself, forever. Knowing him is the highest aim of the Christian’s soul. He is the prize, he is the treasure; he is the pearl of great price for which it is no foolish act to part with all else in order that you may gain him.
So I encourage you as I seek also to encourage my own heart; do not allow yourself to believe the lie that you are too busy to spend intimate time in God’s Word and prepare to fulfill your other ministry duties. As reasonable and logical as it may sound to our human hearts to give preference to our preparation, it is my conviction that this is not what is best for your soul or the community you have been called to serve.
“One thing is necessary,” said Jesus, as he commented on the disposition of the hearts of both Mary and Martha. Mary, who rather than being busy in Christ’s service, simply sat at his feet to adore and learn, “chose the good portion, which will not be taken away from her,” (Luke 10:42). My hope in writing this brief exhortation is that our hearts, the hearts of God’s pastors, would be found having chosen that good portion also.
Greater is the value of personal intimacy with God than busyness for him. Service must follow surrender and solitude.
Advice for Success
If I were to offer any advice on how to help maintain a healthy balance in this area of our lives, I would recommend the use of a Bible reading plan. There are many excellent plans available online for free, or you might consider putting one together for yourself. One particular resource that has been a help to me is the printing of the ESV One Year Bible, formatted after the popular Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan. Each day includes reading from different books of the Bible, ushering the reader through the entirety of the Scriptures once per year, including a double-pass through the Psalms and New Testament. There are two particular benefits of great value for me in this approach.
First, following a reading plan forces me to dive into sections of Scripture that I may otherwise neglect or even avoid because they are more difficult to grasp. This is something we are all prone to, and a Bible reading plan helps us overcome this tendency and instead soak up all that God has graciously given us in his holy Word.
Secondly, with regard to the main topic of this article, it gives me a clear path to run in my own pursuit of God without the distracting temptation of seeking after preparation and success in ministry. We all want our lives to be used greatly for the glory of God, but no matter how many books are published that promise to give you the keys to colossal success, there are no shortcuts. First things are always first.
May you and I love God and worship him simply because he is worthy, not so that we may achieve or impress. Before we go to his service, let us sit at his feet in worship. Personal intimacy with God is the most necessary thing.
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