A few weeks ago I posted an article by Paul Tripp, “Don’t Confuse Knowledge and Success with Maturity.” It was a reminder that mental assent is not a true measure of our spiritual growth. In our efforts to grow in Christ we can find prideful joy in what we have learned and begin to think we are maturing in Christ. This mindset can lead to more learning and less serving.
Head knowledge is nothing if it is not put into action. Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding are all gifts from God; however, these gifts have been imparted to us in order to give them away to others. As empty vessels, God fills us with spiritual gifts, then He desires to empty us into the lives of others that they too might be filled and then emptied. In Matthew 28.18-20 this is called the Great Commission—our assignment to go make disciples.
Making disciples, growing in wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and serving others only happens after our salvation. Once we placed our faith in the finished work of Christ we begin our spiritual journey “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13). This should be the burning passion of every Christian—growing into the “fullness of Christ.”
With our hearts set aflame with the consuming passion of glorifying Christ we find a life of great joy and fulfillment. However, just as our joy cannot come from mental assent, we cannot allow our joy to be rooted in ministry success. It is easy to find joy when everything you touch turns to gold for the kingdom. Joy comes easy when your Bible study group or church is growing rapidly. Joy isn’t hard to find when God is graciously using your testimony to lead numbers of people to Christ. Nevertheless, these successes should not determine our joy. They should lead us to a heart thankful to God for His Holy Spirit working through us, but they cannot be the reason for our joy.
In Tony Reinke’s post, “Why Rooting Joy in Ministry Success is disastrous,” we get a clear picture of where our true joy is to be found.
Is there a greater thrill than to know someone’s life has been permanently transformed because you reached out to them?
It is sweet to know your sister was saved through your series of conversations, or that you helped to disciple a struggling couple whose marriage was headed toward an inevitable divorce, or that you preached a sermon that God was kind enough to use in someone’s spiritual awakening.
Each of those things are treasured experiences — but none of them are intended to sustain our joy.
Jesus’ chose 72 of his followers and sent them out in his name. And they found incredible success in healing the sick and in watching demonically sabotaged lives get radically and immediately repaired. The experience must have been intoxicatingly fun.
But ministry success wasn’t the most stunning thing, and Jesus warned his followers of that when they returned. He told them to look beyond the fruit and see an eternal foundation: “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Written in heaven. That’s what he wanted them to see and us to see. Our highest joy is to know that our names are written in heaven. Knowing we are heirs to the bliss of God’s eternal presence is the foundation for our greatest joys.
And knowing that means:
- Pastoring is not the most important fact about the pastor.
- Missions is not the most important fact about the missionary.
- The spiritual gift is not the most important fact about the Christian.
In the Slump
But Jesus’ words apply to ministry “sag” just as much as they apply to revival.
By unplugging the disciples’ joy from their ministry effectiveness, Jesus likewise protects them (and us) from depression during seasons of seeming fruitlessness. Seasons of what appears to be effectiveness and ineffectiveness come and go. Seasons of revival are replaced by seasons of stagnation.
Perhaps we can include all of the fluctuations of life. Marriage, parenting, work, school — all areas of life where we are called by God to bear fruit. Our joy is not rooted in our successes, and it’s not extinguished by our failures. Our joy is rooted in the unalterable fact that in Christ our names are written on heaven’s roll-call.
Paul reminded his ministry associates of this point (Philippians 4:3). And I need that reminder every morning. Because whether ministry is flourishing or not, we need to remind ourselves, and remind each other, that our names are written in heaven. And it is in heaven, in the presence of God forever, where our joy is rooted. May God protect us now, in the bustle of life and the wins and losses in ministry, from losing the sweetness of that truth.
Our joy should be rooted and grounded in our salvation. We are saved from sin, death, the grave, and hell. We stand fully justified before God. We have received the imputed righteousness of Christ. Our joy is found in this, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3.16). When our joy is rooted and grounded in the fact of our salvation then we will live life with an outrageous joy!