If you read my last post, “What IS Ministry,” this is the expanded edition. In this post, I propose that “ministry” starts in our personal lives, in our homes, in our jobs, and then reaches outwards to those around us. Our words, actions, and behaviors play a huge role in how our ministry affects everyone around us.
After the first post came out, there was some healthy discussion. The comments from a friend went something like this… “People are gifted and having a day job keeps them from that ministry. They can’t do what they should be doing and then they have to live on nothing…” Whoa now! Let’s stop there for a moment. That grabbed me because I know so many people who have been in that place and I’ve asked God many times “Why can’t they be doing what they’re called to do?” The comment continued that “being developed in those hard places are places we don’t get to skip.” I guess if we did, it would be like skipping from first to sixth grade without all the grades in between. Uh, yeah… that probably won’t work.
I’m going to borrow an example from my teaching. I had a student, who came in as a college freshman. Wow, was this guy talented! He was one of those who thought he didn’t have to practice between lessons because he was good enough to fake it. His whole life, he’d been able to live off his talent. Well, college is not the same as high school. I’ve been around the block enough times to know when he practiced and how much he practiced. It always amazed him that I knew…
Long story short. He graduated and went on to pursue a master’s degree at some big music school back east. He came to see me a during his first year in grad school and said “All those years, I lived off my talent and did nothing with it. Everyone else is playing circles around me because they spend more time in a practice room than I do.”
Anything in ministry is the same. God gives us gifts. Now, what we do with those gifts is another thing. If we live off the talents we have and then don’t further develop them, we stagnate and don’t grow. Once we realize that we can actually “practice” the giftings put within us, that’s when we qualify ourselves to move up to the next level. In the case of my student, it took him two years of many hours a day in the practice room to reach the same level as other students who were probably not as talented as him. But, once he decided to develop his talent, THAT’S when he began to grow INTO the talent God put within him.
I joke with people about my musical career by saying that I discovered the art of practicing during high school. Out of my hours in a practice room, I developed some other things – persistence, patience, perseverance, and a sense of not giving up. Eventually, my efforts paid off and I went on to a career in classical music. I tell people I got there because I was married to a practice room. Even my cat knew where to find me! She’d come to the practice building and wait for someone let her in. Then, she’d come up to my room and sleep on my lap while I spent four or more hours “wood shedding” my music. It was in the practice room that I learned to be a good musician – not in the concert hall.
Notice my comment… I learned to be a musician in the practice room, not during a concert. Let’s translate that into the things of God. If you have a gift that you know God gave you, there will be many times of being in hidden places where you develop that gifting. You then use what you’ve developed as God puts opportunities before you. It’s when we get ahead of ourselves, as mentioned in the first paragraph, that we can get into trouble. Even in the natural gifts that God has put within us, we still have a responsibility to develop them. If we can’t be responsible in that, why should we be given other things that require even more authority?
Here’s another example… You’re in junior high and know that in your sophomore year of high school, you’re going to get that long sought after driver’s license. Why don’t they let kids get a driver’s license in grade school? Why is it they wait until a kid is 16 (in most states) before they can drive a vehicle? It’s because there’s a certain responsibility that goes with driving a car that a grade schooler simply won’t understand. There are responsibilities that must be understood and demonstrated prior to receiving a driver’s license.
Not that I want to step on any toes here. But, everything in God is about responsibility. “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48). We often think that responsibility can be about quitting everything else and focusing on the one thing God is talking to us about. For example, quitting a job so we can be in “ministry.” Most of the people I know who’ve quit their jobs did so because they hated the job. Or, they wanted to do something and the boss wouldn’t give them the time off so they quit. Others? They really didn’t want to work anyway because “Ministry” was more important. These people expected others to provide for and meet their needs.
News flash #2! We still have things to take care of such as rent, utilities, food, a vehicle, etc. that won’t pay themselves. Those are responsibilities just like developing a gift God gave you is a responsibility. We are not “of” this
world but we do need to learn how to live “in” this world. I’ve heard testimonies of people who God truly told them to quit their jobs. But, there was always confirmation upon confirmation. And, they were already in a place of walking in financial freedom before quitting their jobs. Secondly, they left those jobs on good terms with their employers. In other words, none of them were suffering financial set-backs and they had a handle on their finances and personal lives. They had already set a precedence of walking in provision PRIOR to leaving a job.
I would venture to say that if you think God’s asked you to quit a job, some “hit me over the head” confirmation is probably a good idea before you quit. If you’re struggling financially and/or having other personal issues, it might be a “familiar” spirit talking smack to you. My reason for saying this? Again, it’s about responsibility. If we can’t learn to be responsible in our current situation, then moving into a new situation won’t change anything.
When looking at ministry versus a job, I personally consider them the same. Right now, my jobs are my ministry. I see many who think “ministry” is something outside of daily work, home, and activities. But, people watch and see what we do no matter where we go or who we talk with. We “minister” to people with our actions and words through EVERY encounter. That includes in a job, hanging out with friends, spending time with family, etc. If we can’t learn to be in ministry in our regular life situations, then having what we call a “full time ministry” will be a tough road because we are working at a higher grade level than we’ve achieved.
For me, one of my largest challenges has been learning to want to deal with finances. I’ve had to walk through some pretty tough things about money in order to be free of some “stinkin’ thinkin.'” I’ve done some stupid things like what we all do… run up credit cards, buy things because I must have them even when I didn’t really have the money, etc. You know the drill simply because this seems to be the “American way.” It’s buy now and pay later. The only problem with that is we’ve learned to live from paycheck to paycheck because of all our “must haves.” I had to learn what’s important and what’s not important. That required giving up some things (horrors!) and to live within my means.
Interesting… I didn’t plan to go on the money rabbit trail. But, if you think about it, money seems to frame so much of what we do. I think when we have a healthy perspective of money, such as not living out of a poverty mentality, we’ll have freedom that will unlock more doors for us. The poverty mentality is a killer. It kills dreams, visions, calls, gifts, and most of all, hope and faith. If we don’t deal with a poverty spirit/mentality, it will be really tough to function in a job or ministry. What is a poverty mentality? Basically, it’s anything that keeps up bound up and limited when it comes to provision of any kind (material goods, finances, etc.). Saying things such as “I don’t have the money to do that” or “That’s way too expensive” are classic poverty mentality thoughts. How about saying “Father, if that’s what I’m to do, then show me a way.” Don’t be surprised if the answer requires making some adjustments in your way of life.
Now, back to the regular scheduled conversation – ministry versus jobs. I said before that my musical career came out of a practice room, not talent. If I have any gift, it would involve persistence and perseverance. There are some aspects of being a musician that came easy for me. Others were more difficult. I’d venture to say that everything I’ve done required hard work… a lot of it. Nothing has come easy for me. That being said, I’m truly learning to walk from one level of responsibility to another because I’ve not been one to give up easily. “I wish I could” is generally not an option. Persistence gets you a lot of places. And, if you’ve read any of my other blog posts, everything on the earth is a mirror of what’s in the spirit. See yourself as God sees you and perseverance takes on a whole new meaning.
For many years, I desired to understand how to flow in the spirit musically. I was a bit stuck to the little black dots on the page so playing by ear and just letting music flow out of me wasn’t easy. In fact, it wasn’t even in my thought banks of understanding. The “I wish I could” mentality prevailed for many years because I believed what some said to me “those who read music can’t learn to flow in the spirit.” It took practice! What!? You mean, I have to practice the things of God? There’s a misnomer out there about talents put within us by God. We think that if we have a gift, that’s it. We either have it or we don’t.
News flash #3 – if you want to be good at something, you have to put time into it. It’s called “practice.”
How did I “practice” playing in the spirit? Some of it involved friends who pushed me by saying during intercessory prayer “Go play!” I’d sit at the piano, staring at the keys thinking “What am I doing!?” I had to learn to shut the musical training off and listen to the Holy Spirit. It took about 15 years but I eventually got to a place where I could let music flow from me that wasn’t on a printed page. If you want to hear what that sounds like, CLICK HERE. And, yes, I had to “practice” playing “in the spirit.” Just like the giftings put within you, they won’t mature unless you put some effort into using them. I’m not talking about that once-a-week thing where the worship team gets together to go through the tunes as the only “practice” time. Good practice is done daily no matter the type of gifting.
My point here is that even in the things of the spirit, I had to practice. It will be no different for you. Whatever God has put within you, if you don’t do anything with it, it’s like the story of the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25:14-30) When the master comes back, what have we done with what’s been given to us?
Tying this back one more time into that nasty little job thing… jobs are a place of ministry. Many times, this gives us the opportunity to practice the giftings God has put within us… with those around us. Jobs should be training grounds for us to walk in integrity, honoring those around us, demonstrating the Love of God, bringing joy to those we work with, setting an example of what a good worker should look like, and the list could go on. When we’re at work, we’re literally “on the mission field.” As we learn to function in who we are IN Christ wherever we are, this qualifies us for more responsibility. I dare say that unless we can learn to be on the mission field at work and in our personal lives, we probably won’t graduate to being in full-time ministry. Or, if we do go into full-time ministry anyway, our work may not be very effective because our maturity level doesn’t match the responsibility level. It’s like putting a second grader in a grade six class. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what would happen in that situation.
I will say this… If you’re in a position where things don’t seem to be working the way you’d hoped, there are three possibilities. 1) You’re working at a grade level you’re not ready for yet or, 2) God is showing you some things IN that place that will grow you into the needed maturity to handle the next grade level. If you get there too soon, you’ll be in point #1. If finances are an issue for you (needs never being met, never enough money, spend too much, etc.), you’ll be stuck in point #1. 3) There are things in your life that aren’t in order. Some of these can be very small and often simple. Examples include: relationships with those close to you are a struggle, daily responsibilities are a challenge, not keeping your word, being flaky, lack of follow-through, walking in the “woe is me” mentality, failure to recognize issues that need attention in your life, anger and bitterness towards others, etc… etc.
I’ll add here that from personal experience, items listed under point #3 seem to be the biggest cause in lack of forward motion. How we live our lives behind closed doors provides a clue. Need another example? I’ve lived in many places and have had many roommates. Almost all considered themselves strong Christians. However, the best roommate I ever had wasn’t even a believer. Why was she the best? She did what she said she was going to do and she helped around the house, considering that part of her normal responsibility for living in my home. She understood that when you live with others, people share the responsibilities. That included helping with rent, utilities and other “shared” household expenses. I’m amazed at the people who have come to live with me that thought helping around the house was an option when and if they had time.
It’s all about maturity and responsibility. We look at what’s going on in our lives (if we’re honest with ourselves) to determine where we are in that process. If the “yuckies” are attacking, it’s not always the enemy. It’s often our own lack of maturity that’s feeding the problem. Or, we’re seeing things through woundedness and should consider getting some healing.
Ministry and job should be synonymous with each other. If we can be a positive influence IN our place of employment, we are ministering. We don’t have to be a preacher, run a large church, or be an itinerant minister to be effective. It starts in our family, in our jobs, and then expands to those beyond us once we have a handle on our personal junk. That’s not to say we have to be perfect but if we hold onto any dirty little secrets, eventually they will rear their ugly heads and become an embarrassment for us. Is that what we want?
We are constantly growing and maturing and as we do so, there will be things we have the opportunity to take care of. What’s a good gauge to determine where you’re at? Look at how those closest to you respond to your words, actions, and behaviors. And, yes, we do have a choice in how we respond to other’s behaviors. But, that’s a topic for another blog post. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. If we want to find out what we’re made of, pay close attention to our words and behaviors during times of high stress. It’s those automatic responses coming from triggers (both negative and positive) that provide a perfect reflection of where we truly are.
I encourage all of us to grow into what God has for us! May we mature into the fullness of what we’re called to do on earth as well as in heaven!
On that note, I have some lesson plans to write…