Saturday, February 20, 2010
"There are preachers who so loudly declare their love of preaching that it is unclear whether it is their own performance and their love of power that has captured them or their desire to minister to the men and women who listen to them. A church organist may buck every suggestion that a young, new musician be permitted to serve in this way, and pretty soon the reason becomes clear: the organist's self-identity is so bound up with the public performance of music that any thought of serving people has been suppressed, to the point that the thought of being replaced is intolerable.
As someone who has taught seminary students for more than fifteen years, I worry about the rising number of seminarians who, when asked where and how they think they might best serve, respond with something like this: "Well, I think I would like to teach somewhere. Every time I have taught, people have told me I have done a pretty good job. I get a tremendous sense of fulfillment out of teaching the Bible. I think I could be satisfied teaching Scripture."
How pathetic. I know pagans who find satisfaction and fulfillment by teaching nuclear physics. In any Christian view of life, self-fulfillment must never be permitted to become the controlling issue. The issue is service, the service of real people. The question is, How can I be most useful?, not How can I feel most useful? The goal is, How can I best glorify God by serving his people?, not, How can I feel most comfortable and appreciated while engaging in some acceptable form of Christian ministry? The assumption is, How shall the Christian service to which God calls me be enhanced by my daily death, by my principled commitment to take up my cross daily and die?, not, How shall the form of service I am considering enhance my career? This is not to deny that Christians may derive joy from work honestly offered to God, whether that work is vocational ministry or research into the properties of quarks. But it is one thing to find joy in the work to which we have been called, and another to make joy the goal of life, the fundamental criterion that controls our choices. It is one thing to weigh a Christian leader's evaluation of our gifts, and another so to focus on our perception of our gifts that self-worship has crept in through the back door. It is one thing to think of people as a live audience that will appreciate our displays of homiletical prowess, and another that passionately shapes each sermon to convey the truth to God's people for their good...
In short, Paul not only wants to be with [the Thessalonians], he wants to be with them for their good. And that is a demonstration of elementary Christianity. Christ Jesus came to us, choosing to be with us - and this for our good. He chose the path of self-denial, dying in excruciating shame and degradation so that others might live. He calls us to serve the same way, not by lording it over others but by open-eyed death to self-interest, for the good of others. This stance is not a mask to be donned as a disguise at religious conventions, but the hallmark of Christian living. Paul understood the point and lived it out. His prayers for believers are nothing more than an extension of the same love that he bore them."