Do you mind if we drive around a bit in the Word? I’d like to show you some points of interest that have changed the way I understand ministry. If you need to set your GPS, I’ll tell you that we’re going to start in 2 Timothy where we’ll pick up a three-letter key. Then we’ll stop in Luke 9 for a map and we’ll stop for gas in Matthew 8. That’s where someone is going to ask us: “Have you forgotten how big?”(Remember that question.) And so you won’t have to ask, “Are we there yet?,” we’ll be ready to come home to the Holy Spirit when we hear Jesus telling his disciples to stay right where they are until they receive power from on high.
In the New International Version of 2 Timothy 4:5, I found a three-letter word that seems remarkably poignant for ministry. In this passage, of course, Paul is talking to his friend, Timothy, who he’s mentoring in the ministry and he says this: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
Until recently, the word I’ve always latched onto in that passage is the word,“evangelist.” My first semester at Asbury, a wonderful evangelist from Australia (Alan Walker) came to speak in chapel. And I went home that night and told my husband, “I want to be an evangelist.” Of course, I had no clue what I was saying. At the time, I thought evangelism was preaching a good message and giving an effective altar call. Or possibly memorizing the four spiritual laws or the Roman Road or working the Evangicube. Or putting tracts in a public bathroom or adding a line to the end of every email that says, “If you love Jesus, forward this to ten friends.”
(I knew a guy who was a genius at asking the ultimate evangelism question – you know the one – “If you die tonight, do you know where you’ll go?” He worked out at the Y every morning, and he said he’d usually wait until he was in the sauna alone with someone – nothing but towels on – and that’s when he’d pop the question.)
I thought that was evangelism and while that may be part of it (though probably not the more effective part), Paul challenges me to think deeper. Here in his letter to Timothy, Paul challenges Timothy to discharge ALL the duties of his ministry. That’s the word that jumped out at me: all. What a loaded three-letter word! It feels like that line at the end of a job description— the one that says, “other duties as assigned.” You don’t find out until you take the job that the “other duties as assigned” take about forty hours of your work week.
What Paul is trying to tell his first-century audience and also me is that evangelism is a package deal. It is preaching and acts of mercy. Word and works. To do the work of an evangelist, we have to discharge all the duties of ministry. Thomas Fuller, a Puritan, once said that the words of the wise are like nails fastened by masters, but our examples are like the hammers that drive them in. Word and works. In other words, what good is a bucketful of nails if you’ve got no hammer?
I think I found those “other duties as assigned” in the first couple of verses of Luke, chapter 9. This is where Jesus sends out the twelve to do evangelism, and here’s how he defines that little word. Luke 9:1-2 says, When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
So when Jesus gave normal people the power and authority to do evangelism, here’s how he defined that little word “all.” He sent them to drive out demons, cure diseases, preach the Kingdom of God, and heal the sick. Because this is how Jesus believed the Kingdom of God could best be explained. Word and works. Just like Jesus did it; that’s the job description.
To flesh that out, go back to Matthew, chapter 8. This is an amazing chapter, actually — a fireworks display of healing. Right off the bat, Jesus heals a man with leprosy, and by touching him, he heals him all the way through. Then he meets up with a centurion who came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith…Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour. (Matthew 8:5-10, 13)
Now, contrast this guy’s faith with something that happens just a few paragraphs down in the same chapter of Matthew. They’ve been healing people and casting out demons and now Jesus has crawled in a boat just to get away from the crowd for a bit. To take a nap. The followers and Jesus are all there in a boat crossing a lake when a furious storm crops up and scares the heck out of his disciples. Jesus is sleeping, of course, so they wake him and that’s when he says, “Oh, you of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
Picture this: On one hand we’ve got a handful of guys who make their living evangelizing and they are scared to death and faithless. On the other hand we’ve got your average Joe Centurion who actually knows nothing for sure, except his need. And the power of God.
I understand these people better than I want to admit. I know what it means to become so focused on the work and the politics and the systems and the next big book that’s going to tell us how to really do it right, that I can forget what Jesus is capable of and why he’s filled me with the Holy Spirit and what he’s called me to do. Somehow (I’m sure this is not the correct theological language), it seems like the Spirit leaks out. Or maybe I push him out. I know it has happened when I find myself telling God how big my storm is, rather than telling my storm how big my God is.
Does this sound familiar?
My daughter says I can trace every sermon point back to a scene from Joe Vs. the Volcano. I don’t know if that’s true, but there is this scene in Joe vs. the Volcano. It comes after they’ve survived a typhoon and a shipwreck and they are stranded on a raft in the middle of the Pacific. They’ve been through so much, and now Joe is as close to death as it gets. And that’s when he remembers. He is on his raft facing the moon as it rises over the horizon of the water. It is huge and just there before him, almost as if it could be touched. Joe is delirious, and for him this moon is something supernatural — perhaps even God himself. As the moon rises, Joe sinks slowly to his knees, places both arms in the air and says, “Thank you. Thank you for my life. I forgot …how …BIG …”
How easy it is, in the midst of ministry, to forget how big. All the hoops we jump through and all the personalities we juggle can sap the joy right out. Before we know it, we’ve forgotten just what it is we signed on for, and just how big our God is. I am embarrassed to admit that I probably spend more time worrying about the life of my computer battery than I do about the eternal life of my Muslim friends. Maybe you can relate?
Have you forgotten how big? I wonder how it might change the spiritual atmosphere if we could all just put our hands in the air and confess together, “God, I forgot how big!”
My experience after fifteen years of ministry and the start of two congregations is that the only thing standing between me and complete burn-out is not success, but the power of God. It is the power of God that saves me from myself. And make no mistake about it: until we get the bigness of God, we won’t be qualified to discharge the “other duties as assigned.” All the duties of ministry. To cast out demons, cure diseases, proclaim the Kingdom, heal the sick. Because that’s what they are hungry for, these people who come limping into our faith communities. And clearly, this is the work of ministry Jesus expected of his followers.
But here’s the shame of it. The very things Jesus sent his followers out to do are the very things we’ve lost faith in. In fact, our culture has come to accept an hour in church and a blessing before meals as the center of the Christian experience, while driving out demons and curing diseases…well, that’s just weird. But folks, when I read in my Bible what Jesus did and then read what he teaches followers to do, this is what I hear: that followers have power and authority to drive out demons, cure diseases, proclaim the coming Kingdom and heal things that destroy people’s lives. This is the center of the gospel, and the power of it!
I once visited with a pastor who serves a downtown church. We talked about a mission center he was asking his church to develop for their community and he said, “Some of our people don’t get what we’re doing. And I tell them, ‘If you knew Jesus better, you’d get it.’” He went on. “I’m trying to get my people to meet Jesus, so they’ll get it.” Because when we get Jesus, we get what it means to follow him. And as we follow, we find ourselves more and more in the company of the broken-hearted, the blind, the poor, the prisoners — even those oppressed by demonic forces. People who are hungry for healing, and who need spiritual leaders who have a heart for healing — not because we’re that big-hearted, but because God is that big.
This is where most of us need to glance at our spiritual GPS. We understand the destination, but how do we get there from here? Jesus maps it out plainly to his followers in the last chapter of Luke, even using Paul’s powerful three-letter word. There he is, standing with his friends after the resurrection and he says, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’” (and then Jesus says …listen to this) “You are witnesses of all these things. And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But (and this is the punchline) stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” (Luke 24:46-49, NLT)
Here’s the secret: don’t leave here until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven. This seems too simplistic to be enough, but it is a critical piece. The fact is, the Christian Church has met its quota of pastors who can get the bulletin printed, follow an order of worship and preach three points and a poem. But the Kingdom Church is starving — and the fields are white — for Spirit-filled followers who are willing to do all the work of an evangelist.
Whether you are worn out or burned out, you owe it to yourself and your sense of call to find a place of prayer, then shake the gates of heaven asking for the Holy Spirit to come and fill you, or fill you again. Don’t leave that place until your heart aches again for those who are hungry for healing and waiting for someone to come, who brings with them Holy-Spirit power to cast out demons, cure diseases, proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick. Don’t let go of the hem of Jesus’ garment you until you’ve received that. After all, what good is a bucketful of nails if you’ve got no hammer?