If you are a Christian, you are called to ministry. It doesn’t matter if you work in a full-time vocational capacity or spend your work hours draining engine oil and rotating tires. As Martin Luther said, “We are all priests, as many of us as are Christians” (see 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:10). We are all called to minister to others — to point them to God and lead them to the throne of Christ.
Our Christian calling to minister to others is probably exciting to some and daunting to others. But for all of us, there is a simple, basic maxim which always applies to all of our efforts to lead others into greater faith and maturity in Christ:
You can’t lead someone well where you haven’t been yourself.
If the goal of Christian ministry is to lead others to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, you can’t do that if you aren’t taking the same journey with them. And sadly, that is just what many people attempt to do.
Secure Your Own Oxygen
Whenever you board a flight, you hear in the safety briefing, “First secure your own oxygen mask before helping those around you.” The reason is that if you neglect to get the air you need to live, you will be of no use in helping others who need assistance.
George Müller, who ran orphanages in England in the 1800s, said that the first and most important duty of his day was to get his heart happy in God through reading the Bible and praying — not to get others’ hearts happy, but his own. This was first and most important. Similarly, Robert Murray McCheyne, the beloved nineteenth-century pastor, once said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”
The point is this: if the great purpose of Christian ministry is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, then our first great purpose must be to continue growing in a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ. It is sad how many Christians go into full-time ministry and then rarely spend time feeding on God’s words outside of preparing to teach others.
Practically, at least, ministry has become more important to them than their personal intimacy with Christ. With their eyes on the second greatest commandment to love their neighbor, they have forgotten the first: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37–39). Such a life will not be happy for long.
Pour Out What You Take In
Not only that, but if you are not personally filled with God and his word, what exactly will you be pouring out to others when you preach to them or counsel them? When your personal walk with God ceases to be your number-one personal priority, you inevitably will minister more and more from your own strength and effort rather than Christ’s power within you (John 15:5–8; Colossians 1:28–29).
When Jesus came to visit Mary and Martha, each of the sisters responded differently (Luke 10:38–42). Martha threw herself into frantic work to prepare a feast for Jesus and those traveling with him. What a productive ministry! Look at how many people she was helping — what love she had! But that’s not how Christ saw it. He rebuked her for having her priorities out of order.
Mary is the one who received praise from the lips of the Savior that day. Her “ministry” of serving the guests was not as important as sitting at the feet of Christ to worship, to listen, to soak in his perfect word, to enjoy him. Like George Müller, the first and greatest thing for Mary was to get her heart happy in God. And Jesus commended her for it. She had chosen the good portion, he said. She had chosen the best part. She had chosen the one thing necessary in life (Luke 10:42).
Which portion are you choosing? If you are a Christian, your own friendship with God is your number-one daily priority. Eternal life is at stake. Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). But those who do abide in Jesus ask whatever they wish and know that God hears them (John 15:7). How would you like to redeem that promise for your ministry efforts?
Get Your Heart Happy in God
Then how do we abide in Jesus? We have his word in us (John 15:7). Read the word, remember the word, pray in light of the things you learn in the word. Taking in God’s word, and praying in line with the word, are some of the main ways we have communion with Jesus daily.
Then, when you go to minister to others — whether reading the Bible to your kids, or rebuking an employee with a bad attitude, or counseling a struggling church member — the word of God will fall more naturally from your lips and from your life. This is what you want.
If you are having a feast with God every day from his word, others will eat the leftovers from your table, even before you put the effort into preparing a meal for them. Most in our generation are spiritually starved because they waste so much time on TV, video games, and social media. If the majority of your free time goes there, you are probably being filled with things that will never truly fill the deepest longing of your soul.
If you will sprint after Christ with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, others will begin to follow you. Christian ministry is a matter of overflow. Daily, we ought to get time alone with Christ through his word and prayer. Then, from the overflow of our own delight in God, we are equipped and inclined to pour out that joy into our friends, family, and churches.