You Can Love Ministry and Miss Jesus

It was a kind of epic, life-or-death girl scout route. Jesus sent seventy-two of his disciples door-to-door in every Jewish town to declare that the King had brought good news of great joy.

He sent them with a warning, “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). And with a promise, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:7–8). That’s a remarkable list. Imagine if you did even one of those things for someone today.

  • Imagine if God healed someone’s cancer through you as you laid your hands on and prayed over them.
  • Imagine if, when you found the last loved one you lost, God brought them back to life through you. They weren’t dead anymore, but breathing, talking, and smiling, again.
  • Imagine if, when you touched someone with skin disease, God washed away the sores and rashes, the irritation and the pain.
  • Imagine if God used your voice to dispatch the demons harassing and tormenting someone.

Can you imagine something more exhilarating than being used by God to miraculously intervene in someone else’s emergency?

The Mountain Highs of Ministry

Luke writes, “The seventy-two returned with joy,” — exhilarated God used them in such ministry — “saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” (Luke 10:17). Any of us who have experienced God’s grace and strength moving into the lives of others through us, even in very small ways, can relate to a joy like that.

How does Jesus respond to their enthusiasm — their own kind of grown-up, post-summer-camp high? “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you” (Luke 10:18–19).

Satan’s end draws near. His power and influence teeter on the brink of extinction. In a matter of months, Jesus would go to the cross, where God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). Jesus saw Satan falling from his makeshift Wizard-of-Oz throne over this world.

And some of the most powerful signs of Satan’s demise are the victories, large and small, we experience in ministry. Jesus has given his Spirit to be with us — in us — entrusting us with authority in his name even over Satan, empowering us to move mountains in ministry.

Greater Pleasure, Deeper Joy

But Jesus didn’t stop there, with the disciples’ power and authority over evil. He went on. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

What is the greater miracle, that the Spirit removed a demon from another person’s body through you or that he removed you out of hell? Deep inside our pride-filled hearts, we want to believe the latter is not really that hard. We know we need help, but we think of ourselves more as a remodel, than an abandoned foreclosure. And it’s more appealing to our pride to marvel at what wonders God does through our efforts in ministry, than what he does for us, despite our weak and sinful effort.

That broken mentality is at the bottom of why I might find my ministry for Jesus more exhilarating than Jesus’s ministry to me.

As thrilling as it might be to be used by God in ministry, though, Jesus promises an even greater pleasure. We will not find our deepest joy in the work of our own hands in this age, even in the sanctified things we do for Jesus and his fame. No, God penned our deepest joy in a different ink and another world, in a book that promises us life long after all our ministry in this life is a sweet, but faint memory.

Nothing can compete with the happiness of being held for heaven — an eternity of immeasurable and undeserved happiness, a never-ending adventure that gets better with every turn.

Count Everything Loss Compared to Him

But why does Jesus use such strong language (“do not rejoice in this”) when both experiences — our own salvation and our ministry to others — are undeniably priceless and satisfying? The apostle Paul himself says to those he served in ministry, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19; also Philippians 4:1). Would Jesus rebuke Paul? Do not rejoice in this, Paul, that others have been saved, strengthened, and mobilized through your ministry.

No, Jesus is not rebuking all joy in ministry, but in the kind of joy in ministry that eclipses joy in Jesus. Beware of loving God more for what he does through you than for what he does for you.

Yes, Paul took great joy in his disciples, but he also says elsewhere, “Whatever gain I had,” — not just materially, but in ministry — “I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7–8).

Can we say that? Would we be as satisfied in Jesus if our ministry crumbled before us, if our gifts suddenly vanished, if our friendship and relationships never led to any tangible fruit, if our influence and fruitfulness all washed away tomorrow? Jesus says, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

You Cannot Serve Both God and Ministry

What captivates your heart more: what God does through you, or what he has done for you?

Where is your imagination more prone to wander: how God might choose to use you, or that he chose to save you in the first place?

When do you feel greater thrills of joy and fulfillment: when you consider your recent progress or triumphs in ministry, or when you consider the endless, ever-increasing, unearned inheritance waiting for you on the other side of all your work in this age?

“Do not rejoice in this,” — that you made so many friends in Jesus’s name, or sacrificed to help the poor, or were outspoken for the cause of justice, or even led so many to saving faith — “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Know the deepest, surest, highest pleasure anyone has ever had — deeper than the happiest and most romantic marriages, surer than the most majestic mountains or the most beautiful beaches, and higher than the greatest miracles or successes in ministry.

Know the joy of having your name hidden in God’s heart, and being guarded by him for something far better than anything you could have experienced or accomplished now (1 Peter 1:4–5). And know that the best way to prepare your hands for fruitful ministry in this age is not by being impressed with your giftings, but by being in awe of God’s grace.