“If you and your ministry consist only of doctrinal correctness and brilliant communication and organizational savvy—all of which matter—but if that’s all you cultivate and develop and lay hold of, it will hollow you out.” — Ray Ortlund
Date: October 17, 2018
Event: 2018 TGC West Coast Conference
Recommended in this podcast:
- “The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way” by Francis Schaeffer in No Little People
- True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer
- Schaeffer on the Christian Life by William Edgar
- “The Most High a Prayer-Hearing God” by Jonathan Edwards
- George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival by Arnold Dallimore
- Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Iain Murray
- Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden
- Here I Stand by Roland Bainton
- Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown
Find more audio and video from the 2018 West Coast Conference on the conference media page.
Ray Ortlund: Our topic is “Rejoice and Suffer: Start Now to Finish Well in Ministry.” Now, in a way, I’m no more qualified than anybody else to talk about this because I haven’t finished yet. I might look like I’m finished. I do believe that I’m always five minutes away from totally ruining my life, and so were you.
We don’t want that, the Lord doesn’t want it to go that way. So our topic today is urgently relevant to every single one of us. Let me begin by… Now here’s what we’re gonna do. I mean, there’s so many things that could be said, right? I can’t begin to scratch the surface, but I’m gonna say basically three things, three recommendations. And then we’re gonna have Q&A, and we’ll make it conversational.
I would love to hear your thoughts. I would love to be instructed by you, what the Lord has taught you about enduring joyfully. So let me kick this off. I’m gonna read scripture, I’m gonna pray, and then I’ll offer my recommendations. We’ll do Q&A, and we’ll be out of here at 4:00. The Bible says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air, but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
Will you pray with me? Now, Lord, we offer this hour to you for your purpose of grace and glory. Enter into our thinking now and help us to encourage one another and spur one another on and all the more. That is why we’ve gathered. We ask it in Jesus name, Amen.
All right, number one, three recommendations.
Number one, you will finish well by discovering for yourself personal reality with the living God, that is, biblical spirituality. You will finish well by discovering for yourself personal reality with the living God, that is, biblical spirituality. Every generation must rediscover the gospel for itself and its own categories and terms, especially the personal spirituality that the gospel is designed to lead us into, the green pastures and still waters of real spirituality. That is, personal reality with the living God, that is real.
And if you will, by grace, find your way there and live there daily and stay there faithfully, you cannot lose your way. Now, if you and your ministry consist only of doctrinal correctness, and brilliant communication, and organizational savvy, all of which matter, but if that’s all you cultivate and develop and lay hold of, it will hollow you out. But if you will fix your aim on walking with God, then whatever else happens or doesn’t happen in your ministry, you will make a strategic contribution to the real battle being fought in the heavenlies in your generation, largely unseen by this world.
We do not need more ministers whose impact can be explained in terms of their own giftedness. We do need and will always need more ministers whose impact must be explained only as the hand of God. So go find out for yourself with your own hard-won insights how real Christianity actually works. Don’t take anybody else’s word for it, find out for yourself. It’s partly a matter of understanding and faith, partly a matter of courage.
But decide now that you will live as a man or woman of integrity. Decide now who will own your soul, not church politics, not even yourself, but God alone. For example, randomly chosen verses, wonderful verses, amazing verses. The Bible says, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
That’s not a denominational option, that’s just Christianity. What does that mean? What does that look like? And is there anything more important to you and to me than entering into and staying in that sacred fullness? Nobody else can figure this out for you.
Set your face like flint to be filled with the Holy Spirit firsthand yourself. Here’s another verse. Jesus said, “Abide in me and I in you.” What does that mean? We all have an intuitive sense of it. And that intuition is probably largely right. But to take that into a deep place, we have to stare at that for a while. We’ve got to think that through, how it actually works. How does it work for you?
Here’s another one. Paul said, “The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That’s his strategic MO for just constant daily life. Is there anything more important than you and I being able to say that about ourselves?
I live by faith on this day in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me, it’s how I navigate reality. I’m in a deep place. I’m in a good place. I have found that it’s where I live now. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all.” Why did you say that? Because we really don’t believe that. We think the flesh is very helpful, incredibly convenient, it should comes in handy.
But Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all.” The words that I have spoken to you, they are spirit, they are life. Jesus did not pit the word against the spirit that brought them together. The crucial categories, the life and death categories for us all are not political.
The crucial categories are not denominational, not ethnic. The make or break categories for us all are flesh versus spirit. Are those the categories with which you and I make our decisions? Jesus is saying something here within all-encompassing relevance for the whole of our lives. What Jesus says here it is the Spirit who gives life. What’s more foundational than that?
The flesh is no help at all. That can’t be compartmentalized. That can’t be marginalized. It’s a whole new way of doing life and moving through life moment by moment. We’ve got to think that through.
If you’ll think that through and find out what he meant and enter into that, you will go the distance. If you don’t think it through, if you treat it as just another verse, good luck. Here’s another one. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me,” this is amazing. “Whoever believes in me.” I love the word, “whoever.” I love the expansiveness, the all-inclusiveness of the word “whoever.”
I can fit inside the word “whoever,” you can. Jesus is not an elitist, he’s not a snub. He’s inviting the riffraff of this world, which is me, into the most sacred realities in the universe. Jesus democratizes sanctity, he has no standards at all. He’ll let us in, “whoever believes in me,” because he’s the decisive one.
As the Scriptures have said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” For crying out loud, in honesty, let’s ask ourselves, is that our experience? Jesus made us a promise. He has this for you and me by His grace.
But if you’re not satisfied that you have found this reality and tasted this, then ask yourself, and here I’m using the language and categories of Jonathan Edwards, is there something in your heart clogging and hindering the rivers of living water? What could it be?
Paul wrote, “Our gospel came to you…” That’s amazing in itself. He doesn’t say, “You heard the gospel.” He doesn’t say, “While you were sitting there listening to me preach the gospel.” He said, “Our gospel came to you…”
It was a visitation to the city Thessalonica. Something came to the city. It was an event. It was dateable. “Our Gospel came to you, not in Word only, but also empower and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”
In other words, the gospel came to them not just with argumentation important as it is, but also with the unarguable power of God. When Paul preached, the distance between Thessalonica and heaven got thin. And everyone knew God was there in a way he hadn’t been there the day before.
That’s what happens when the gospel comes, not in Word only, but also empowered in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. And Paul could write to them and he could say, “Guys, do you remember that day? They would all go, “Yes. I’ll never forget. We’ve never been the same since.”
That’s in the New Testament because that is our ministry. God said through the prophet Jeremiah, again, I just chose these verses in a stream of consciousness kind of random way. They’re representative of the glory that God is catching us up into.
God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “Call to me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things you do not know.” And the Apostle Paul wrapped it all up in one simple phrase, “In everything by prayer.” In other words, great and mighty things, which you do not know must refer to…
When we pray that way, we’re not asking God to bless our plans and our ideas. We’re asking God to come deconstruct our categories and do what only God can do. And we’re open. Isaiah 64, “When you came down, you did things that we did not expect.” I believe in a church that’s walking with God. Most Sundays are just sort of wonderful, amazing.
The Lord was with us today, wasn’t that great? Okay, Monday we go to work. Most Sundays are like that, but then there are spikes along the way when the Lord comes down and just surprises everybody. If everything about your church is pre-planned by you, when did you lose your way?
And when he says, “in everything by prayer,” he’s saying that prayer is not… It’s rather a pervasive presence in everything we do. It’s just part of our rhythm. We can’t imagine going into ministry without prayer in everything. Francis and Edith Schaeffer had the courage to face this question.
And I don’t say this to, I’m no, you know, world champion pray-er, I feel like a complete beginner, but I know what the Bible says. Francis and Edith Schaeffer had the courage to face this question. They had a conversation one evening. And in her book, “The Tapestry,” Edith summarizes it like this.
Francis said to her, “Edith, I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer were removed from the Bible. I don’t mean just ignored but actually cut out, disappeared. I wonder how much difference that would make?” And she writes, “We concluded it would not make much difference in many board meetings, committee meetings, decisions, and activities.”
Maybe you’re struck as I am that we could go on for hours looking at scriptures that put out before us these glories from above. I just don’t hear us talking much about this. We talk about many important things, but what is more important than our personal reality with the living God?
Francis Schaeffer said in his book, “True Spirituality,” he said, “As I travel the world, and I meet Christians from many different backgrounds and different locations, the one question that keeps popping up is, ‘I have lost my personal walk with God. How do I get back?'” There’s nothing more important. The whole book of Acts is a story of the risen Christ pouring out again and again and again fresh power, and blessing.
And as long as the book of Acts is in the book, the book we call authoritative, how can we settle for less? We need to be talking about this. John Knox explains the Scottish Reformation in these terms. I love this. “God poured out His Spirit on simple men in great abundance.” God wants to give that to us.
If all we have is sound doctrine and personal sincerity and promotional savvy in our ministries, our efforts, however impressive, will leave the world as it is because the world already has convictions, and sincerity, and brilliance. But the world does not have the felt presence of the risen Christ, and we do.
If He will walk, we will walk in His fullness. We will do more than last. We will bear fruit that will last forever. Here are a couple of recommendations to go deeper. I’ve got four. And three of them have to do with Francis Schaeffer because he has taught me more about this than anyone else. Francis Schaeffer’s sermon “The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way.” It’s in the book published by Crossway, “No Little People.”
It’s a series of sermons. And in that volume, “No Little People,” there is a sermon, “The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way.” It is actually the most important thing outside the Bible I’ve ever read. It is never far from my mind. At Immanuel Nashville, we have all staff and leaders read that, we discuss it. It is near to us.
I commend it to you, “The Lord’s work in the Lord’s Way.” Because here’s what we might think, “I’m doing the Lord’s work.” I mean, come on, get off my back, right? And I’m kind of good at it, I’m getting better at it. That’s not doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way. Doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way means moment by moment, real-time, we’re turning to him in our need, opening ourselves up to him, trusting in Him, letting ourselves be redirected, and reconnected, and refilled by him, adjusting to him in endless mid-course corrections and finding ourselves doing more and better than we ever would by our own skills because it is God.
Doing the Lord’s work our own way is not doing the Lord’s work, it’s doing the devil’s work better than any adult bookstore, but maybe even worse.
Second source. Francis Schaeffer, “True Spirituality.” That is, the word classic is overused. That’s a classic. Little paperback book, “True Spirituality.” And here’s the amazing thing, and he makes this point explicit in the book.
When we even use the word spirituality in a Christian context, we might think of upper echelon, second-level elite mysteries that only the favorite few are allowed into. That is not what Francis Schaeffer meant. When he talked about true spirituality, he meant authentic Christianity.Christianity is spirituality.
Thirdly, William Edgar teaches at Westminster in Philadelphia, “Schaeffer on the Christian Life,” Crossway has these wonderful series of theologians on the Christian life. When I read William Edgar “Schaeffer on the Christian Life,” I came to the end and I felt, “I needed this.”
The subtitle is “Countercultural Spirituality,” which of course, I automatically love as a child of the ’60s. You know, it’s funny ’60s humor doesn’t even work anymore. That’s how old I am. It’s amazing.
Fourth and last, Jonathan Edwards. This is a sermon you can download as a PDF on the internet. Jonathan Edwards, “The Most High a Prayer-Hearing God.” “The Most High s Prayer-Hearing God.” That sermon is on Psalm 65:2. “Oh, you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come.”
And Edwards notices, “O you who hear prayer.” In other words, hearing prayer, receiving prayer, answering prayer, attending to our prayers is so material to who God is, is not just something God does, it’s “Oh you who here prayer.” It’s his very identity.
The day he stops attending to our prayers is the day he ungods himself, which isn’t gonna happen. He is the prayer-hearing God. Those are resources. Point number two. The first one is about our personal reality with God.
Point number two, you will finish well by walking through life with a small group of trustworthy, faithful friends who know what’s… This is a long one, I’ll read it twice. Who know what’s really going on, and what you’re really facing, and how you’re not doing well, and you know them and love them and support them with the same vulnerability.
Let me do that again. You will finish well by walking through life. Here’s a life goal. I will not lose one more friend. People are not disposable. I wanna keep my friends forever and I will refuse to let them go.
You will finish well by walking through life with a small group of trustworthy, faithful friends who know what’s really going on and what you’re really facing, and how you’re not doing well, and you will know them and love them and support them with the same vulnerability. Now I hesitate to reduce faithfulness over the long haul to one word, but I’m actually tempted in this case. And the word is honesty. Stay honest.
Honesty with God as the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, moment by moment, and honesty with friends whom we allow into our personal interiority. And the true test of our vertical honesty with the Lord is our horizontal honesty with our steadfast friends. I love how Shakespeare put it. My dad pointed this out to me. Shakespeare said, “Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried that is tested and proven real friends, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.”
If we will walk in New Testament Christian fellowship with precious friends who know there’s got to be somebody in your city who knows what’s really going on. And then you get together with those friends, get together often, keep your Bibles open, stay devoted to prayer for one another, I can almost predict, you will end well.
In 1738, right at the front end of the First Great Awakening, John Wesley and Peter Boulder got together to draw up what we would call ground rules for their small groups. They looked at James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” And they made that verse actionable on a weekly basis. Brilliant.
Here are just two of their ground rules. One, that they will meet together once in a week to confess their faults one to another and pray for one another that they may be healed. And here’s number 10. So they’re sitting in a circle, right, small group. And they would go right around the circle that each one in order, speak as freely, plainly, and concisely as he can the real state of his heart with his several temptations and deliverances since the last time of meeting.
So it isn’t whining. With his several temptations and deliverances, here are my problems and here’s how Jesus is helping me. I’m not out of the woods on this one yet, but this week, let’s see, Tuesday evening I got some insight. I got some clarity on that. So every week, real-time catching up with each other on this the real state of our hearts.
Nobody flourishes in isolation, but who wouldn’t flourish in a circle of trustworthy friends who cherish you, you cherish them, and you get together regularly to talk about how the Lord is actually dealing with you. That’s biblical Christianity. Who knows the real state of your heart? If the answer is no one, then you are already on track for disaster.
But if you belong to that circle of Christian friends who live in openness, and honesty, and prayer, and gentle counsel… By the way, personally, I don’t like the word accountability. We’re all accountable together to the Lord. Accountability has baggage, it’s freighted with connotations that might allow for a group of people kind of beating up on one in their number.
No one is helped by being cornered, pressured, and shamed. So in my mind, I just bracket out the whole category of accountability and I’d rather speak in terms of gentle counsel. Openness, honesty, prayer, gentle counsel.
If you’re living in that reality with trusted friends and you’ve grappled them to your soul with hoops of steal, you are gonna end well. You’re gonna have a great life. Jesus will be there.
In 2011, at Immanuel Nashville, we… The truth is, guys, the best things about Immanuel, we did not mastermind. The mediocre things were our ideas. And the best things that people talk about and notice, we just stumbled into them. And once we were in those green pastures and beside the still waters, we kind of looked around and thought, “This is wonderful. How did we get here?” The Lord did it.
And I’m minding my own business preaching the gospel. And we come to 2011. In September of 2011, come to 1 John 1:7, it was sort of our wardrobe in Narnia. We’ve never looked back. Immanuel Nashville is a church. It’s an unshockable gentle fellowship where seriously flawed people who are alarmed at themselves and afraid of what they might do this afternoon can come in and get a new start. And it was this verse, “But if we walk in the light,’ that’s honesty, “As he is in the light,” he’s not hard to find. He’s not avoiding us. God is out in the obvious place, we tend to hang back in the shadows of denial.
But when we step out into the light, God is there waiting for us with open arms. If we walk in the light of honesty, and vulnerability, and openness, and confession as he is in that light, that’s where God is, two things happen. One, we have fellowship with one another.
You know what it’s like when you’re at a dinner party, and everything’s pleasant, and the food is great, and the conversation is fun. And then somebody gets real. And instantly, everybody sitting around the table realizes, “Oh, we just went to a new place, we had new ground rules now, there’s a whole new understanding in the room right now, we can all open up.” That is fellowship.
When we walk in the light as he is in the light, two things happen. Number one, we have fellowship with one another, the walls fall down, we find out how much we have in common. The sympathy flows back and forth. Second thing that happens, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
This is how we actually experience and enter into repeatedly the cleansing blood of Jesus. It’s no longer theory, it’s our experience, our consciences. It feels so good to get clean again.
How does that happen? In a circle of friends who are walking in the light in real fellowship, Jesus is there. Guys, we don’t conquer our sins by heroic willpower, we just confess them to death. If we wanna go the distance, we have to give up our impressive appearances.
And there must be some people who know the real loss. That’s where the Lord is. Number three, you will finish well by drawing inspiration from the saints of the past. You will finish well by drawing inspiration from the saints of the past.
My dad taught me this. Because we’re limited, and in some ways, even blinded by our historical moment, so we need to get out of our historical moment by reading the biographies of Christians in other times, in other places to see God’s, see the Bible, see human need, the gospel. In this cause that we’re serving to see it all with new eyes.
The present moment is a crushingly small and trivializing prison of confinement. Escape the prison through good books, especially great Christian biographies. You will learn, not only about people, but also, you’ll learn good theology and spirituality, and courage, and suffering, and endurance, because there’s not one significant Christian story that doesn’t include significant suffering.
And you’ll see these powerful realities with new categories that your peers cannot provide for you. Because we’re all stuck in the present moment, but we can get free. Here’re some biographies that have marked me deeply. I love these books. I can’t imagine my life without these books.
One, Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, two volumes, Banner of Truth Truth. Oh my goodness, there should be a warning label on the cover of those books. If you’re content with your ministry, do not read Whitefield. But if you yearn to see the Holy Spirit moving in power in your generation, let Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Whitefield mess with you.
He just tells the story of the First Great Awakening. It’ll wreck you in the most wonderful way. Secondly, Iain Murray, “Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography.” And the next one I’m gonna recommend is George Marsden, “Jonathan Edwards: A Life.” They’re both about Edwards, but they’re different. Murray, both biographers deeply respect Jonathan Edwards.
They’re not snarky. Murray is, I think, insufficiently critical of Edwards, but he is so insightful about Edwards as a pastor and as a Christian, and Edwards in the experience of revival in the First Great Awakening. Marsden is better at locating Edwards in his historical moment and how reality made sense to people at that time. And the third chapter until the end is a summary of Edward’s theology and it’s one of the finest chapters I’ve ever read about anything, it’s amazing.
Number four, Roland Bainton, “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther,” because Martin Luther is both steering and hilarious. He is so blunt, he is so raw. He’s so human, so relatable, fascinating, but… For example, I did not know before I read that that one of the ways they advanced the Reformation in Germany was they came up with cartoons, drawings that lampooned Roman Catholic theology.
And they carpet-bomb Germany with these inexpensively-produced cartoons, making fun, showing how dopey some of these medieval practices were. People found it hilarious. They got the gospel out that way. Brilliant.
Finally, Peter Brown, “Augustine of Hippo.” I wish Peter Brown understood Christian conversion as a more spiritual reality, a more miraculous reality. I think that’s under emphasized here. But this is a masterpiece of locating a significant man in his historical moment, and helping us understand what shaped him, how he got where he was, and what he produced.
There are unforgettable passages in Peter Brown, “Augustine of Hippo.” If you read that book, and you don’t like it, you say, “Ray, that was a waste of time,” I will refund your money personally. Well, I’ve got some more things I want to say, but I would much rather listen to you. So we’re going to dump the rest of this. Let’s do Q&A now. We have two guys here with mics. Thank you for serving us, guys.
The question is, how has the Lord taught you about going the distance, making it through a hard time, enduring faithfully, and going deep with the Lord? What has he taught you? Let’s talk about right now. Who’s first? Let’s not wait. We have no time to lose. Who’s first? Yes, right here. Come on. Just jump on deck. If you’d like to iterate, why don’t you move down to the front row, take a seat and your next in line, okay? So just to… Yeah, okay.
Male Participant 1: Romans 5:5 for me. I was praying that God would pour out His love into my heart by His Holy Spirit and He’ll do it. And he does it. And it’s those moments that you’re talking about the beginning that we’re being real with him and telling him that we need him and then waiting on him. And that’s what keeps you going because you’re just trusting him because you can’t trust anything else. And it’s just when he fills your heart with his love, you’re content.
Ray: Let me ask you a question. What pushed you to that place because we don’t go there without some kind of nudge of an experiential nature?
Male Participant 1: More joy. I just wanted more joy in ministry and in my life, and wanting to know him more. I have also a pastor friend who’s kind of set that kind of pace for me too, so it’s a lot of his influence as well.
Ray: Oh, that’s so great. Scotty Smith calls that a gospel-posse. Every pastor needs a gospel-posse, gospel pacesetters who stir us. Wonderful, thank you. Romans 5:5. Man, why didn’t I include Romans 5:5? Thank you.
Male Participant 2: Having a friend who you can be an encouragement to. So like you’re pouring out encouragement to someone, and that person can also speak the gospel to you and encourage you when you are real ugly, and you’re going through a lot of pain and a lot of confusion. That is the way the Lord has sustained me through a really, really difficult dark season.
Ray: Do you have a friend with whom you have an agreement that on a regular interval, you’ll get together and talk things through?
Male Participant 2: Yeah.
Ray: Just out of curiosity, how often you get together?
Male Participant 2: Well, he doesn’t live in my city anymore. But we talk once a week. Yeah.
Ray: Okay, good. Thank you. I’ve got a guy in town and we meet often. And I remember one particular occasion when I was kind of bellyaching about something that I had been bellyaching about immediately time before and I was struck by that. And then he asked me the killer question. “Ray, in that difficult situation, where’s God? Direct hit. That was what I needed. Immediately, it became clear. I said, “Oh, oh, great. Everything just got better.” It is amazing to me how I can delete God from my considerations and I sink into anguish. And I needed a friend to help me back to sanity. Yes.
Male Participant 3: I’d like to answer the question that you posed, and then ask a practical question as well. But first, I’m just so thankful for what the spirits put on your heart to share with us yesterday and today. It’s been wonderful…
Ray: Thank you.
Male Participant 3: …getting replenished and vitalized. I’ve been keeping journals 10 or 15 years, but not spending much time going back and reading them. Last week, I took a day and I went to a conference center. And I spent the whole day trying to make it through them. And I only made it through two of them. And they’re thin, you know, journals, not big thick books, or anything like that.
And it was so wonderful to see God’s providence looking back that I couldn’t see in the midst of the hardships I was facing. You look back and you see you’re in a desperate time, but then new names start appearing right after that. Some people move out, but God rolls other people in. And you go back and you read it and your heart just gets full. You see God’s faithfulness. It’s not only journaling, but making sure you take time to go read them.
Ray: Very good.
Male Participant 3: And if I can ask a practical question. I love to read, I get filled when I read. I’m a painfully slow reader. And I mean, a list of books and I can’t wait to dive into them. I’m interested in how you spread out your week with sermon prep, you know, then just reading for your own soul. Apart from sermon prep, I know there’s value for that in your soul. But just how you go about your reading?
Ray: Being a slow reader might be an advantage because your mind demands of you that you go deep. So rather than a jet ski skimming on the surface, your mind is insisting on going into a deep dive. That’s an advantage. And it is frustrating because the list of books, the stack of books, you know, on my desk just gets higher.
And I keep buying them, I can’t stop. It’s embarrassing, but stewarding each session of reading well is the most important thing. Let your mind be the mind God gave you, and don’t be mad at your mind, roll with it, go deep. It’s obvious God has made of you a profound man. You just keep going. What my week looks like, usually, just total chaos.
I thought by now I would, you know, have everything figured out and I just don’t. Pastoral ministry for me is like river rafting. It’s totally out of control. I never know what’s around the next bend. And I’m just trying to hang on and not drown.
My dad ran into A. W. Tozer once, and here’s an insight, at the bookstore at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago like 1960. And he had been reading A. W. Tozer’s columns for years because he found him so compelling, and so thoughtful, and deep. And he asked him, “Dr. Tozer, how do you come up with quotations from patristics and medieval thinkers, and reformers . . . and so forth? How do you do this?” And he said, “Well, Ray, I always have a book with me.” And he had one with him right then. He always literally carried a book around to fill the moments in the spaces between other obligations with reading, with thought insight, marking things down. That works. And I’ve tried to practice that. Thanks. Yeah.
Male Participant 4: It’s amazing what having a heart attack at 47 can do for your view of God and Scripture, and that’s what happened to me about six weeks ago. And it brings to just new perspective on God’s word. And shortly after I read Hebrews 12 for hundreds of times probably, but these words took on a very different meaning.
In verse 5, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure God is treating you as sons. And I’ve never like connecting with the love of God in a very experiential way. It’s always been something a little distant for me like I don’t understand the theological concepts of Jesus dying for me all of that.
But realizing that this was God’s doing for my good, he was treating me as a son, was I think pretty life-altering in the middle of all of this. And just seeing hardship throughout life and ministry and then this at first going, “God, what in the world are you doing?” But then slowly over these weeks, my wife and I together coming to understand this is the Lord’s doing and it’s good has been pretty amazing. I don’t think I’ve arrived yet, it’s fully grasping all this, but the Lord’s been good and kind.
Ray: Yeah, thank you. He doesn’t treat us as experiments. He doesn’t treat us as projects. He doesn’t treat us as problems to be fixed. He treats us as His children, as the family members around the table. This is so wonderful. God is treating you as sons. He chastens every son whom he receives in the chastening.
What’s really happening is you’re pointing out he’s really gathering us into his arms, he’s receiving us, he’s saying, “Come on in here, let’s get close.” Isn’t that amazing? In the midst of a heart attack, two realities are occurring simultaneously. You’re in a medical emergency that can be perceived by the unaided human eye, and you’re in a spiritual embrace that only your heart can discern, your inner being. That is what only God can do. Thank you. Yeah, who’s next? Go ahead.
Male Participant 5: I was gonna say, I’m an engineer by training. And so when things are not working like I expected, and I’ve had 1,000 conversations in my head about what I should do, or what are these, or why didn’t this work, or whatever, at some point, I get tired of all that. And I always find myself coming back to John 6 when Jesus said, “Well, what are you guys gonna do?” And Peter said, “Where else are we gonna go? You have the words of eternal life.” And it’s not rocket science, but I do find I always get there. Where else is there to go? I know that there is no place else to go.
Ray: Amen. And is it sweet of the Lord and humbled of the Lord when they said to him, “Well, we don’t have any better options. Where else have we gotta go?” He says, “Come on in.” I love that. The word is so good. Thank you. Yeah.
Male Participant 6: Well, to answer three things to answer that question. One, keeping the perspective of who we are in light of who he is. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he might exalt you at the proper time, casting your anxieties upon him.
And so the number one perspective, two, having a lifelong mate that shares a value of ministry together, we’ve been married for 42 years. And in those 42 years, we’ve done ministry together. And you’re talking about a best friend in the city, having a wife that can speak truth into your life, and being open to hearing that, and praying together and spending time together.
And then the third thing I would say, is having a clear calling. For me, when I want a waiver, I come back to what God’s called me to. We don’t talk a lot about calling today, but some people viewed as a job, as I’m gonna do this for a while. But for me to last over the long haul, it’s been remembering that God called me and that call hasn’t…it’s changed, but it’s still the same. And so for me, it’s a continual reminder when God has anointed you for ministry, you know, am I supposed to unanoint myself and say, “No, you know, financially or socially or whatever. Now, I’m moving on to another thing.” No, I have to stay faithful to that call. Those are the three things.
Ray: When Art just said those three points, Art, you get the MVP Award for the day. That was outstanding, very insightful. Thank you.
Male Participant #7: I’ll just build on what the brother said that had the heart attack. And thanks for sharing that. And thank you for your time this afternoon. When we were missionaries, God taught me, and that’s continued as a pastor here in Southern California, that discouragement never comes from God. It may be inevitable, it may be completely understandable, I may be exhausted, we may be in genuine family or ministry crisis, but it’s never my heavenly Father that is discouraging me.
I’m the father of two sons. I have discouraged them many times, but that’s only because I’m selfish, and stupid, and sinful, and I get it wrong. I’ve never intentionally, because I love them, I’ve never set out on a Tuesday to say, “Today, I’m really gonna ruin my kid’s life. I’m going to make him think the worst of himself. I’m gonna take his hope away.”
So whenever those things are happening in my mind, it might be physical, it might be the flesh, it might be the devil, or it might be all three, but it’s never my Heavenly Father rubbing his hands together in heaven saying, “Good, he’s really feeling crushed, because he’s a burden bear.” And that passage in Hebrews that our brother shared couldn’t say it any better. But that idea, I think it’s all through scripture. So thank you.
Ray: Wonderful. What is your name?
Male Participant #7: My name? Bruce Garner.
Male Participant #7: Yes, sir.
Ray: That’s very meaningful to me personally, here’s why. Sometimes in physical fatigue and unbelief, I’m just overwhelmed with feelings of futility and failure. And my wife is empathetic and kind for a while. And then when she’s had enough, she says, “Ray, these dark thoughts that I’m hearing from you, is that Jesus talking to you?” That always clarifies the situation. That’s so helpless, I snap out of it. Thank you. Yes, of course. What a wonderful insight. Thank you so much. Thank you. Yes.
Female Participant 1: I am a woman in amongst of many, many, men here. You kind of alluded just now to how your wife is able to strengthen you and help you persevere and speaks truth into your life in this path of ministry. And It’s very difficult as a wife of a pastor, as someone who is desperate to help him and to serve him and to pray for him. You’ve alluded a little bit to how your wife has been there to help you fight the good fight as well. What are some more ways that she does that that we as women can support and pray for our husbands in ministry?
Ray: Thank you so much. And thank you for being heroic for the cause of the gospel. It’s striking to me that at the end of Ephesians 5, Paul says, “Let a husband love his wife, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” That’s not what I expect him to say. I expect him to say he loves her, she loves him for good, right? But he says the wife respects her husband. Why? Because deep in the heart of every Christian husband are two realities.
One, a sense of destiny that is so deep and so personal, and so real. It’s actually hard to talk about. A sense of calling, a sense of mission, a yearning that my life would count. The other reality is a profound self-doubt. I will fail, I will not do this. I will find a way to drop the ball. I will fail on the five-yard line when I’m in the red zone, and I’m so close to the touchdown.
I will fumble the ball, I will fail. And so here’s this complication inside a Christian man. And a wife who understands what’s going on inside him, these two forces against each other, a sense of destiny and a sense of failure and weakness, she will speak into that and she will buy respect by communicating it with her words and attitudes, “I respect you, I believe in you. You, sir, are a gospel beast. Go in the name of the Lord.”
By communicating that confidence in her husband, he will be empowered, he will be filled, he will walk out the door that morning ready to go climb that mountain for the glory of God. You are very powerful. As you understand what’s at stake inside your husband and by God’s grace for His glory, spend your life speaking into that. God is able, God is with you. Don’t hold back and I’m with you. And we’re not gonna be perfect. That’s right. Jesus died for imperfect people.
That’s not a crisis. It’s not a crisis to Jesus. It’s not gonna be a crisis to us. Here we go. Let’s go. And that would be powerful. Your husband will accomplish far more because of you than he ever could have without you. Thank you. All right. Guys, our time is gone. I’m sorry. What a privilege to be with you. Thank you for these wonderful insights and thoughts. And may God bless you too as you serve the Lord together. Let’s pray. Lord, we put ourselves in your hands.
We pray that our lives will be naturally supernatural, that by being real human beings and ordinary as we are, nevertheless, the power of the Holy Spirit will be in us and upon us. Lord, you said that we would be clothed with power from on high, we ask you for it in our generation. I asked you to give that gift to each of your servants here in publicly obvious ways for your glory. I ask it in Jesus name and for his sake. Amen.