At what cost ministry?

1 Thessalonians 2:1-9

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed- God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

My conversations with God, the ways that I have been formed in my thinking and believing, have rarely been dramatic. Rather than an explosive bang, my own spiritual formation has been more like the ages-long carving of a canyon by a patient river. When people ask for my salvation testimony, I tend to struggle in my own mind with what to tell. I do not have a lightning flashing, blinding experience like Paul. My story is not that of an inspiring former addict (to whatever) who was mysteriously and immediately freed. My health was not in dire jeopardy with a miraculous healing that made me see the light. No, my story has been of slow, pain-staking formation, from my earliest memories on. I tell of the time in my parents’ bedroom when I announced I was ready and how I later prayed a prayer and went under some water. But reflection and honestly makes me realize that that is not really the best expression of the story. I would have to tell of endless prayers of my mom and some of her friends, of conversations they had about me before I was old enough to understand conversations, it would include a toy piano, trips to the mountains of northwestern North Carolina, and hours on Sunday mornings at a piano at home (rather than Sunday school and a sermon at church). These things have been much more formative and informative to who I am as a Christian and a Christian minister than a prayer when I was eight years old. Frankly, I am not so certain that the memory of that event is as real as my talking about it has made it.

However, I clearly remember “the call.” The moment of utter surrender when all other wishes and desires and interests suddenly melted away and all that remained was a clear understanding of what was most useful for my life. It was not specific vocation (that has changed repeatedly over the years), but clarity of purpose. And I have not wavered since then. I was 18, a senior in high school, at Christmas break, and I had applied to one college (rather than the several or even dozens others in my class had sent off). When the decision for what my major would be rang clear in my head, I understood (and understand) Paul’s words that we do not speak (or act or move or do anything) to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. I love because he loves. I sacrifice because he sacrifices. I witness because he would have me witness. I work in a church because it is where people come to find him, and he loves people. And would do anything in pursuit of honoring and loving him.

I don’t know why, but today I am reminded. I am so in awe that God loves me and would use me. And I will do anything for him – at whatever cost.

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One thought on “At what cost ministry?

  1. Amen!

    And as much as we wish salvation were a once-in-a-lifetime, single moment of blinding transformation… it’s much harder to envision salvation as everything that happened before and after the prayer that eight-year-old said.

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