Serving God in humility
Serving God is one of the greatest privileges of the believer. We serve an awesome God, and the blessings in doing so are enormous. But it isn’t always easy. At times God’s servant can find that ministry can become a burden and personally unrewarding. The problems can seem much greater than the rewards. And serving God in humility is even more difficult, especially when conflicts or opposition come.
It’s at these times that Christian workers and leaders get discouraged. Some may be tempted to give up ministry altogether. Reports have come out that more Christian leaders, pastors, and missionaries are quitting their ministries than ever before. Paid ministers may look for a more attractive and rewarding profession with better pay. Others may seek another ministry or position that provides more public exposure, popularity, or fame.
Baruch the Scribe
If this describes your situation, consider the story of Baruch.
Baruch was the prophet Jeremiah’s trusted and true scribe. His service to God was to transcribe all God’s fearful and ominous judgments coming on Judah and Israel as told to Jeremiah. Baruch had a difficult job and received little encouragement or immediate benefits. His job put him at a very low place in Jewish society. Scribes were normally well-respected. But Baruch was hired, not by the priests or the king, but by a prophet who was despised by the people and vilified by the Jewish leaders.
At that time in history, the Jewish kingdom of Judah was about to collapse. Their culture had already imploded morally and spiritually, and now a foreign power was about to invade the nation and destroy it completely. The armies of Judah would be defeated, and the people deported to another country.
Transcribing was very laborious and time-consuming. And very few people wanted to read Jeremiah’s scathing denunciations of a godless nation. As recorded in Jeremiah chapter 36, Jeremiah gave Baruch the task of reading his scroll at the temple. After having done so, it was sent to King Jehoiakim. And as the king read it, he cut it into pieces and burned it in the fire. Baruch then had to painstakingly transcribe the whole document again.
At one point Baruch became overwhelmed with all he was tasked to do. Jeremiah then received a message from God for Baruch:
When Baruch son of Neriah wrote on a scroll the words Jeremiah the prophet dictated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, Jeremiah said this to Baruch: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: You said, ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ (Jeremiah 45:1-3)
Baruch had every reason to seek a more acceptable job. But this was no time to find a way out of this difficult assignment and find another career. God then spoke to Jeremiah to admonish him:
But the Lord has told me to say to you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the earth. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’ (Jeremiah 45:4-5)
God’s promise fulfilled
Despite Baruch’s lowly position, God told him to just trust in him and not to seek recognition or fame for himself. He was not to envy Seraiah (also a son of Neriah and likely his own brother) who was a staff officer for King Zedekiah. He was not to seek an easier or more prestigious job, but just to keep at the job he had and write what Jeremiah told him to write. His call was serving God in humility. And he was to be thankful he had a job at all. Through it all, God promised he would protect Baruch as long as he stayed with his work to the end.
History records that Jerusalem came under siege in 589 B.C. by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar. During this time, the inhabitants of the city endured horrible deprivation. The walls were breached, Jerusalem was destroyed, and thousands of Israelites were killed. The survivors that were of use to the king were taken into captivity. Most judged not to be of any use were slaughtered.
After the invasion, the Babylonians allowed Jeremiah to stay in the land. As Jeremiah’s helper, Baruch was also allowed to stay, enjoying the freedom that other Israelites lost. God’s promise to Baruch was fulfilled—he escaped with his life and was now free to live where he desired. But Seraiah was deported to Babylon (Jeremiah 51:59).
Paul’s example of serving God in humility
The apostle Paul is today considered one of the greatest missionaries in history. Some consider him the greatest apostle. But he was not a famous person in his day. The apostles were just average people that were privileged to have been chosen by Jesus for his service.
Paul suffered not only physically for Christ, but he also suffered rejection by worldly believers and derision from those who were jealous of him. He was disrespected by many believers who should have acknowledged his apostleship but didn’t. He grieved over those in the Corinthian church who were his spiritual children, but who fell for the false teachings of his critics (2 Corinthians chapters 10-12).
Though he was an apostle, Paul still maintained a lowly attitude, serving God in humility. He swore off any pretense of greatness. When the worldly Corinthians were dividing the church over who was greater, he or Apollos, Paul wrote:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe… (1 Corinthians 3:5)
He instead resolved that his ministry feature Christ above all else.
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5)
The apostles’ pastoral service
Worldly religious people will idolize their preachers and teachers. And they’ll continue to do so as long as these teachers accept adulation. But Paul refused to let people idolize him—he wanted only to spread the fame of Christ. He got his affirmation from the Lord, not people. There were times he even sacrificed his own reputation so that others could grow and mature in Christ:
Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. … We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. (2 Corinthians 13:7,9)
Likewise, the apostle Peter exhorted the elders (pastors) of the Church to follow his example and shepherd God’s flock:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:2-5)
So pastors, serve from the heart, not for the pay. If you are truly called and gifted in ministry, then you can minister without a high salary or earthly recognition and praise. Those who love God can do his work for little or no earthly pay, if necessary. They know their true payment will come when Christ returns.
The results of our service belong to God
If you are serving God and obeying him in your calling, then it’s God’s business whether you have a great or small impact, not yours. If a ministry is not useful to God anymore, then let him show that to you. We can change ministries, but our calling as God’s servant still remains, whether God uses us to affect many or just a few.
… for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29)
God may pull you out of a particular ministry. You may even need to give up your paid position and accept a very humble position with no recognition or monetary pay. Or it’s possible you should stay where you are. But whatever path God leads you on, to serve God in any capacity is a great privilege.
My personal story
As a missionary in Mexico in the 1990’s, there were times when I felt very alone in my service to God. Being a hydrologist, one goal was to provide safe and clean water to people in remote areas who had none. In my previous hydrology job, I had a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars and ample staff to complete the projects. Now, I had a tiny budget and one worker which I had to train. Most wells we drilled gave very small amounts of water and many attempts gave no water at all. Disappointment and frustration were common. I also had the responsibility of a wife and three young children to care for in an area without running water or electricity.
Adding to that work were the tasks of holding Bible studies, discipling men, and developing church leaders. Certain religious people in the community opposed our work and tried to get us thrown out of the village. And journalists back in the U.S. vilified us in their reporting. At times, like Baruch, I felt the work was too difficult for me and I wanted to quit. But God’s will for me was to serve him on that path. And the work did get done, and God was faithful to meet the needs of my family. I just needed to learn patience and adjust my expectations of others.
Serving through Bible teaching
Now, as a writer and Bible teacher, my job is sharing God’s Word with those who desire to grow in their faith. If I explain it accurately, I’m successful. If not, my work is a failure, regardless of how many people respond or show appreciation.
Looking back, I now know that when I was frustrated and felt like a failure was when my perspective was wrong. I learned that in the eternal scheme of things, Scott Rogers’ “ministry” means nothing. His “ministry” is loving and obeying God and nothing more. In whatever task God has given me, if I’m serving God in humility, then I’ve succeeded. I have no idea what impact my work has been throughout the years. But the results belong to God and that’s all that counts.
The temptation to seek recognition
Pastor, preacher, Christian worker, or missionary, do you seek great things for yourself? Are you tempted to seek recognition and glory? God would tell you the same thing he told Baruch: don’t seek them. In a very real sense, every missionary, Christian worker, and minister of the gospel should be aware of their own unimportance.
What is humility? It’s not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. A humble person is unaware of themselves—in the process of serving others, they lose themselves.
This goes against the modern idea of building our self-image and personal profile. But in God’s work, worth and success are based in him alone. We should get our affirmation from the Lord, not people.
We are in short supply of humble leaders in the church. Many preachers and teachers make assertions without citing Scripture and assume listeners will accept it without questioning. No preacher or pastor should ever address people without knowing their own lowly place in God’s kingdom. Pastors, if you’re frustrated people aren’t responding to your proposals or to your “vision,” it could be your sense of self-importance is too high and your thankfulness too low. If so, then repent of this and resolve to serve God with a new and fresh attitude and a sincere humility. You may have to reassess your goals and motivations. And you may also have to lower your expectations of yourself, of others, and even of God.
What is our motive for serving God?
The most important is serving God in humility, truth, and love. In whatever ministry we serve, if Christ is glorified, then we should be content, whether or not we advance our personal profile or ministry.
Our motive for serving God should be to please him. But the goal of building a “ministry” in order to leave a legacy is based in pride. The results of such a ministry might be praised and recognized by people but may not be pleasing to God. Faithfully wearing the humble yoke of Christ as we serve will lead to fruitful service for God and his kingdom. However, other people may not notice the fruit, and we ourselves might not even see it.
And though it’s always nice to have, we may not get the support we expect, whether from churches, fellow believers, or even from co-workers. But if we serve God in humility, he will give us the support we need.
The temptation to give up
Those in ministry can find their job has lost its appeal, they receive little appreciation, and the difficulties seem like they grossly outnumber the successes and blessings. Whatever luster the job had at one time is now gone.
In these times, it’s tempting to say: why are other Christian leaders getting such good response for their projects and ministries, and I don’t? Why are they appreciated and admired by so many people? And why do false teachers who tickle the ears of their listeners have so many followers, while those to whom I’m trying to teach sound doctrine seem like a pitiful few?
Servant of God, are you tempted to give up? Consider why God called you in the first place. Then get with God and some godly advisors and find out what the issue is. It might be you need a change. It’s possible you just need some rest and encouragement. But walking away from God’s calling and work is not an option.
Think of Baruch. At the time of his service, he didn’t realize the impact his work would have. If he had given in to discouragement, God would’ve had to use someone else. But Baruch was an essential part of the process by which God gave his eternal Word to the people of Israel, and then to the whole world. Jeremiah’s words were preserved and included in Holy Scripture to endure for all time.
In the same way, in light of the present time of distress, now is not the time to give up serving God. Christianity and its influence are declining in many parts of the world, and persecution is increasing. Paid positions may no longer be possible for many churches or ministries and may become a thing of the past in many areas.
Recommitting ourselves to God’s service
The results of a farmer’s work don’t come immediately, but only after many hours of work over a long time period. This requires patience and humility. This is why Paul wrote:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
Christ is still enlisting willing servants for his kingdom, and he will use you if your attitude before God is one of humility. Jobs and ministries come and go, but your calling as Christ’s servant and disciple doesn’t expire. It may be that no one but God will ever see all your work and sacrifice for his kingdom—only he knows the impact your service will have. But in spite of all the difficulties and disappointments, in the end he will richly reward you for your service.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
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