grace

Let me make a confession to you. Nearly everyday as a pastor, I face a consistent temptation. The temptation is to build my name and my reputation.

In recent weeks, I’ve attended our SBC annual meeting, followed numerous social media conversations, and interacted with church members on a regular basis. We’ve discussed what’s going on in the convention. We’ve discussed the inordinate amount of time some pastors and denominational leaders spend on social media serving as critics of others. In many of these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to think I have the answers. In evaluating these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to seek more influence. In thinking about ministry in general, I’m tempted to perceive ministry responsibilities and opportunities as a means to build my own name and reputation.

In short, I’m tempted way too often to promote myself.

In light of these temptations, God reminded me what is primary. He reminded me that I serve his kingdom, not my own.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 5:9-10

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33

My life is not about me. Ministry opportunities, influence, responsibilities, blessings, and privileges are not for me.

According to Jesus, I must remember that I am poverty-stricken, spiritually bankrupt, offering nothing to the Lord that he needs.

According to Jesus, I must remember that the Father’s kingdom and the Father’s will is what matters, not my own.

According to Jesus, I must remember to seek the Father’s kingdom and his righteousness in my own life, not the glory of my own name.

In thinking on my temptations and reflecting on these truths, here are a few reminders I’m trying to practice in order to focus on God’s kingdom and not my own.

  1. Remind myself everyday that I am spiritually impoverished on my own. I am not doing God a favor by serving him in ministry. He doesn’t need me. If I get to experience the kingdom of heaven and serve him, it is all by grace.
  2. Acknowledge the greatness and grace of the Lord in all my ways. Our Father is holy and great, merciful and majestic, full of glory and full of grace. Beginning our prayers and daily activities with the greatness, glory, and grace of God properly resets my perspective on whose kingdom matters.
  3. Seek the kingdom of God by evaluating actions and activities in light of God’s redemptive mission in the world. One way we are tempted to emphasize our own kingdoms over God’s kingdom is simply by determining our moments by what best suits us. As I think, pray, and discern over God’s mission, it is far easier for me to properly submit my plans to God’s plans.
  4. Confess regularly my self-absorption. Our age of social media influencers, followers, friends, likes, hearts, and connections tempts us to consider our interactions in light of ourselves. Instead of checking on my feeds, God is teaching me to confess and repent of my obsession with myself.
  5. Return praise and thanks to God for what he’s doing. When God uses you or me through our gifts, talents, abilities, and availability, we must remember that he is the One who is indispensable. He’s used fish, a plant and a worm (Jonah), donkeys (Balaam’s donkey), ants (Proverbs 6), birds (feeding Elijah), and nature (storms on the Sea of Galilee) to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t need you or me. So, let’s thank God when he uses us and return the praise to him that he is due.

Whose kingdom are you trying to build? For me too often, I’m focused on my own. But my own kingdom is built on sand with straw. It is sure to fold and not last.

But the kingdom of Jesus? Well, that kingdom will last. Have a read in Daniel 2 and the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. That’s the kingdom, the story, the mission, that will truly last. And in abundant grace, God invites us to participate in the building of his kingdom.

A little over three and a half years ago, my mom died. She had a strong faith, and I have no doubt she is in heaven with Jesus. When she passed, I wrote a tribute for her. Even though she’s been gone for a few years, I’m still learning from her.

None of us are perfect, and the past few years provided me the opportunity to evaluate my mom’s life and acknowledge her strengths and weaknesses. I’ve also had the privilege of learning from my wife and mother-in-law. The observations below are not exhaustive, but they have been spiritually formative in my life.

My mom taught me to spend time with Jesus. For many reasons, my mom struggled to sleep through the night. In her latter years, she was diagnosed with sleep apnea and had a breathing machine. Most of the time during my formative years when she would wake up at night, she would get her Bible and begin praying and reading. The memory of seeing her pray and read is imprinted on my mind.

My mom modeled selfless service. Nothing made mom happier than serving her family. That’s just who she was. She loved having us close, feeding us meals, and enjoying the company of her family. Her model challenges me often. Too many times, I connect my acts of service to rights or privileges. I think my service deserves recognition or appreciation. Mom’s example reinforces the concept that we are to serve Christ and trust that he sees, not worrying about any one else.

My mother-in-law reminds me to be compassionate. My mother-in-law has taken in and cared for lame dogs and feral cats. She cares about God’s creatures and will help a person in need with astounding quickness. She even took care of her mother-in-law on her death bed. My mother-in-law’s mother-in-law was mean and cruel with her words for many years. But instead of ignoring her, my mother-in-law returned compassion to the woman who treated her with cruelty. May I have her Christ-like and forgiving spirit.

My wife exemplifies love and grace. Being a pastor’s wife is not easy, and I’m not the easiest person to me married to (especially on Sunday afternoons after preaching three services). But she cares for our family in everyday and important ways: planning grocery orders, making meals, managing our money, and parenting our children. She overlooks my insensitivities and loves relentlessly. Her love inspires and encourages.

My wife teaches me to focus and follow through. In any task she undertakes (writing for a grant, refinishing cabinets, organizing a fundraiser, or planning our family calendar), she is able to concentrate and complete her work with quality and competency. In our age of social media, news on my smartphone, and constant interruption, I am too easily distracted. I envy her gift of concentration and follow through.

My mom, mother-in-law, and wife have modeled sensitivity to others. Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate, but it is also a difficult day for many. Infertility, grief, and broken relationships are experiences that are more acute on days like Mother’s Day. Our prayers, public comments, and interactions with others should reflect this sensitivity. We all need to remember that wherever we are and whatever we’ve been through Jesus sees and Jesus cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

I’ve been reading lately about spiritual formation, growth, and leadership development. And I have a long way to go before God is through with me. But however far I am along in this spiritual life, I owe much to the godly women God has used to shape me. I’m thankful for these Proverbs 31 women in my life.

Here’s a prayer for this meditation.

Father, thank you for the godly influences in my life. Thank you for the models of forgiveness, grace, and compassion that form my spiritual history. Give me eyes to see you at work in the lives of those closest to me. Grant me discernment to see patterns of selfish and sinful behavior in my life. Guide me in applying lessons like these in my daily walk. Glorify your name in my life as you form me into the likeness of Christ.

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash