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Abiding in Christ and ministry

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Archives / 2008 / April

 

 

Abiding in Christ and ministry

Dennis Smith
Dennis Smith, MDiv, is pastor of the New Haven Seventh-day Adventist Church, New Haven, Connecticut, United States.

 

Ministry can become a heavy burden, at times filled with anxiety and stress until the Christian learns to truly abide in Christ. However, once the person experiences union with Christ, everything changes. They recognize the joy that ministry for the Master brings; the stress and burdens are relieved.

Many Christians have discovered the peace that comes from abiding in Christ. At first they encounter years of defeat, failure, and discouragement. This brings a deep sense of need, the feeling that something must be missing in their walk with God. They become aware of inconsistency in their life of obedience and service. Then they enjoy times of wonderful fellowship with their Lord, and survive times of desert experiences as well. These feelings of failure are seldom, if ever, shared with others.

Before truly abiding in Christ, they had heard messages on the subject. They knew the Bible verses. Yet what was being described was not a reality in their lives. Such feelings of defeat can cause Christians to doubt their own sincerity and perhaps even their salvation.

One person’s discovery

J. Hudson Taylor, the nineteenth-century missionary to China, wrote about the change he experienced after making this discovery. Before then, the burdens he carried were difficult, sometimes overwhelming. When he received a letter from a fellow missionary and friend, John McCarthy, his eyes were opened to the marvelous truth of Christ’s abiding presence. After that Taylor was a new man in Christ. In a letter to his sister in England, Taylor wrote of his experience: “ ‘As to work, mine was never so plentiful, so responsible, or so difficult; but the weight and strain are all gone. The last month or more has been perhaps, the happiest of my life.’ ”1

He described the blessing his new experience had been in his personal life, and the joy he now found in the Lord. Then he wrote of changes concerning his ministry: “ ‘The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient.’ ”2

The burden and anxiety were gone. He learned the lesson of resting fully in Christ. He knew that Christ was living in him and would give him wisdom, guidance, and strength. He now realized that he was simply working with the Master and following His lead, and that Christ would provide all the grace needed to carry the load of responsibility.

Anglican clergyman H. B. Macartney of Melbourne, Australia, wrote of Taylor’s attitude in ministry for His Lord. “ ‘He was an object lesson in quietness. He drew from the Bank of Heaven every farthing of his daily income—“My peace I give unto you.” Whatever did not agitate the Savior, or ruffle His spirit was not to agitate him. . . . He knew nothing of rush or hurry, of quivering nerves or vexation of spirit. He knew there was a peace passing all understanding, and that he could not do without it.’ ” 3

Macartney was amazed at the peace Taylor exhibited under all circumstances. Writing of this he continued: “ ‘Here is a man almost sixty years of age, bearing tremendous burdens, yet absolutely calm and unruffled. . . . Dwelling in Christ he partook of His very being and resources, in the midst of and concerning the very matters in question. And he did this by an act of faith as simple as it was continuous.’ ”4

Taylor knew Jesus was living in him and continuously rested in that fact. Knowing this truth, he had no need for worry or anxiety. Certainly all in ministry long for the kind of abiding rest and peace that J. Hudson Taylor discovered. All His servants may discover that Jesus offers this complete rest in Him.

What happened?

Those who found true rest in Jesus learned that Jesus actually lives in the believer. Jesus told His disciples that He would “ ‘come’ ” to them after He ascended to the Father following His resurrection (John 14:18). Previous to this statement, Jesus indicated He would come to dwell in His disciples through the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 17). The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).5

Jesus and the apostle teach us that Christ actually dwells in the believer through the Holy Spirit. In this manner the Christian has the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), as well as the wisdom, righteousness, and holiness of Christ (1 Cor. 1:30).

Once God’s ministers understand and experience this marvelous truth, they can then believe that He will manifest Himself in and through them.

They can be assured that Christ will give them His obedience, wisdom, faith— everything they need to serve Him. Thus, they no longer need to be anxious about anything. Jesus will never leave them nor forsake them (Heb. 13:5).

Christ simply ministers through you in your service for Him. In your obedience, He simply manifests His obedience through you. You are to obey and minister, just as Jesus did. He said, “ ‘Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work’ ” (John 14:10).

Jesus experienced obedience and ministry that was manifested by the Father dwelling in Him and He in the Father. Everything He said and did was by the Father. God’s servants may have the same experience today. As they abide in Christ and He abides in them, everything they say and do is to be Christ manifesting Himself in and through them. For this reason there need be no fear, anxiety, worry, or burden in obedience and ministry. It is all of Jesus. We simply allow Him to do these things. When we understand and experience Christ’s abiding presence, God gets all the glory for anything His servants achieve in His service (1 Cor. 1:31).

The challenge of ministry

Having been in full-time ministry for more than 30 years, I know the danger of taking things into my own hands, of making my own plans and asking God to bless these activities. In Christ’s service, we must keep constantly in union with Him so we will be under His direction when it comes to plans, methods, and ministry. We must pray for His guidance; He will direct our ministry if we let Him. Then He will do His ministry through us.

We see this principle illustrated in the gospel commission and how the Holy Spirit led in fulfilling that commission when Jesus commanded that disciples make disciples of “ ‘all nations’ ” (Matt. 28:19, 20). Upon hearing this commission, the apostles would likely conclude that the gospel should be preached in every town they passed through. We read in the book of Acts about how the Holy Spirit led the apostle Paul in his efforts to fulfill this commission: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:6–10).

Here we see a clear example of the importance of Christian ministers not following their own ideas as to when, where, and how to serve the Lord. Every servant of the Lord must recognize the importance of being under the Holy Spirit’s direction and that happens when ministers abide in Christ and Christ in them.

This certainly does not mean that we put forth no effort to follow the Spirit’s leading. Paul’s experiences required Spirit-inspired determination and effort. Service for the Lord will not always be easy, yet even in the most difficult situation we can find rest and peace as we depend on Christ.

Facing controversy can be very stressful. Dealing with financial problems, members’ personal crises, and expectations of members and church officials can become overwhelming. However, when pastors come to realize that Christ has become their wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30) they experience the release of anxiety and burden for now they trust that Christ will manifest His wisdom through them.

The bottom line: through the Holy Spirit, Jesus abides in us, renders obedience through us, and ministers through us. Therefore, we can rest in that fact and choose to let Him do it. Once again I say, when this becomes a reality, your ministry will never again be the same. Your life will be filled with love, joy, peace, faith—all the fruits of the Spirit. You will see personal and ministerial victories as never seen before. Jesus will be everything to you.

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1 V. Raymond Edman, They Found the Secret (n.p.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 19.

2 Ibid., 20, 21.

3 Ibid., 21.

4 Ibid., 22.

5 Scripture references are taken from the New International Version.

 

 

 

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