The following is a part of our weekly devotional series, which is a companion to the 2013 Foursquare Life Journal. This week’s Bible reading comes from 2 Kings 24; Ps. 93, 96 and 112; Jer. 10-20, 22-23, 25-26 and 35-36; and John 14-20.
In the year 2000, I had the life-changing experience of helping plant a church. With big dreams and high aspirations, we set out to win a community for Jesus, convinced that we would be a church of 500 or more people by the end of the first year.
There is nothing like the thrill and excitement of seeing God build His church. It’s similar to seeing a baby being born; when a new life enters the world, it is beautiful and supernatural. My wife and I served in the church as the youth pastors for more than eight years, beginning as volunteers and gradually moving into the full-time position of youth pastors in our last few years on staff.
Church-planting is hard work, especially with a portable church. Setting up and tearing down chairs, children’s-ministry items, sound systems, lights and the stage every week is grueling and difficult, and my back has never fully recovered.
Our first season was an adventure. God was doing a new thing, and we were on board, riding His wave of reaching people and leading them into a growing relationship with Jesus. Then, ministry got harder. Our dreams weren’t becoming a reality as quickly as we had expected. Doing portable church in an elementary school cafeteria, running a youth ministry with no facility and continuing to reach out and grow people for His kingdom was difficult. The “romance” period was over.
Somewhere along the way, I allowed the work of the ministry to steal away my spiritual life. I began to measure my spirituality with my ability to perform in ministry. The successes and failures of doing church became directly related to how happy or unhappy I was. I allowed bitterness and resentment to creep in; I let disappointment and unmet expectations fester within my soul. I isolated myself from relationships, and rationalized wrong attitudes and unhealthy life patterns.
I’m reminded of a quote from Dallas Willard: “Service for God is the greatest enemy of intimacy with God.”
I hadn’t invested in the most important relationship there is: my relationship with God. And I let work for God rob my connection with Him. I thank God for His unending grace and love for me, as He continued to work in me and through me during this season of life. His loving invitation always beckoned me, welcoming me home to His warm embrace, to find rest for my tired, burned-out soul and to know His unconditional acceptance and endless affection.
“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you” (John 15:4, The Message).
Jesus has called and appointed each of us to bear good fruit that will last (John 15:6). He intends for us to have effective and meaningful lives that bring glory to the Father (v. 8)—lives that are full of joy, and ministries that we not only work hard to accomplish, but also that we enjoy doing.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11, ESV).
In order to have a mission that engages, a ministry that is effective and a life that is full of joy, we must have unyielding intimacy with Jesus.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, ESV).
Apart from Him I can do nothing.
I have experienced that I can perform ministry apart from Him, but it isn’t fruitful, and it doesn’t last. It may seem successful, but in reality it is a joyless and lonely place.
Our Savior invites us to an amazing adventure in fulfilling His great co-mission, but He doesn’t let us do it in our own power or by our own performance, but in His strength as we abide in His love. The result is we have full and joyous lives that give glory to the Father.
May I never allow ministry to become an obligatory noose, choking out my union with Christ, but may the overflow of an active dependence on Jesus be an effective and powerful ministry.
By: Jason Dionne, worship/music minister at The Bridge (El Segundo Foursquare Church) in El Segundo, Calif.
Download the yearlong reading plan (PDF, 80 KB), or sign up for the full, online version of the Life Journal. To purchase a Life Journal for your own use, or to place a bulk order for church-wide use, visit FoursquareJournal.com. Learn more about Foursquare’s 2013 Life Journal project.