Trusting God in life, ministry, and preaching
One of the meanings of the NT word we often translate as ‘believe,’ is ‘trust’. I like using the word ‘trust’ because it implies acting on our belief. You might believe that a bridge across a ravine is safe, but you will only use it by exercising trust. You might believe that the firemen will cushion you when you jump from the fire-filled building, but you need to trust to jump out the window.
So when the Father of the boy with the unclean spirit says, ‘I believe, help my unbelief’, we could also translate it, ‘I trust, help my lack of trust’ [Mark 9:24].
Paralyzed trust, paralyzed ministry, paralyzed preaching
Every act of ministry is an act of faith and act of trust. Ministry that does not come out of a deep trust in God will soon become despairing and cynical. Ministry that does not come out of a constant and adventurous faith will soon become routine and boring. What we do comes out of who we are: if faith without works is dead, then it is also true that where there is no faith there are no good works.
Our lives are riddled with the disease of selective faith. We may trust God for our own salvation, but find it impossible to trust him for his church. We may trust God for our salvation but despair at his rule of the world. We may trust him for our salvation, but not for our ministry. We may trust him for our ministry, but not for our salvation. We may trust God when all goes well, but be empty of faith when things go wrong. We may trust God when we face disaster, but distrust him when people we love face disaster.
Every act of ministry is an act of faith, and act of trust in God, on behalf of ourselves and also on behalf of those to whom we minister. Speaking comes from believing: ‘I believed, and so I spoke’. 2 Corinthians 4:13.
Preaching demands greater faith, because it is public ministry to the church and to the world. Our faith is on trial when we preach. We have to trust God, trust God’s saving plan in the gospel of the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. We trust Christ’s promise that he will build his church, and trust that what God has done in history he can and will achieve in human lives, in the church, and in the world. We trust that God will work through the Bible, that it is his powerful true, and effective word, and that he will use its words to speak to this congregation through this text on this occasion. We trust that God will complete what be begins, trust that God can use us, our preparation our prayers, our words, ourselves. We trust that God can make up for the deficiencies of ourselves, our lives, our preparation, that God can use us despite our sins. We trust that God will gift us for our ministry, that God will use us despite the weakness of our gifts, the church is indeed made clean by the words of Christ, set free by the truth, and sanctified by the truth. We trust that God can make people who blind to the truth see, that he can make people hear who are deaf to his word; that he can raise those who are spiritually dead to life in Christ. We trust that through the resurrection of Christ our labour is not vain, that this light momentary affliction works an eternal weight of glory, and that it is worth working for eternity. We trust that the value of what we do is not measured by human standards of value, and that Gods honours those who honour him. We may believe all this in theory: but we have to act in faith in every good work.
The great orthodox enemy of living faith is practical deism. Here we believe all God’s truth, but don’t believe in God’s power. We know the Bible is true, but do not know its power. We assert the truth of the atonement, but do not believe the power of the blood. We may believe that God acted in history, but do not trust him to act today. We believe the gospel is true, but forget that it is the power of God for salvation.
Who we are matters as much as what we do. We influence people deeply by who we are. Any unhealthy person will damage others and the college. A healthy person will be a good influence on both. For God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’ Peter wrote, ‘Tend the flock of God that is in your charge…not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.’ And Jesus taught, ‘Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.’ And ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.’ Christian ministry flows from the person, we are made to be images of God, restored in Christ. Inner and personal issues will always influence effectiveness.
So Paul instructs Timothy, ‘Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching.’ And tells Titus that a [Christian teacher], ‘as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled.’
Faith, hope and love are the great Christian virtues, and, from their place in 1 Corinthians 12-14, essential to effective ministry. And both love and hope require faith.
There is of course a variety of expression of faith in the New Testament. There is saving faith, and special gift of faith, and dead faith. We preachers need saving faith, and we need the special gift of faith for our ministry, and we must ensure that our faith is not dead, or is not dying from some hidden but unstoppable disease.
Every time we preach there will have been challenges to faith the last week: a new convert who has fallen away; a mature Christian who has displayed a painful and bewildering act of immaturity; sudden illness or death of family, friends, or church members; a massive ‘natural disaster’; a difficult committee meeting; a bad decision by a church leader; another public scandal; our own sin or failure, whether public or private; marriage or family stresses. These are all serious issues, and they may paralyze our faith.
And then apart from the events of the last week that challenge our faith, there are the longer-term pressures that build up over years, and weaken our energy to believe. This might include friends or colleagues who give up their ministry or abandon their Christian faith; the collapse of a ministry, school, or denomination, or their gradual departure from the gospel; growing hostility to the church and to the gospel; the loss of our early confidence in ourselves and our success in ministry; the collapse of ministries we have worked in or supported in the past; the closure of doors for gospel ministry; long-term illness or marriage or family problems; unanswered long-term and persistent prayers. These too may bring slow but pervasive and fatal paralysis of faith.
Ten precious remedies
- Be determined to believe in God, to trust God, to entrust ourselves to God, to have assurance and confidence in God, in response to his promises.
- Pray that God will keep you believing.
- Ask others to pray that God will keep you believing.
- Welcome the encouragement of others to continue believing.
- Focus on the example of others who continue believing.
- Keep telling God, ‘I trust you.’
- Keep telling God, ‘I trust you for ….’
- Decide to grow in faith.
- Do adventurous acts of faith in public and private ministry
- Take the whole armour of God, including the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God [Ephesians 6:16-17].