CHRIST’S STRATEGY FOR MINISTRY: A MINISTRY OF PRAYER
Prayer is a vital part of Christian ministry. The ministry of Jesus was noticeably a ministry of prayer. Mark reports, “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there” (Mark 1:35). Matthew says, “And after He had sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone (Mt. 14:23). Luke adds, “But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Lk. 5:16). Luke adds later, “And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God (Lk. 6:12).
There are tasks we cannot accomplish and demons we cannot defeat without “much prayer.” A boy had a convulsion caused by a demonic spirit. The disciples failed to destroy the effect of this evil spirit. Jesus came and cast out this devilish spirit (Mk. 9:14-27). His disciples asked, “Why could we not cast it out?” (Mk. 9:28). Jesus answered, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer” (v. 29). Does this not mean that we cannot defeat Satan without much prayer? Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
The apostles showed that preaching must be accompanied by prayer. When the Grecian Jews complained that the disciples in Jerusalem were neglecting the Grecian widows, the apostles determined that their needs should be met too. However, they said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). But, are you surprised that they included prayer as part of this ministry of the word of God? After deciding to turn the serving over to select men, they said, “We . . . will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (6:4). They put prayer on the same level as preaching the word. Why? Because, they knew they must have God’s help to succeed.
When Jesus gave the jolting commission “make disciples in all nations,” he acknowledged both their anxiety and their human limitations. However, he did not intend for ministry to be limited by our humanity! Thus, he promised, “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). He knew that without his supporting power, we would fail.
To engage in Christian ministry is truly to labor together with God! In their immature state, the Corinthian church put too much emphasis on the merits of their preachers. Like the early disciples, they were even dividing over which one was the greatest (Mt. 18:1; 1 Cor. 3:1-4). Paul observed, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building (vv. 5-9). God works with us! Christian ministry must not be a quest for power and prominence. It is a ministry of humility and weakness–a ministry made powerful and effective by the power of God. We must never forget that it is God that gives the increase! We should never forget that we don’t work alone, but we are workers together with God.
God makes us equal to our task. Christian ministers can accomplish tasks far beyond our ability. Paul told Timothy, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me (‘enabled me’ – NKJV; ‘made me equal to the task’ – NEB), because He considered me faithful, putting me into service” (1 Tim. 1:12). The process was not to find an able man and give him a ministry. God found a faithful man and gave him a ministry; then he made him equal to the task. God doesn’t look for able men; he looks for faithful men. He is the enabler!
The Macedonians experienced the enabling power of God. He enabled them to do more than they were able to do! They gave “as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Cor. 8:3). How could they do more than they were able or give more than they had? Paul sees this as a matter of “the grace that God gave the Macedonians” (v. 1). They were able to perform “beyond their ability” because of God’s grace–God’s giving to them. Paul says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, ‘He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever.’ Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:8-11). God shovels it in, and we shovel it out. And, God’s shovel is bigger than ours. Thus, we are assured that God will make us equal to the challenge. Just as he worked on behalf of others by the grace he gave to the Macedonians, God will touch the lives of others through us.
You can be sure, God works in us! He is the enabler! God worked in Paul. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). God worked in the Ephesian Christians. Paul wrote, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20). He worked in the Philippians. Paul said to them, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). He also worked in other Christians. John said, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4). Yes God works in us; and he has only just begun. He will work in us until the Lord comes again. The expression “you have overcome” literally means “you have won the victory.” If we depend of God, our ministry is a victorious ministry. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). He adds, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (v. 35). Anything God wants us to do he will enable us to do–he will make us equal to the task!
God has this wonderful way of taking the devices of Satan and turning them for the good of his cause–our ministry. In Satan’s effort to destroy him as savior and discredit him as the Son of God, Jesus was arrested, condemned, and crucified. But the very death Jesus died made him our savior. His death paid our sin debt (Rom. 3:23-26; 6:23). This death also opened the door to the resurrection that proved conclusively that he is indeed the Son of God (Rom. 1:4).
When God is with us, no one can prevail against us, even the enemy’s own hostility is turned against him and favors our ministry. From prison, Paul wrote, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). The enemy had fought against Paul to destroy the effects of his mission work. However, opposition had three positive effects. First, it provided the protection of the palace guard while he taught all who came to him. Second, it exposed the palace guard to the gospel of Christ and converted some. Third, it made the brethren more confident and they spoke without fear. Paul’s opportunities to teach were, therefore, made more favorable and more missionaries were trained. After the palace guardsmen had served their military obligation, these highly respected men went back to their homes all over the Roman Empire and spread the gospel. And the church became more militant in evangelism.
In your ministry, be like Jesus. Let Jesus work through you. Preach the good news without concession, alteration, or quarrelsomeness. Compassionately serve those around you. Pray that God will make you equal to the task.
William T. (Bill) Lambert, EdD
Professor Emeritus – New Testament Literature and Interpretation
Searcy, AR 72149-0001