THE TURNAROUND: RUNNING TOWARDS THE PRIZE.
'Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 3:13-14)
In order to move up to the place of worship in the anointing we must come to a point where we are turned around. It is important that we look at this turnaround experience before dealing with the anointing. The word ministry in scripture means service, and everybody in the body of Christ is called to serve one another. In this sense we are all ministers running towards the goal. My ministry involves teaching and preaching. Others have different ministries, but every ministry is necessary to fulfil the needs of the body of Christ.
When ministries begin there is usually the desire to serve the Lord with our lives, but there are other desires that seek to control our thinking. In my case there was the desire to build up a successful ministry, and the desire to be a successful preacher. These desires had very good results. The desire to succeed in ministry motivated me to be involved in overseas missions. The desire to succeed in preaching motivated me to study the scriptures. But these desires did not make me a worshipper. In fact self was still at the centre even though my desires were good and leading me in the right direction. This is why it is necessary for every minister of the gospel who desires to worship to have a turnaround experience at some point in his or her ministry.
Let me explain this in an illustration. I have looked at my ministry through the analogy of running a race. The word success is used in my story, but this can be on a low level. The success we seek in service can be appreciation from others. The turnaround will turn us away from seeking to fulfil our own desires in ministry and turn us towards the goal of worshipping with joy. The true worshipper seeks the glory of God in every action. Ministry is an act of worship when it is directed towards the goal of 'winning Christ'. The ministry of serving one another must always be born out of love for Christ.
When I began to run in the ministry there was much encouragement. I enjoyed being praised, and the race was exciting. There were obstacles, but I was strong and I was able to push many obstacles out of the way. I was daring, willing to endure hardship, and able to do things in faith that others were hesitant to do. I ran towards the goal of a successful ministry. At this stage in my ministry the words ‘forgetting those things that are behind’ meant not giving my heart to the things of the world. I gave my life to serving the Lord
Some years after beginning to run this race, I found that it got harder because I was not allowed to run freely. I was held back all the time. I knew that I was strong and that I could achieve many things in the ministry if I could be allowed to run. What was it that was holding me back? It was the word of God. My love for the scriptures and my desire for a successful ministry were in many ways incompatible. Let me explain. In order to build up a successful ministry I needed to try and build up financial support. It is a common fact that people do not back losers. I found it was necessary to speak of the ministry as 'doing great things for God', and there is always a danger of moving from boasting into exaggeration. I learnt that there are many ways to tell a story. But as I studied the scriptures I was confronted with the incompatibility of promoting ‘my ministry’ by the scripture: 'Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.' Philippians 2:3
Although the word of God held me back, I still had the desire to build up my ministry. I became critical of those running far ahead of me with successful ministries because they did not appear to be held back by the scriptures. I also blamed my lack of success on other Christians because of their lack of support for ‘my ministry’. But it was God that was holding me back. I was still trying to run towards the goal of a successful ministry, and it was getting more and more difficult to run. The surprising thing about this stage of the race was that love for the scriptures did not produce love in my heart. Instead of being in unity with other believers I found myself in conflict with others, even with those I had held to be my close friends. I had to learn at this stage that it is not standing for God's word that changes lives. We must allow the word of God to change us.
The race became a struggle, and my outlook became very negative. I came into a negative unity with those who agreed with my criticisms concerning the way others were running the race. These criticisms had another effect upon me; they took away my desire to move higher in worship. I associated the anointing with those who were not being held back by the word of God. This is a clever tactic of the enemy. I soon found out that unity built upon an agreement over the things we are against does not last, and eventually I became a target for criticism from those who I had previously been united with. Negative unity is not the unity of the Spirit.
I was not envious of those who were ahead in the race towards a successful ministry, but I must admit that I did feel humiliated when I could not keep up with them. Then things got worse. I was not just being held back, I also had great weights to carry that made it difficult just to keep on my feet. All I could do was watch as others ran past me. Many people by this time did not even consider me to be running in the race. My ministry was finished in their eyes. I always expected the Lord to remove the weights and let me loose so that I would be able to run to my full ability. But this never happened. Eventually I felt completely broken, and I pleaded with the Lord to take the weights away. Then the scripture came into my mind: 'That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:' (1 Peter 1:7)
This is when the Lord picked me up and He turned me around. I was facing a new direction. I still had the weights, but I was no longer being held back by the word of God. The Lord gave me the command to run, but I had no strength in myself anymore. I told the Lord I cannot run, but He said '…My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.' (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I started to run, but it was difficult. Sometimes there was no one to encourage me. Many people thought I had lost my way, but most of them just ignored me. A small number did speak harshly against me, but I felt that I deserved it because I had also been critical when I ran the road to success. It was hard when people looked down on me as a novice in the ministry even though I had many years of experience in running the race. Yet I found that I had a greater love for people than ever before, and I had a respect for other ministries that I did not have when I ran towards the goal of success. What gave me the greatest joy was the awareness of the presence of the Lord working mightily with me.
I looked over my shoulder and saw those running the other way. They ran with great speed towards the sign of 'successful ministry', and they were being highly honoured and praised. I told the Lord that if He would help me then I could be successful like those who were highly acclaimed in the ministry. The Lord reminded me through His word, 'Forget those things which are behind you'. Now I can see a new finishing line ahead. The sign at the end of the race says 'the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus'. Every step is a challenge. There is usually no cheering crowd watching. It can be a lonely race even in the company of friends. But there is great joy because the heart is filled with worship. How fast is no longer the question; the race is not competitive. It is a race of love. Every step is an opportunity for worship, and the joy of fellowship with other believers is of greater value than I ever knew before. No longer am I looking to success but now I look to the One who led me to run towards the goal of the greatest prize of all, 'to win Christ'.
Before Peter was turned around he was competitive and ambitious. He was one hundred per cent committed to the ministry having left his work as a fisherman in order to follow Jesus. He was part of a ministry team, but it was not the love of Christ that motivated him. He sought to become great through a successful ministry. Peter regarded himself as better than all the other disciples when he said, 'Although all shall be offended, yet not I’ (Mark 14:29). Peter's self confidence had to be broken before he could fulfil the ministry the Lord had called him to do.
It was not just Peter; all the disciples had ambitions for their ministries. At the Last Supper there was a contention over who would be the greatest. The disciples had their sights on success. They had very big ambitions for their ministries, and they sought to use their relationship with Jesus to gain a position where they would be highly esteemed. Satan was able to destroy Judas because Judas did not love Christ. The disciples all ran towards success, but only Judas followed Christ for gain. The other disciples were not like Judas. It was therefore impossible for Satan to destroy them; he could only sift them. Satan cannot do anything without God's permission. The Lord allowed Peter to be sifted in order to remove the chaff of self glory from the wheat of love for Christ. 'And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, strengthen thy brethren.' (Luke 22:31-32). The word converted in Greek is epistrepho, this word literally means ‘to turn towards’. Why did Simon Peter need to be turned around? Up until this time he was running towards the goal of a successful ministry. All the disciples saw their relationship with Jesus as an opportunity to achieve greatness. 'And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.' (Luke 22:24).
The Greek word 'mathetes' which is translated disciple means 'a learner'. The disciples were learning Christ. They still had to learn the real nature of ministry. Jesus showed them by example at the Last Supper that those who would be great in God's Kingdom must take the place of a servant. All of Peter's ambitions concerning a successful ministry died when Jesus was crucified. He thought everything was lost, but he was learning to be like Jesus who came not to fulfil His own ambitions, but to obey the Father's will.
If we are motivated by love for Christ then we will look upon others as better than ourselves. If we are motivated by personal ambitions then we will seek to use others to elevate ourselves. The road to a successful ministry is dependent upon having good connections. The minister who has been turned around seeks not a successful ministry, but to please the Lord. Look at Peter in prison sleeping, without concern. Herod had already executed James the brother of John, and it was certain that he would put Peter to death the same way. 'Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.' (Acts 12:5-6). The Lord had told Peter he would be in this position when he was old. He was not yet old, and Peter rested in the will of God. This was not a man seeking to build up his own ministry. He had no fear of death, and he had no ambitions of his own.
The higher call to worship can only be answered by those who have been turnaround from running towards the goal of self-glory, and are running towards the goal of winning Christ. Even though the disciples were running towards the wrong goal, all but Judas desired Christ above all. They were truly His disciples but they needed to be turned around. This happened through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The cross put to death all their ambitions for success and greatness. The resurrection brought them into a new realm of worship. We are still the Lord's people even when we run towards the goal of success, but worship is a higher calling. Love for Christ is the only motive for worship.