Last night, we had one of our usual battles with my son. He has, for reasons entirely uncler to me, a phobia of having his nails cut. No matter how many times we’ve done it without it ever hurting him, he is adamant that having his nails cut will hurt.
The rigmaraole is always the same. We tell him he needs his nails cut, he starts screaming at the thought of having them done, we try and allay his fears, he screams some more, we eventually find some means of doing it, he announces that it wasn’t really bad at all once it’s done. It is the same every single time. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we do it, that we have never hurt him before nor that his little sister has them done in front of him without raising a flicker, laughing and chatting as they’re being done. Each time is a fresh opportunity to scream and insist it is going to hurt.
When it comes to lots of ministry in the church, we seem to operate the same sort of system. Evangelism is the most obvious one. The thought of it breaks us out in a cold sweat. We generate as much courage as we can, we bite the bullet and dare to ask our friend – or maybe even someone we don’t know – whether they would like to read the Bible with us or we share a little bit of the gospel message with them.
We wince and cringe as we do it, worrying all the way through. And then, when the person we’re talking to engages with us and is happy chatting without treating us like some sort of freak (because talking about stuff we think isn’t that weird when it comes down to it) we walk away from the conversation feeling it really wasn’t half as bad as we thought and it was actually alright after all. But no sooner than the next opportunity arises, the fear kicks in once more and we repeat the cycle all over again. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we do it and how often we realise it doesn’t really hurt, all that goes out the window as we terrify ourselves afresh every time we even think about sharing the gospel with somebody.
But I think the same sort of process goes on frequently with other ministry. Whether it is the youth group we are running, or the discipleship we’re doing, the sermons we are preaching or whatever, we so often worry. It may not manifest as fear – absolute terror at the thought of what we’re going to do (though it can do) – it may present as worry about the value of what we’re doing, the effectiveness, the point. It could show up as lethargy and just a total lack of desire to do it for any number of reasons.
It doesn’t really seem to matter how may times we show up and find that the conversations we had, the response to the teaching, the engagement with what we were doing was so much better than we expected. It doesn’t seem to make any difference that we can see what the Lord is doing through these things. Every new meeting is a fresh opportunity for us to worry, for the fear to kick in, for us to want to back out of doing it.
There are several responses to this. One is to say, as we sometimes do to my son, that these things simply need doing. We may not relish the prospect, but ultimately, they have to happen and so we better get on with them. There is a place for saying that, but it doesn’t tend to make ourselves feel any better about doing them beforehand.
Another is to remember that these things really are never as bad as we think they are. In fact, we can even do them and enjoy doing them. It pays to remember all the times that, not only was it not so bad, but it was so encouraging and exciting. These things aren’t all miserable duties to be endured, but can really be exciting things to be enjoyed.
It also pay to remember that the Lord doesn’t actually need us to do any of these things. He can get on perfectly fine without us doing any of these things. We aren’t any more saved because we do them. He doesn’t insist we do them to earn merit and favour with him. If that is true (and it is), he must only be commanding them for our own good. So, it’s not a case of forcing ourselves to do the Lord’s commands because we have to as we will miss out on the blessing that comes through doing them if we choose not to do them. The Lord uses these things as a means of blessing us – he doesn’t need us to do them for him – and so we don’t have to do it to earn favour or salvation, but we miss out on his blessing that he offers through things when we don’t. In other words, there are real things to be gained through doing them and doing them is how we get them.
In many ways, we might want a little from column A, a little from column B and a little from column C. We might want the push of the Lord’s command so we better get on with it. But we may also want the pull of remembering that it can be exhilerating, enjoyable and that the Lord does bless us through doing them. Not in some spiritual quid pro quo deal. He may well bless us anyway. But just as there are things we would have, that we don’t have, because we don’t pray (so says James), there are blessings we would have, that we don’t have, because we haven’t done the things through which the Lord wants to bless us, namely what he commands.
When we want our son to do his nails, we remind him of how it has never hurt him before, the problems that will come if he doesn’t cut them and the benefits of cutting his nails too (such that they exist). In the same way, when it comes to ministry in the church, we need to remember that it is usually not as bad as we think it will be, there are real problems with not doing it and there are great things to be gained when we do. We need the push and pull, the negative and the positive, to help us feel more inclined to do these things when the opportunity arises.