BUILDING OUR OWN EMPIRES OR HIS KINGDOM?
T. A. Prabhu Kiran
A believer is gifted with an eternal perspective of every walk of life. When our sight is set on eternity, it revolutionises the way we live our lives. An eternal perspective negates the very idea that a believer needs to plan and accomplish massive projects for the Lord in order to please Him. God is no respecter of places, personalities and statistics. Nor does He care for the gigantic dimensions of our works for Him. Remember, when the Lord was sitting in the temple one day, He knew that it was there that the vanities of the people were exposed and the true love for God was also demonstrated! Perhaps many bigwigs offered large amounts that day. But He chose to commend the humble offering of two mites by a poor widow who, He felt, gave away all her life. This way the Lord sent a clear and unmistakable signal about a believer’s heavenly view, which is in total contradiction to that of the world.
Survival Of The Meekest
One of the clever deceptions invented and successfully implemented by the enemy since time immemorial is to impress us into believing that we need to be very skilful and highly ambitious in order to be fruitful in ministering to the Lord. Expertise, skill and creativity are needed by sublunary fields like cinema, art and culture where survival of the fittest is the bottomline for success. Similarly, politics and business need ambitious people. On the contrary, the work in His vineyard needs people with testimony, faithfulness and scriptural chastity, commitment to the call, divine values and above all obedience to His directives. The bottomline here is the survival of the meekest. As Mother Theresa once remarked about her life, we have not been called to be successful but to be faithful. We have also not been called to build the empires of this world. Our calling is to build His Kingdom with His own people. In order to build the empires of business, you need to invariably love money and success. But to build His Kingdom you need to love Him and the people. Even though the words ‘empire’ and ‘kingdom’ sound similar, they are as diverse as chalk and cheese and as different as counterfeit and genuine currency notes. A true believer will certainly have the discernment to differentiate between these two. While the enemy propagates the myth that we have to be skilful and highly influential in order to be fruitful in the ministry, this myth is demolished by none other than the Apostle Paul. Paul belonged to the cream of society and wore several hats during his times. The great Gamaliel was his academic mentor. He was a very zealous and pious Jew (Acts 22:3). But he writes to the church in Corinth, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth" (2Cor.1:26). He goes on to say that God chose the foolish and weak of the world to shame the wise and strong. Paul was the greatest planter of churches in faraway heathen lands but he never attributed this achievement to any of his earthly credentials. In fact he clarifies that he counted all this a loss for Christ.
In the world where the weak and foolish are nobodies, the Lord gives them a hope by making them the most important elements in divine matters. They have the hope of becoming the backbone on par with the talented ones in accomplishing the work of His Kingdom. Whether we are skilful or not, poor or rich, wise or foolish, all that the Lord looks for in us as His co-workers is the spirit of brokenness in our inner corridors. Any seminar or workshop which fails to impart this very important ingredient to its participants will end up as just another money and name making activity in the name of ministry.
Leaders Or Servants?
Nowadays it has become fashionable to draw parallels between being an evangelist and a leader. For many today they are synonyms. This is another deception designed by the enemy. Evangelists bring people to Christ by following in the footsteps of Christ. An evangelist is never addressed as a leader in the scriptures in the sense the word is being used in the world today. The world perceives leaders as ambitious while the evangelists are supposed to be visionaries who depend solely on God for every step they take forward. Leaders amass wealth at any cost, but true evangelists are only ‘losers’ at the end. Leaders at all times glorify themselves, but evangelists are intended to bring glory to Him through their self-emptying ministry. Leaders are rude, but evangelists are gentle. Leaders boast about what they have and take credit for everything, but evangelists are always ready to declare that they are dust and give credit to the grace of God for whatever they have and whatever they do. Leaders do not mind getting themselves defiled in order to achieve the ends, but purity of heart and holiness in life-style are the hallmarks of a true evangelist and they will not trade them for anything. For them, ends are as important as the means. The more they minister, the more they become holy and transparent. No wonder they are not called leaders, but designated as servants or slaves of the Lord in the scriptures.
A Game From Our Enemy
It all started with our enemy attempting to elevate himself to dizzy heights against the will of God. He wanted to reach so high in order to be equal to his Creator. Ultimately, the enemy had to fall from that same height into the labyrinths of new lows (Isa.14:13-15). A true servant of God will always have the discernment to know the difference between a vision and an ambition. A vision belongs to heaven, but ambition belongs to the world. A vision is from above and from the Lord, but ambition is from the world and from the enemy. Vision brings meekness while ambition brings pride. You kneel down in all humility when you receive a vision, but you aspire for higher positions when fired by ambition. Both of them sound similar, but they are so different! Yet how many times are we blindly driven by ambition, rather than vision in our ministries?
The Apostle Paul had to unlearn many things at the feet of the Lord from what he had learnt at the feet of his great teacher Gamaliel. His worldly education taught him the exclusiveness of being a devout Pharisee. It also taught him to adopt violence as a path to achieve his ends and it made him a murderer who sought pleasure and a sense of accomplishment in overseeing the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr for Christ (Acts 7:58). He dedicated himself towards his ambition of the destruction of the churches. Probably, a great farewell function must have been held in Jerusalem by his brethren as he took leave from them for his purpose-driven journey into the heart-land of Israel and the surrounding Roman provinces to identify and demolish the churches and massacre the Christian believers. We should not forget that Paul intended to do all this only to please God!
Same Road, New Destiny
But what a journey it was! As the gates of Jerusalem were closed behind him with uproar and thunderous applause from his brethren, some sort of stillness began to fill the void in his soul and the Lord started opening his eyes to the realities of a future ministry. During his long journey winding into the very villages ministered by the Lord, perhaps he began to encounter people who remained living examples of the Lord’s grace and His miracles. Inevitably a question started echoing in his heart, "Am I doing right?" As his journey proceeded, he must have witnessed several examples of the Lord’s power of resurrection and the echo of the question must have become unbearable. Finally as his unlearning period completed and reached a stage where he was ready to surrender to the Lord, the Lord Himself encountered him near Damascus. And what a transformation it was! He never had to look back again or undergo any new training at anyone’s feet except at those of the Lord. It culminated in him saying ‘Yes’ to everything the Lord commanded in his life. A church-destroying mission of Paul got converted into a church-planting mission and what a fruitful and blessed mission it was! A murderer is now getting prepared to become a martyr for His Lord.
Being an outsider and an unexpected convert in a faraway province, Paul had no immediate examples to follow in his newly founded ministry. He had to start everything from scratch. But he made the right beginning by taking the Lord Himself as his role model. He converted his entire ministry into a field of experience with never ending self-learning time at the feet of the Lord. Although Paul had to face many brickbats on the personal front, his learning and ministry went together fetching innumerable bouquets to the Lord. The more he ministered, the emptier he became in the sense of the world. The more churches he planted, the more he became approachable to those in need of Christ. The wider the boundaries of his ministry became, the greater was his burden for the lost. His earlier identity as an exclusive Pharisee vanished and his vanity as a devout Jew gave way for his new mission of preaching the Gospel to the heathen. He even declared that in order to win every one for the Lord he became a servant to all (1Cor.9:19). While his fellow brethren in Jerusalem were expecting him to return with severed heads of Christian martyrs in his hands as trophies of a successful mission, he disappointed them by becoming a Christian convert with a new mission of winning lost souls for the Lord which would fetch him the crown of life as the ultimate trophy!
Aimless Shooting Not Ministry
Here there could be a question. If Paul only wanted to build his own empire, couldn’t he have done it very easily? Every servant of God faces this temptation, but very few resist it. We all face the temptation, of placing ourselves and our personal agenda above the ministry needs. At times the temptation of becoming popular at the cost of the blessed mission of the Saviour is so powerful that very often we succumb to it. We do everything perfectly, but not with the love for the lost or for the Lord as the driving spirit, but only to fulfil our personal agendas. When the target is a few hundred metres way, even a fraction of a millimetre deviation at the aiming point could be reason enough to miss the target. This is exactly what we see in Christendom today. You may take comfort in the fact that you are not a great sinner in the literal sense of the scriptures. But even those deviations like pride and vanity which might be miniscule in your view are now the biggest impediments in winning souls for the Lord. Especially the love of money has been the root cause of all the evils in the world and also ministries today.
In the ministry, you are either building your own empire or the Kingdom of God. You cannot be doing both at a time. The explosion in the field of electronic media is a boon and also a bane today. It is a boon because it made the job of an evangelist very easy, but a bane because it also made it easy to become diluted and non-focussed. Attracting large crowds cannot be the criterion for a fruitful ministry. In India even the footpath magicians and people who display monkey tricks attract hundreds of people within no time! But it requires stronger roots in scriptures and deeper personal experience with the Lord to build a soul fetching, fruitful and Christ-centred ministry. What stands the test of time and trials is the selfless toiling for the Lord with the chaste word of God as foundation. These are the ministries founded on eternality and invaluable scriptural values. All the rest is but just a flicker of flame for a brief time and then burnt to ashes like wood, hay and straw (1Cor.13:2). This explains the present oblivion of many who were once upon a time the evangelical heavy weights the world over. To be a flame for a second and ash forever is not a stature the Lord has envisaged for us, whom He has chosen with His redemptive and everlasting love. He did not barter such precious things to get such worthlessness in turn!