11 Marks of Finishing Well in Ministry

This article is adapted from Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout by Bill Mills and Craig Parro. Subscribe to our blog and receive an eBook version of Finishing Well as our gift to you.


We are living in a day when many men and women are “beginning well” in the ministry but not many are “finishing well.”

So many of our brothers and our sisters began their work with a genuine call from God and a deep commitment to serve Him. Their faith was sincere and their love for God was sacrificial. Their highest desire was to give themselves for Christ and His kingdom, but along the way, the pressures, the pain, the disappointments and the failures of life have caused them to burn out, to lose heart, and to give up.

It was the fullness of Christ that enabled Paul to finish well. At the end of his third missionary journey, as he was on his way to Jerusalem, he stopped at Miletus and called for the elders at Ephesus to meet him there. He had ministered at Ephesus for three years, and this church was very dear to his heart. In his closing exhortation to the elders at Ephesus, we see the characteristics that enabled him to walk in the works that God had ordained for him from the foundation of the world and to fulfill the ministry that God had entrusted to him. It is these same character qualities, flowing out of the fullness of Christ, which will also enable you and me to “finish well” and to walk gloriously in the works that our Father has planned for us.

1. Integrity and Character

Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;” (Acts 20:17-19)

Paul’s integrity and character were well known within the church at Ephesus. He said, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you.” This confidence was the foundation for the message he now brought to the elders. The character and integrity which flows from us as godly men and women will be the foundation for our ministries as well. Are these qualities the first that we seek for those who would serve in God’s Church today? It seems that we often seek and even train first for proficiency of skills in preaching, leading or technology and then we hope that the integrity is there as well. For Paul, and for those who seek God’s glory in His Church, it is of first importance.

2. Humility

True humility is not seeing ourselves for less than what we are; rather, it is a confident affirmation of who God has made us to be in Christ and the ministry He has set before us.

Paul walked humbly before the Lord and before His people. Like John the Baptist, Paul had the grace to see himself through the eyes of God. John knew who he was and he knew who he wasn’t. John knew he was not the Christ, but he was the one sent to be a witness to the Light. True humility is not seeing ourselves for less than what we are; rather, it is a confident affirmation of who God has made us to be in Christ and the ministry He has set before us. We get into trouble when we see ourselves out of proportion—as more than who God says we are or as less than He sees us to be.

3. Intimate Relationships

…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, (Acts 20:20)

Paul shared intimate relationships with his people. Earlier he said that he served with tears. Here he described the way he taught them publicly and from house to house. He was with the people and his heart went out to them and was open to them as well. Paul was knowable, touchable, available, and able to be moved deeply by their needs and their cries.

4. Message of Repentance and Faith

..testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)

Paul’s message was repentance and faith. He called all hearers to turn from their sins and from any hope other than God’s work through His Son at Calvary and to turn to Christ in faith, placing all of their hopes in His blood shed on the cross.

5. Obedient to Death

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. (Acts 20:22-23)

Paul was obedient to the point of death. He continued to follow the leading of God’s Spirit, knowing that afflictions, pain, persecutions, prison and even death were before him.

6. Endurance to the End

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. (Acts 20:24-25)

Paul endured to the end. Endurance may well be the most important character quality in ministry. Paul was committed to finishing his race whatever the cost. He did not bail out in the face of overwhelming obstacles because he knew God was there and was able to keep his heart.

7. Proclamation of God’s Whole Counsel

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

Paul proclaimed the whole counsel of God. The basis of his innocence before the Lord was his faithfulness to the entire message God had entrusted to him. He did not preach pet themes or speak on interesting topics that he thought might draw an audience, or pull out a verse here or there that might serve as a reinforcement for an idea that gripped his fancy. He taught all of the Scriptures as a framework for the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the people of God.

8. A Watchman over His Heart

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Paul kept watch over his own heart. He guarded his attitudes, affections, motives and desires. Paul was not deceived by the enemy into thinking that he was above the things that caused others to fall. Many pastors and missionaries get into trouble when they start believing the good things that their people say about them. After months, or even years, of hearing, “You are so wonderful, so spiritual, so sensitive or so ‘whatever,’ ” we often begin to believe that foolishness. We love living on that pedestal, and soon we think we really are different than others and not vulnerable to falling into sexual or financial sin, or other things that would bring disgrace on the name of our Lord.

There is another side to this battle as well. Other pastors and leaders get into trouble when their people do not give them the respect that they deserve or do not affirm them or care for them financially. Perhaps we are compared to the great television or radio preachers, as we discussed earlier, and are found wanting in the eyes of our people. We need to guard our hearts from anger, jealousy, and bitterness in these times.

9. A Watchman over God’s Flock

We are called to guard the flock of God from the destroyers and the dividers.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)

Paul kept watch over the flock of God. We have been made overseers of God’s Church, His people purchased with His own blood. Savage wolves will come, even from within. There are those who distort the truth about God’s Word and even the truth about us and our ministries. Others try to draw followers to themselves. Paul urged the church at Ephesus to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Divisions in the Church are rampant today and a powerful tool of the enemy. Satan’s deceptions are incredibly powerful. More churches are split on the basis of “rightness” than on any other issue. Satan does not care who is right. He loves “rightness!” The Pharisees were the most “right” people in the world, but their hearts were far from God. We quickly forget that it is our love for one another which reveals that we have come from Jesus (John 13:34-35), and it is our unity which reveals that Jesus has been sent by the Father (John 17:23). We are called to guard the flock of God from the destroyers and the dividers.

10. Message—God’s Grace

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

Paul’s message was the grace of God. Again, the ministry of God’s Word was preeminent in Paul’s heart, and these Scriptures bring us to an understanding of His grace. It is our Father’s loving, merciful, gracious giving which sets us free to walk in holiness. There is no religious structure or legalistic system that can bring the people of God to loving obedience. Only the freedom of His grace moves us to the service He desires.

11. A Servant’s Heart

I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35)

In a world of users, takers, and consumers, God has raised us up to be givers, as we follow not only Jesus’ words but also His own example.

Paul modeled the heart of a servant. We are greatly in need of men and women whose ministries are filled with character and integrity. These are attitudes of the heart and are expressed in serving. These qualities are seen most vividly in our attitudes concerning finances. God has not called us to build our lives at the expense of the sheep but to build up His sheep even at the cost of our very lives. In a world of users, takers, and consumers, God has raised us up to be givers, as we follow not only Jesus’ words but also His own example.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

May God give us the grace to “finish well,” to persevere even to the end for the sake of His name and the building of His Church. Above all, may we hunger to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” as we stand before His throne. May His glorious presence that kept us from day to day be our joy and delight for all eternity!


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Enjoying the Beauty of Jesus

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This post continues from Part One: Enjoying Your God in Prayer.


When Paul writes to the church in Colossae we see he uses the  pattern of “interrupting” his instruction with a prayer, exaltation of God, or benediction. Paul had never visited this city and had not personally met these brothers and sisters. But he had heard about their faith in Christ and their love for one another from Epaphras. Near the beginning of Paul’s letter, he thanks God for the Colossians and tells them how he is praying for them. As Paul writes about what God has done through His Son, as he did to the Ephesians, he seems to break out in a song of worship right in the middle of his writing:

He is the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15a)

As Paul lifts up the Lord Jesus before his readers, he glorifies Him by describing who He is, what He is like, and what He has done. Jesus is God who can be seen. We are able to know who God is and what He is like through Christ.

[T]he firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15b)

Of course, Paul is not describing Jesus as a created being. He is revealing Christ as God’s most highly exalted Son. This is the same way the Apostle John describes Jesus as God’s “only” Son (John 3:16)—unique in His eternal Person and position. In Greek and Jewish culture, the firstborn son in a family always held the preeminent position. As “the firstborn of all creation,” Jesus is preeminent over everything He created.

For by him all things were created. (Colossians 1:16a)

Paul continues to magnify Jesus Christ. He is not created. He is the creator who ranks supremely over all that exists. Everything we see has its source in the Son of God.

[I]n heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. (Colossians 1:16b)

Everything unseen was created by Jesus—from subatomic particles to the invisible spiritual realm. Paul then teaches us about the sovereignty of Christ over every kingdom throughout history. He is over every king who ever sat on a throne and every person who ever claimed authority. Every human and demonic ruler has always been subject to the One before whom every knee will bow (Philippians 2:10-11).

[A]ll things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16c)

Christ is not only the creator of all that exists, He is the recipient as well! Everything in heaven and earth was created for Him. We find our pleasure in Him because He created all things for His pleasure.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

As we read Paul’s prayer of worship that he shares with the Colossian church, we join with him in seeing Jesus more fully in His power and glory. And our eyes fill with wonder once again. He alone is preeminent and worthy of worship.

Christ is not only the source and the recipient of all that is, He is also the “glue” in the universe who holds it all together! He alone holds the planets in their orbits and keeps the stars in place. He alone binds molecules together. Christ alone holds marriages, families, and churches together. He provides the cohesive power that keeps the universe in order according to the Father’s design.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18)

In His preeminence, Jesus reigns as head of His Church. He is not only from the beginning, He is the beginning (John 1:1). God has designed all of time and eternity for one purpose: that His Son might reign supreme and be worshiped by every creature.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

In Christ lives all the fullness of our God! And because God’s fullness is in Christ, God was able, through Him, to reconcile everything to Himself. We could never reconcile God to us, but God can lift us up and reconcile us to Himself through the blood of His Son shed on the cross.

Paul returns later in his letter to this theme of the fullness of Christ:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

What a description of Jesus! Everything that God is, living in a body. We can see who God is and what He is like by looking at Jesus. We can know Him and live confidently in His love as His children through Jesus. We are filled in Him! In Christ, we have the fullness of our Father’s love, His approval, and the fullness of His power and joy.

Our relationship with our Father in prayer can express this same fullness. As we pray, we want to thank God for what He has done, bring Him our needs, and intercede for others. Then, as Paul models for us in his letters, we also can go on from there. Paul goes from teaching, to praying, to exalting his Savior, and exulting in Him. Paul clearly enjoys his God.

May the joy of God be the fountain that also carries our prayer lives far beyond the needs and concerns of this world. Let’s pray for the joy we find only in God and enjoy Him even more as we pray.

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

Father, how often I have “dragged myself into Your throne room” because I knew I ought to pray. Please cause me to run to You for the pleasure of Your presence. Call me with the joy of exalting You so I will know the same delight Paul experienced as he exalted You in his letters.

Teach me, Lord, to wonder at Your greatness and be in awe of who You are, what You are like, and the majesty of Your redeeming works. Father, let me never move from the amazement of Your mercy and grace poured out to me in Christ. My heart is filled with praise because You have designed all of time and eternity so He reigns supreme and forever receives the worship of Your angels, every creature, and every nation.


Language of the Heart Front CoverThis article is an excerpt of Language of the Heart: 20 Worship Prompters and Meditations on Prayer by Bill Mills, available in paperback or eBook format in our store or on Amazon.

Enjoying Your God in Prayer

Enjoying Your God in Prayer

Prayer is often called one of the “spiritual disciplines” of the Christian life. Surely, we must exercise regular discipline in our daily walk with the Lord to grow into the men and women God has called us to be in His Son. At the same time, as we consistently spend time with God in the sanctuary of prayer, we want to move beyond looking at our times with Him as just a discipline.

We need to come into His presence for the joy and satisfaction we find in Him. The pleasures of His presence—that feed and fill up our souls—will take us far beyond the discipline of prayer. When we experience our deepest joy in God, our hearts run to Him. No longer do we drag our souls into the prayer room to do whatever we must do to maintain our relationship with Him.

JOY AND PLEASURE IN GOD

King David experienced such pleasure in his relationship with God. When we read his prayers and songs of worship, we know he was drawn to God—not primarily because he needed wisdom, protection, healing, or provision. David was, first of all, drawn to God because he loved Him and enjoyed being in His presence!

We see this same desire in the Apostle Paul. How much David and Paul shared in common with each other: both were murderers and both were transformed by God’s abundant mercies. And from the hearts of both of these servants flow the most beautiful songs of worship in our Bibles.

It is amazing to us as we read Paul’s letters how often he will “interrupt” his teaching with a prayer of intercession for the people he is writing to or insert a song of worship to his God. We clearly see an example of this in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-2)

Paul plainly says that his ministry finds its source in the authority of God. And Paul’s desire is for the believers in Ephesus to also find in God what we all so desperately need: grace and peace that come from Him alone. Now Paul quickly begins to exalt and bless his God as he writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)

Paul begins his letter with prayer! Already, after only a few sentences, the apostle focuses on God as he begins to describe who He is and what He is like. Paul does not say, “We need to begin our letter with prayer.” Rather, his heart opens like a fountain as he worships God and invites the Ephesian church to join him.

OUR HOPE: IN CHRIST

God, who brings us His grace and peace, has already poured on us all of the blessings that fill the heavens! How has He done this? In Christ! How rich the believers at Ephesus were—along with you and me. The heavens are filled with the presence, glory, and power of God. The mutual love, joy, and exaltation God finds in Himself as the Trinitarian God fill the heavens. He has blessed us with His love and joy because we are in Christ.

This is our one hope: God loves His Son. All the eternal affections of our holy God are focused on His Son, Jesus Christ. Because we are “in Christ,” God loves us! This is the reason we have confidence in our Father’s acceptance, mercy, and affection. Because He loves His Son, and we are in His Son, we possess all of the pure affection God reserves for His Son!

[E]ven as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Paul’s worship of God flows from his pen like a song as he teaches us who we are in Christ and why we are in Him. Nothing about our performance, potential, or sincerity motivate God’s love and favor. We are in Christ because of God’s sovereign choice from eternity to make us His children and pour out His mercy upon us.

[T]o the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)

We are in Christ because of God alone. If any merit of our own contributed to our salvation, then that would distract from the glory of God. He did it all to the praise of His glorious grace! One day we will join in the throne room with myriads of angels and the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We will together fall at His feet, crying out before the Lamb who is worthy that He is the only reason we are saved. We worship Him alone.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight. (Ephesians 1:7-8)

All the blessings of heaven are ours as God’s adopted children. We have received redemption and forgiveness through the riches of God’s grace that He lavished upon us in Christ. This is our God! Nothing about our Lord is ever measured out carefully. Everything about Him and His works are poured out. That is why we live poured out lives for His glory, rather than measured out, carefully balanced lives where everything is properly proportioned for our comfort. Our response of worship and delight in our Father reflect the measureless giving of our gracious God.

[M]aking known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Paul continues in his letter to reveal the mystery of God’s purpose. He shows us how God, through His Son, will bring all things—in time and eternity and in heaven and earth—together to fulfill His plan. God not only chose us in Christ, but predestined us for His purposes. What hope and confidence we have in Christ! God did it all to the praise of His glory, and we worship Him!

As Paul teaches the Ephesians, we clearly see how much he enjoys God and delights in Him as he prays. Paul desires the brothers and sisters in Ephesus to also enter into this delight with him.


Language of the Heart Front CoverThis article is an excerpt of Language of the Heart: 20 Worship Prompters and Meditations on Prayer by Bill Mills, available in paperback or eBook format in our store or on Amazon.

The Power of the Cross in the Face of Unspeakable Tragedy

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Pastors Tamaraz and Sergei Totiev shepherd the Beslan Baptist Church in the city of Beslan, Russia. On the morning of September 1, 2004, they had sent their children off for the first day of school. The children left for Beslan School No. 1 with all of the hopes that come with the beginning of a new school year.

When the children arrived at school, they were not received with the warmth of their friends and classmates or the normal, loving affirmations of their teachers. Instead, they were confronted by the devastation and pain that life in this evil world often brings. A group of terrorists overtook the school that morning and killed several teachers, parents, and students in the process. Then they threatened to blow up the school and kill the several hundred remaining students and teachers.

Although the demands of the terrorists were not clear throughout the crisis, it was evident that they were from Chechnya, a republic in which there is a growing separatist movement and a desire on the part of many to create a Muslim state. Although the Russian government does not negotiate with terrorists, there were several attempts to set up a dialogue in order to find a way to resolve this conflict.

Soldiers and security forces in front of the school as it burned on 3 September 2004 Photograph: Yuri Tutov/AFP/Getty Images

For three days the threats continued. Some of the teachers and parents who had become hostages were killed. The terrorists, serious about their commitment to destroy the school and the children, had placed bombs in the school. On September 3, one of the bombs went off accidentally. When Russian forces stormed the school, the terrorists set off other bombs. The official record shows that 331 people were killed, 180 of them children.

Beslan Baptist Church lost fifteen children that day, as well as a Sunday school teacher and her toddler son. Pastors Tamaraz and Sergei Totiev lost six children between their two families. The pain in the hearts of our brothers and sisters was beyond anything they could bear, but they had been known for their outreach to the community, and now, in spite of their own overwhelming grief, they sought to turn the town toward the Lord.

For the Russian people, nothing could be more devastating than an attack on their children. They have no hope in the economic development of their nation; they have no hope in their government, and they have no hope for themselves in the future. All of their hope for the future is in their children. It is almost impossible for us to comprehend the suffering of the people of Beslan.

A LONG WAY FROM THE GARDEN OF EDEN

Beslan_kollazh I had the privilege of visiting Beslan about one year after the attacks. My co-worker Todd Kelly, my longtime friend Dr. Gene Carlson (pastor of Westlink Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas), and I were teaching a pastors’ conference together in Prokhladniy, about 80 kilometers from Beslan. After preaching in various churches on Sunday morning, we traveled with Pastor Victor Levashov and a translator to Beslan.

We drove past the new school that had already been built and then arrived at the cemetery, which includes a new section dedicated as a memorial to the children, teachers, and parents who were killed that day, along with the soldiers who laid down their lives to protect them. Each gravestone is beautiful red marble, and in the very center is a picture of the loved one buried there. I was surprised to see that each grave also held a bottle of water or soda. Later I learned that the terrorists did not allow the children to drink, and all of the hostages were sick from dehydration.

After visiting the cemetery, we went to the school where the devastating battle took place. Except for the gymnasium, where the children and teachers were held for most of the time, the building had not been “cleaned up” at all. It still looked like the war zone that it was during those first three days of September, 2004. Rubble was everywhere, and bullet holes in the walls were clearly visible as we walked through the building. In the classrooms, we saw the children’s schoolwork and the lessons of the teachers. The blood of the slain terrorists was still visible on the floors and walls.

It was unclear whether the town of Beslan wanted to preserve the building as a “living memorial” to those who lost their lives, or if there had not yet been enough energy to clean up the debris. But as we walked through the school, we could still sense the heaviness and loss of those terrible days. We were overwhelmed at the thought of the evil that took place there.

As we were climbing over the debris in one of the classrooms and thinking of the children and teachers who had filled those rooms on happier days, Gene said to me: “We have come a long way from the Garden of Eden, haven’t we!” To be in a place where the depravity of the human heart had been displayed without measure, where the evil that we can perpetrate on one another is blatantly staring us in the face, reminds God’s children that the only place to “rest secure” is in His presence, which fills not only the highest places, the lowest places, and the farthest places, but the darkest places as well.

IS IT EASIER FOR CHRISTIANS?

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We left Beslan School No. 1 and went to the home of Pastor Sergei Totiev and his wife, Bella. They had lost two children, and their twelve-year-old son had been seriously wounded in the attack. He has since been to the United States for surgery. He has lost the sight in one eye, but his physical wounds are healing well. It is very difficult to know how or when his young mind and heart can be whole again, but he is with a wonderful family and church that surround him with the love of the Lord Jesus.

Isn’t the wonder of the Cross that God Himself entered the darkness and depravity of this evil world and bore in His own Son the pain of our lives? Because of the miracle of His grace, we can not only be forgiven but also healed and made whole again.

The apostle Peter described how Jesus took our sufferings on Himself in the Cross:

Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:21-22)

Unlike us, Jesus was the innocent, holy Son of God. He owned the glories of heaven and the worship of the angels. Suffering and pain are an inevitable part of our human experience. We cannot avoid evil. It intrudes into our lives, bringing with it the devastation, fear, and brokenness of this world. In obedience to His Father, Jesus chose to enter into our suffering, not only identifying with us, but bearing the pain of our sin and depraved choices for us:

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:23-24)

As Gene, Todd, and I sat at the dinner table with Pastor Sergei and Bella, we could see the fruit of the Cross’s power in their lives. We sensed the peace in their home, and we saw the victory of Christ in the faces of their children. After enjoying Bella’s gracious hospitality and the delicious food she had prepared, we talked for several hours about God’s goodness and His loving care shown through the Body of Christ all over the world. They shared some of the warm letters of encouragement they had received and told us that not one day had gone by since the tragedy without receiving mail from brothers and sisters who wrote to express their deep love for them. In fact, one day the post office called and asked them to come and pick up their mail because they had received more letters than all the rest of the town!

Because Jesus was willing to be wounded at Calvary, we can be healed. Because He was broken, we can be whole again through faith in Him. Sergei and Bella have experienced this reality in its fullness because they trusted God when the darkness threatened to overwhelm them. For God, the dark is as light as the day.

Just before we joined hands together in prayer and entrusted this beautiful family to the Lord, Bella told us of a conversation she had recently had with another mother in town who had lost a son. This hurting woman was still overwhelmed by the evil that had intruded into her life and by the pain of her loss. Seeing Bella, she said: “We hear it is easier for you Christians.”

Desiring to reach out to this hurting woman and to share the good news of the gospel with her, Bella responded: “No, it is not easier for us.” Bella went on to tell the woman that the grief, pain, and fear were just as real for Christians as for anyone else. Then she continued, “But God gave His Son for us.”

Angrily the woman said, “That’s His problem! I did not have a choice. My son was taken from me.”

With great wisdom and compassion, Bella comforted this woman in her pain and then said, “God gave His Son in order that you might be forgiven of your sins.”

Pastor and Bella Totiev are resting secure in Him. Even though no one could answer the “why” questions of their minds, they have been able to experience God’s healing. When the light around them became darkness, they believed what King David had taught them. God makes the darkness light. When the thing we fear the most threatens to overwhelm us, God can still see the way ahead and can carry His children to places of rest, strength, hope, and even joy.

We see in Psalm 139, and in Sergei and Bella’s tenacious hope in God, one of the great themes of the Scriptures. From the beginning to the end this message cries out to us again and again: His presence changes everything! That incredible reality becomes the certainty on which we stand when the darkness closes in.


This post is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book The Blessing of Benjamin: Living in the Power of Your Father’s Approval. Buy on Amazon.

 

Image credits:

1 Soldiers and security forces in front of the school as it burned on 3 September 2004 Photograph: Yuri Tutov/AFP/Getty Images

2 Mourners come to School No 1 to remember the victims of the 2004 Beslan school siege Photograph: Krasilnikov Stanislav/ Krasilnikov Stanislav/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

3 Other photos

Trembling at His Word in Awe and Wonder

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This post is a continuation of Why Live in the Fear of the Lord?


The prophet, Isaiah, had the greatness of God on his mind when he called the people of God to stand in awe of Him and respond to His Word:

Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word. (Isaiah 66:5a)

The prophet spoke these words in light of the captivity of Israel. The people had walked away from their creator God, who had delivered them from Egypt and shepherded them through the wilderness. Instead of seeking God in the midst of their enemies and fears, they gave themselves to lesser gods.

There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:7-8)

Now they were facing God’s judgment and cried out to Him. Isaiah sought to move the people to call upon God in the fear of the Lord and seek His mercy in the midst of their pain and slavery.

Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:9)

God’s terrible anger brings us good reason to fear Him! When the holy standards of God are violated, our iniquities separate us from His presence, and the penalty of our sin awaits us. David learned this truth in a very costly lesson.

Although King David enjoyed intimacy with his God and led the people in prayer and worship, he learned afresh what it meant to “tremble at His Word.” When the ark of the covenant was being carried to Jerusalem, the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, and Uzzah reached out to steady the ark (2 Samuel 6:6).

When he touched the ark—the most holy object that symbolized the presence of the Lord—God struck him down, and he died (2 Samuel 6:7b). We read David’s response to Uzzah’s death:

And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:8-9)

God had given explicit instructions on how to transport the ark (Exodus 25:13-15). But they disobeyed God’s command, thus making the ark unstable. Touching the holy ark was also a direct violation of God’s command (Numbers 4:15). We might look at the mode of transporting the ark or touching it as minor offenses, but that shows how little we understand about the fear of the Lord and His absolute holiness. David may have been angry with himself for treating God’s holiness so lightly and not fearing Him as he should. But after the death of Uzzah, “David was afraid of the Lord.”

How wonderful it is to live in light of the cross! Christ bore the fullness of God’s wrath at Calvary, and His righteous anger was satisfied toward us because of our faith in Him. But, like David, we are still learning a lot about God’s ways. Sometimes the things that happen in this fallen world challenge our view of God, just as happened with David when Uzzah touched the ark. We will never fully understand the ways of our God; we will always live in the fear of the Lord.

God is always bigger and more mysterious than any human mind can grasp. The God who rules this world in His sovereign power and glory is not predictable or manageable. Even though He is our Father, we will never be completely comfortable in His presence. We often hear people say of God, in light of a tragedy or injustice, “That is not a God I can be comfortable with.” But when we finally create a god in our minds with whom we can feel comfortable, we no longer have a God who is worthy of our worship, or one who is able to hear and answer our prayers.

LIVING IN AWE AND WONDER

I find it interesting that the dictionary defines awe as “a mix of veneration, terror, wonder and fright.” When we stand in awe of our God, we experience the tensions of those characteristics together at once! That was Job’s response to God when he felt God had treated him unjustly and owed him an explanation for his suffering. God did not give Job an explanation. Instead, God gave Job a bigger view of His greatness, power, and glory over all His creation.

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:3-5)

The prophet Habakkuk responded in a similar way when God was about to act in a way that did not conform to his human expectations or fit into his worldview. God was going to use the hated Babylonians to bring judgment on His own people. Habakkuk was confused and even cried out in protest before the Lord! Israel was God’s chosen nation, and the Babylonians were more evil than they were. But when he knew that God would fulfill His purposes and the earth would still be filled with His glory as the waters cover the sea, he said,

But the Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him. (Habakkuk 2:20)

When we live and pray in the fear of the Lord, we do not run away from Him because we are afraid of how He will respond to us. Rather, we are drawn to Him because of His beauty, greatness, power, and goodness. We know His steadfast love for us, and we have experienced the faithfulness of our God. We believe what God has said about our sin and His wrath. It is finished! We come boldly before Him because of the blood of Christ. Yet we always bear in mind that we are finite and He is infinite. So we come to Him in reverence, wonder, and worship.

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:11-12)

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

Thank you, Father, for opening this relationship of love, life, and security with me as Your child. Let me never escape the wonder of Your grace to me! Please let me remember, too, that the One who has provided this relationship is the God of the universe. Permit me to walk with an awareness of Your power and glory, and may I always acknowledge that the Lord I worship and serve is the sovereign of the universe.

Lord, please make me wise as I walk in the fear of Your greatness. When I live knowing that You are in heaven and I am on the earth, it helps shape my perspective to be more in awe of You. I confess there is so much I do not understand, and sometimes I feel there is so little I am able to accomplish for Your pleasure because I am made of dust. Please display Your greatness in me as I seek Your power displayed in my weakness, and even in my smallness may I walk with You. Lord, fill this earth with Your glory as the waters cover the sea.


This post is an adaptation from Bill Mills’ new book Language of the Heart: 20 Worship Prompters & Meditations on Prayerwhich is available in paperback or an eBook in our webstoreAmazon, and in the iBooks Store.

From July 20th—23rd, a free sampler of Language of the Heart is available in the Kindle store.

Below is a short interview with Bill Mills, the founder of Leadership Resources and author of Language of the Heart.

Why Live in the Fear of the Lord?

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Since Jesus took all of our punishment at the cross and removed the fountain of fear, why would we still need to live in the fear of the Lord? It is clear throughout the scriptures that this is still the relationship God desires with us.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. (Psalm 103:11)

How wonderful to see the new covenant in the Old Testament! Our God of mercy and grace is clearly seen in all of His Word. God’s faithful, unchanging love for His children is consistently revealed in the Old Testament writings. Everything changes in our life. Relationships change, finances change, circumstances change, health changes. Three things never change: our great God who is the same yesterday, today and forever, the eternal words He speaks, and His steadfast love for His children who fear Him!

[A]s far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

I will never forget when I was teaching from this text and an elderly gentleman raised his hand and asked, “Do you know why God said He has removed our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west, instead of as far as the north is from the south?” I looked down again at the text and said, “No, I don’t.”

He then taught us all with his answer. “If God had told us ‘as far as the north is from the south, so far has he removed our transgressions from us,’ we all would have a picture in our minds of how far away God has removed our sins. There are limits to north and south. When you go north, you finally hit the North Pole. If you go any further, you are going south. But there are no limits to east and west. There is no way any of us can picture how far God has removed our sins from us. It is an immeasurable degree!” And we all worshiped God.

This promise of complete forgiveness was fulfilled, of course, in David’s greater Son, the Lord Jesus. David points us to the Cross of Calvary, the place where God removed our transgressions from us. Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, God loves us as His dear children.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)

In these verses David talks about the fear of the Lord in a very different way than the Apostle John does in 1 John 4. John describes a person trembling, withdrawing, and afraid of punishment. David describes an awesome reverence for God that draws us to Him, rather than a fear that drives us away.

God’s compassion is seen—not only in removing our transgressions, but in remembering we are dust. A father does not expect his child to function like a mature man or woman. A father’s compassion is seen in understanding the limitations of his children. God knows we are made of dust, and He does not expect us to be anything but dust. This is the depth of His compassion and also the way He displays His glory through us.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

The new covenant is not only the source of our intimacy with God as our Father, it is also key to a relationship of great strength. Even though we are dust, inadequate in ourselves, God makes us sufficient through the resources of Christ for all He calls us to be and do. His glory is seen as God displays His power in the midst of our weakness.

[F]or the wind passes over it [a flower of the field] and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. (Psalm 103:16-18)

The steadfast love of the Lord—from eternity to eternity with all of time in between—is on those who fear Him! Even as David reminds us of God’s great compassion, he talks three times about the fear of the Lord in this great song of worship. This is a fear that draws us to God, not one that drives us away. We live always in an awesome reverence for the greatness of our God. Each moment we are aware that He is God, and we are not.

This post continues: Trembling at His Word in Awe and Wonder


This post is an adaptation from Bill Mills’ new book Language of the Heart: 20 Worship Prompters & Meditations on Prayerwhich is available in paperback or an eBook in our webstoreAmazon, and in the iBooks Store.

Below is a short interview with Bill Mills, the founder of Leadership Resources and author of Language of the Heart.

     

    Launching Pastoral Training Movements Worldwide

     

    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.

     


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