When the college ministry I founded took off, it was a thing of beauty. We had amazing worship, a centralized location, clear vision for outreach and discipleship, exciting programs, and a grace-filled culture. It looked like the work-product of really gifted people who had read and applied Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. We followed the playbook and could have told a story that pointed to our strategy as the means for ministry success.
I now know better. Better yet, I now remember better.
Recalling the Past
Four years earlier, when I started in student ministry at my church, I was “conned” into doing middle school ministry by my mentor. I obediently did what the church needed at the time, but my heart and vision was really for college students at Florida State University. A few years later, it dawned on me that the first group of middle school students I served would eventually provide the backbone of our college ministry culture. No one had the forethought or strategic genius to pioneer a super effective college ministry by patiently pastoring a group of middle school students through their high school years. Not my mentor, certainly not me: but, the Lord did.
When that couple dozen students eventually got to college, they were unexpectedly met by three separate groups of students from similarly cultured churches, from three different cities in the same denomination. When the four groups got together, the chemistry was natural, the high energy was organic, and a supremely gifted group of students served zealously. As the supposed “cultural architects” of the ministry, I confess we had no clue these groups would connect and amalgamate as they did. It wasn’t our planning. It was God’s.
Remember the Lord
Years later, upon reflection, many of these people went into full-time ministry, church planting, and not surprisingly, a bunch got married to each other. God used their ministry together to lead friends to Jesus and bring spiritual renewal to many. The convergence of time, events, and people couldn’t have been planned by us. The entire experience was orchestrated by God for His glory and Kingdom by His grace so no one could boast (Eph 2:9). In the middle of that experience, I lost sight of that reality. I forgot God did it all.
Scripture is replete with admonitions to remember, to our benefit. In redemptive history, God gave sabbaths, festivals, and stone memorials for the benefit of not forgetting His works of unconditional love and grace. Our Savior gave us “The Lord’s Supper” to do in remembrance of Him (1 Cor 11:25). Why? Because broken humanity has long-term memory issues, which is why nations never learn the painful lessons of human history and are doomed to repeat them. God doesn’t want us to be a stiff-necked people (Exodus 34:9). He wants us to remember the numerous ways He worked to bring ministry success.
Take Good Notes
Whenever I start complaining about circumstances or I begin doubting God’s provision for home or ministry, my wife and I kneel before God and take turns thanking God for every little thing we can think of. The sheer length of the exercise changes my attitude.
We start off thanking God for our children, health, home, and church. Fifteen minutes later we get down to the nitty-gritty of what is so easy to forget, “Lord, thank you for my many pairs of sneakers…thank you for the sprinkler system in my yard…thank you for our ice machine.”
As a guy who grew up in a home where I had one pair of sneakers, watered the lawn with a sprinkler I had to move around the yard, and made ice by hand in trays, these are three of the multitude of things for which I end up giving thanks. The prayer time helps me remember that God is not only faithful but that it was HE who gave me exceedingly more than I could have ever asked or imagined.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21
Can you easily remember how you got where you are today? Do you recall the breaks God gave you as you journeyed toward success? Perhaps today is the time to start making a really long list.