Revelation 3:1: “The One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.”
(Revelation 3:1-6, Proverbs 16:18-19, 1 John 2:16, 1 Corinthians 3: 7-9, Amos 3:7, Isaiah 7:9, James 2:20-26, Hebrews 5:12)
About 1200 BC a particular city was discovered and quickly became a great manufacturing city, a royal city and was recognized as the first metropolis in Asia. By John’s day this city was already in decay. Matter of fact, the only thing that remains today is a settlement of shepherd’s huts, named Sart, or Sardis.
In Revelation chapter 3 Jesus said Sardis was a dead church. Sardis was a church that enjoyed peace – the peace of a cemetery. They didn’t realize their church was in the laying in the hospital dying. They fell short of spiritual standards, sinking into a spiritual stupor. They probably lacked the proper teaching, they were maintaining certain pagan practices that overshadowed the truth. People were going to church but were not really having a personal experience with Jesus. In essence, their ministry became ineffective.
Sounds an awful lot like some churches today. After all, as Solomon so eloquently put it in Ecclesiastes: Nothing is new under the sun. In my travels in the military, I have attended several different churches. Every one of them had their problems, in some the ministry programs were lacking. I would like to present some observations I’ve made that may explain why some ministry programs fail. Let’s take a look at four excuses, I believe, will make church ministries ineffective.
Excuse #1 is an “I” problem, and I’m not talking about vision or eyesight. Everyone wants to be noticed in some way for things they do. Let’s face it, we want to be able to say “Look what I’ve done” when a program succeeds. I believe we all know what this is called – PRIDE!
Proverbs 16:18 tells us “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” The writer in 1 John says that “pride is not from the Father, but from the world.” No matter how you slice it being prideful, or seeking recognition, is a sin. With pride, also comes expectation; “What’s in it for me?” Pride expects some sort of payment, even if it’s only recognition. What then is the proper way to work and act in a ministry? Proverbs 16:19 has the answer: “Better to be lowly of spirit with the humble than to divide and plunder with the proud.” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that we are all equal and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
Another cause to the “I” problem is we seem to forget about God. We forget that He is in charge and just how big He is. He is in control and working through us, not the other way around. We seem to forget it’s all about God, not us. God is the one deserving of all the recognition. We need to recognize His spirit among us and give credit where credit is due.
Excuse #2 is a leg problem. We frequently sing the old hymn “Standing on the Promises.” My question is, “how can we be standing on the promises if we spend so much time sittin’ on the premises?” Some people come to church wanting to be blessed by doing nothing. I say, “Stand up and get moving, stand up and see what’s going on.” Some also think they have nothing to offer. NOT TRUE! EVERYONE has something, some sort of talent, to offer to the Lord.
There are so many talents wasted, so many blessings missed. Stand up and see where you can help. In every church, you will see the same folks teaching Sunday School and serving on multiple committees. You’ll see the same VBS director, the same folks cooking, cleaning, etc. Everyone is in a comfort zone and don’t want to experience anything different. Stand up and see what you can do. If you see something that’s needed, get it started. Be an initiator, not just an appreciator.
But when you stand up, stand up in faith. Isaiah tells the story when King Ahaz found out that the Ephraim region had been occupied by the nation of Aram he and the people became afraid. God told Isaiah to tell Ahaz to calm down and trust the Lord. Isaiah told King Ahaz – “…If you don’t stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all.” The prophet instructed Ahaz to ask the Lord for a sign, but he was afraid to ask the Lord for a sign revealing the future of Israel. He was afraid of the future.
Are we like Ahaz, afraid of the future? Are we afraid we won’t succeed? I recall being taught that faith isn’t believing that God can, faith is believing that God will. Believing God can, that’s too easy. We have been taught from childhood that nothing is impossible for God. We see the results of God’s work, but we seem to have problems believing that God will have the same results through ourselves. We have to remember, God doesn’t call for success. Success is the result of God’s hand and no one else. God only requires faithfulness. I mentioned earlier, it’s all about God. He is the one who opens the windows of opportunity, He is the one who invites you in so He can work through you. Amos 3:7 says, “Surely the Lord God does NOTHING, unless He reveals His secret to His servants and prophets.”
There are two good examples of what to do with God’s invitation, both situations entirely different. Let’s start with Moses. God’s invitation--a burning bush. What a way of getting someone’s attention! God told Moses His plan to save Israel, but it took a little convincing. Moses didn’t just get up that morning and say, “I think I will go rescue Israel from the Egyptians today.” Moses tried stalling giving every excuse he could, but God let him know he didn’t have to do this daunting task alone. God would act through Moses to save Israel. Another example is Jonah. God called Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh. Jonah wanted nothing to do with it, but after God had his back to a wall (a fish’s stomach wall), so to speak, He worked through Jonah to bring Nineveh to their knees in repentance. God is knocking on your heart’s door with an invitation for Him to work through you. You either follow in faith, as Moses did, or be like Jonah and run. He is not going to give you a task that you can’t accomplish without His help. Again, God doesn’t require success from us, just faithfulness.
Stand up in faith and get moving and you will take care of Excuse #3; the hand problem. James tells us that faith without works is useless. The only way to strengthen and perfect your faith is to test it and see what happens. Put it to work. The only way to do that is get involved. What’s the old adage, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” Taking on the servant mentality, a humble servant mentality and getting involved will put your faith to the test. Share your talents. I’ve found I learn more when I’m involved, I’m blessed more when I’m involved than when I’m just sitting on the pew.
As born again believers we already know you can’t be saved by works, but we seem to forget we need to work because we are saved. Jesus will be returning soon; just how much more still needs to be done? Are you ready? Have you done everything you could possibly do to further the gospel? There is a phrase I think we all need to live by: “Live like Jesus is coming any minute now, but work like He is never going to come back.” Now I know that there are times and health situations that may prevent someone from doing much of anything. But does that mean they can’t get involved? If you aren’t able to do anything else you can pray. Pray for the church, the church leaders, the church ministry in the community, the sick, etc. Paul urges in 1Timothy that …”petitions, prayers and intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.”
Excuse #4, and probably the most critical, is a heart problem. I believe there are three “Lacks” causing the heart problem. First is the lack of commitment. Spiritual maturity is a major problem. Paul teaches in Hebrews that we haven’t matured in God’s word and are still sipping on spiritual milk. Listen to what he said, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation. You need milk, not solid food.” You need to study God’s word and learn as much as you can. Just as children grow and begin to eat solid food, a Christian grows and understands more than they ever thought they could. You say you can’t teach. Have you ever tried? What you don’t realize is you learn more as you prepare to teach a group, much more than you ever will while sitting in the class. Think about it this way. You have always wondered why you have to take certain subjects in school. “There’s no way I will ever use this.” What happens when you don’t use that information? Just how much do you remember? How much time do you have to spend reviewing when you all of a sudden need it? I’ve recently found studying and preparing to teach a small group reinforces what I already knew, I just hadn’t put it to use. Again, I will remind you here God opens the windows of opportunity and invites you in, but He isn’t going to give you something to do that you can’t handle without His help.
The second “Lack” is the lack of “Stick-To-It-Ness”. Are you all talk, but no action. Remember, be an initiator, not just an appreciator. Don’t wait for programs to be started. Start your idea and let the program be built around it. But make sure if you initiate a program, you can see it through. Finish what you start.
The last “Lack” is lack of desire. This now brings us full circle back to the Church of Sardis. Sardis was a complacent church. It had a reputation of being alive, but to God it was dead. Almost all spiritual growth had stopped. Those who attended were Christian in name only. They refused to change. Nowadays, success is gauged by “How many come.” Programs get started and stopped by “How many come.” Church buildings are built on the thought of “How many will come.” Many have forgotten about the power of prayer, they no longer have a real hunger for God’s word; they are just going through the motions of church. They have lost the fire and desire. You can still have all the programs and functions in the world, but as long as there are neighbors in our community going to Hell, what difference are those fireless programs and lack of desire going to make?
In closing, does your motivation for doing God’s work include an “I” problem? Do you have problems standing up in faith and getting involved? Just how committed are you? Have you lost your desire to strengthen your relationship with God? David couldn’t have said it better when he prayed for restoration in Psalm 51 – “God create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore the joy of your salvation to me and give me a willing spirit.”
What about you? Do you have a willing spirit? Are you ready for the ultimate reward, Christ’s return? Will Jesus be able to say: “Well done, My faithful servant.”?