In his classic work on Spiritual Depression, Martin Lloyd-Jones writes, “Do not think in terms of bargains and rights in the Kingdom of God. That is absolutely fatal. There is nothing so wrong as the spirit which argues that because I do this, or because I have done that, I have the right to expect something else in return”. (129)
In this context Lloyd-Jones is addressing those that believe, “if we pray for certain things, we are bound to have them, for instance if we pray all night for revival we must have revival”. In our day the church is inundated with such philosophy. Peruse the shelves of your local Christian bookstore and you will find countless titles that promise and “If-then” fix-all in your relationship with God. And yes, those of us that are Reformed-minded are not immune to this. Who of us has not been tempted to think that if we have good doctrine and solid Bible teaching then God will honor His Word and souls will get saved?
If my previous post is read through the lens of “bargains and rights” then it will be grossly misunderstood. Reading through such a lens one would come to the conclusion that if we have biblical student ministry then we will inevitably produce solid twenty-somethings. If you read through such a lens you might get fired up by the statistics and go on a quest to make the student ministry at your church more biblical. And that would certainly be a good thing. However, this is what could happen:
- Rather than going up because you are doing things biblically, your attendance actually begins to drastically dwindle. If you are still looking through the lens of “bargains and rights” then you will quickly assume “well, that didn’t work” and will abandon the biblical approach for something else that “gets results”.
- God blesses your ministry exponentially. You observe marked spiritual growth in your teenagers. Your attendance increases. Teens are coming to know Christ. Your student ministry has become biblical. Looking through the lens of “bargains and rights” you will inevitably conclude—in a spiritual sounding way of course—that God blessed you because you followed these steps. Pride will begin creeping in as you start getting book deals and have people asking “how do you do ministry”.
How then should you read the last post and everything else that is forthcoming? Read it with a goal of faithfulness. Rather than having a “bargains and rights” mentality have an “even if you don’t” mentality. In Daniel 3 we read the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are faced with the option of being faithful to God alone in worship and risk their lives or preserve their lives and become guilty of idolatry; they chose faithfulness. Their words in verses 16-18 is a reflection of an “even if you don’t” mentality. This is their response to King Nebuchadnezzar’s threat of throwing them in the fiery furnace:
Did you notice that? We expect that God will deliver us. We have faith that God will reward our faithfulness by a miraculous display of his power. God will protect us. And then you see the “even if not” mentality shine through. If I can be allowed to paraphrase, “King, even if God, for His good pleasure, decides not to preserve us we are still going to be faithful to Him and not you.” Regardless of results we must be faithful. What does an “even if you don’t” mentality look like? This is what could happen:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
- Rather than going up because you are doing things biblically, your attendance actually begins to dwindle. However, because you have an “even if you don’t” mentality you press on in faithfulness to God. You may never have high attendance or have any of the typical marks of successful ministry. Your ministry may have the fruit of Isaiah (see chapter 6) instead of the fruit of Jonah. Yet, you will also get the reward of Isaiah instead of Jonah—“well done good and faithful servant”.
- God blesses your ministry exponentially. You observe marked spiritual growth in your teenagers. Your attendance increases. Teens are coming to know Christ. Your student ministry has become biblical. Because you have an “even if you don’t” mentality your “success” results not in pride but in humble awe that God would shine His mercy upon you. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego people start asking about your God instead of about your opinion (3:28).
What will it be? Will you have an “even if you don’t” mentality or will you view ministry through the lens of “rights and bargains”?