As we attend a new covenant church, listen to inspiring messages, and observe brothers and sisters in the church, it is easy to fall into the deception of measuring our own spiritual growth by increasing in earthly or spiritual gifts that appear to be visibly useful to the church. We can tend to idolize brothers and sisters in the church and want to seek to be a little more like them in the way they speak, the way they pray, or in the way they evangelize. Yet, this can lead to one of two destructive paths - a pursuit of a form of godliness without any power (2 Timothy 3:5) or to discouragement that I am not doing enough for God in the church and in the world and that I need to resolve to do more.
However, we are indeed called not to grow so much in “ministry” but to grow in the fruit of the Spirit of Christlikeness which then overflows into the lives of others.
Hebrews 13:7 - Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith
Hebrews 6:11,12 - And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
We are called to imitate the faith, patience and conduct of the saints and not their ministry - the faith and patience with which they inherit God’s promises - promises that we’ve memorized like I will not be shaken in any circumstance or trial because the Lord is continually before me (Psalms 16:18); He will sustain me everyday if I cast my burden on Him (Psalms 55:22) the Lord will perfect me to conform to His likeness (Psalms 138:8); and many more…
With this in mind, it encouraged me to consider what my true goal should be.
Phil 3:13,14 - Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
My goal is not to be to be a better preacher, a better speaker, a popular host to families, or a better musician or singer in the church. It is not necessarily some big outreach to the masses, or some big visible role in my church or some fascinating insight to share from the scriptures. Choosing to not dwell on my past success and failures, my goal is to answer TODAY’S upward call of God to be a little more like Christ Jesus in following His example by fixing my eyes on Him as my forerunner and intercessor. Today when I hear His voice convicting me and inviting me to repent and come up higher in some small area of my life, I must not harden my heart but repent and accept that upward call (Hebrews 3:15). The prize mentioned in this verse isn’t getting to heaven - it is a prize of answering the upward call of God daily.
There is no long-term planning or retirement planning in the Christian faith. I can’t plan for where I will be in my walk with God five years from now. Even Jesus Himself commanded me not to worry about tomorrow. Instead, my goal is just one small step upward today. There are approximately as many steps in a half-marathon as there are days in 50-60 years. If I consider running this Christian race a half-marathon, then each day is indeed just one small step in that race. I must be urgent in laying aside today’s encumbrance of laziness, complacency, pride, self-sufficiency, entitlement, discouragement, condemnation, distractions on my phone or computer, thoughts of what another person thinks about me, or how they wronged me, etc - and instead take a step in this race with endurance by fixing my eyes on Jesus who longs to be not just the author of my faith but the perfecter of my faith daily (Hebrew 12:1,2)
As I seek to be transformed daily by the renewing of my mind, God will provide me with opportunities to have the aroma of Christ be poured out to build up others. In Mark 14, we read about the story of a woman who came into the home where Jesus was dining and poured a vial of perfume over Jesus’ head. When she was criticized for it, Jesus defended her by saying “She has done what she could” and wherever the gospel is preached, the story of this woman doing “what she could” would be shared alongside it (Mark 14:8,9). So, in essence the fruit of the message of the gospel of what Jesus did for me, is the upward call to “do what I can” with the power of His Holy Spirit today. In a small way today, I could be anointing Jesus with my actions and words. Like this woman, I may not even have to say much, but just help at home in some small way, or smile, or encourage, or provide a gentle word of correction, or be humble in receiving correction, or pray earnestly for someone who the Lord puts on my heart. It could be filling a gap when my spouse is in need, covering a fault when I’m tempted to accuse, playing with a child or sibling when I feel I should be busy doing something else, or sending a word of encouragement to a brother when I have plenty of excuses not to. I may not be able to be like Simon who hosted a big dinner event for Jesus. But Simon is an afterthought in this story and the “nameless” one who did something smaller is the focal point. Am I willing to be anonymous or unrecognized in my service so that the gospel may bear fruit in another? The one final thing I learn from this story is that what I offer to Jesus in today’s upward call must cost me something. For this woman of humble means, this was a very costly perfume (Mark 14:3). It must cost me my time, or my convenience, or my comfort, or my resources, or my feelings, and most certainly it must cost me my own will. David says these beautiful words in 2 Samuel 24:24 - “I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing”. As I seek to answer that upward call today, that must be my prayer too.
There is a beautiful promise for those who are willing to bless their home or their church and the saints in small ways. Matthew 10:41-42 - He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward. This means that if I meet the physical and spiritual needs of a prophet of God or pray diligently for them, I can receive the same reward as they do. If I meet the spiritual needs of my children (through discipline, instruction in the fear of God, encouragement, and prayer) in a self-sacrificial and cheerful spirit and raise them to be God-fearing disciples, then I receive the same reward as the disciple I raised - who themselves may go on to have a more visible ministry. Hebrews 6:10 - For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. Although much is not written about them, we should not be surprised to see that sisters like Lois (Timothy’s grandmother) and Eunice (Timothy’s mother) - who may very well have been single Christian mothers - receive the same eternal reward as Timothy who was an apostle and elder in the early church. We should not be surprised to see Brother Hur receive a similar reward for supporting the arms of the weary man of God - Moses - to ensure God’s people were victorious over their enemies (Exodus 17:12). We too can be content to just support the saints of God in our lives through diligent prayer, encouragement, fellowship and meeting their physical needs in small ways.
Charles Spurgeon once said: “You are as much serving God in looking after your own children, and training them up in God's fear, and minding the house, and making your household a church for God, as you would be if you had been called to lead an army to battle for the Lord of hosts.”
1 Corinthians 9:24 - Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. - This verse encourages me that ALL (including me and not just the saints whom I admire and respect) are called to WIN the race. In an earthly race, there is only one winner. But Paul reminds the Corinthians that every single one of them can WIN the heavenly race alongside him! May we joyfully cast aside the encumbrances of today and repent from the entanglements of sin in our life and bounce up to answer the upward call of running one step in that race TODAY with a goal to WIN.