Your Power Source
I’d only been working at the church for two years and I already was beginning to run dry. What was happening to me? I wondered. Slowly, God began to answer my question by revealing the fatal flaw in my ministry: It was all about me.
Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration. It wasn’t all about me, but most of it was, and it was certainly all coming from my own strength. I was beginning to run dry because I hadn’t gone to the river and let God’s living water flow through me into my work.
He mostly spoke to me through His Word, repeatedly drawing me to applicable verses until I got His point. I needed to rely on Him more. How much had I prayed about any of the work I’d done in the last several months? I’d prayed very little for inspiration and even less that God would use it once it was done.
There’s a story in Acts 14 when Paul and Barnabas heal a crippled man with faith. The crowd is astonished and says, “The gods have come down to us in human form” (Acts 14:11)! The priest of Zeus goes to get sacrifices to offer them. Immediately Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and rushed out to correct the crowd. They were pained to think that the crowd thought their power came from themselves and not from the living God. When I read that story, it challenges me greatly. I suppose if someone literally started calling me a god, I might be humble enough to say that I’m really just a human. Yet subtly, subconsciously, isn’t there a part of me that wants people to think I’m more than human? That the power by which I minister comes from me, the Almighty Ali Thompson?
As God confronted me about my own self-righteous, self-empowering attitude, He revealed several things to me.
The Look-At-Me Syndrome
A while ago I took a strengths test in which one of the possible results was “recognition.” As I read the description, I didn’t see how it could be strength. It described someone in need of constant recognition and admiration for his or her work.
My typical routine for completing a project goes like this:
1. work hard, but quickly;
2. find the nearest person and in my humblest voice, boast about what I’ve just done;
3. try my hardest to emphasize that I was excited because I had fun doing it, not because I just wanted admiration for my brilliance;
4. sit and soak in the praise about how great a job I had done
I even had a nearly two-year-old voicemail still saved on my phone because a coworker called to tell me what a fabulous job I had done on a late-notice project she’d asked me to do. I received yet another voicemail, this one only a few months old, of the same nature. (I had to delete them after writing this article.)
It’s hard to cure the Look-At-Me Syndrome. It’s such a natural instinct for me to seek out someone who will praise me as soon as I am done with a project. Furthermore, I hate being praised in a group setting. I’d rather show everyone around me, one by one, and hear praises from one person after another.
This was one big area where God convicted me in the process of teaching me to rely on Him. Who was supposed to be getting the praise here? Even still, the temptation to feign giving credit to God was a possibility. I could envision the conversation: “Wow, Ali, you did a great job with that!”
“Thanks, it was a total God thing!”
It’s easy to throw around the phrase “it’s a God thing,” and if you truly believe it, great! However in my imagined conversation, it was only a phrase uttered so that I could receive the praise while still “giving credit to God,” thus appearing humble and being admired all the more.
The Real Audience
One of the verses that God pointed me to was Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I think a lot of times we serve in our own strength because we get confused about who our audience really is. If we are trying to please men, then it’s all about what we can do. The power must come from us because if it comes from God, it means that God could use anyone else to minister in the same way; and that won’t impress anybody.
If we are trying to please God, however, then we recognize that He desires to partner with us. We recognize that He doesn’t need us, but He chooses to use us and we are merely tools that He equips and uses to carry out His work for His glory.
Building a House
God also led me to Psalm 127:1, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” In other words, if God doesn’t do the work, it’s pointless. To think of all the hours I put into ministry, how sad it would be to know it was all in vain because I wasn’t letting God be the Lord of my work!
Not only would my work be in vain, but it would be tested and proved to be worthless. Whenever I see car license plates with verse references, I look them up as soon as I am parked. Right in the midst of God challenging my attitude, He drew my eyes to a car with the license plate, 1 Cor 3:13. When I read it and the surrounding verses, I knew God was reiterating His point to make sure I really got it: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Cor. 3:10-13). The passage hit me like a ton of bricks. If ministry is like building, then I need to be careful how I build. I need to be careful not to lay a foundation other than Jesus Christ, and I need to build on the foundation with eternal things from God, not with my own earthly ideas and talents. One day, fire will test the quality of my work. Will it prove of eternal value (from God’s strength) or will it fall apart (from my strength)?
So what does all this mean? How can we maintain a proper attitude and power source as we minister? Only a few weeks after my husband and I had joined a couples’ small group, this very topic was broached. One of the men in our group asked for prayer that he would rely on God more, specifically in his work. This inspired me to add the same prayer request for myself. There’s strength in numbers. Now I had a group of people – one of whom I lived with – who would pray that I would work out of God’s power, not my own. Not only that, they would hold me accountable for where I was receiving my power from.
It didn’t have to be a small group; that was just the place God chose to provide me accountability in this conviction. It could have been my husband alone, a coworker, or my boss. It didn’t really matter who it was, as long as it was someone who loved God and cared about serving Him.
Pray Without Ceasing
Even as I continue learning how to truly work from God’s power, not my own, I know that I need to be in constant prayer. I need to pray before I begin a project, that God would inspire me and work through me. I need to have a prayerful spirit as I work, keeping my ears open for His voice. I need to commit myself to praying after a project is completed, that God will use it in the lives of those I minister to. If I am truly going to work out of God’s power, then 1 Thessalonians 5:17 can’t ring truer. I need to pray without ceasing!