Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people.
In Romans 16:18, the Apostle Paul criticized those who, in the guise of serving Christ, were serving “their own personal interests.” I explained that the Greek word for “personal interests” signified base motives and desires. Thus Romans 16:18 does not deny the possibility that we can enjoy serving Christ. But it might lead us to wonder whether Christian service can lead to personal delight?
I remember a time in my life when I was wrestling with the question of what God wanted me to do in service to him. I wondered how much weight I should give to my feelings of joy in certain aspects of ministry. It seemed selfish to believe that my love of studying and teaching God’s Word might actually help me discern his will for my life. Yet I felt drawn to give more of myself to these aspects of ministry. What was God trying to say to me?
During this season of uncertainty, out of the blue I received a review copy of a book by Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot. I had not asked for this book. It just showed up in my mailbox, no doubt sent by the publisher who hoped I might review it on my blog. The main theme of Cure for the Common Life was that we all have a sweet spot, where our unique combination of talents, gifts, and passions is best used in God’s service. When we live in our sweet spot, we will experience the delight of serving God. Lucado did not promise that our life in the sweet spot would be without sacrifice or suffering. Yet he showed, from Scripture and the experiences of many Christians, that serving God can indeed lead to a deep sense of well-being and joy.
Max Lucado helped me to see my feelings about ministry in a new light. But I still doubted my motives. So I shared my struggles with a wise, mature Christian brother named Doug. After listening for a long time to all that I had been churning over in my mind, he said, “It sounds to me like your joy comes when you’re giving your best self to the Lord, when you’re using all of your gifts for him and his kingdom. Don’t you think it’s possible that through this joy God is showing you what he wants you to do in this next season of your life?” It was hard for me to disagree, especially with someone who was both wise and unbiased.
I don’t have space in this reflection to share the details of my life since that time. But I will close by noting that what God did in me through Max Lucado’s book and the wisdom of my Christian counselor pointed me to the unexpected destination of Laity Lodge, and to the unexpected opportunity of writing these Daily Reflections. What a joy it is for me to share with you each day my reflections on God’s Word.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When do you feel the greatest joy in your service to God? What, in particular, causes you to feel that joy?
PRAYER: Gracious Lord, as I think back upon my struggle to understand the shape of my calling, I thank you for the ways you spoke to me, even though I sometimes had my spiritual fingers in my spiritual ears.
Thank you for unexpected wisdom from Max Lucado. You used his book to say things I needed to hear.
Thank you for Doug, who was able to peer gently into my soul and see things I had been unable to see on my own. How grateful I am for his prayerful friendship.
Thank you for the amazing way you drew me to Laity Lodge, and even to the writing of these Daily Reflections. How blessed I am to be able to serve you in this ministry!
Above all, I thank you, dear Lord, for the joy of serving you. To be sure, there are times when doing what you’ve asked me to do is just plain hard work. But I am so grateful for the chance to give you my best and to serve you in my “sweet spot.” Amen.
P.S. from Mark
If you’ve been reading these reflections for a while, you’ve no doubt noticed that sometimes, like today, my prayers are quite personal. Obviously, I’m not expecting you to pray in exactly the same way that I pray, unless you’ve been blessed by Max Lucado, Doug, and Laity Lodge! I’m sharing my personal prayers with you as an example for your own conversation with God. I know this is different from most devotional guides, which usually feature more general prayers. But I’m hoping that by letting you listen in on my own private prayers, you’ll be encouraged to pray personally and specifically.