We were about six months into our church plant in Oregon, when I headed out one day to a nearby lake just to spend some alone time with the Lord. For a church plant, things were going ok. We had a great school to meet in, and people were coming; but the ministry I was now involved in was a far cry from where I had come from. I had spent the last seven years serving as a high school and college pastor at Calvary Chapel in Vista, California, a church that had grown tremendously and was very active in missions and outreach. I was overseeing two ministries that kept me extremely busy teaching studies, planning and overseeing retreats as well as taking teams on overseas mission trips. We also, as a church, did a yearly crusade in our community and were active in the Harvest Crusade when it came to San Diego. Calvary Vista was a place of action, activity, and God seemed to always be on the move. But now I was in Oregon, trying to birth a church from the ground up, and it was slow going.
The activity level was a snail's pace compared to what I was used to.
So on this sunny afternoon at a lake in Oregon, I had a very honest conversation with God. I asked Him, "Lord, what am I doing here?" "Why am I here?" I felt like I had been used in a greater way back in California. It was at that moment that the Lord spoke to me in a very clear way. It was not an audible voice, but it was very clear and very distinct. He asked me a question. He said, "Rob, if I took everything away, the ministry, the church, your family, everything, so that all you were left with was Me, could you find your satisfaction in Me alone?" The question took me off guard.
After I thought about it for a few minutes, I answered the Lord with a tearful, "No!" It was then that the Lord showed me that somewhere in the midst of my seven years of ministry at Calvary Chapel Vista, my sense of joy and satisfaction had begun to be wrapped up in being involved in what the Lord was doing in and through our ministry and not the Lord Himself. It was an alarming revelation. I was discontent in my life at that moment in Oregon because, in comparison to the ministry that I had been involved in back in California, I felt like the Lord wasn’t doing much of anything with me. That is when it hit me; my identity was in being a minister of Jesus and not in who I was in Christ. That was a monumental day in my walk with the Lord and in my ministry.
A New Focus
The next four years in Oregon were largely about getting my heart back into a right place with Jesus, discovering who I was in Christ and allowing Him to speak to and mold my heart once again. We read in Luke’s gospel that “Martha was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40, ESV). The interesting thing about that statement is that Martha was serving Jesus and His disciples who were at her house. I think this is a trap that every servant of Jesus can fall into; we get distracted from much serving because there is so much service to be done! What was Martha distracted from? Jesus answered that question when He continued to say to her, “You are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part” (Luke 10:41–42).
You see, Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus enjoying His presence and taking in His word. Well, Jesus could have said the same thing to me when describing my latter years of ministry at Calvary Chapel Vista. I had become distracted with much serving. Now, like Martha, I was serving God, but the one thing needed for me was to get back to cultivating the intimacy with Jesus that had marked an earlier time in my walk with Him. From that day forward, my passion became to know Christ more, not only through His Word, but also through the victories, defeats and experiences of life.
In Acts chapter 13, it says that the elders in the church of Antioch were ministering to the Lord. I find that phrase interesting; they were ministering to the Lord, not for the Lord. Ministering for Him consists of the daily responsibilities and needs that are a part of our calling. Ministering to the Lord involves sitting at His feet, listening to His heartbeat, being still and knowing that He is God. It is coming to Him in worship and being amazed at who He is. Because of my sports background, I have always been a disciplined person, and I was disciplined in having daily morning devotions; but to be honest, my devotional life had become mechanical, sort of like eating breakfast or taking vitamins. I read my chapter, prayed for the day and was on my way.
After that conversation at the lake, I knew the Lord was calling me to have a more passionate and intimate daily time with Him, to get back to sitting in His presence and being still and knowing that He is God. Taking time to be caught up in the awe and wonder of the reality that the almighty and awesome God actually desires to have a daily love relationship with me. I have also realized that in order for me to keep the right perspective and priorities, I need to set aside specific times and days for ministering to the Lord.
At least once a month, I try to set aside an entire day to pray and seek the Lord.
I take my Bible and journal with me, spending the first part of the day focused solely on my relationship with the Lord. Only after I have heard from the Lord personally do I move into praying about areas of ministry that I have the privilege of overseeing. The beauty of this change in my life is that whether I am in a season where ministry is full and exciting and God is moving in powerful ways, or in one of those dry, difficult seasons that we all go through, my heart is full of joy because my joy and satisfaction are in my relationship with Jesus; and not in what I am doing for Him or what He is doing through me. Ministry fluctuates, and can be forever changing, but Jesus is constant, and He loves us so much. Press into Him and find your joy and satisfaction in being His child, His friend, and everything else will be like icing on the cake!