I took my first full-time pastoral position right out of college. I was serving as a full-time student pastor and desperately wanted to see students meet Jesus, live out their faith, and grow in the Lord.
But at some point in my first few months, I became unhealthily obsessed with the ministry. It was likely a combination of my drive, my depravity, and my desire to justify my full-time position in the minds of the volunteers, parents, and church family. Regardless, I was working all the time. When I was not at church in the evenings, nearly every other night I was hanging out with students or at a student’s game or a community event. Ministry was no longer for my Lord, but ministry was my lord.
I will never forget the turning point for me. God used criticism to show me that my sacrifice would never be enough to please those around me—that there would always be more to offer the ministry.
It was a Tuesday or Thursday evening, and I walked into the stands of a high school baseball game. I was already emotionally tired because one of the student ministry volunteers, a couple in the student ministry, had confronted me earlier in the day for “not spending enough time with a group of the students.” They pointed out that I played too much basketball with another group of students and asked if I “should perhaps give up basketball for the ministry.” It was my only exercise at the time, and instead of exercising alone, I enjoyed doing so with the students, but it was not enough. After the confrontation, I brought lunch to a group of students at a high school, returned to the office for a few hours, and then went to the baseball game.
As I walked into the stands emotionally and physically tired, a mother of one of the students on the team said to me, “I heard you were at the school today. When are you going to bring lunch to my kid?” In that moment I knew clearly that no matter what I did, it would never be enough. I was at her son’s game, but she apparently wanted lunch more. There would always be more to do, more to offer. I stayed for a few innings of the game, and the Lord graciously worked on my heart and soul.
As I drove home, I repented. The Lord lovingly reminded me that only He could handle the burden of being my Lord. Only He could satisfy and quench my thirst. I repented of living for the approval of others, of neglecting my wife, and of neglecting my own soul.
Since that moment, I have not been perfect. My heart still has the tendency to drift to lesser things. But by God’s grace, my wife would tell you that she has not felt neglected since that brief season. My drive has not subsided, but as my heart is set on Him, He purifies my motives and redeems my ambition for His purposes.
To expose the futility of idols/gods, the psalmist wrote,
They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. (Psalm 115:5-6)
It is terrifying if your god cannot smell your sacrifice because your sacrifices will never be enough. The god will always want more because the god is never satisfied. And because gods are never satisfied, they in turn cannot satisfy.
If ministry is your god, ministry is a cruel one. It will always want more of your intellect, time, energy, and family. Your sacrifice will never be sufficient and you will never be satisfied either. Ministry is a great thing, a blessing from the Lord, and an opportunity to serve others. Ministry is only cruel when you make it your god.
In light of the ancient Jewish sacrificial system, the Scriptures say that God would smell the aroma of the sacrifices and was pleased with them. The sacrifices foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, who makes us pure before Him. God is satisfied with us because of the sacrifice of Jesus. He yelled out, “It is finished,” not, “Offer Me more and more and more…” And because God is eternally satisfied, He can satisfy our souls. Only He can.