Our Helper in Life and Ministry
Jesus and the Father knew that those who would be vineyard workers would need help. Remember this is our “Green Thumb—Husbandman—Father” providing a need for the Vineyard He owns. He knew ahead of time what the disciples and those who would follow them would need before they asked or were even aware of the need.
The older I get in the Lord, the more I love the Holy Spirit and I relate well to the name Helper. Sadly, early on in my Christian life and ministry, I had developed the wicked way of self-sufficiency, but God soon showed me a different way.
In those early days, our genre of churches promoted the idea that church growth was all about big days, hard work, and hard preaching. There was also a lot of competition between the churches about attendance and baptisms. Everyone operated on their own level of awareness, so my thinking was:
If it’s hard work—a German farmer can handle it.
If it’s competition—an athletic competitor can handle it.
If it’s hard preaching—I have trained for this. I will do well.
If it’s big days—I will be fun and creative.
Let me pause here and say, it brings pain and grief to me now as I write this reflecting on my inner self. But this was all I knew. At the same time, I want to extend grace to all who read this. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these tools if they are God-ordained for your situation. No guilt is intended here—only a heart that needed to learn a better way.
We hit the ground running. On the first Wednesday night after a hard message, Ruth was saved. She was our first fruits. Then we had “picture” day. I was on the parking lot, snapping pictures with my Polaroid camera as families got out of the car. Then we had “baby” day and so on. Working hard was no problem. Arising every weekday morning at 5:30, I was live on the radio at 6:05. I had a goal to make 50 visits a week while overseeing administrative duties and studying for preaching. I often arrived home at 10:00 p.m.
DiAnne, my late wife, who was pregnant with our third child, asked me one day. “Have you noticed how Jason laughs and plays with Bo (a man in our church) after the services?” I actually had seen my son enjoying the ride on Bo’s shoulders. Her questions gave me pause, but there was no significant change. Hard work and sacrifice were my way. One severe blow to our marriage was when I personally borrowed money from the bank in order to give to a church building project. When the payment stubs came in the mail, it hurt her deeply. She had sacrificed and lived on a shoestring budget through college and seminary and was looking for a better financial footing for us and the children. With a third baby on the way, this brought even further insecurity. All of this was in keeping with my learned paradigm of ministry; ministry happens when we work hard, promote excitedly, and preach interestingly. All in all, we seemed to be doing well. Attendance grew, we were becoming a family, and several came to know the Lord. We even started proceedings to expand our K-5 program to a full-fledged Christian school. But inwardly, I was dying. The combination of exhaustion, ignorance, constant responsibility, and mild turbulence amongst the leaders rendered me powerless, and I crashed and burned. I found myself crippled with worry, fear, and depression. Often, I reflected on how cocky I was in seminary when others reported church troubles. I thought, “Bless God that won’t happened to me.” I thought I was strong.
I also struggled with lustful thinking, which I know is common for men, but I was deeply convicted and didn’t know what to do about it. It’s difficult to preach hard against sin when you yourself have no answers for those you are just beating up with your words. Finally, I wasn’t sure if we were experiencing lasting fruit or just a swelling crowd. I was so defeated by all of this that I would curl up on the floor in my jean jacket, listen to Christian music for comfort, feign sleep, and long for the farm. There were times when church members would come, I would stay in that position, my wife would cover for me, and they would step over me and enjoy their visit with her. Needless to say, I was not doing well at this. Something had to change, but what?
Around that same time, our youth had done some door-to-door visitation and met an older lady named Sarah. They came back with excitement, telling us about her humor and spiritual insights. She visited our church and soon became dear friends with my wife. She developed a mom-mentor relationship with DiAnne. As we grew closer to her, she began to share books, articles, and tapes with us. She sensed that we had good hearts but did not know the way of the Spirit. She was always respectful and pleasant, never chiding me because of my ignorance. She was a great help to my wife as she chuckled and prayed over our problems, always ending the conversation with a nugget she had read. I admired her ability to give wisdom without ridicule or dogmatism. This was a grace I wanted to emulate.
During this time, Sarah gave us a tape by Joseph Carroll and suggested that it might be a blessing. One day as I was traveling to have lunch with one of our deacons, I popped it in. Woven into the message on “How to Worship Jesus Christ,” Mr. Carroll related an illustration about a defeated missionary that he once counseled. When he described the condition of the missionary, he could just as well have been describing me. At that moment, the Holy Spirit captured my full attention. I was broken, desperate, and hungry. If something didn’t change, I would be out of the ministry, and who knows after that. Here’s what he said to the missionary—as if speaking directly to me.
“Jesus is your Savior. That’s what He did for us. Romans 5:8 says ‘But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’.’’ I knew this.
“Jesus is our sanctification. That’s what He does in us. I Corinthians 1:30 says, ‘But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’.” I had never seen this, but when I heard it that day, a light came on and offered hope for my purity.
“Jesus is our service. That’s what He does through us. John 15:5 says, ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” Another light came on. This was my hope for lasting fruit. Before, it was all about my performance in the pulpit. Soon I would be learning that the primary importance was not how I came across to an audience, but rather how He came across through me by the Holy Spirit.
“Jesus is our Shepherd. That’s what He does with us. Psalm 23:1 says, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’” This addressed my battle with worry and fear. At the end of this story he said, “In the same way that you let Jesus be your Savior by faith, you need to let Him be your life by faith—your sanctification, your service and your Shepherd.” These truths are made a reality by the Holy Spirit.
As Mr. Carroll was finishing his remarks, my heart was pounding, my spirit was leaping, and my tears were flowing. I had found my answer right where it needed to be—in Jesus.
About that time, I pulled into the McDonald’s near Marietta, Georgia, to meet my friend. He wasn’t there yet—I was glad because it gave me time to pray. Stepping out of my car, I bowed my head on top of that ’67 Pontiac and prayed something like this: “Lord, in the same way I received You by faith to be my Savior, I now believe you as my sanctification, my service, and my Shepherd. Thank You. I love You.”
My life and ministry were changed that day. Christ in me by the Holy Spirit was my new starting point. I began to look at all ministry and preaching differently. There would be a lot to learn. My late wife would tell you, as she told many audiences, “I got a new husband that day, our kids got a new father, and our church got a new pastor.”
From that day to this, I have found the Holy Spirit to be the strongest component of my inner man and my faithful and powerful helper in life and ministry.
“All is in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God. All else is nothing.” —Joseph Carroll
A Touch of Tozer
Another thing that greatly hinders God’s people is a hardness of heart caused by hearing men without the Spirit, constantly preaching about the Spirit. There is no doctrine so chilling as the doctrine of the Spirit when held in cold passivity and personal unbelief. The hearers will turn away in dull apathy from an exhortation to be filled with the Spirit unless the Spirit Himself is giving the exhortation through the speaker. It is possible to learn this truth and preach it faithfully, and still be totally devoid of power. The hearers sense the lack and go away with numbed hearts. Theirs is not opposition to the truth, but an unconscious reaction from unreality.
The Tozer Topical Reader, Volume One
(Holy Spirit: filling; Pastoral ministry: need for spiritual reality)