Paul's Outline for Ministry: Expressing Gratitude
When I moved to Glenmora several years ago, my first sermon series was on Ephesians. I had been positively impacted by Eugene Peterson’s book Practice Resurrection (which I highly recommend) and hoped to share with my new congregation what I learned about discipleship and being the church. One of my favorite parts of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is his thanksgiving and prayer in Eph 1:
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:15-23 ESV)
With this section Paul provides us an outline for ministry, reminding us of what we should be thankful for, what we should pray for, and the hope toward which we should be pointing those we serve.
In my next three posts I want to consider this example provided by Paul, beginning with the way he expressed gratitude in ministry. Ministry, like many other careers, can sometimes focus our attention on the challenges, the things going wrong. This causes us to neglect the things that are actually going well, the things for which we should be thankful. So many in our churches are battling cancer, grieving, struggling to make ends meet, or trying to hold relationships together, that we spend a lot of our time trying to anticipate what could go wrong next, or preparing ourselves to help with the next crisis. All the while, we are largely blind to the fact that there is so much that is going well! Paul knew that none of his churches were perfect, and I’m sure some struggled more than others, and in different ways. Yet, here is Paul expressing his gratitude for what the Ephesians were doing right. Specifically, he is thankful for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love toward the saints.
How often do we tell our churches that we are proud of them? How often do we express our appreciation for how we see their faith impacting the world around them? As ministers we are in a privileged position to see more than most how the faith of our brothers and sisters in Christ leads them to love one another. We get to witness the charitable deeds that go unseen by most and the kind words of encouragement heard by so few. Because we are often some of the only ones to see or hear these things, it is imperative that we take the time to express our gratitude at how we see Christ working in the lives of those around us.
One night a challenging situation came up at one of our youth devotionals. Later, as I heard about it from one of the young men who works with our youth, I couldn’t help but notice how undisturbed he seemed to be. Several days later it dawned on me that his temperament and attitude are perfect for the work he does with the young people each week. As I continued to think about it, I tried to remember if I had ever told him how gifted he is for this type of ministry. If we recognize something in others that is good, maybe we should share that with them. It could be that they have yet to recognize it themselves, and our words of thanks are just the affirmation they need that God is calling them to fill a certain role in the kingdom. The point is not to reward others with praise, but to be a voice that confirms that the image of Christ is visible in someone’s life, not perfectly or completely, yet present enough to be distinguishable.
One of the things I love about living in Glenmora is that when I leave my house on a clear night, I can look up and see dozens upon dozens of stars twinkling in the sky. These tiny, shining points of light draw my eye to them, and their brilliance almost causes me to forget that they are surrounded by darkness. In those moments, I stand in awe of the God whose creative power is so all-encompassing and beautiful. Our people are striving each week to reflect the love of Christ in a world that is often very dark. My prayer is that just as our eyes are drawn to the stars in the night sky, people will be drawn to these hearts so full of faith in the Lord Jesus and of love toward the saints.