When I was in college, I involved myself heavily in ministry. I led Bible studies, mentored younger students, served as a resident assistant, and led our church’s college group. I was into ministry. But the summer before my senior year, I sensed God saying He wanted to “deal with me.” So, I pulled out of all the ministry I was doing. I didn’t know how the college was going to get along without me. As a result, I crumbled. I’ve written about this elsewhere. To make a long story short, my life fell apart.
I wish I knew a simple formula, which I know now: aI + aI -> aM.
The long form is: abundant Identity plus abundant Intimacy yields abundant Ministry.
God intends ministry fo flow from who we are and with whom we’re connected. However, I had it reversed. I was trying to find myself in ministry rather than finding ministry in myself. I wonder how many of us operate like this. In the Bible, ministry means “the work of a servant.” One word for ministry, leitourgos, means “one who discharged a public office at his own expense.” We tend to think of the minister as the paid clergy, but biblically, it means one who serves another. So if we’re serving, we’re ministers.
To sustain a life of ministry, we need to know who we are. Jesus followed the formula above. Affirmation of identity and intimacy happened before his ministry. When he was baptized, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended with a voice, “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased.” Then Jesus entered ministry.
God wanted everyone to know that Jesus was His Son. He wasn’t afraid to announce it publicly; He let them know they were related. After all, you can’t have a son without a father. In the future blur of sick people rushing at him, close friends betraying him, religious leaders torturing him, here’s a moment when it’s clear: Jesus knows who He is and He will never forget it.
The Father not only says that He and Jesus are related, but He reveals the nature of their relationship. Intimacy is “being familiar or of a personal nature.” Just because a son has a father doesn’t mean there’s intimacy. But in this case, here’s a Father who is intimate with His Son. He loves him deeply and doesn’t hesitate to admit it. Furthermore, the Son has caught the Father’s pleasure. Before the wild din of ministry begins, the Father acknowledges their sweet intimacy.
If aI + aI -> aM was true for Jesus, shouldn’t it be true for us?
The starting place of ministry is understanding who we are. If we’re in Christ, then we’re saints, which is mentioned in the New Testament 60 times. If we’re Saints, then we’re sons and daughters of God, loved and chosen. We’ve been justified by Jesus Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We respond to God in obedience and are led by the Holy Spirit. We have an abundant identity. Ephesians 1.3 says we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. That’s abundance in identity!
Ministry is a response to who we are. Once we’re in Christ, we cannot add to our position in him. We’re either justified or not. So whether dead-raising, demon-slaying ministry or not, it doesn’t make us more justified. There are two states in life—dead or alive. There is not mostly dead or mostly alive or barely dead or barely alive; it’s either dead or alive. So we’re either alive to God or dead to God; it’s one or the other. Powerful ministry doesn’t change that.
Cultivating intimacy with Jesus is just as important as understanding our identity. When talking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of the water I give him shall never thirst.” It’s through a connection with Jesus that we receive eternal life. He unlocks abundant life to us. Other people can offer us a lot of things, but only Jesus can offer eternal life.
Intimacy is not a destination; it’s a journey. It’s not that once the Father affirmed his identity with Jesus and ministry began, then the intimacy ceased. No, intimacy is an ongoing process, a closeness built over time. We don’t deposit in the intimacy account and suddenly enough intimacy is built up to qualify for ministry. Jesus entered public ministry at age 30, but he continued to build intimacy with his Father. That strong foundation enabled him to stay in ministry even after his death. He ministered out of his abundance with God.
We don’t have much to give if we don’t cultivate a rich and consistent relationship with Jesus. Ministry is a by-product of an active relationship with God. Ministry is the privilege of knowing God. Let’s minister abundantly because we know who we are and with whom we’re connected.