Don’t Rely on the Gift–A Lesson from Jonah
In I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul tells us to “earnestly desire the best gifts, especially that you my prophesy.” And we should definitely do so. But in all our seeking of gifts for ministry we have to remember that we can never rely on those gifts as a proxy for our everyday moment-by-moment obedience to God. If you recall the prophet Jonah, you might remember that his heart was quite hard toward the Lord’s will and yet the Lord still used him to preach to the Ninevites. God had mercy on Jonah and corrected his attitude in gentleness, but we should sense a warning here: Beware of relying on your spiritual gifting or apparent success in ministry to gage your standing before God. This was not Jonah’s lesson, but it should be ours because it’s clear here that one may have a hard heart and still be used by God; for while Jonah did relent and preach to the Ninevites, he was still unhappy and bitter about it and actually desired their destruction! God doesn’t want us to carry out His work with outward gifting but a poor heart toward Him.
Who knows how the Lord will choose to use any individual person to bring others to know Him. But should He choose to use us to do it, that will not be what makes us pleasing in His sight. At the end of the day, it is always this: “Those who love me obey my commands.” The only way to be pleasing to God is to hear His word and obey it. And such obedience is not merely outward conformity, such as Jonah had, but rather inward transformation. We are to seek daily to have our hearts and minds molded into the image of Christ. To have true Christians (“little Christs”) walking around is the Lord’s end goal for ministry anyway. So it would miss His purpose and plan if I were to skip over the spiritual disciplines designed to conform me to His image in order to do ministry. Such inner transformation is the entire point of ministry!
Also, we’d do well not to take special spiritual experiences as indications of our own spiritual maturity. I could write testimonies all day long of how the Lord has visited me and healed me (and even worked a miracle for me!), but He did those things because He is good, not because I am. (I praise Him!) I’m completely convinced that many times the Lord does special things for us simply in order to draw us closer to Him. We might experience Him in a particularly powerful way, and if so, He wants us to allow that experience to whet our appetite for more of Him, to seek Him further. In fact, Christian mystics of the past–particularly John of the Cross–wrote that spiritual “consolations” are often for the more spiritually immature who need sensory reassurances that God is near them. The more mature, he says, are able to walk by faith rather than by sight. While I do believe that God’s amazing power is for all believers at all stages of maturity, I think the more important point is that a spiritual consolation, a miracle, or a certain gifting is not itself the indicator of spiritual maturity. To know where we truly are spiritually we have to look to Galatians to read of the fruit of the Spirit, which are: love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, patience, and self-control. We will know that we are walking well with the Lord when those fruit (yes, all of them!) are abundant in our lives on the whole and not just in particular instances–when they are adjectives used to describe our character. Moreover, with respect to ministry, Jesus told his disciples that they would know a teacher by his fruit, not his signs. In fact, Jesus said there would be many would would say to Him at the last day that they had done great things in His name, but that He would tell them that He never knew them.
We can rest assured that if we seek His face first and foremost, and likewise set our hearts steadfastly on obedience, we will be pleasing in His sight and He will use us just as He sees fit.