In many of my articles when I talk about a person, I talk about Jesus. Being a Christian, and this being a religious column, that would seem reasonable.
But today I want to talk about an individual who most of you have heard of and who lived and served God in the time Jesus was beginning His public ministry. That person is John the Baptist. He preached that people were to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.
John was a unique individual. He was declared by God to be the forerunner of the Messiah; the one who would prepare the way for the Lord. He was bold in the Spirit, and he spent most of his time preaching in the countryside, and the people would venture out to see what it was that he was preaching about.
One of the aspects of his ministry was that of baptism of repentance. When people would hear his proclamation, if they were convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin against God and His ways, and if they were repentant, then he would baptize them in demonstration of their repentance.
When John’s ministry was at its peak, Jesus showed up and began His public ministry. One of John’s ministry responsibilities was to recognize Jesus as the Messiah by way of a sign God had told him to watch for. When he saw the sign, that of the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove and then remaining on Jesus, he knew that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. At that point he declared Jesus to be the Messiah, the Lamb of God.
One of the important aspects of John’s ministry, once Jesus began His public ministry, was that John continued his ministry of calling people to repent and turn back to God even though Jesus’ ministry had begun. The reason this is important to note is because Jesus’s ministry began to rapidly grow, but John’s ministry began to diminish. The more people were drawn to Jesus, the less the people were drawn to John’s ministry.
But that didn’t bother John. God had called him to preach and to teach the people about honoring God, and so he continued to do so regardless of the results.
I dare anyone to say that the reason that John’s ministry was diminishing was because there was something wrong with John, or that he was doing something wrong. John made it clear that we only receive what God gives to us, be that great or small. John was given a ministry to serve in, and he was going to be faithful to that whether it was thriving or diminishing.
I think this is important to point out because many ministries grow and then shrink down the road. People can give all sorts of reasons as to why their ministry is growing, but instead of pointing to their abilities and strategies, they should do as John and say that no one can receive anything except from the hand of God. In other words, it is God who has caused the growth.
The same is true regarding a ministry that has worked with faithfulness and integrity even while it is shrinking. There are so many books, articles and statements floating around that say if your ministry is diminishing that something must be wrong. Tell that to John the Baptist. In fact, Jesus said of John that of those born of women no one was greater than John the Baptist. He didn’t say John was the greatest, but He did make it clear that no one was greater.
So if you are serving God, do so with integrity and faithfulness, whether it is an individual ministry, or a ministry of an entire church. The fact that you honor Him is pleasing to God regardless of your ministry circumstances.
Every ministry has its season. If we honor and trust God only when things are growing, then what might that imply how we think about God when things are shrinking? To parallel a saying from Jesus, even unbelievers rejoice when things are going well. We are to rejoice and be faithful even when things don’t appear to be going well. When Job was struggling and was encouraged to curse God or blame God, he said, “Shall we accept good from God and not accept adversity?” The obvious answer is that we are to faithfully accept whatever God chooses to give us!
When things are going well, honor God. When things are not going so well, honor God nonetheless. He deserves honor 24/7.
Be a Christian of integrity and faithfulness, even when things are in decline. It is something the world does not see enough of. It is also one way that we shine the light of Christ in a circumstance people don’t usually expect. In some ways, honoring God may go the extra mile and show hearts that you put God first even when you are last.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.