I have often struggled with the lure of wanting the successful ministry. I can, of course, make it seem all so spiritual by saying the right things. "I just want all the glory to go to God. I want to see people be saved for the magnification of Christ's name. It's not about me, its about Him." But if I were to be honest, there is a bit of me that would desire some of that glory. The glory of the successful ministry. The lure of being known as a man who pastors the large church in town. And who wouldn't want to be asked to speak at conferences?
My guess is that I am not alone in this struggle. This seems to be one of the idols of our age, at least for pastors and preachers. Last week, I was reminded again of the foolishness of this thinking when I asked myself this question: "Would I trade my life for this glory?" What I meant by that was not my glory, but God's glory. Would I be willing to trade my physical life if it meant that God would gain more glory? I was struck with the reality that often, our greatest impact upon the kingdom of God does not come until we are dead.
Or let me pose this thought another way. Which of these would you choose if you were faced with this option: (1) You could be lost in obscurity while on this earth, but your untimely death would bring about the salvation of thousands upon thousands of people. (2) You could have a large successful ministry now and then enter glory without fanfare. Which would you choose?
On Sunday, I preached on the life of Stephen. He was the first Christian martyr. He was a godly man who emerged upon the stage in the early church for only a moment. Through boldness, he spoke the truth of God to the religious leaders of the day and preached Jesus to them. As far as we are told, he saw no converts through his preaching ministry. But in the end, those he preached to killed him for his faith. Many people might look at this as a tragedy. Some might have seen this as a missed opportunity for God. Men with the courage and conviction of Stephen do not roll around all that often. It was a shame that he died so early in the history of the early church.
Or was it? His death led to an all out onslaught of persecution upon the church.
"And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria." (Acts 8:1)
Some of those that scattered settled in a town called Antioch, preaching the gospel and planting a church.
"Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord." (Acts 11:19-21)
It will be from this little church, just a few years later, that Barnabas and Saul (the same man that approved of the execution of Stephen) will be sent from in order to evangelize the known world. It will be from the result of the death of Stephen that thousands upon thousands of people will be saved. What a plan of God. I can well imagine Stephen standing with Jesus as He is told of all the events that would take place because of his courage and conviction. And at that moment, there is no way he would ever have thought of trading it all so that he could have had a little glory.
Trading my life for God's glory? It shouldn't even be a question we have to consider.