We rejoiced this Lord’s Day as a young unmarried couple professed their faith to the elders, joined the church, and communed with us for the first time. They would not mind me sharing that their road to the cross was filled with drug use, jail time, and a child out-of-wedlock. Indeed, shortly several of us will be attending a noon ceremony where Andy graduates from a drug court program. His faithfulness in cooperating with the dictates of this program have kept him from a long-term prison sentence. Near future plans include their marriage and reaching out to other family members. Their presence in our Bible study and lives, coupled with their enthusiasm in the Lord, has been a ministry highlight over this past year.
Perhaps this may appear to be boasting in a ministry success, but be assured it is only a boasting in the Lord. For despite all the joy I have in this celebration, a strange sadness has been in my heart during it. Why I wondered? It took a Scripture and a reminder from a short book to reveal my own heart to me. The Scripture was Proverbs 11:30, which says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.” The joy of watching these two grow has reminded me that it has been far too long since I have witnessed the Lord’s miracle of new birth. Yet more than that, I see that my own soul has not been captured enough with this soul-capturing wisdom.
The soil here is hard, and the constant disappointments, disillusionment, and difficulties in seeking to win people to Christ has caused me – far too often – to be discouraged, depressed, and defeated when it comes to soul winning. For with relative ease, a minister can slip into a maintenance mentality. Instead of doing things to reach people, he can just find things to do to impress people that he is doing things. Soon tenacity is replaced with tepidity, fire with fear, and earnest and eager evangelical expectation with excuse-making and entertaining one’s self with other interests. The assurance and drive that the Reformed minister is always to have that the Lord can and will convert sinners can be replaced with pious-sounding statements about God’s sovereignty that mask his own underlying doubt.
This then leads to the short book of Horatius Bonar entitled Words to Winners of Souls. Perhaps I will add this to my January books as Nathan encouraged. For in speaking to ministers, he warned:
We take for granted that the object of the Christian ministry is to convert sinners and to edify the body of Christ. No faithful minister can possibly rest short of this. Applause, fame, popularity, honor, wealth — all these are vain. If souls are not won, if saints are not matured, our ministry itself is vain.
The question, therefore, which each of us has to answer to his own conscience is,”Has it been the end of my ministry, has it been the desire of my heart, to save the lost and guide the saved? Is this my aim in every sermon I preach, in every visit I pay? Is it under the influence of this feeling that I continually live and walk and speak? Is it for this I pray and toil and fast and weep? Is it for this I spend and am spent, counting it, next to the salvation of my own soul, my chiefest joy to be the instrument of saving others? Is it for this that I exist ? To accomplish this would I gladly die? Have I seen the pleasure of the Lord prospering in my hand? Have I seen souls converted under my ministry? Have God’s people found refreshment from my lips, and gone upon their way rejoicing? Or have I seen no fruit of my labors, and yet am I content to remain unblest? Am I satisfied to preach, and yet not know of one saving impression made, one sinner awakened? Can I go contentedly through the routine of ministerial labor, and never think of asking how God is prospering the work of my hands and the words of my lips?”
I do go rejoicing today at the noon celebration. It does make me more determined to sow, even weeping in tears over other’s condition. But as this time and these questions reveal, I also go in tears over my own condition.