When I met with Ray Ortlund Sr. for spiritual direction I often talked with him about the difficulties of ministry and being discouraged that I hadn’t experienced more success. He listened with compassion and he was so affirming of me.
With a smile Ray told me how in his ministry struggles he had been helped by the word of the Lord to Baruch: “Should you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not.” (Jeremiah 45:5) And then Ray’s smile brightened so much that it filled the room and penetrated my soul as he added, “Seek for Jesus to be great! That’s what people need and that’s the best life for you.”
I had read Jeremiah, but I didn’t remember anything about Baruch. I needed more of the smile of Jesus that beamed from Ray so I learned Baruch’s life story.
Baruch was Jeremiah’s assistant. He was the scribe that penned all of the prophecies that the famous prophet dictated before and after the destruction of Jerusalem. Baruch was also a Bible scholar, gifted orator, and a courageous leader. He risked his life for Jeremiah — serving him in the midst of great persecution, reading his prophecy of warning to a hostile crowd, and, according to some accounts, helping to rescue him from the pit of death where he’d been thrown by an angry mob.
When Baruch read the prophecy of the Lord to King Jehoaikim and the people they didn’t like it. Baruch was sad, not because the people were rejecting the Lord, but because they were rejecting him. Baruch was despondent because his career was not progressing. In his frustration he blamed God.
Baruch wanted to be more than Jeremiah’s sidekick! He wanted to succeed in ministry like Joshua or Elisha. Joshua served Moses and after Moses’ death he went on to became a great hero, leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. Elisha served Elijah and rose up beyond his mentor to minister with a double anointing of the Holy Spirit. Baruch was just as faithful to his master, just as courageous and gifted, but he was overlooked and has been forgotten.
More than Ministry Success
What was Baruch missing? What was I missing? What are Discouraged Pastors missing? (55% of pastors today say they are discouraged.) What might you be missing in your ministry? Not ministry success.
Our discouragement shows that we’re missing the thing that made Ray Ortlund gush forth with enthusiasm every time I talked with him — even when he got passed over as a speaker, or his book proposal wasn’t accepted, or he had a family concern, or he was near death, dying of a painful and frightening lung disease that left him gasping for air. We’re missing out on being satisfied in the greatness of the Lord.
“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” Ray often exclaimed, reciting Psalm 34:3 (KJV).
Jesus’ Leadership Lesson For Us
Jesus taught us, “Go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:10-11, ESV)
Jesus is not here giving us a strategy for success. He is giving us a leadership lesson — more than that a life lesson — on true greatness. He is showing us what he knew by personal experience: the joy and honor of life is found not in people’s approvals or our achievements but by rejoicing to promote the greatness of God.
How blessed we are that through Jesus we can know this Great God as our Abba Father! And, not only this, but we can serve him by inviting others to join us in this love relationship — that is true greatness! That is the wellspring of joy that washes away discouragement.
Ironically, it is soul satisfaction in Jesus that is the source of true ministry success that advances God’s kingdom on earth.
Listen to SoulTalk episode, Listen: Rest in the Word of Encouragement
Bill opens up about his personal challenges during a recent Sabbath. Rest is difficult for many of us and can often times stir things up in our hearts that we have pushed away. Bill honestly shares his journey with rest and how the practice of Lectio Divina guided him into rest and intimacy with God.