by Mike Ratliff
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73:23-26 ESV)
For those who labor in ministries dedicated to rightly dividing the Word of Truth, there will be times in which it seems that no one is “with” them as they were before. This is the period known as “out of season.” However, we are commanded to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). It is imperative that during these “dry seasons” that the worker not labor according to the wrong motives. If he or she ministers with the goal of gaining the approval of people then they have already compromised. Many ministers use numbers as the measuring stick of how they are doing. If the numbers do not look so good then they change the focus of their ministries. I received a plea for prayer today for a mission trip. This plea was a breath of fresh air to one who is continually under siege by the enemy to be discouraged and, therefore, compromise or quit this ministry. The one preparing to go on the mission trip to another country made it very clear that the focus of all he would be doing was for God’s glory alone. Below is the message.
“I am heading out to Mexico this morning. Keep us in your prayers. Not only for safety, but that God will be glorified in all we do. Many missionaries will tell you how hungry these people are for God’s Word, but we do not see this in our ministry. Many missionaries will come back and tell you about how many professions of faith that were made. I pray that they are real. They don’t understand that these people will do so just to satisfy you or to get you to leave them alone or just cave in under the pressure of the one seeking a decision. I suppose when a missionary comes back and tells of all the success it makes people want to support them financially. After all people like to see and support a successful ministry. Success in man’s eyes and success in God’s eyes are two different things. I truly pray that our success in the ministry will be what God wants. I am just a messenger. Salvation is all of the Lord. If a heart is changed it will be by His sovereign grace. Our success in the ministry depends on God’s sovereign will…not man’s. I will be in prayer this trip that he will lead me to another man that wants to teach a God centered theology. If I do not find him…I will give God the glory!…if I do find him…I will give God the glory! Please pray for revival in the hearts of men to which only God can bring about. I want to thank all of you for joining our group. We need the prayer. Pray that God will continue to change our hearts. Sin will destroy us, but by His sovereign grace, we live. To God be the glory!”
As I stated above, reading this was like a breath of fresh air to me. Over the last several weeks, I have been torn between laboring here and with taking care of my elderly parents who are now both in assisted living. My grandson has been ill lately as well. I have been making numerous trips over my weekends to do what I can there. This has taken much time away from being in the Word, fellowshipping with my Christian friends at church, and simply resting in the Lord. I have also been studying Koine Greek and using what I learn in the Bible studies that I post here. During all of this time, the pressure to just give up and let someone else fight the battles has been very strong. Many have turned on this ministry because of my unwillingness to compromise with those seeking to liberalize Christianity. Over the last few weeks I have also noticed that what I teach is not as readily received by very many. This ministry is definitely in an ‘out of season’ period. However, I do recognize the voice that is whining in my ear that it would just be better to quit. I also know that it is a huge error to compromise what I teach in order to be back ‘in season.’ I must be content where God has me.
Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalms 73:1-3 ESV)
Those who labor with giving God’s truth to all who will hear must do so with a strength that is not their own. Their fulfillment from serving God is their portion, not the accolades of ‘men.’ Numbers are a poor measuring rod when it comes to serving in the center of God’s will. He may very well provide great numbers, giving the increase, or He may very well have us labor in obscurity for who knows how long. The key to laboring, as we should, is that it must be for God’s glory alone. He is glorified when we minister to a relatively small number of people as long as we do so in the power of the Holy Spirit according to His will. Those with huge numbers may look like the ones whom God is blessing while we labor in a corner, but God’s ways are not man’s ways. We must not be ‘envious’ of those in the approval of men. Here is Aspah’s description of those adored by the masses.
For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. (Psalms 73:4-15 ESV)
Asaph tells us that he has been faithful in his service to God, but those who are phonies with the accolades of the many, the evil, are the ones prospering. It just isn’t fair! This could very well lead to a minister becoming overcome with despair and discouragement if they allow that whining voice to dominate their thinking.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. (Psalms 73:16-17 ESV)
This is that moment when God gently opens our hearts and shows us the truth about those glamour boys in their big pulpits and huge book deals from Zondervan. They may very well have huge followings and a lot of money now, but this is the temporal. Eternity awaits us all.
Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. (Psalms 73:18-22 ESV)
Those false teachers who are prospering now will regret their rebellion in God’s timing. We make a huge error when we envy them. Asaph tells us here that when we become embittered about these things that we devolve into brutish attitudes based in ignorance. The following is Charles Spurgeon’s take on Psalm 73:22 for the Christian laborer.
Remember, this is the confession of the man of God; and in telling us his inner life, he writes, “I was brutish and ignorant.” The word “brutish” conveys the extent of his wayward folly. In an earlier verse of the Psalm, the psalmist writes, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” which shows that his ignorant reaction was sinful. He puts himself down as being “brutish,” and in doing so conveys the intensity of his feelings. His attitude and reaction was sinful. He could not excuse it but deserved to be condemned because of its perverseness and willful ignorance. He had been envious of the immediate prosperity of the ungodly, forgetting the ultimate, dreadful end that they faced. Are we any better than him that we should call ourselves wise? Do we profess that we have attained perfection or have been so disciplined that our stubbornness has been removed? This would be pride indeed! If the psalmist was foolish, how foolish are we when we fail to see ourselves! Look back, believer: Think of when you doubted God when He was so faithful to you; think of our foolish outcry of “Not so my Father” when He crossed His hands in affliction to give you the greater blessing; think of the many times when you have red His providences in the dark, misinterpreted His dealings, and groaned, “All these things are against me” when they are in fact working together for your good! Think how often you have chosen sin because of its pleasure, when indeed that pleasure was a root of bitterness to you! Surely if we know our own heart we must plead guilty of the indictment of a sinful folly; and conscious of this “brutishness,” we must learn to say with the psalmist, “You guide me with Your counsel.” – C.H. Spurgeon
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Psalms 73:23-28 ESV)
Let us not look with envy at those celebrated “Christian” leaders” who have such huge followings in this life. We must never forget that the preacher who says what men want to hear is not preaching the Word of God. Instead, let us seek to labor in the center of God’s will. Let us obey Him and be content with our portion and the strength we do have, which is His.
Soli Deo Gloria!