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(we'll keep this short & sweet)
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I stood nervously in front of the microphone, trying to smile at the audience of forty teen girls who were sitting at beautifully decorated tables nibbling on cupcakes and sipping tea. I was eighteen. It was the first time I had ever been invited to speak publicly. The organizer of a mother-daughter tea at a large, wealthy church in our community asked me to share about my decision to walk away from the dating scene, forsake my pursuits of high school popularity, and build my life around Christ. She knew something of my story, and felt that my testimony could encourage many of the girls who were attempting to live “on the fence” between worldliness and Christianity.
From the moment I said "yes" to the invitation, I found myself in a spiritual battle. Discouragement seemed to hover over me like a brooding storm cloud. Negative thoughts danced through my mind: “You don't have anything valuable to say; no one will listen to you; you’ll only make a fool of yourself!”
In spite of my many misgivings, I knew it would be cowardly and irresponsible to back out of my commitment. So I spent many prayerful hours laboring over my notes, trying to capture my recent spiritual journey in a way that others would understand. Finally, after several days, I had an outline that seemed to flow pretty well. I reviewed my notes repeatedly and chose an outfit to wear, hoping that I could get through the event without embarrassment, and praying that at least some of the girls would benefit from my story.
Then the unexpected happened. The day before the tea, the organizer called to inform me that my speaking time had been reduced from thirty minutes to four minutes. I was shocked and dismayed. How could I possibly communicate anything of substance in four minutes, let alone share my entire testimony? And why in the world had they cut my speaking time down so dramatically?
Later my mom got a call from one of the women who had volunteered to decorate tables for the event. “There is a lot of drama going on behind the scenes about Leslie sharing her testimony,” she told her. “Some of the women think her story is too extreme. They don’t want her discouraging the girls from dating around and doing normal high school things like cheerleading and going to the prom.”
I was confused and upset. I found out that another woman had been scheduled to speak before me. From what I heard, she was planning to share a very different message from mine. They had given her most of the speaking time, and I was left with only four minutes.
If I had been hesitant and uncomfortable about speaking publicly before this new development, I was doubly so now. I seriously considered canceling my participation altogether. After all, it seemed that they didn’t even want to hear what I had to say. It would be a good excuse to sidestep an awkward situation.
But as I prayed about what to do, I was flooded with a surprising, supernatural boldness. Suddenly I could see the spiritual warfare that was taking place because of the message I was going to share. I certainly didn’t think I had anything very impressive to say. But my message would challenge the girls to leave mediocrity and give their lives completely to Christ. And Satan didn’t want them to hear it. He was stirring up drama and attempting to keep me from even opening my mouth.
It was only four minutes, but God was asking me to use those four minutes for His glory. That night, I typed out everything that was on my heart to share with these young girls—the emptiness of self-focused living, the dangers of the shallow dating scene, and the importance of complete surrender to Jesus Christ. Then, with the help of my parents, I trimmed it down to a tightly-packed, four-minute presentation. In order to not leave anything out, I memorized it verbatim. I practiced it over and over until I knew each word by heart. It contained no fluff and no pleasantries. It got straight to the point in an almost uncomfortable way. I had to speak quickly in order to cover everything in the allotted time. But in spite of all this, I knew it contained a few simple words that could change these young women’s lives.
The next day as I waited for my turn to speak, my heart was churning, my hands were shaking, and my stomach was in knots. The woman who spoke before me gave a message that was completely opposite of what I planned to share. She gave a shallow, feel-good speech that excused selfish, compromised living. She told the girls that dating around was a normal part of being a teenager, and that even if things started to go too far physically, they shouldn’t worry about it because God would “provide a way out” at the last minute. She gave an example from her dating years about being alone in a house with a guy, things getting out of control physically, but then being saved in the nick of time from “crossing the line” when the guy’s sister came home unexpectedly.
I was horrified—both because of the dangerous words she was speaking, and also because of the fact that I was about to go up onto the stage and challenge everything she had just said. But I knew there was no turning back now. As the woman finished up her closing remarks and I walked onto the stage, I breathed a desperate prayer. “Lord, I don’t really know what I am doing. I feel completely inadequate for this. But somehow, someway, please use these next four minutes to bring glory to Your name.”
The moment I started speaking, an overwhelming peace flooded over me. As I shared the brief but passionate words about my decision to walk away from the dating scene, live in purity for my future husband, and surrender my life completely to Jesus Christ, I could see many of the girls leaning forward, listening intently, and hanging onto my every word.
It was truly an amazing sight. They hadn’t really paid much attention to the woman who spoke before me. But now, though I was not an eloquent or confident speaker and was simply repeating a memorized speech, the girls were riveted. They were hearing truth. Their hearts were being stirred by the Spirit of God.
It was a defining moment in my life. In those unforgettable four minutes, I realized with absolute certainty that making an eternal impact upon others had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the power of God working through me. I didn’t need to be self-confident, perfectly polished, witty and funny, or impressively eloquent in what I said or how I said it. I simply needed to yield myself completely to Him, and then get out of the way so that He could be clearly seen. Like John the Baptist saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30), I was witnessing firsthand the fact that life-changing ministry could only happen when I laid down my own agenda and surrendered to His. Like the little boy in Jesus’ day, I only had a few small loaves and fishes to offer Him. It was up to Him to multiply and bless my humble offering and use it for His glory (see John 6:5-13). And on that drama-filled day amid tea and cupcakes, that is exactly what He did.
I have been asked many times how I got started in ministry to young women. Well, I guess it all began at that mother-daughter tea for teen girls, when I had four measly minutes to recite a memorized speech about what God had done in my life. It was a step of obedience that was uncomfortable and awkward. It was a crash-course in complete dependence upon Jesus Christ.
There was nothing polished or brilliant about what I did that day; nothing that would elevate my popularity or impress others with my amazing abilities; nothing that showcased my “special gifts” in a unique way. The whole experience was a spiritual battle. Though I could sense that many of the girls had been impacted, I was never asked to speak at that church again. In fact, I got the distinct feeling that many of the church women were extremely annoyed with me, though they tried to hide it underneath their polite smiles and pleasantries.
But in spite of the fact that my first speaking engagement was not an altogether pleasant experience, God taught me two key truths about ministry that I have never forgotten and that have shaped my entire ministry journey. If you are preparing for or actively engaged in any kind of Christian ministry, be it speaking, teaching, counseling, evangelizing, discipling, or writing, I believe these are the two most important spiritual truths I can share with you. Understanding these two things can make the difference between victory and failure, both in your own life and in the lives of those you are attempting to reach with the truth.
There is a common belief that the way to build an effective ministry is to prove yourself to others; to write an impressive bio, start an impressive website, write a bunch of impressive blogs, go to an impressive school, get an impressive degree, and show the world your impressive strengths, skills, and talents. But God’s criteria for an effective minister are not based on human strength, intelligence, talent, or popularity. In fact, He often selects the least impressive vessels to deliver His most important messages.
Moses was a forgotten exile, David was a disregarded shepherd boy, and most of the apostles were uneducated fishermen. Jesus purposely came to this earth not as a regal king, but as a lowly Jewish baby born into a poor carpenter’s family, with a manger as his crib and a dirty barn as his nursery.
In 1 Corinthians 1:26-27, Paul describes the type of men and women whom God called to form the early church: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (NIV).
And then Paul goes on to enunciate God’s pattern for being an effective witness for Jesus Christ: “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus…Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:28-31 NIV).
If we are leaning on our own human personality, ability, talent, or strength to reach others for Christ, we are getting in God’s way. Not only that, but when we use ministry as a way to draw attention to ourselves, we are stealing the glory that belongs to God alone. It is only when we take the attitude of John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30) that God can truly work through us to impact souls for eternity.
Certainly, God may choose to utilize our unique personality or talents as tools to build His Kingdom and accomplish His purposes for our lives. But it is important to realize that He will only do so when we have completely surrendered those things to Him. Very often, He asks us to go through a season where our personal talents are hidden, unnoticed, unrecognized, and unappreciated—so that we can learn to get out of the way and let Him be fully seen through us.
As I discovered during my first public speaking experience, it doesn’t matter if we are impressive by human standards. It only matters that we are completely yielded to His Spirit and concerned with His glory and not our own.
I remember hearing a respected Christian writer and speaker address a group of young ministry students about going into this type of ministry. “Don’t start writing books or speaking unless you are absolutely certain God is calling you to do it,” she told them. “And don’t do it unless you are prepared for a spiritual battle.”
It’s easy to romanticize the idea of Christian ministry. Whether it be speaking and writing, evangelizing, or working on a foreign mission field, we envision standing ovations, book-of-the-year awards, hundreds of converts, or sweet orphan children hugging us in gratitude.
But if we are doing any kind of valuable work for the Kingdom of God, we must realize that it won’t be fun, comfortable, or easy. It won’t be a journey filled with human praise and earthly rewards. Instead, it will be a journey filled with spiritual attack, hardship, misunderstanding, false accusation, and extreme tests of faith. Jesus promises it will be difficult. (See John 15:19, Luke 6:22, and 2 Timothy 3:12.)
Don’t make the mistake of going into ministry prepared for a picnic instead of a battle. If we fail to use the spiritual weapons that God has given us, the enemy will win a major victory and hinder us from effective ministry.
When I spoke at the mother-daughter tea, I was unprepared for the spiritual battle I had stepped into. I was taken off-guard by the fact that some people didn’t like my message and were criticizing me behind my back. I wasn’t ready for the overwhelming discouragement that came as I was attempting to prepare my message. I didn’t know how to deal with the drama that my testimony had stirred up.
It took me quite a few years to learn how to truly be prepared for the spiritual battle of ministry, resist the enemy’s attacks, and remain spiritually strong through false accusation and misunderstanding from others. In fact, this is an area in which I am constantly learning and growing.
If you are unsure how to begin preparing for the battle of ministry, a good starting place is to study what Scripture says about spiritual warfare and standing strong against the enemy. Some of my favorite verses are: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Ephesians 6:10-17, James 4:7, and 1 John 4:4.
I also recommend the messages Authority, Resisting, and Doing the Heavy Lifting by my husband Eric Ludy (available for free download at www.ellerslie.com), The Snake Story by Otto Koning (available at www.embassymedia.com), and our book Wrestling Prayer (available at store.ericludy.com) is also a good resource on this topic.
The bottom line, though, is to let God refine your expectations for what ministry is supposed to look like. If you are expecting ministry to be a pleasant, fun, easy experience in which everyone always loves and appreciates you, then you will be sorely disappointed and dismally unprepared for what awaits.
Don’t get me wrong. ministry in God’s Kingdom, though incredibly challenging, is also amazingly fulfilling and beautiful. But it will be a battle every step of the way, up until the very moment when we finally arrive in His presence and hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”. In the movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a powerful moment when Reepicheep the mouse is finally promoted to Aslan's country after fighting many epic battles for Narnia. As he takes his first step into Aslan's country, he realizes that he has finally come to the place where he can lay down his sword, knowing he will not need to pick it up again. So it must be with us.
Make sure you don’t step onto this battleground unless you are clinging tightly to the great and mighty Shepherd who alone can win the victory.
Gladys Aylward—one of the most effective missionaries this world has ever known—had no qualifications or special talents to do what she did for God’s Kingdom. She was just an uneducated parlor maid who had a burden for the unsaved people in China. But one day, she offered her “fishes and loaves” to Jesus:
I put my Bible on the bed, beside it my copy of Daily Light, and, at the side of that, all the money that I had—[a small handful of coins]. What a ridiculous little collection it seemed, but I said simply, 'Oh God, here’s the Bible about which I long to tell others, here’s my Daily Light that every day will give me a new promise, and here is [all the money I have]. If you want me, I am ready to go to China with these.'"¹
And with that simple offering of a few loaves and fishes, God used Gladys’s life to change the world for eternity. Near the end of her life she told a group of believers, "If God has called you to China or any other place and you are sure in your own heart, let nothing deter you...remember it is God who has called you and it is the same as when He called Moses or Samuel."²
God has called each of us to ministry—whether to reach one, or to reach thousands, with the hope of the Gospel. Don’t over-complicate the process. Simply take one step of obedience at a time, knowing that He will back you up as you surrender to Him. Make your ministry all about Him instead of all about you. Offer Him your loaves and fishes with an expectant heart. And then watch in wonder as He does His mighty works.
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