“Separate unto Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2b).
This difference was revealed to me several years ago. I was conducting some meetings in Texas and attended a ministerial luncheon consisting of local pastors. My presence as a visitor was acknowledged and I was invited to stand and “share a few words”. What would I say to these pastors?
The Lord had already prepared my heart with a special word just for them. I said, “Brothers, I came all the way from North Carolina to remind you of one thing: the work of the Lord is NOT the most important thing.”
I allowed my words to sink into their hearing for a moment and the silence was deafening. I understand now what Jesus experienced when the Bible says that “He knew within Himself” that the people questioned and doubted in their hearts. I could sense this as these pastors silently wondered what could possibly be more important than the work of the Lord.
“Brothers, the Lord of the Work is more important than the work of the Lord,” I said. And I sat down.
In my experience, fewer than one person out of one thousand really understands this, even when they nod and say amen. I am still growing in this revelation. I am constantly being reminded by the Lord, “Chip, I am more important than your ministry. I am your priority. This is My work, not yours. I reserve the right to separate you for service or place you on the shelf. I reserve the right to send you forth or keep you at home. The Lord of the Work is more important than the work of the Lord. You keep saying this, but you do not always practice it.”
According to the Scriptures, the Kingdom of God exists wherever Christ has the preeminence. To seek first the Kingdom of God is to seek the preeminence of Jesus over all things. For many years I assumed that seeking first the Kingdom of God meant to seek first the work of the Lord – putting the ministry before everything else, even before the needs of my family.
While my intentions were good, the Scripture does not say, “Seek first the ministry.” It says to seek first the Kingdom of God. How does this apply to ministry? It means simply this: I must be governed by the Lord of the Work, not the work of the Lord.
The “work of the Lord” tends to take on a life of its own if we are not careful. We begin in the Spirit but then we use fleshly means to perpetuate the ministry. I can say this because I have been guilty of it. The thought and the intention may be good, but before we realize it, the work of the Lord becomes preeminent over the Lord of the Work. In fact, the minister, the pastor, the teacher, the apostle, or the prophet assumes the position of the Lord of the Work. How quickly the flesh comes in!
If God’s Eternal Purpose is for Jesus to have the preeminence over all things then this certainly includes the work. The Lord of the Work does not change, but the work of the Lord is constantly changing. The Lord of the Work governs the time, the place, the people, the provision, and the assignment. All these things may change as the Lord of the Work sees fit. He sets one up and brings another down. He opens doors and closes them. He leads us to speak or bids us to remain silent.
In the Book of Acts no one initiates anything. They are wholly governed by the Holy Spirit. He sets people apart, He sends them forth, He tells them where to go – forbidding them from going to certain places, only to send them later, when the time is right. We do not find apostles or prophets or pastors “working their gift” and going about willy-nilly, just doing whatever they feel like doing.
Watchman Nee observed that God often puts His greatest ambassadors in chains. Brother Nee himself spent the last twenty years of his life in the seclusion of a Communist prison. Is this not a waste? It sometimes appears that the Lord of the Work is not doing things correctly. We want to go out and the Lord tells us to stay home. We want to stay home and the Lord tells us to go. He is the Lord of the Work. I cannot explain everything He does, nor can I understand. In humility we must bow down and say, “You are the Lord of the Work, and I am only a worker. You are the Master, and I am the servant. You know what You want and what You need far more than I do. I only see a portion, but you see all things. So I submit myself and my work to you!”
Brothers and sisters, this is the only safe way. Can we submit ourselves to the Lord of the Work? Can we offer Him our gifts, our talents, and our abilities on the altar and let Him direct things? I believe that almost every apostle, prophet, or pastor that has gotten off track has done so because of this very thing – making the work of the Lord preeminent over the Lord of the Work. God gives them a gift, or a calling, or a ministry, and they begin working at it until they no longer need to be governed by the Holy Spirit. They have to constantly put out and perform. Really, they are too gifted. We need a little less giftedness and a lot more brokenness.
When I go back and take inventory of the places I have traveled and ministered in over the last few years I find a pattern. They were doing just fine until I arrived and proclaimed to them the preeminence of Jesus Christ and His sovereignty as the Lord of the Work. This word created a crisis in their fellowship although most of them did not realize it at the time. Sometimes it takes years for that crisis to fully develop, but nearly every church or group I have visited has since fallen by the wayside, voluntarily closed their doors, or gone into a deep, dark deception. As you can imagine, I do not get invited much anymore, and I am less and less inclined to go.
This is a painful thing – realizing that you have labored in the flesh, labored for religion, built a house of straw on some foundation other than Christ. But if we are so good at our ministry that we don’t need to hear from God and be governed by His Spirit on a daily basis then we are far gone. We have left our first love and made the work of the Lord more important than the Lord of the Work. We need to repent.
I need a ministry that is so impossible to perform that apart from the miraculous, divine intervention of God it will be absolutely nothing! God delights in the impossible because we are forced to rely upon Him – anything less and we begin to imagine we can do it. I need a gift from God that requires me to be on my face before Him in order for it to operate. If I can get up in the morning and just “work it” without Him and apart from Him then it is a dead thing. There is no life apart from abiding, and outside of that abiding I cannot draw upon the Life.
This is the only way the Lord will use something: if He can have the preeminence. He must retain the first and the final place. He must be the Head. The Lord of the Work is more important than the work of the Lord. I pray we will grasp this truth and make the necessary adjustments before it is too late and we suffer loss. May this word convict our hearts. Amen.