I am an overachiever, yet not in a perfectionist way, but more in a desire to prove
myself. As a child, I did my chores, not simply to complete them, but to please my
parents. I did my school work as an opportunity to put my intelligence on display.
I never left a task incomplete. I never left a job undone.
As an adult, this mentality has not changed. I graduated college with honors and
succeeded for many years in the workplace. So, when I began my job in full-time
ministry, I naturally took this philosophy of work with me. It proved reliant as always, that was, until I entered a challenging season in ministry. When I felt inadequate, I switched into autopilot, quickly putting my hand to the plow to do the work in front of me and hoping that a “job well done” would prove to myself, and others, my worth as a minister.
It was during this hard season that a friend offered the words that would change
everything. In an attempt to comfort me, to turn me from my self-reliant efforts, she
looked at me and said, “the work of ministry is never finished.”
While the intent was for me to see my insufficiency and need, these words were a
breaking point for me. Because if her premise was true, how could anyone withstand
the weight of a call to ministry? It was all too much.
Yet, by His grace, in a time when I did not know if I could continue in the ministry, the
Lord redeemed what felt broken by offering me a truer reality: you minister because of
the finished work, not to finish the work.
We Minister Because of the Finished Work, not to Finish the Work
First, allow me to make a clarifying statement here. By no means I am negating the
believer’s call to faithful obedience. All Christians have been commissioned to the work
of ministry, which is faithfully making disciples and teaching them to obey. This means
that there is in fact work to be done. However, what I am offering is a reminder of grace
to the weary minister – the work is not ours to finish, but it is ours to joyfully join.
The joy of serving in union with the work of Christ is the knowledge that the work is
already finished and will one day be complete.
As ministers of the gospel of grace, we have the delight of bearing witness to a God
who has already done ALL on our behalf. Unlike the work I did in school, or in the
workplace, I do not have to fear the results of my shortcomings, nor prove my worth
through those results.
On the cross, Christ placed a seal on His creation story when He declared, “It is
finished,” and willingly gave up His Spirit as the crescendo of His salvation work (John
19:30). In that moment, all the work of man – past, present, and future – was redeemed as God did what the law could not do, by condemning sin in the flesh through fulfilling
the law’s requirements on our behalf in Christ crucified (Romans 8:3-4).
Did you catch that? God did what the law – or man’s work – could not do.
Then, as a stamp of completion of this saving work, Christ’s resurrection assures that
our work is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58) – not even in our weaknesses. We have the power
of the Spirit as a promised guarantee that, not only is the work finished, but it stands
forever in our King who has sat down on His throne (Hebrews 1:1-3). The work is done;
the end is secure.
If we know this to be true, why do we often work as though we do not understand what
the Lord is doing? Why do we operate as if the ministry relies on our good work and not
on the completed work of Christ?
Working from the Finished Work
Most commonly, success in work is measured by tangible results, such as an event in
its numbers or a project in its yield. When we come to the inevitable seasons when our
ministry numbers are down, or our efforts are producing little fruit, it makes sense (in
human terms) to assume the work is failing. It also makes sense to assume that if we
only work harder, work more or even change our methodology, we can change our
This is often the most dangerous ground ministers tread because no matter how hard or
well you work, you will never be enough. There will always be a parent who is
displeased by your efforts to reach their student; there will always be an event that does
not turn out as you planned; there will always be one more game to attend, one more
student to meet with, one more concert to support, and one more meeting to join.
Again, I am by no means suggesting we never evaluate our work. It is Biblical to have a
community come alongside us in ministry to encourage us, support us, and even hold
us accountable. As in Acts 18 when Apollos – though knowledgeable in the Scriptures –
was taken aside by Pricilla and Aquila to be helped along in His work of the ministry; it is
good for us to examine ourselves and our work.
However, if we do not first start with the foundation of the finished work, we are likely to
crumble as soon as expectations go unmet or our efforts fail. Because if the success of
our ministries is based on our work, it is not a question of if we will fail, but when and
Fellow ministers, this is my simple call, to myself, and to each of you. Let us start every
day remembering first Christ’s finished work. Let us take hold of the promise that is ours
– that God already has redeemed a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue and
language and He who began a good work in us will see it to completion (Phil 1:16)!
Remembering the finished work of Christ has not only given me the power to withstand
in the hard seasons, but it has bid my heart to rest and celebration in all seasons. Each
day, I claim these three truths as my joy in Christ’s finished works:
1) We minister because of the finished work, not to finish the work.
2) We rest because of the finished work, not once we finish the work.
3) We celebrate because of the finished work, not once the work is finished.
By the finished work, not only can we count it all joy as we suffer trials of various kinds
(James 1:2-8), but we can persevere by God’s grace alone in the valleys and celebrate
God’s glory alone in the victories.
Ministers, today you work because of the finished work of Christ, not to finish the work