Are you ready to serve God?
A couple of months ago, some friends of mine invited me to take up cycling once a week. I said “yes”, thinking this would be a fun way to exercise, but also partly because I thought there was nothing much to it – after all it was just cycling. Anyone can ride a bike, right?
So on that first afternoon, we set off on what I was assured would be a gentle cycle, and it certainly started off that way. For about an hour we were mostly going downhill, following bush trails and, even though I had started struggling to breathe 15 minutes into the ride, I felt I could do this. But by the time we passed the 20km mark, I was rethinking my friendship and cursing the day these guys invited me to cycle with them.
5km later, I was sure I was having a heart attack. As we neared the 30km milestone, my legs decided I had punished them enough, and retaliated by cramping viciously in all sorts of places. I had to walk most of the rest of the way, pushing my bike while my friends – one, a woman in a her 50’s, and the other a grandfather in his 70’s – tried to assure me that they were impressed by how well I had done.
You see, prior to that afternoon, I had nothing more than a romantic view of cycling, and was clueless as to how gruelling a challenge it would be. And when the rubber hit the road, as I moaned, and cried, all I could think of was quitting.
And I think we enter Christian service with a similar mind-set. We think only of the glories of ministry –the awesome displays of the power of God, preaching like Billy Graham and Charles Spurgeon, and breaking down hard hearts like Jonathan Edwards and bring many to salvation – but do not fully consider the guaranteed obstacles that we will encounter along the way.
This morning, I have a question for you – “are you ready to serve God?” Are you actually ready to do this work for which you signed up?
Before you answer my question, let’s have a look at a group of men and women who were actually ready to do the work to which God had called them.
In our passage this morning, the Israelites, under the leadership of Zerrubabel and Joshua, had just returned from exile and God set it upon their hearts to rebuild the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians some 50 years prior to their return. And we read this in verse Ezra 4:1, which says
Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the LORD, the God of Israel,
Zerrubabel, Joshua and the leaders of the people knew they had been called by God to restore worship in Jerusalem. And as you ponder the question whether you are ready to serve God or not, you must first answer three other questions, the first of which is one – are you really called?
Are you really called?
When King Cyrus released the first group of exiles to return to Israel in chapter 1, he gave Zerrubabel and Joshua a very specific task which Cyrus himself had received from God, namely to build a house for the Lord in Jerusalem. So what we see happening in verse 1 of chapter 4 are these men doing what God had called them to do, rebuilding the temple.
In one sense, this must be an easy question for you to answer. Every man and woman who is a Christian has been called by God, and is first and foremost called to God – not primarily in order to do things – but to God himself. In John 10:27, Jesus says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”. The good Shepherd called you and you came to him. So of course you are called!
But in calling us, He also gives us different works to do as Ephesians 2:10 says, and the question is, do you know why you are here at TCZ this morning? In plain words, “what are you doing here?”
This is a question to which, if you don’t already have the answer, I implore you to find out. I will leave others to help you figure out how you can know if God has indeed specifically called you to something.
The administration will perhaps not be happy with me saying this, but you may find out that TCZ and pastoral ministry is the wrong place for you. There is a storm headed your way – not just the assignments – they are a bubble bath compared to the hurricane that is coming. And if you are not sure that God has called you to be here, I doubt you will survive it.
Zerrubabel and Joshua were not doubt clearly called by God to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, that much is clear, but where they ready to be faithful? Which is my second question to you this morning:
Are you resolved to be faithful?
Soon after the work on the temple had started, we read in Ezra 4:2-3 that
2 (the enemies of the Israelites) approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.”
3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”
We are not told who exactly these “enemies” were but it is right to assume they included the inhabitants of the region of Samaria, which was formerly the capital city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. As verse 2 says, they had been forcibly resettled by the Assyrians some 200 years earlier. And at some point they had begun to worship Yahweh, or so they said.
At face value, their request seems innocent and genuine. They wanted to join in the rebuilding of the temple, or so they said. They too worshipped God, and they too had been placed there by a king, be it a long-dead and buried Assyrian king.
But Zerrubabel and the leaders’ response was clear and tactless – it was a flat out no – “you will have nothing to do with us” they said.
It seems shocking, but remember that the reason the Northern Kingdom had been destroyed was because they were unfaithful to God, worshipping other idols in addition to the one true God. And that hadn’t changed. You can tell by the way they said in verse 3 “we worship your God… and have been sacrificing to him…” that they had no personal relationship with him, and considered him one amongst many others.
Not only that, but Samaria was threatened by the prospect of a strong nation in Judah, and therefore wanted to do everything possible to weaken them.
The leaders of Israel however, saw through the deceit and refused the insincere offer of help. They realized God had given this task to the true remnant of a holy Israel, and to them alone. If they had joined hands with the Samaritans, they would have risked contaminating themselves and becoming unfaithful to God, just as their forefathers had done before they were exiled.
This service to which you aspire requires you to be faithful to God. It requires you to preach the full, uncompromised gospel. It demands that you say no to every temptation to preach any gospel other than that of Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
It charges you not to follow the ways of the world and sadly, that of many fellow Christians, who now condone and promote immoral thoughts and behaviours of all kinds in the name of love, especially in the Western world.
One thing you will realize very quickly is that more often than not, faithfulness to the gospel is not financially rewarding. And that one of the quickest way to live a comfortable life as a pastor will be to join the bandwagon of the so-called prosperity gospel.
Are you prepared to be faithful for the sake of the gospel? Have you resolved to be faithful even, unto death?
Do not answer lightly, because, just like my cycling adventures, once, I sat where you are sitting and I thought being faithful to God would be a breeze. How wrong I was.
The truth is, being called to faithful service is more like trying to back-paddle up Mount Everest. And so my final question which should help you answer the question of your readiness to serve God is, are you ready to be resilient?
Are you ready to be resilient?
When the Israelites rejected the offer of help from their enemies, the Samaritans pulled off their masks and showed their true colours. We read in Ezra 4:4-5 that they
4 … discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build
5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
The Samaritans did everything they could to stop the work of building the temple. They attacked the Israelites psychologically, mocking and taunting them, trying to discourage the them from doing the work to which God had called them. The threatened them physically, to the point that the people were afraid for their lives. And they didn’t stop there, but also used their political power and influence to impede the work of God.
The attacks where so relentless that they lasted until the reign of Darius, and the temple was only finished after 20 years of constant opposition by their enemies.
And they were neither the first nor last of God’s servants to suffer in this way. Jesus, our very own Lord and Saviour, was himself psychologically tempted to sin and give up by Satan, he was opposed by the powerful political machinery of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and he was attacked physically, and lived through constant danger, culminating in his death on the cross.
And if you are going to walk this road and follow the Shepherd who has called you, you cannot expect it will be any easier for you. If it isn’t at your doorstep already, the storm is coming.
So are you prepared to be resilient, to push on in the face of brutal trials? When you signed up to be a Christian, you signed up for life, and for as long as you are on this side of the grave, the enemies of God will attack you at every turn.
Believe it or not, but my point this morning is not to destroy this college by causing all of you to quit, but it is to help you count the cost of this particular path on which you are walking. Quitting is not the answer, nor is running blindly without knowing if you are supposed to be here.
Earnestly seek to find out if studying at TCZ, or becoming a pastor or whatever it is you want to do, in preparation for glorious service in ministry is really what God is calling you to. And if it is, then resolve to be faithful no matter the temptations, and prepare yourself so that you are ready to be resilient, no matter the hardships you will face.
After my first mountain biking ride, I had to ask and answer all those questions. And I’m glad to say that several weeks down the line, I’m still cycling. And more than that, I am still ministering in God’s service according to his calling.