I finally made a mistake that put me over the top. Always being the “half in, half out” servant of God, the nail eventually made its way into the coffin. “My ministry is done. My mistakes have taken their toll.” I remember telling myself that over and over and over. I loved God, I sincerely did, but I just blew it too many times to be used by him any longer. Anyone else feel that way? I have literally told myself a thousand times and a thousand different ways:
- “I’m no good to God anymore.”
- “I’m a piece of dirt that God could never use.”
- “Just live out your life Jon, it’s too late for ministry work.”
If you have ever felt like that, you are in good company my friend. I was reading the book of Acts the other day and something struck me that I believe everyone needs to grab hold of. First the set up.
There was this guy named Saul who was a really nasty guy. He was so zealous to serve as a Pharisee (a fanatical religious Jew), that he sought far and wide to jail and persecute every Christ followers he could throughout all of Israel. So bad in fact, as Stephen (one of the apostles) was being martyred by the Pharisees, Saul told them he would hold their coats so they could be unencumbered in their execution. I could imagine Saul saying, “Go ahead guys, give me your coats. This way you can really get in a good swing.” Stephen was stoned to death at the hands of Saul and the other Pharisees. Let me just say, Saul was a beast!
But then, Saul had an encounter with Jesus. He was traveling on a road to the city of Damascus to persecute more Christians when a bright light suddenly blinded him. People tend to see Jesus more clearly when they lose their sight. This experience left Saul a broken and humble man, realizing that he had been wrong about this Jesus guy his whole life (See Acts 9). Everything turned upside down for him, including his zeal as a Pharisee.
Saul was crushed. His blindness did not go away. He found himself flat on his face, praying at a home he stumbled into nearby. But God tapped the shoulder of a man named Ananias and asked him to seek out this man Saul. God told him to go and pray for Saul so he would receive his sight again. Ananias was deathly afraid of Saul and began to question God. He pushed back on God saying, “Isn’t this the guy that’s going around wiping us all out?” But God knew that Saul was a changed man. Ananias eventually followed God’s prompting and healed Saul of his blindness. This is where the story hit me between the eyes…
“Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God. They were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers? And didn’t he come here to do the same thing—arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the high priests?” But their suspicions didn’t slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah.” (Acts 9:19-22 MSG)
Does that not speak volumes? It hit me like a ton of bricks. Here you have this guy Saul (who later was renamed as the apostle Paul), a murderous, persecuting Christian hater now pushing through all the ugly noise of his past. This has truly captured my heart, especially knowing all the cruddy things I have done throughout my life. Here’s the truth, I have done some really bad stuff; things I am deeply ashamed of. My guess is that you have too. Think with me for just a minute about the terrible things you have done. It isn’t pretty is it?
And therein lies the rub. We, like Saul, have been rotten apples in our past, and yet Saul found himself thrusting past the guilt and shame and on to following the God who loved him enough to change his entire life. No wonder the apostle Paul wrote things like, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14). That is not only a model worth following, it is the only model that gives us the freedom to serve and worship God in spite of our failures.
Have you ever told yourself something like this?
- “I’ve made too many mistakes to be used by God.”
- “I would serve God if I could do it all over again.”
- “I’ve blown it too many times to be worthy of God.”
Those words have literally come out of my mouth or resonated deep within my heart a thousand times over. I have lived in shame and guilt for much of my life and the greatest loss comes from my being totally frozen in serving God. What is worse is when people disqualify you for ministry. Let me just say, DON’T LISTEN TO THEM! Most of the time, when people disqualify other people, they are Pharisees, just like Saul was in his past. They could never keep up with their own standards of perfection, so they put those false expectations on you and me. They are dangerous people. Keep out!
Let me quickly add that there are times when we need to step away from serving in ministry for very good reasons. If you or I are caught up in a particular sin, we may need to step away to heal and grow before we lead others. That is just plain common sense. But that does not mean we are down for the count. Like Saul, once he repented and turned from his sinful ways, he was off to the races. He dealt with his junk and immediately began serving God with incredible passion. God is looking for us to do the same. Sin never disqualifies us, but we may need to deal with it before taking up a leadership role in the church.
Friends, I want you to hear me. God can clean you from head to toe. If you’ve blown it badly in life, God has your back! He will take the darkest recesses of your past and turn them white as snow. You are not a piece of trash, unworthy of God, you are a broken vessel waiting for God to put you back together for His glory. HE LOVES YOU! He desires to make you whole. Would you ask him to do that in your life?
I am no longer disqualified. My prayer is that you will grab hold of that truth too!