WHEN GOD USES US, it can deceive us into building our lives around being used by him. In other words, the work of the Lord, rather than the Lord of the Work, becomes the center of our lives. It becomes our identity. It rather than the Lord himself, is where we find joy and meaning. This is simply a subtle expression of idolatry. Serving God has become more important than God himself.
God often stamps a termination date on our usefulness to prevent this from happening. When that happens we must find joy and delight in God himself rather than his work. This has happened to me, and although I am not alone, it has been a major adjustment.
David Morgan is a good example. Morgan was a Welsh preacher born in 1814. When Morgan was forty-three (1857), a prayer revival began in New York. It continued until 1859. Like many revivals, it didn’t remain local. The spiritual fire swept from city to city throughout the United States, and thousands were converted.
Humphrey Rowland Jones, another Welsh pastor and friend of Morgan’s, heard about it and crossed the Atlantic to check it out. When he returned, the revival fire came with him. Morgan spent time with his friend debriefing him about his experience in New York. Then, one night in October of 1858, Morgan went to bed in his words, “a lamb.” He was an ordinary pastor conducting an ordinary ministry with meager results.
However, the next morning he awoke “a Lion of God.” Everything had changed, and it was supernatural. He had no explanation except that God’s Spirit came upon his ministry in a completely new and unexplained way. Before, he had little success preaching or doing evangelistic work. But now the exact opposite was his experience, and it was intoxicating.
Having gone to bed as usual one Tuesday night, he woke up early, instantly conscious that some strange, mysterious change had come over him. He became aware with awe of a marvellous illumination of his faculties, especially of his memory: “I awoke about four in the morning, remembering everything of a religious nature I had ever learnt or heard.https://www.newlifepublishing.co.uk/articles/david-morgan/
Everywhere he went, huge crowds followed. Thousands were converted. Over the succeeding months approximately 10% of the Welsh population entered God’s kingdom. Imagine 10% of the U.S, or thirty-five million, converted in the next 18 months and you have some idea of the enormity of the supernatural power that was experienced.
The meetings grew in the power of Holy Spirit. Drunken miners were convicted of their sin and prayer meetings took place in the mines, in people’s homes, and in the street. Children would pray together and people would pray as they walked along. The whole neighbourhood was affected; if one person in a household was saved, then it was likely that person would bring in the rest. [In one city] by the end of the year there were two hundred adult conversions out of a population of less than one thousand.https://www.newlifepublishing.co.uk/articles/david-morgan/
Then one night in 1860, the process reversed. Morgan went to bed the Lion of God and awoke aware that the power and tangible presence of God that had so marked his ministry was gone. The revival was over. Once more, he was the spiritual lamb that ministered to his flock the revival. Of course, this was deeply troubling to Morgan, and he had no explanation except the sovereignty of God.
However, this experience taught Morgan that the Lord of the work, not the work of the Lord, is the object. He adjusted and faithfully ministered to his flock for another twenty-three years, dying in 1883.
There is a lesson, and it has been personal. Like David Morgan I have had to reorient my life from God’s work to God himself. I didn’t think I had this problem, but retirement, at age seventy exposed a sin of idolatry in my life.
Converted at age 22, I had been engaged in Christian work of one kind or another since age 26, or forty-four years. I loved serving Christ. My reason for existence was never my secular work. It was tent-making. My life purpose was to extend and contribute to the Kingdom of God.
During those years, I served as an elder in three churches, conducted numerous Bible studies, discipled groups of young men, preached regularly, taught classes on church history, planted a church, which I pastored for eighteen years, wrote books, and published articles in major Christian publications, and did parenting and marriage conferences all over the U.S.. But now it was all over. I am reluctantly retired, and this has forced me to grapple with my identity.
I have had to ask myself this question: what delights me, the work of the Lord or the Lord of the work? Sadly, it has been all too much of the former, and I was completely unaware of this until retirement took the work away. Is just knowing God, fellowshipping with him, and worshipping him enough? Sadly, it has been an adjustment, and God has graciously walked me through it. In the process he has exposed my sin and his amazing grace and mercy.
What is the moral? Serve the Lord with joy. Contribute to God’s work enthusiastically, but guard your heart. Never let the work of the Lord supplant the Lord of the work. He is a jealous God. He alone is our identity, our joy, and our heart satisfaction.