Below is another preview from the book I am currently writing about motivations for ministry.
You couldn’t be any more loved by God than you are right now. Does that statement strike a nerve of unrest with you? It’s absolutely true.
We all love affirmation. We all desire significance and recognition. We all benefit from being encouraged by others. And yet, this silent struggle for approval can often become an over-riding motivation that keeps us on an unpredictable roller coaster of insecurity and instability.
In truth, we crave the acceptance and approval of men, but we need it from God. We long to know we matter to others, but we forget how much we matter to Him. We desire approval and favor of our peers, but we lose sight of the approval and favor we already have in Christ. While we tend to seek these things from men, ultimately, God is the only One in whom we can find our deepest desires completely fulfilled!
Satan is quick to take advantage of our need for acceptance and affirmation. He either enlarges our pride and consumes us with narcissism and self-promotion. Or he reminds us of our failures and that we are insufficient and undeserving (which we are). In both extremes, Satan encourages us to indulge the flesh’s craving for acceptance. It is easy to get caught in his trap of being motivated by the approval of others.
Motivated by Grace
“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Ephesians 1:6
Through Ephesians 1, however, God graciously reminds us, “I love you and accept you through My Son, Jesus.” Our worth is based on our birth. If you’ve been born again, you don’t have anything to prove. You can’t be any more loved than you are right now by the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing you could do would cause Him to love you more or less. He loves you and accepts you fully and unconditionally. That’s what grace is all about!
When God’s grace, as opposed to our need for acceptance, becomes our motivator for service, everything changes. We serve because we are accepted rather than to gain acceptance—and it makes all the difference in the world.
Serving Because I’m Already Accepted
Frankly, there have been times over the years when I was motivated, in part, by finding acceptance and approval from others. I know from experience that this is a futile motivation that is never wholly fulfilled. The most satisfying breakthroughs in my walk with God and my ministry for Him have come when He reminded me that I’m free to serve because I’m already accepted, not because I need to gain acceptance.
In truth, the tendency to serve for others’ approval is a lifelong battle. And learning to rest in our acceptance in Christ is a lifelong growth process.
There were three major seasons and three vital areas early in my ministry that the Lord taught me to serve Him out of the joy of knowing I am accepted rather than for the desire to become accepted. These were difficult moments—times when God wrenched impure motives out of my hands and replaced them with purer aims.
The Affirmation of Mentors
First, one of the strongest mentors in my life left the ministry under a cloud. This was a man from whom I longed for acceptance and approval. I often called him to report what God was doing in my life and ministry—hoping he would be pleased. But when he left the ministry, I remember crying myself to sleep every night for six weeks.
For months, I wrestled with my motives. In this time of heartbreaking disappointment, I found I had lost my desire to press forward—I didn’t want to preach, win souls, serve, or grow. Suddenly, the motivation that had driven me for years was stripped away. It was almost like none of it mattered anymore.
But in His grace, God showed me that it did all still matter. It simply mattered for higher reasons! The Lord taught me during that time that I needed to die to self. He convicted me that affirmation and ego needs are indicators of a self-driven person. He called me away from those impure motives and settled my spirit in His unchanging acceptance.
The Affirmation of Peers
When our family first moved to Lancaster, the church was running less than twenty. In those early days, other pastors would sometimes call to tell me they were praying for us and ask how it was going. I was thankful for these godly friends, and I longed to give them good reports.
As God began to bless the ministry, I remember the thrill of sharing each new phase of growth—“We had thirty in church this Sunday!” And a few months later, “We filled the middle section of pews!” My friends would rejoice with me in the growth God was giving, and I was thankful for their prayers and support.
After a number of years, however, a strange shift took place. As I reported new growth and attendance numbers—numbers nearing the attendance of the pastors who were my friends—the response became less enthusiastic. What had been an excited “Really? That’s awesome, brother!” became a short “Glad to hear it.” Then, as our attendance surpassed others, the calls became less frequent. Eventually, they halted altogether.
Over time, men who once had invited me to preach and fellowship with them grew silent and disinterested. Those from whom I wanted acceptance and affirmation were no longer giving it. And frankly, this hurt. I had looked to these partners in ministry for encouragement and support, and for whatever reason, our friendships grew distant, and in some cases even hurtful.
Through all of this, the Lord again said, “I’m teaching you to find your acceptance in Me alone. You serve, not to seek acceptance, but because you are already accepted—in Me!”
The Affirmation of Those I Served
For many years in ministry, God gave me a sort of “honeymoon” experience. As people came to Christ and lives were changed, the church came alive with a loving and dynamic spirit. I loved our church family, and they loved me. That’s how it should be, but for me, this was often a motivator. Being accepted by the church family was a wonderfully encouraging and affirming experience. The security of this strong and loving relationship is a blessing, but it should not be a motivation.
This unhealthy motivation didn’t reveal itself until the 1990s when a few people in our church let me know—in no uncertain terms—that they were unhappy with me. Their anger cut me to the core, and I grieved deeply from it. Yet, through the tears the Lord taught me, “It’s not about who accepts you; it’s about Who already accepted you.”
These were important (and painful) lessons—and the Lord is still teaching me in all of these areas.
As you serve the Lord in your own place, ask Him to reveal to you areas in which you’re seeking for the affirmation and approval of others. In Christ, we have all the acceptance we need. But sometimes we miss the joy of basking in His acceptance because we are preoccupied in grasping for the acceptance of other people.
This article originally appeared on the Pastor’s Perspective.