I recently spoke with a man who was the chairman of our church 15 years ago. For two years, he was the man to whom I was accountable. At the time, he had his own business and with it, a wide sphere of influence.
Today, his world is smaller. His business has been passed on to others. His hand is no longer on the tiller of the church. Now, he gives himself to caring for his wife who suffers from Alzheimer’s. I am full of admiration for this man who has served the Lord faithfully over many years and now faces the test of loving and trusting the Savior when life is less than it was before.
Finding peace and joy when your opportunities and influence are less isn’t easy. We need models, and one of the best is John the Baptist.
John’s Declining Ministry
John had been used by God to lead a remarkable movement of spiritual renewal. People had come in vast numbers to hear his preaching, and they had responded by confessing their sins and being baptized.
If Time Magazine had been around it those days, I have no doubt that John the Baptist would have been a contender for “Person of the Year.” But John’s calling was to point to Jesus, and so when our Lord began his public ministry, the crowds that had flocked to John left him and followed Jesus instead.
John’s ministry was in decline, and his disciple’s didn’t like it. They came to John and said, “He who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him” (John 3:26).
There’s resentment there, and envy too. There’s disappointment, self-pity, and probably a fair bit of anger mixed in as well. But none of these things were true of John. He was at peace, and he tells us why: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27).
Gifts from the Hand of God
Whatever you have at any stage of life is a gift from the hand of God. When John’s influence was more, the opportunities he enjoyed were a gift from the Lord. And when his ministry was less, that too was from the hand of God.
The secret of freedom from resentment, jealousy, and self pity is to see that the influence, opportunities, and success enjoyed by others are given to them by the Lord, and then to accept with gratitude what God has given you.
John had great peace when his ministry was in decline. He also testified to having great joy: “This joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29). Words like these might be spoken by a mother at the birth of a child, but John said this when his ministry was in decline!
All of us are engaged in a relentless search for happiness, and it would be easy to spend our entire lives chasing after the next thing we think will give us joy.
But we don’t find joy by going after joy. We find joy by going after Jesus.
Absorbed in the Wonder of Jesus
If your joy is in your influence, your success, or your opportunities, your joy will never be complete. There will always be others who have more influence, more opportunities, and more success than you do. But if you become absorbed, as John did, in the glory and wonder of Jesus, your joy will be complete, and no one will ever be able to take it away.
How is it for you when others are doing better than you are? How is it when what is happening for you is less than it was before?
When I spoke yesterday with the brother to whom I had once reported, I thanked him for his example of peace and joy when life is less. With all the things we offer the Lord in active lives of service, I suspect that loving and trusting him when life is less may be what he treasures most, and what others who watch us most need to see.
[This article is adapted from Pastor Colin’s June 2017 column in Mature Living Magazine.]