Taking In and Giving Out

By the Rev. Canon Mark A. Pearson
 
Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). We know that the Father sent Jesus “preaching, teaching and healing” (Matthew 4:23), so we are to preach (exhort and encourage), teach (give the content of the faith) and heal (minister so that people come into greater wholeness of body, soul and spirit.) Jesus did all three of these so we must, too.
 
But there’s one other way we’re to do as Jesus did when it comes to our ministry to others. Jesus alternated between taking in and giving out and so must we if we’re really to glorify Him and bless others.
 
Several years ago I found it very helpful to go through the four Gospels noticing this alternation between our Lord taking in empowerment from His father and giving out in ministry to others.
 
Let’s note how true this is as we walk through Luke’s Gospel (we could do the same with the other Gospels).
 

Jesus launches His ministry by identifying with us as His cousin John the Baptist baptizes Him. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, empowering Him for ministry (3:21-22). TAKING IN.
 

  *Then, after His temptation, He engaged people “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14). Jesus, “with authority” casts out an evil spirit from a man in Capernaum, heals the sick and casts demons out of others (4:31-41). GIVING OUT. 
  
* Jesus went to “a lonely place,” no doubt to pray and be empowered by His Father (4:42). TAKING IN.
 
* Jesus healed, taught, and did other forms of ministry (5:12-9:17). GIVING OUT.

*Jesus then prayed alone (9:18a). TAKING IN.

 *Jesus taught important truths (9:8b-27). GIVING OUT.
 
*Jesus went up the Mount of Transfiguration to pray (9:28). TAKING IN.
 
*Jesus came down the Mountain of Transfiguration to minister (9:37-10:42). GIVING OUT.

*Jesus “was praying in a certain place” (11:1). TAKING IN.

*Jesus taught and ministered (11:2 and following). GIVING OUT. And so on.

 

 Blessed to be a Blessing

 Many years ago I read a great phrase from United Methodist pastor the Rev. James K. Wagner: “Blessed to be a blessing.” This phrase so articulates the balance in which we must walk. We are neither just to be blessed without being a blessing to God and others, nor just try to be a blessing without first being blessed.

Being Selfish

There are people who wish to be blessed, wish to have their prayers answered, and wish to have enjoyable spiritual experiences of God, but do very little for Him or others. Not only is this, of course, selfish, it doesn’t work because God does not honor such an attitude.

 Periodically pastors hear from certain members of their flock, “Pastor/Reverend/Father I am leaving your church because I am not being fed any more.” While there are, of course, some churches that do not spiritually feed their members, the fact is some people cannot be fed even in great churches because they’re spiritually obese — they have taken in but they are not giving out. There is no room for them to receive more.

Far from being “living water,” they’re spiritual swamps! They’re not seeking gifting to bless God and others, they’re seeking entertainment and God will not give it to them. Such people will leave for what they think are the greener pastures of other churches. For a while they’ll think they’re “being fed” but they’re simply being entertained by something that is new. Unless they repent of their selfishness, they’ll probably leave their new church in a year or two.

After the initial few years of being a “baby Christian” are over, the chief way we are blessed is by being a blessing to others. Our need for taking in will only feed us as is then applied to our helping others. Our “walk” and our “work” are intricately linked.

Ministering on Empty
 
 If some people are selfish in wanting to be blessed but not be a blessing to others, others try to be a blessing without themselves first being blessed or else not receiving sufficiently empowerment. Such people — usually the most committed of Christians — know the need to be so great for people to be blessed by God, they (we!) often roll up our sleeves and go to work without first waiting on the Lord for empowerment. As a result, we get tired in our spiritual activities but we are not really making a difference. We grow lush foliage but we do not bear fruit in the lives of others. We burn out. We — often to our shock — start to resent the people we serve and love.

Jonathan Edwards was pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts in the 1740s, and one of the men God greatly used in The First Great Awakening, the first great revival to sweep America. He noted that if he knew he’d be having a day with much ministry in it, he’d pray for an hour before his day started, but if he knew he would have a day with much more ministry, he’d pray for two hours. Initially we might think, “I’ve got a lot to do today. I’ll shorten my prayer and then get to work.” Better is to use this analogy: “I’ve got a long journey ahead of me, not just a quick trip around town. I’d better fill up my gas tank.”

Living Water
 
 
 Jesus invites us to come into a vital, personal relationship with Him. He said, “As the Scripture said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water‘” (John 7:38). Living water is flowing water. It is neither a swamp nor a desert; it comes into us and flows out of us.

 Let me ask you to ponder prayerfully: are you taking in but not giving out or are you trying to do your work for God on insufficient or no empowerment?

 
 
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