A couple months ago I finished up my study of I & II Timothy, and though I moved onto reading through other books, my mind is still dwelling on those letters. There's just so much in them; so much wisdom, so much encouragement, so much direction.
While there are a few key themes floating around in my head, one of the more dominant things the Lord spoke to me came through these words in I Timothy 4:7 -
"...discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness."
First of all, woah. This is such a strong string of words.
As I finished up the study, I was in the process of transitioning into full-time ministry. I was about two weeks in and found myself thinking about why it felt so different, so free, when I was doing the same type of work that I have been since I started my career. The easy, quick answer is "well, now you're doing it to build the Kingdom more directly." True, but my previous employer was a Christian with a Kingdom-focused mindset, so that's not really it. It's more than that.
When I look at I Timothy 4:7, and the full context of it, I don't see a list of things I have to do be considered "godly." Paul encourages Timothy to do certain things - like be in the Word, preach the Word, be a man of prayer, avoid false teaching - without question. But, the concept of disciplining oneself for the purpose of godliness surpasses the idea of having a checklist for God.
In light of that, what I discovered about the difference between my previous work and full-time ministry is this:
The business world is a deliverables-based system, while ministry is based on availability.
In the business world, both my relationship to my employer, and my company's relationship to our clients is heavily based on "deliverables;" what I/we are contractually obligated to do against the strategy, deadlines and cost outlined. In no way am I suggesting this a flaw, this is simply how business generally works out of necessity. It's the nature of it. (Quite frankly, my last employer approached business differently than that, but onward with the point).
While some level of availability is expected - answering a call after "work" hours, taking a last minute meeting, etc. - that's not what the relationship is hinged upon. It's hinged upon the promise to deliver, and failure to do that typically leads to the end of the relationship.
How is ministry work different? Well, it may involve deliverables, but it's different because it's hinged upon availability.
When my church brought me on full-time, there were absolutely things I needed to be "delivering." The Sunday bulletin has to get printed. Our online presence has to be managed. Sermons need to be uploaded. Internal communications have to happen. The list goes on...
But, what I've learned is that's not what my relationship to the church, ministry leaders, or who I answer to is based on. It's based on my availability to the church as the church aims to build the Kingdom. It's based on my willingness to serve where needed, and my availability to fill the needs of the ministry leaders.
I've found a certain freedom in that that I am enjoying beyond what I can adequately express, but what the Lord showed is that it's about A LOT more than "work."
What I got out of studying the letters to Timothy, especially in I Timothy 4:7, has deeper Spiritual application.
God's not looking for deliverables. He's not weighing my life against contractual obligations and deadlines, and what I am supposed to "do."
God's interested in my availability; the availability of my heart. That's what He works with.
I remember in my late teens/early twenties, I was hardly ever home. I was out wasting time on things that matter even less now than they did at the time. This became a source of arguments in my house, because my mom would say I'm never home, I'd say something like, "But I'm not missing anything. I'm here for the important things." And then one day she said this in response,
"It's not about 'doing stuff.' Just be present. Your presence here matters."
I'm 25 now, moved out, and I nearly mourn the time I wasted when I could've been making memories with my family. Let's be honest, the times you remember usually aren't the "important" things. It's the times your brother says something hilarious while you're watching some terrible movie on a Thursday night, and the whole family laughs harder than they have in a while. Or the nights you're hanging out around the fire drinking good coffee with whoever is home. Or being in your room the moment your younger sister needs to talk about something. The little moments matter.
The very same thing can be said about our relationship with the Lord. I attend the "important" things, but the moments that have changed my life - the moments I remember more than those things - are the "little" moments I've spent in my prayer closet at home before my day starts. Or the way He whispers to my heart in the course of my day.
If my heart was too busy doing "stuff" to be available for those moments, I would have missed a lot of the moments that have come to impact my walk.
When Paul tells Timothy to "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness," there's no long list of big checklist items that follows. That's because our walk with the Lord and His desire to use us is not based on:
Being in the Word for hours a day
Praying before every single meal
Going to church every Sunday morning
Knowing all the words to worship songs
Being involved in "X" number of ministries
Doing 5+ hours of some type of service every week
In fact, God would rather have none of that if the only reason you're doing it is because it's a "deliverable" in your eyes.
"We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all of our imperfections." ~ A.W. Tozer
When your heart is disciplined and devoted to Him, the checklist goes out the window and is replaced with a genuine desire to do whatever God leads you to do.
The question to be answered, and it's one I'm continually answering since studying through these letters to Timothy, is where is your heart?
Is your heart available to the Lord, or tied up in trying to "deliver?"
P.s. I'm all about music that connects to my devotional life, so here are two songs I listened to often as God worked this out in my heart -