All Christian Ministry Is Supernatural
Jake serves in the church’s counseling ministry. He meets weekly with a young man who has a porn problem. They read Scripture and pray together. The counselee feels remorse and says he wants to change, but six months later, little or no progress has been made. Jake is discouraged.
Pastor Jim works hard on his sermons. He’s a good preacher. His church is growing, but he’s often frustrated by the many church members who come to church regularly, listen, and then go home unchanged. Their marriages don’t improve. Their parenting doesn’t change. They don’t handle their money differently. He wonders if all the work is worth it.
Shelby and Martha have three children—17, 15, and 12. They’re excellent parents. They never miss church. Shelby leads his family in devotions 3 to 4 times each week. Nevertheless, the 17-year-old says he doesn’t believe. His parents wonder, How have we failed? They feel like giving up.
RESPONSIBILITY WITHOUT AUTHORITY
All Christian work is about responsibility without authority. Therefore, it’s easy to get discouraged. I say “without authority” in this sense—only God can produce the results we want. We want growing Christlikeness that proceeds from genuine heart transformation. And there’s the rub. We can’t change another person’s heart. Only God can do that, and sometimes he doesn’t do it when, or with whom, we want.
Whether counseling, preaching, witnessing, or parenting, all Christian ministry ought to be done with profound dependence on God. We desperately need supernatural power. Understanding this changes everything.
God is glorified through the conversion and sanctification of needy sinners. Because every conversion is undeserved, every conversion glorifies God’s grace, mercy, and love. But that’s not all: our sanctification glorifies God. As we change, he sees in us a growing snapshot of his moral beauty and is delighted (2 Cor. 3:18).
This is the ultimate end of all Christian ministry—glory for God through a community of believers growing in godliness. But because we’re powerless to produce this change, we can grow easily frustrated. Only God’s power can deliver the change we want, and it’s on a rheostat. He’s sovereign over it. He turns it up and down at will.
HEARTS OF STONE
Christian work is “supernatural” because everyone emerges from the womb totally dead to God: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Eph.2:1). “Dead” means no interest in God or love for God. We are born citizens of a fallen world, and that means we are by nature God-haters (John 15:18). Therefore, conversion is a miracle. It’s like Christ’s resurrection—from death to life. This change is not accomplished by “the will of the flesh nor of the will of man,” but by God (John 1:14). It requires supernatural power.
Think of the metaphors Paul uses to describe conversion. They all assume a supernatural cause. He likens conversion to a heart-circumcision—a cutting away of the heart’s hardness toward God. It’s done by “the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:29). The Holy Spirit is the surgeon. Most importantly, God doesn’t circumcise our hearts because we have turned to him. He circumcises our hearts to enable us to turn to him.
Paul also uses the metaphor of “new creation.” “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). When God spoke, creation occurred. In the same way, when God speaks to a dead, hard, unregenerate heart, new creation occurs. The eyes of the heart are opened, and they behold the moral beauty of Christ. God, not man, produces this miracle.
In regeneration, God is the only worker. Sanctification, however, presumes our cooperation with God. But in both cases nothing happens until God opens the heart with supernatural power. Where does hunger for God come from? Why do some have more than others? Why do some Christians seem to be barely alive while others glow with unflagging zeal? The answer is the presence or absence of supernatural activity. God’s “activity” amplifies hunger for God, which in turn motivates the spiritual disciplines.
In other words, all spiritual progress is ultimately a byproduct of God speaking to the human heart. I don’t mean an audible voice. I mean spiritual illumination producing faith and conviction. Yes, we are responsible to seek God, but the more he speaks, the more we seek, and he is in total control of the speaking. We all know people filled with Bible knowledge that exhibit little or no spiritual fruit. Why? God has not spoken to them, and all of God’s power is in his word. Why do some get more than others? God is sovereign. There is no other explanation. It’s also true that the more we seek him, the more he will be found. But why do some seek while others don’t? It all depends on the presence or absence of spiritual hunger, and that hunger comes from God.
The conclusion is straightforward and immensely freeing: we are responsible to faithfully water God’s field, but only God “gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). He is totally sovereign over the process.
PRAYER FOR POWER
This is why Paul constantly prays for spiritual power. He knows his weakness, his dependence, and his need for divine activity. He also knows that God’s power is not guaranteed. He knows it’s on a rheostat. So, he prays for the Ephesians to be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in their inner being so that they may have power to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge (Eph. 3:16–19; see similar prayers in Ephesians 1:15ff, Colossians 1:9ff , and Philippians 1:9ff).
Paul had no illusions. He would either have a supernatural ministry or go home. He was totally dependent. There were no other options.
Is this how you and I see Christian ministry?
Four implications of believing all ministry is inexorably supernatural.
First, it means we ought to be totally dependent on God. God uses parenting, preaching, witnessing, and counseling, but more is always needed, and the Christian parent, preacher, evangelist, and counselor is always aware of this. They feel their immense poverty. They desperately cry out to God.
Second, if all ministry is supernatural, then I ultimately have only two tools to effect change—prayer and God’s Word. Everything else is secondary. Your prayer life is the measure of how deeply you grasp this reality. Needy Christians pray. They pray often. They pray with desperation. They pray with confidence. They pray with gratitude. Self-sufficient ministries give lip service to prayer.
Third, if every listener is dead in sin, and it requires a miracle to open their hearts, then I am free to discuss offensive subjects like hell, sin, the final judgment, and God’s wrath. In fact, God is most apt to send supernatural power if I frame the good news in this context. This takes great faith, but it’s precisely how Paul came to Corinth. And what happened? God’s power followed.
When I came to you…I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest on the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1–5)
Fourth, if all ministry is supernatural, then our response to children who don’t believe, counselees who don’t respond, and sermons that fall flat should be prayer for power mingled with thanksgiving and rest. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16–18).
Brothers and sisters, all Christian ministry is supernatural ministry. That was Paul’s conviction. He makes it clear in his conclusion to his prayer for the Ephesians: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen!” (Eph. 3:20–21).
Do we really believe this?