There is one final thing necessary in preparing for the ministry. You might state it in a dozen different ways because it has to do with what happens inside your heart. Here’s how it comes out for me.
Get to know the character of God.
Nothing is more important than that. As I look back over my own pilgrimage, I am sure that I did not appreciate the importance of this in my early days. But Daniel 11:32, describing a time when evil reigned in the land, says "the people who know their God will be strong and take action." What a description that is. How simple. How clear.
"The people who know their God."
First they know God.
Then they are made strong.
Then they take action.
To know God is the work of a lifetime. And this is where the ministry really begins–getting to know the character of God. Surely that involves the traditional spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation on the Word, fasting, singing, listening to the Word preached, hiding God’s Word in our hearts, and worshiping with God’s people.
We cannot move toward the ministry until we have set ourselves to know our God. But I want to issue a caution. The means we use may not produce the results we desire. I suppose we have all known people with vast Bible knowledge who seemed to know very little about God. Knowledge is vital, but knowledge alone will not lead us into the heart of God. We cannot skip knowledge, but we cannot stop there.
Martin Luther said that three things are necessary for the making of a minister.
By prayer he meant daily prayer and he meant a heart truly seeking the Father. By meditation he meant Bible study and he meant letting the Bible penetrate us deeply. By temptation he meant the trials and tests of life, not just temptation to sin (though that is certainly included), but the “many dangers, toils and snares” that lie along the path of those who follow Jesus.
The truth is, we learn more from pain than from pleasure. That’s why we learn more at a funeral than at a wedding reception (see Ecclesiastes 7:2). To say, “Lord, I want to know you” is to invite God to bring us to the place where all our earthly resources are exhausted and there is nothing left but us and the Lord.
Then we begin to learn who God really is. Someone has said, “You will never know if Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. And when Jesus is all you have, then and only then do you discover that Jesus is all you need.”
Who are the best Christians you know? The ones I admire most are those who have gone through hard times and come out with their faith intact, with peace that passes all understanding, who smile through their tears and say, “The Lord has been so good to me."
Seek that sort of knowledge of God. It is not hidden or reserved for a few. But it is not purchased cheaply.
In 1849 Frederick W. Faber wrote a little-known hymn called Workman of God. The opening line goes like this: "Workman of God! O lose not heart, but learn what God is like." Nothing will sustain the servants of the Lord in hard times like knowing God’s character. And as the hymn (and life itself) makes clear, you don’t “learn what God is like” by going to seminary and memorizing the attributes of God. You learn what God is like in the darkness of the night, when you feel overwhelmed and burdened and full of fear and uncertainty. Ironically you learn that when you feel most alone, God is nearest to you. So study the character of God.
Learn his holiness.
Exult in his mercy.
Ponder his patience.
Consider his ways.
Meditate on his goodness.
Remind yourself of his justice.
Rest on his faithfulness.
Linger at the foot of the cross.
Memorize his promises.
Pray the psalms back to him.
Testify to his kindness.
Declare his glory.
Defend his honor.
Be silent before his judgments.
Get to know the Lord. Nothing matters more than this.
You might even say that the whole purpose of our earthly journey is for
us to get to know what God is like. This is where the ministry begins