Every Christian does the work of ministry. Whether great or small, experienced or new, vocational or not — every Christian has some kind of ministry given them from God.
We all have a calling on our lives, in varying capacities, to bear witness to Jesus’s grace and follow his example in the service of others (John 13:15). Some are unsure about the specifics; others know it without doubt. Some are pressing in to discover God’s guidance; others are preparing to take the next big step. And wherever we might be among the “some” and “others,” there’s one question we must hear above the rest.
Now granted, there are lots of questions. There are unending details about our gifts and competencies, or whether we’re fit for this role or that, or if our Strengths Finders conclusions match up with the projected job description. There are whole businesses that exist to help us know what questions to ask and qualities to assess, but none are the most important.
For that most important question we’d have to look beyond our modern wisdom to the ancient world, beyond the strategies of gurus to the Sea of Galilee — to the shore of Tiberius where once sat a leader days away from participating in the most effective ministry launch in the history of the world.
Pentecost was around the corner. It would be a day when the Spirit falls, and an imperfect man, by that Spirit, stands (Acts 2:14; 1:15). It was when a stumblesome sinner emerged as a brazen saint, one upon which the church was built (Matthew 16:18).
But first, the question.
Back to that seashore, the disciples huddled around a morning fire — another charcoal fire — eating breakfast with the risen Christ (John 21). Out of that group gathered, would we ever have guessed Peter to be the leading candidate for apostolic spokesman? Would we ever have chosen his role in Acts given his track record in the Gospels?
I mean, this is Peter. This is blue-collar, foot-in-his-mouth Peter — too-much-talking, needs-to-stop-and-listen Peter.
Contrary to what we might think, presumably unrelated to Meyers-Briggs, little did anyone know at this breakfast (other than Jesus) how Peter would soon step forward in leading the novice mission of advancing the gospel. He has his hardest days ahead — confrontations he would never dream of seeing, struggles he’d never wish for, fruit he couldn’t fathom. How should he prepare? He doesn’t know what’s around the corner. What will get him ready?
The answer is the question.
It’s not a question about his five-year goals, though goals like that are good. It’s not a question about his funding strategy, or his travel expectations, or the budget of his hours in a typical week — helpful as these are. It’s not a question about management experience, though I’m sure the fishing trade procured him decent acumen. It’s not a test about his communication skills, though he’ll do a lot of speaking. It’s not a briefing on the impending challenges, though he’ll see his fair share.
The question is much more central. It’s the kind that changes things, the kind that leaves the landscape of our hearts ruined in the best ways. It’s a gentle breeze with a ravenous wake, a question that overturns structures and rips up the roots of our man-made assumptions. It’s the question without which, even if we had everything else on the planet, all would be lost. Even if we executed our tasks with exquisite skill, if we won the world’s respect, if we received the most positive results, to leave this question out would make it all vain.
It’s the question that everyone knows matters, but it still gets sidelined. It’s so crucial that, in fact, it may get nonchalantly considered the mere permission-to-play. Of course, of course, it matters, but let’s move on. But no, we can’t. We shouldn’t. When the question is pushed to the periphery, its priority drops down in our preparation. Its presence is taken for granted, and we find other things to occupy our time. But nothing should occupy our time more than this question; nothing should mean more than our living out its reality, sharing in its miracle.
God has called us all to something — some role, some ministry, some work — and this is the question we need to hear, the one to hear above all others, the one around which our whole lives must orient, nonetheless whatever endeavors we take up along the way. This is the question to let resound and declutter the complexities of our lives. It’s the question that we can’t ever do without, the one that when it no longer applies — when it no longer moves us — is the surest sign of spiritual shipwreck. It’s the question to be spoken deep within our souls, sharply in our minds, held out before our affections. It’s the question whose words we let fall fresh on our hearts as if we ourselves met them from the voice of Jesus himself, as if we were there on that shore, too, as if when Jesus asked Peter he also asked us,
“Do you love me?”
This meditation was originally published at desiringGod.org, and is included in the book, Reading to Walk: Meditations for the Life of Faith.