From Leader to Leader – Ministry’s Greatest Pitfall Part IV

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

“Ministers are in danger of losing their own souls.” This is the SOP premise that gave birth to this series of short articles. We discovered that the context to this sobering statement is the actual reality that as we ministers occupy ourselves in the never-ending tasks of ministerial duties and responsibilities, we can unconsciously harbor less than lofty motives for our altruistic service and run the risk of losing sight of God’s Holiness as we become familiar with supernatural evidence of His glory. Today, we will move into another Biblical scenario, and the story is fascinating.

Scenario # 2 Gehazi

Gehazi was Elisha’s servant. You recall the story (2 Kings 5); Naaman comes down to Israel looking for Elisha, because he needs healing. He knows he cannot fathom the degrading, gradual death of a leper. After receiving specific instruction on where and how to apply the remedy; and after getting over the ridiculous prescription, he determined he had nothing to lose and decided to obey the prophet’s mandates. As you well know, he was healed, as promised, and he returns to Elisha’s home wanting to repay the monumental life-altering favor. It’s interesting to note just how uncomfortable people have been throughout the ages with accepting gifts of grace. Most people experience an urge to repay something back for a received grace token. So Naaman was ready to make the prophet rich and send him on an early retirement. Yet, the prophet refuses to do business with God’s grace and refuses Naaman’s lavish offer. However, Gehazi’s heart is in a different place. He convinces himself that this uncircumcised man needs to pay, that at least he deserves some recognition for his ministerial labors. So he says:

“My master has let that Aramean Naaman off too lightly by not accepting from him what he offered. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something out of him” 2 Kings 5:20. What he decides to do next is unbelievable. He bolts after Naaman and catches up with him not too far from their house. When he gets there, he pronounces seven lies; all in the name of the Lord, plus one more lie to his master, for good measure. Count them out with me:

  1. “My master has sent me . . .”
  2. “He told me to say . . .”
  3. “Two members of a company of prophets . . .”
  4. “Have just come to me . . .”
  5. “From the hill country of Ephraim . . .”
  6. “Please give them . . .”
  7. “A talent of silver and two changes of clothing . . .”
  8. “Your servant has not gone anywhere at all . . .”

Please follow me, this is a man that has witnessed his share of supernatural miracles. He lives with and serves a man of God. He works with holy things and represents a holy God. Gehazi was there when Elisha sent the widow looking for more pots as her oil was running low and had the privilege of witnessing the oil multiplied to a point that the oil was greater than the storage pots borrowed (2 Kings 6:1-7). He was there when Elisha tells the barren Shunammite woman that “In a year from today, she will have a son” (2 King 4:16). Gehazi also witnesses the miraculous resurrection of this woman’s son. He is a witness to Elisha transforming a poisonous dish into an edible dish which saves the lives of many sons of the prophets; he also participates in the miracle of the multiplication of the twenty loaves of bread and the feeding of the one-hundred men (2 Kings 4:42-44).

So clearly, Gehazi is a man who has personally witnessed the hand of a holy God working undeniable supernatural miracles. He has been in close proximity when God has moved powerfully on behalf of the broken, needy, hungry, sick and even the resurrected. You’d think that he, above others, should have had a solidly developed conception of God’s holy character, right? But now, in the face of distancing lucrative gain and probably rationalizing his lifetime of underpaid ministerial service, he darts after Naaman and “in the name of the Lord” begins his series of blatant, unadulterated lies. Lies that are so offensive to a holy God of truth, yet his lies seem to flow out with a comfortable familiarity. The Servant of the Lord has declared: “ . . . ministers are in danger of losing their own souls. Some who preached to others will themselves be cast away because they have not perfected a Christian character. In their labor, they do not save souls, and fail even to save their own.” (Pastoral Ministry 24-25).

Praise God not all are stirred as swiftly as Gehazi was by worldly gain. Yet, if we were to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we all have areas in our lives where we know we are more vulnerable than others. Hence, the importance we remain honest with ourselves about what we are capable of doing and remain vigilant, especially regarding the Achilles heel areas of our lives God has helped us to identify. How comforting to know there is nothing God, through His extravagant grace won’t do to keep us from the perils of self-deception that overtook the unprotected Gehazi. We serve a holy God! A holy and gracious God that Isaiah responds to with authentic wonderment and awe:

“5 So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isa. 6)

“I am finished, I am dead. . . I have seen the holy of holies, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and exalted . . . and I am history.” The prophet decides to come clean before the Lord—he responds to God’s authentic revelation of Himself with a transparent and authentic revelation about who he is: an unclean sinner, unworthy of witnessing this overwhelming revelation of God’s glory. Perhaps Isaiah’s authenticity and humble recognition of his true condition, evoked God’s gracious affirmation of what HE was able and willing to do for all who accept their true sin-inclined condition: the purging of his sins by a Holy God in preparation for greater empowerment of his ministry! The Lord then seals the deal by sending him no ordinary angel, but instead an imposing seraphim that serves in close proximity to the holy God:

6 “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” “Your sins are forgiven . . .”

This is as magnificent as the Good News Gospel can get! You cannot go to Nordstrom’s or Macy’s to purchase this kind of a transformational transaction. We are all sinners who deserve death, yet a holy God responds to our transparent acknowledgment by reminding us of what HE can and will do on behalf of our hopeless condition: “Your sins have been atoned for.” Colleagues, this transparent revelation of the grandeur of who God is and His grace-laced assurance that our sins have been atoned for, is something we cannot afford to let fade into an insidious familiarity with the holy that will eclipse the offensiveness of sin to a Holy God. We must daily contend with this holy tension that includes both a repulsion to sin, with a willingness to cancel our offensive sins with the blood of the Lamb to then empower the forgiven sinner to serve and reflect Him!

I am personally moved by this vision and Isaiah’s response as he transcribed in human words the indescribable experience that ended with the words of hope that God assigned the seraphim: “Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged”. Let us not forget as we go through our ministry activities, that Gehazi served in the presence of a holy God, witnessed holy miracles first-hand, and actually lived with a devoted and beloved prophet. Yet, he failed to cultivate both the grandeur of God’s holiness and the magnificence of His sin-blotting grace as he went about serving and witnessing manifestations of God’s glory, which benumbed his ability to identify the deep darkness that had imperceptibly incubated the offensive lies that so seamlessly flowed from his lips.

May God develop in us a deep longing to incubate and nourish the glory of who He is and for what His glorious grace is able to do in each of our lives as He equips and empowers us to be contagious joy-filled reflectors of His glorious character as we serve Him in our homes and churches.

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