(Photo: Paul Tripp)
"Truly God is good to Israel . . . " (Psalm 73:1).
I don't think we have categories that get at what these words are saying. Pastor, these words can roll off your tongue so easily your mind barely has time to consider their content. The danger is that these words have become so familiar and mundane that they barely draw interest out of us, let alone awe. At breakfast you'll say something like, "Wow, this cereal is good!" Or, "We had a good time at the park." Or, "Let me tell you where to get a good cup of coffee." Or, "Sam is really a good intern." So maybe when we read that God is good, the worship transaction that's supposed to happen inside us doesn't happen anymore.
When you read the words "God is good," your heart should be filled with wonder, gratitude, humility, and love and this amazement should fuel your ministry. Or to capture what our response should be in one word: AWE. Now, this is where the problem lies: I'm convinced that many of us live and do ministry day after day without any awe whatsoever. We live days, maybe even weeks, without wonder and amazement even in gospel ministry. What should stun us doesn't stun us anymore. What should leave us in silent, amazed worship has become so familiar it barely gets our attention in the clutter of all the other things in ministry that command our attention. We walk through our daily ministries without an overwhelming sense of gratitude. We don't notice the glory displayed all around us that points us to the one glory that is truly glorious: the glory of God. No, we see:
• the worship leader who thinks he's the senior pastor
• the mission conference details to be planned
• competitive ministry leaders who are fighting once again
• the intern who's messed up
• the hard elder
• too much traffic
• another long meeting to attend
• the car that needs repair
• the movie we have to see
• the blogs we can't live without
• the cool restaurant we can't wait to visit
• the sabbatical around the corner
• the deacon who is mad once again
• the busy holiday season that quickly approaches
• the garage that is too full to house the car anymore
• the perennial financial problems at church
• the weight we didn't mean to gain
• the ministry dreams that are slipping through our fingers.
For sinners, the road between awe and complaining is very short. You and I were created to live our lives in the shadow of awe. Every word we speak, every action we take, every decision we make, and every desire we entertain was meant to be colored by awe. We were meant to live and minister with eyes gazing upward and outward. We were meant to live with hearts that are searching, hungry, seeking satisfaction, and being satisfied. Bad things happen when pastors lose their sense of awe. Bad things happen in ministry when we've no wonder inside us. Bad things happen in local church leadership when we're no longer amazed. Bad things happen when we look around and nothing impresses us anymore.
Filling the Void
Sins robs that sense of divine wonder meant to shape every person's life and every pastor's ministry. When it does, you look for ways to fill the void. Now think about it: if you're not getting your wonderment vertically – that is, from the Creator – then you'll look for it somewhere in the creation. You'll be shopping for the buzz of wonder where it simply can't be found. Your friends and family can't give you the awe you seek. That new restaurant will blow you away, but it won't introduce you to the heart-satisfying wonder of God. That new car will make you happy for a while, but it doesn't have the capacity to fill your soul with glory. That certain ministry success will not satisfy your heart.
The Psalmist here gets at the dilemma in a single word: good. You're looking for pure, unadulterated, imperishable, unending, and unfailing good, because you're wired that way. Even as a ministry leader, you're looking for the kind of good that can lift you out of your boredom and quiet your longings. And that good can only be found one place: God. God is good in every possible way. He's good in righteousness. He's good in power. He's good in grace. He's good in his faithfulness. He's good in mercy. He's good in holiness. He's good in justice. He's good in his rule. All his words are good and true. All his actions are good and right. When he's angry, he is good. When he preserves life, he's good. When he takes life, he's good. When his words are hard, they're good. When his words are gentle, they're good. His promises are good. His provisions are good. His plan is good. In the entire universe, you can only say this about God: he's good all the time and in every way.
Everything Else Flawed
Nothing in creation is like him. Everything around us is flawed in some way. Even before the Fall, no glory in creation compared to the glory of the Creator. But even in ministry, sin has the power to make us blind to the glory of God. Sadly, awe of God is quickly replaced by awe of you. It's a danger to everyone in ministry that we'd live and minister too impressed with us and not nearly in the kind of awe of God that should grip us.
No, it's not too good to be true. There really is a God who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, who's the sum and definition of all that's good, true, and loving. He's not only good, but he also places his goodness on us! Not because we'll ever deserve it in any way, but simply because he's good, gracious, loving, and kind.
Think about it. The One who's the sum and definition of all that's truly good has placed his goodness on people like you and me, people who even in ministry get numbed by busyness and familiarity. Now that's a reason for AWE! Remember, that's good news that's not too good to be true, even when the daily rigors of ministry are distracting and hard.