When I started in ministry back in 2010, I had good motives as far as I knew. I set out to build ministries in number and succeeded. I set out to teach God’s word and saw lives turned around for the better. I wouldn’t change that, but I do look back and see so much vanity in my younger self—vanity that persisted with me for a long time. I don’t know if any of it remains, but I can see how God has been killing it as I observe the pattern of my life.
Vanity is inflated pride in one’s self. It is something easy to recognize in others but difficult to see in self until we age and mature in Christ. That is why I boast in the good things God accomplishes through me despite me. It is vanity that causes ministers and pastors to rule over congregations and to speak much while listening less. It is vanity that makes us all want to build our own empires and ministries on the earth rather than making it our ambition to live quiet lives (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Trust me when I say that nothing good comes from us drawing attention to ourselves, whether in ministry or business or family—when we seek power or pleasure or money or fame in any regard. There is a reason Scripture speaks so definitely about the wiles of such pursuits. No matter how successful we are at building our own names, churches, businesses, or what have you, we will eventually lose it all as we age and die. Vanity, the word used for inflated pride in one’s self, is also a word for utter meaninglessness. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Those of you who have read my blog over the years have seen my transformation as I have walked with Christ. When I am gone one day, I hope my words through the years stand as a testimony of God’s work in the life of every person in sanctification. In the past year, rethinking my own view on ministry while trying to plant Douglas Reformed Church and in my sabbatical season thus far, I can say confidently that there is another nail in the coffin that possesses my vanity. Christ is my undertaker, as He is yours.
I have many regrets that I have been working through over the past few months. I have been battling a certain type of depression. I have been applying the salve of biblical encouragement to my battle scars. I think we all have such seasons in our lives, and I want to be candid with you about them. We wonder why God would put us through certain experiences. There’s that vanity showing through as we forget God’s promises to prosper us and work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (cf. Romans 8:28-30). In fact, let’s look at that text closely:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?NASB
See, we grow discontent, and our malcontent is evidence of our vanity and forgetfulness of God’s promise. We begin craving more than what we have from a worldly perspective—more power, pleasure, money, things, or fame. We crave a bigger voice and more influence. God doesn’t give it. If we want those things, we must take them according to the ways of the world—which is why we have so many manipulative people in professional, worldly ministry. It is why some churches act more like corporations, grabbing land and streaming a personality rather than training the saints for the work of ministry. It’s why churches focus on style of music and seek to be more relevant to younger generations. Don’t misread me. I think it is important to care what people want and need, to seek to please others (cf. Romans 15:2). Look at the motivation in Romans 15:2. We are to please others for the purpose of their edification, not for the purpose of attracting them to us. One motivation has others’ good as the end. Another motivation is pleasing according to our own vanity. We ask God why he doesn’t grow our influence, and the answer is there in the book we claim to preach and teach. God desires we live quiet lives, working with our hands. When he sabotages our worldly pursuit of power in the form of influence or audience, He is causing all things to work together for good to us if we love Him and are called according to His purpose. Do you wonder why so many ungodly people are able to build big ministries and get rich from their ministries? There is our answer, they likely are not in Christ, else He would undertake their vanity like we have seen in the ministries of saved men like Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, and even in the seasonal failing health of Voddie Baucham and persecution against John MacArthur. In studying the ministries of such men and then those of false prophets like Kenneth Copeland, Todd White, and Joel Osteen, I have come to the conclusion that God sanctifies His people for their good and lets those who are not His continue in their sin and revelry on this earth. When we are sanctified and humbled by God, we rest assured that we love Him and are called according to His purpose—a truth that should encourage us rather than discourage us. This is certainly a truth that helps us battle the depression we experience in seasons of humbling and doubt. It is for our good. God will not fail to conform us to the image of His Son and glorify us with His Son—which is worth far more than the vain things we seek in the flesh. We find our identity not in being able to influence others but in the everlasting influence of Christ in our lives as His people.
This truth applies to everyone, not only “professional” ministers of the Gospel. We don’t need to try to get anyone interested in us. That’s the downfall of social media and the vanity of platforms like TikTok—which force young men and women who know no better to prostitute themselves for views and likes and compliments (sad substitutions for the sincere love we find in the body of Christ). Instead of trying to get others interested in us, we take a sincere interest in others. Christ is our example. Instead of trying to build ourselves up, we seek to build up and edify others—which is the purpose of the church gathering. Instead of trying to please ourselves, we seek to please others for their good. Thus, my journey continues until the final shovel of dirt is cast upon the earth over my undertaken vanity. Your journey continues also.
I spent 2020 intentionally exercising my time spent in silence. I spent 2021 intentionally working on my brevity. I spent 2022 intentionally forming my words, thinking about how they would be perceived. In 2023, I want to lay my vanity to rest by not trying to attract people to me but, instead, being sincerely interested in others.
Let me encourage you. Make your New Year resolution about growth in Christ rather than any vain thing on this earth. I wish you a blessed and prosperous 2023.