I’ve often pondered that verse in the opening paragraph of the Song of Songs where the bride says, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept” (1:6).
Does your heart resonate with that lament? I think it’s a picture of what it’s often like for those active in ministry. We’re constantly tending the vineyards of others—counseling, teaching, encouraging, exhorting, serving, giving, praying for others—while neglecting our own spiritual well-being.
I’m talking about the failure to cultivate and prioritize our own walk with the Lord … taking shortcuts spiritually. I’ve been there so many times.
In my busyness in ministry, I sometimes realize a whole day has gone by, and I haven’t spent any quality time with the Lord I’m trying to serve. The people we’re ministering to may not detect any noticeable difference initially. But I’m convinced we cannot stay faithful and fruitful in ministry over the long haul if we’re trying to live on past experiences with God.
I’m talking about the danger of service without devotion. We all know and have probably taught that classic passage in Luke 10. Two sisters—one of them, Mary, is sitting at the feet of Jesus; the other, Martha, is serving the Master, while neglecting the all-important matter of devotion to the Master.
What happens? Martha ends up critical, impatient, exhausted, frazzled, and frenzied. In other words, the way some of us find ourselves when we look in the mirror!
Robert Murray M’Cheyne said it this way: “No amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King Himself.” One of the greatest dangers we face each day is neglecting to cultivate intimacy with Christ.
The language used by the bride in the Song of Songs to describe her relationship with her beloved is the language of intimacy:
The king has brought me into his chambers.…
I sat down in his shade with great delight,
And his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house,
And his banner over me was love.…
His left hand is under my head,
And his right hand embraces me.…
My beloved is mine, and I am his (1:4; 2:3-6, 16).
I understand that this is a picture of intimacy in human marriage; but human marriage is intended to be a picture of that eternal relationship we have with our heavenly Bridegroom. I see here a description of the kind of intimacy we’re intended to enjoy with the Lord Jesus.
But intimacy with Jesus doesn’t just happen. It has to be intentionally cultivated and consistently, proactively pursued. We don’t drift into intimacy; if anything, we’re prone to drift away from each other.
I confess that I often struggle to get a quiet place and a quiet heart to draw near to the Lord. For me, the biggest intruders have to do with technology. It’s not that technology itself is evil. It’s a tool. But I find that the more tools I have that plug in to charge, the more difficult it is for me to have undistracted time with the Lord!
There are days when I think, “Maybe I just need to get rid of it all—email, Twitter, Facebook, my smartphone …” I’m not saying God is asking that of you, but if that’s what it would take for you to be where you need to be in your relationship with Him, would you be willing to unplug? No price is too great to really know Jesus and walk with Him.
Wouldn’t Satan love to keep us busy doing ministry but not maintaining a close relationship with Jesus? That’s why we have to ruthlessly eliminate the unnecessary clutter that distracts us from devotion to Christ. And we need to invite people to challenge us to deal with anything that could be encroaching on our relationship with the Lord, because we tend to lose objectivity.
What about you? Do you have a vital, growing relationship with the Lord Jesus? Are you nurturing your vineyard through daily time in His presence, in the Word and in prayer?
Adapted from the “Potential Pitfalls of Ministry” message. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an author and the founder of Revive Our Hearts. Find her podcasts, Bible studies, 30-day challenges, and more at ReviveOurHearts.com. She and her husband, Robert, recently released You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (Moody: 2019).
Scripture on pp. 21–23 taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.