Most of the people I know in ministry are exceptionally busy people. Yes, there are some who are lazy and idle, but they are like overweight distant runners or pale lifeguards – rare. The majority of those in ministry are usually running after more things than time permits to accomplish. There are sermons to prepare, meetings to attend, members to counsel, people to visit, and conflicts to resolve – and that is only Monday. Ministry rarely affords a light week.
This constant activity can be dangerous. Many involved in vocational ministry can replace abiding in Christ with laboring for Christ. It is the first business – in both order and priority – of every Christian to pursue a relationship with Jesus. Communion with Christ is essential to the Christian life. This includes those in ministry.
So why do so many of us call it essential with our theological mouths but neglect it with our practical lives? Why do we minimize its importance by going days without devotional time in the Word? Why do we settle for a languishing prayer life? These practices are not an end in themselves, they are means to an end. The end is fellowship with Christ.
Communion with Jesus is something – at one time – that ignited our hearts. The likely reason we felt called to vocational ministry is because our eyes were opened to the beauty of the gospel and the joy of knowing God. This produced a longing for others to know and experience it too. But ministry can become a distraction to what our souls need and long for most – the Christ we proclaim.
The Storyline of Scripture
The Bible tells us this. We were made for communion with God. Before the Fall in Genesis 3, man walked unhindered from fellowship with God. The Fall severed that relationship and made a separation (Isaiah 59:2). However, the rest of the Bible is the story of God’s unfolding grace toward a covenant people to bring them back into relationship with Himself.
Peter reminds us that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (1 Peter 3:18). Christ came to reconcile and restore what sin had stolen in the Garden – relationship with God. Jesus himself tells us we are to abide in him like a vine and branch abide in each other (John 15:4-5). At the trumpet’s sound, eternity will begin and we will forever share an unfettered relationship with Christ. The entire Bible is about this. Images and metaphors of the bridegroom and bride, vine and branches, and head and the body are meant to communicate this reality.
An important way to understand the Bible’s teaching on this is through the concept of union and communion with Christ. The Puritan John Owen used this language. Union with Christ represents our legal status. Through Christ we have been justified, redeemed, forgiven of our sins, credited with the righteousness of Christ, and adopted. Communion with Christ represents our relational status. We have access into the presence of God. We can share our hearts and lives with God. We can know and be known. In this relationship, we have access to joy unspeakable (John 15:11; Psalm 16:11).
The gospel invites us into this vital union and communion with Christ. Our union is unshakable. Christ doesn’t divorce his bride. However, because our communion is relational, it can change. If we do not pursue him, we will not feel very close to him. If we neglect to cultivate our relationship with him, like any relationship, it will suffer. Neglecting prayer and Scripture reading will not put us out of union with Christ or rob us of our justification, but it will rob us of the joy available to us through fellowship and communion with Christ.
As pastors and leaders in ministry, this is not only something to teach about, it is something we pursue. It is always something we are pressing deeper into – further up and further in. My question for you is this: is your current communion with Christ strong or weak?
Getting a Rhythm
If you are not engaging in daily communion with Christ, repent. Stare bold face at the reality of your union with Christ – bought and purchased at the cross, solidified through the resurrection, and applied through sovereign grace – and draw near to him again. Get out of bed before the chaos of another busy day begins and get on your face. Cry out! You need him. Open the Word of God for the Bread of Life and Living Water, not for a quiet conscience. Run to him, friends. Your soul longs for it. Get a trusted friend at church or work to ask you about it, not because you need guilt, but because you desire joy.
My current routine is to give myself at least an hour before I have to begin my responsibilities for the day. I started using an app called Kiwake to help me not skip this time. My routine is to pray, read a passage through a book of Scripture I’m working through, and then read from a rich theological work. I’m presently working through Calvin’s Institutes and will continue through John Owen’s works until completion. In the evening, I take 20 minutes to read five Psalms and pray. I remind myself that communion with Christ is the aim, not the disciplines themselves. I’m drawing near to him through these practices.
Seek and Find
Friends in ministry, how much more enjoyable and effective would our ministries be if our first and most important labor was our own communion with Christ? You will never regret one second of time spent pursuing your relationship with him. So run after it. He is not hiding. He is not elusive. If you seek him with all your heart, you will indeed find him.
Erik is the pastor of The Journey Church outside of Nashville, TN. Erik has written three novels, multiple Bible studies for Threads, The Gospel Project, & Bible Studies for Life, and served on the Advisory Team for the best-selling Bible study: Explore the Bible. He and his wife, Katrina, have three kids: Kaleb, Kaleigh, and Kyra.