God's Tithe to Ministry Workers

Everyone who works in ministry can relate to that feeling of, "Is this doing any good?" There has always been a certain measure of this in my ministry, but as my wife and I have embraced praying with people more regularly, that feeling has been amplified. After all, we are praying boldly and asking God to do big things. Oftentimes He does right then and there, especially in the area of spiritual healing. But more often we receive a polite and sincere thanks and go our separate ways, being left with that lingering question, "Did it work?"

One particular instance comes to mind because it was early on in this journey. We prayed with a friend who was in town visiting. It was one of the first times we took this step of faith, this risk of praying boldly for God to move and to heal. And when it was done, this friend went on his way. A week, a month, two months...we had no idea if it had done any good. Finally, curiosity (and perhaps insecurity) got the better of us, so we checked in. His response: "Things have been completely different ever since you prayed with me!"

Our reaction was a strange mix of "Hallelujah!" and "That would have been nice to know!"

CUE THE SHAME GRENADE

You know the story. Ten lepers come to Jesus and ask him to heal them. Jesus give the instruction to go show themselves to the priest, which they obey. Along the way, they suddenly find themselves healed. One of the ten then returns, falls at the feet of Jesus, and thanks him.

The Gospel of the Lord. As you take your seat in the pew, your mind is preparing itself for the shame grenade. "You need to be more thankful. How often do we really thank God for all of His blessings? 'Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?'"

But hold the phone. Was Jesus really trying to turn this into a lesson about thankfulness? What if he was trying to teach his disciples something completely different? Let's review the details.

  1. Presumably, the other nine continued on to show themselves to the priest, as Jesus instructed. They would find the priest in the Temple, the place where the Jews worshiped the Lord. So even though they didn't return to give thanks, they still gave thanks to God.
  2. The Samaritans didn't believe that the Temple was the only place to worship God (John 4:20). It made sense for the nine Jewish lepers to go to the Temple while the one Samaritan returned to worship God where he received the miracle.
  3. The Samaritan was given the grace of faith, of seeing Jesus as more than just a holy man, for he "fell at his feet" and worshiped him. But we can hardly blame the ten Jewish lepers for not recognizing the divinity of Jesus. According to their understanding, they gave thanks where thanks was due, to the God whose power healed them rather than to a mere man.

GOD'S TITHE TO YOU

So what if Jesus was really trying to fashion a humble heart in his disciples? What if he was really trying to say, "Don't expect people to come and give you thanks for the ways you minister to them. You can do nothing for them except what the power of God enables you to do anyway, so the glory belongs to God, not to you. Even I, who work by my own power, only received thanks from one. This will be God's tithe to you - He'll let you share in a tenth of the thanks that He receives."

But in addition to helping the disciples align their priorities rightly, to desire to pass all of the praise and thanksgiving on to God and not desire it for themselves, there is a message of encouragement in this. This message says, "Whenever you start questioning whether your ministry efforts are paying off, just remember this: for every one person who reports back to you, there are nine more that you will never hear back from but who have gone on to give praise to God because of you and the risk you took."