He Who Began A Good Work in You (& Your Students): God’s Preserving Grace in Your Ministry
In anticipation of our annual conference in October, we will be offering monthly articles that center on this year’s theme, The Promises of God. Now more than ever, when there seems to be no solid ground beneath our feet, we stand on the promises of God. In Christ we receive a new heart and a new spirit, becoming citizens of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Join us at Rooted 2021 as we celebrate the One whose promises to us are trustworthy and true: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)
How many of us have started out strong just to fall flat on our faces not long after? I am confident that almost (if not all) reading this article can relate to starting a New Year’s Resolution with much excitement, only to mess up and get derailed within a few months, weeks, or even days.
We buy a gym membership and go consistently for a month, only to get busy with work and then give up altogether. We make a promise to ourselves that we will finally finish that book our friend lent us, only to get distracted by Netflix instead. We say we will pick up better eating habits only to be sidetracked again by pizza and Chick-fil-A (you can probably relate to this on a painfully true level if you work in student ministry!).
The truth is, we are fickle people. Our emotions change constantly. Our efforts wax and wane. On the best of days, we are just not that consistent.
The best news of all is that your salvation and your ministry are not like a gym membership, a borrowed book, or a diet. They don’t ultimately depend on your effort to get up at 5am every morning and make yourself get there or complete the tasks perfectly right. Your salvation and your ministry actually are not ultimately dependent on your effort at all.
Yet it can be so easy to forget this truth and run back to the law to justify us or make us feel like we are in good standing before God. I know I often struggle with this. And that is why we need Scripture to pierce our hearts with truth.
Philippians 1:6 has always been a balm of comfort to my anxious soul when I am discouraged about the pace of my own or my students’ sanctification. The Apostle Paul writes: “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ .”
Note what this verse says- He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ. Our remaining faithful to the end does not rest in our own ability to muster up the strength to make it to the end. Instead, it rests on God’s promise- that He will preserve those whom He has chosen and effectively called to Himself. His faithfulness will hold us, and He will finish what he started in us.
This is good news for the youth minister in two ways: for us and our students.
Good News For Youth Ministers
God’s promise of preserving grace is good news for us because we are just people, too. Just like our students, we are in deep need of God’s grace and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to keep and strengthen us every second of every day. We are equally susceptible to fall into sin as our students, and equally relying on grace alone to keep us on level ground (Psalm 143:10). We are equally dependent, needy children, resting in the goodness of our Father’s preserving hand. As one of my all-time favorites, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, said in his classic book All of Grace, “The saints shall persevere in holiness, because God perseveres in grace.”
While the call to pursue holiness is a necessary part of the Christian life and not optional for the believer, we can have peace in knowing that even this desire for holiness has been given to us by God, and He will see that desire through as we seek Him diligently.
Good News For Our Students
This is good news for our students because it means that we can stop acting like their functional saviors and start getting on our knees for them more. We can rely more deeply on God to be the one who changes them, because after all, only He can. He promises He will see the work He has started in them through to the end- a task that us fickle and imperfect youth directors could never do, even on our best of days.
This is good news overall for our entire ministry, because we know that without the power of the Holy Spirit we will truly just fall flat on our faces. Read these powerful words from Psalm 127:1-2:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
I pray that these words will always be on my mind in every coffee or lunch date I have, every lesson I give, every Bible study I lead, every retreat I go on, and so on: unless the Lord. Unless the Lord begins and finishes the work, we are merely grasping at air.
This frees us up from trying to fix our students. This makes us more available to actually love and listen to them . We can trust and know that those who God holds are unable to be snatched out of His loving and keeping hand (John 10:28-30).
So fellow youth minister, take a deep breath and rest in Jesus. He will sustain you, and He will sustain your students, too. As Geerhardus Vos so beautifully put it, “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.” If you and your students are in Christ, this could not be more true for you. You are loved with the same love the Father has for the Son, since you are hidden with and in Him (Colossians 3:3).
We have a God who finishes what He starts, every time, and we are called to keep our eyes on Him alone as we run the hard but beautiful race of ministry (Hebrews 12:1-3).