God's favorite place on earthI recently began reading a little book by Frank Viola. In it, Frank uses what we know about the Judean village of Bethany to highlight what made it such a haven for Jesus and to tease out and explore common struggles faced by Christians. He seems to put his finger on many of the challenges I see both in myself and in modern church culture. The first chapter contains the following section, which I thought was simply too good not to share (emphasis added):

We live in a day where the popular idea behind ministry training is to focus on developing one’s gifts. Gift inventories, personality surveys, and strength indicator tests are the rage among those who want to be equipped for ministry today.

But these kinds of tests set your eyes on your gifts. They put the focus on your strengths and your natural abilities. They make you the center of attention.

However, the Lord is far more interested in your weaknesses than in your strengths. He’s interested in breaking you. Why? Because when there is less of you in the way, there is more room for Him to work.

Apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It’s so easy to buy into the me-centered ministry culture today—the building up of one’s self-esteem by focusing on human goodness. But God’s goodness, and not ours, is the basis for our worth.

After talking at length about his sufferings and weaknesses, Paul made this surprising statement:

But he said to me “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

God’s idea of ministry training is a broken vessel. His idea of spiritual preparation is suffering, which includes rejection.

Here is the biblical recipe for ministry preparation—a recipe that’s glaringly absent from the pages of most ministry training manuals today:

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:11-12)

Criticism and rejection are God’s tools for liberating His servants from human control and the desire to please men.

To make you a useful vessel in His hands—”fit for the Master’s use”—God will sovereignly bring rejection into your life. Jacob is not alone in encountering an angel who will break his natural strength and leave him with a limp.

The crippling touch of God still disables those who rely on their own gifts and talents.

While modern ministry training is aimed at developing your natural abilities, leadership skills, independence, and self-confidence, God wants you to rely on Him instead of yourself. Why? So that any power you utilize may be completely of Him. And in so doing, you will discover the secret of being weak so that He may be strong.

— Frank Viola, God’s Favorite Place on Earth