"Minister and not manipulate." That is the sum of many Scriptures.
Twenty-three years ago (mothers can date everything by the ages of their children) I received, in exchange for babysitting, a book titled The Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb. His two-word contrast always stuck with me-the brevity of it never more helpful than in my present state of mind where I can hold little more.
Particularly as we move toward Christmas, we should remember that ministry is the way of Jesus, who came "not to be served but to serve" (Matthew 20:28), who "emptied Himself" and took no thought to grasping (Philippians 2). God bids us "walk as Jesus walked" (1 John 2:6).
Ministry was the way of the apostle Paul, who acted toward men "with simplicity and godly sincerity" (2 Corinthians 1:12). He forswore "flattery" (1 Thessalonians 2:5). He urged that love is "kind" and "does not seek its own" (1 Corinthians 13). Before opening his mouth, he thought about what would be "helpful" (Acts 20:20).
Ministry is enough. The two tablets of the Law emphasize it: what we owe to God and what we owe to man because we owe to God. All that is not ministry is manipulation; all that is not manipulation is ministry. Scripture conceives of life as movement toward one or the other of these two possibilities: to seek true glory, or to be "self-seeking" (Romans 2:7-8). "Ministry" is the eight-letter word for love.
Ministry is life-giving. It is the soul's own healing. One is never so miserable as when contemplating one's misery, never so free as when thinking upon the welfare of the other. This is the mystery of righteousness that only the righteous know, a treasure hidden in the field. The self-involved soul is a casket, C.S. Lewis reminded us: airless, careless, impervious to all of love's arrows, impervious to love itself.
Ministry to others unleashes blessing because it is the reflex of faith, and God loves faith, and watches over it. When we minister to others we minister to God Himself, as it were, for whatever we do unto others we do unto Him. "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). There is a promise to cling to.
Would you "save your life" by striving in your own strength after what God has forbidden? Or by shoring up your own defenses, unassailable behind sandbags of self-protective pique or malice or feigned indifference? Would your manipulation even extend to self-manipulation-diminishing your pain by perpetuating a fraud on yourself, demonizing the other: "Those grapes were sour anyway." As to this, Lewis rightly noted in The Great Divorce, "there is always something they prefer to reality."
"Ministry" asks more of you than "love," which has been watered down or pressed into the service of many a false master. An emphasis on ministry forces me to do some hard thinking about you-what would be best for you? (At the moment that I am focusing on ministering to you, I cannot also be focused on my own wants.)
"Go and minister" gives you something to do, which is a tact at once elementary and profound. When Elijah was blubbering over what a bad deal his life was, God picked him up off the floor of the cave and sent him straightaway to anoint Hazael king over Syria and Jehu king over Israel.
The answer to "How do I know I love you?" is that I choose to love you. A long time ago a man asked me to marry him. I said, "I'm not sure I love you." He said, "Do you pray for me?"-as if that settled the question. Emotions are like the morning dew; the sun comes up with scorching heat and they are gone. But I know if I pray for you. Prayer is ultimate ministering.
A four-word phrase is doable for me right now. A hundred times a day, as often as the ship of my soul veers off into its natural bent of manipulation, that phrase comes to me and my rudder is set again on course. I enter into freedom. Trust in the One whose birth we will celebrate on Christmas, and He will lift you up. Minister and not manipulate.