One of the simple requests I seek to pray every week in ministry is that the Lord will kindly use me to raise up others who will go on and surpass me. Perhaps these people will be in formal ministry—planting, pastoring, gospel workers. But I also pray for all kinds of people, dotted around his kingdom, for God to use in different ways.
It was 15 years ago, but I remember the evening well. It was around October. We were six months or so into planting, and there were about 10 people squished into our front room for the weekly meal, Bible study, and prayer.
Having heard it from someone else a few days before, I shared my resolve to pray the prayer above. The usual nods and noises of agreement traveled around the room as people listened, but not everyone was nodding. One individual was visibly troubled and uncomfortable by the idea. They were, they shared, unable to pray that prayer for themselves. They held a leadership role within the new church plant, overseeing an area of ministry they loved well. To be frank, they didn’t want someone to surpass them. We may know theological truths in our heads, but our hearts forget who we are in Christ. Click To Tweet
I’m thankful for their honesty, for their words reveal something of the ongoing battle in my own heart each time I pray that prayer. In one sense, yes, it’s a simple prayer to say. But it’s a hard prayer, too, because it reveals an internal battle between my head and my heart:
I know that ministry is not about me, yet way too easily want to be thought well of and seen as impressive.
I know that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of his sheep, yet too easily forget that I’m simply an undershepherd. He cares about his church more than I do.
I know that we’re to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matt. 6:10), yet how easily I can be tempted to desire my kingdom and my will. When we succumb to identity amnesia, we care more about what we do and how we’re perceived by others than our beautiful, primary new identity as a child of God. Click To Tweet
I think the problem my friend back in that squished front room was dealing with afflicts us all—it’s a kind of amnesia. We may know theological truths in our heads, but our hearts forget who we are in Christ. We begin to shift our gaze from the splendor of Jesus, forgetting that he is enough. When we succumb to identity amnesia, we care more about what we do and how we’re perceived by others than our beautiful, primary new identity as a child of God. It’s still something I struggle with; I think most believers do, too.
Praying for others to surpass me helps in my ministry posture and the ongoing process of putting to death the sinful nature, and it’s an antidote to identity amnesia. For example:
- It reminds me that, with John the Baptist, my life’s mantra ought to be “[Jesus] must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). I know how that truth can become flipped as, sadly, I often want to become greater. Praying for others to surpass me helps me enjoy Jesus’s supremacy.
- It reminds me that we are just interim pastors. We have the privilege of carrying the batons (2 Tim. 2:2) for a time before we pass them to others who will, in turn, do the same. Praying for others to surpass me helps me enjoy Jesus as the head of his church.
- It reminds me that I’m naturally a glory thief, a spiritual photo-bomber, someone wanting to subtly sneak into the limelight. But Jesus’s life-giving beauty is what we all need to see and enjoy. Praying for others to surpass me helps me enjoy Jesus’s fame.
- It reminds me that comparing myself with others saps the joy out of ministry. Instead, I should want them to flourish and grow. Praying for others to surpass me helps me enjoy Jesus’s work in others.
- It reminds me that it’s not about me.
Fifteen years down the line, and I still believe this is a good prayer. I still seek to pray it each week and I encourage you to do so, too. Increasingly, I pray that I’d embrace my identity in Christ. I pray that I’d embrace obscurity in the world and the church, caring much more about what God thinks and far less about what everyone else thinks.
For God’s Glory
Looking back over 20 years of ministry, I’m genuinely blown away by the people God has given me the privilege of investing in. These are people God has used for his glory, people he’s mightily using even now. Up and down the country and around the world, some of these people have gone on to write books, speak at events, start movements, and plant and revitalize churches that are now way bigger and more ‘impressive’ than the one I currently have the privilege of helping pastor. God has been so good. I pray that I’d embrace obscurity in the world and the church, caring much more about what God thinks and far less about what everyone else thinks. Click To Tweet
Isn’t this the wondrous way he works? God uses our weak and feeble prayers and our largely ineffective actions for his glory, weaving them into a beautiful tapestry as his kingdom grows.
Lord, please raise up others in our churches who will go on and surpass us, for your glory, Amen.