Society of Fellows
Even great preachers become discouraged. Dr. Robert G. Lee, pastor from 1927 to 1960 of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee was eminently successful in ministry by any possible measurement. He even preached one sermon, "Pay Day Some Day," over twelve hundred times. Yet Dr. Lee was known to say publicly, "If I had taken one step West each time I thought of quitting the ministry, I’d be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by now!" Every pastor, even Dr. Lee, eventually needs a radically fresh touch from God.
All pastors begin their ministry with the miracle of a sense of divine call, enthusiasm, and passion for future usefulness. Dr. George W. Truett, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas from 1898 to 1944, often said that all people are "bound up together in the bundle of life." This " bundle of life" and the trials of real life warfare in ministry can cause us to loose this sense of heavenly, miraculous calling. We loose our sharp edge. Discouragement, doubt, and defeat rob our ministry of its miracle.
Our God who "works all things together for good" (Romans 8:28) has made ample provision for the man of God to put the miracle back into ministry. This is what our moving Bible story is about as recorded in II Kings 6:1-7.
This heart touching story tells of a student-preacher who was among the "sons of the prophets" (II Kings 6:1). He was being mentored in ministry by the mighty prophet Elisha, the successor to Elijah whose exploits had defeated wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. A revival had swept Israel and Judah, and many men had received the miracle call of God to preach the Word. A larger edifice was needed to house this growing school of the prophets. Elisha had called for a building program, and all the young preachers were involved.
This energetic preacher chopped down trees vigorously, but, alas, as he chopped the axe head flew off and sunk to the bottom of the Jordan River. The young preacher had lost his ministry! His sympathetic teacher Elisha took a stick to the very spot where the axe head fell and cast the stick into the Jordan. The axe head came to the surface and swam! The preacher plucked the axe head from its watery grave, secured it to the axe handle, and went back to work for God. This story is about the miracle coming back into a preacher’s ministry.
Is this a true story? Vance Havner said, "You must believe it like it was if you want to tell it like it is!" Yes, this is a true, historical story with a beautiful spiritual message for the pastor today. G. Campbell Morgan said, "Every parable is a miracle of instruction, and every miracle is a parable for our instruction." Here we have a miracle to instruct preachers in putting the miracle back into a ministry.
I. GOD’S KINGDOM IS THE GREATEST WORK
Elisha said, "Go ye" (II Kings 6:2) to the preachers who were to build the school to train men to preach the Word of Jehovah God to the people of Israel. The Lord Jesus Christ said, "Go ye" in the Great Commission to His disciples and His Church. For two thousand years, untold numbers of believers have obeyed the "Go ye" of Jesus Christ.
Every pastor today once heard the miracle call of the Holy Spirit to obey the command of Christ just like the preacher in Elisha’s day. We are in the ministry by virtue of a miracle - a personal call from the Holy One of Israel to the greatest work of all, preaching the Gospel of the grace and Kingdom of God to a lost and hell bound world.
II. WE CAN LOSE THE SHARP EDGE OF THIS DIVINE CALL
The miracle can be hidden from us by the hard blows and sufferings often involved in ministry’s tasks. This hard working preacher had forgotten to take the time to sharpen his axe head as Ecclesiastes 10:10 had commanded the woodsman. "The axe head fell into the water" (II Kings 6:5). He lost his present ministry because he had lost his sharp edge. This can be a fatal blow to the minister.
Dr. John R. Bisagno, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Houston, Texas wrote, "I heard my father-in-law, who is now over 80 years of age and has been in the ministry for many years, say that it was his observation that a large majority of the men who begin in the ministry do not complete it. The ratio staggered me. I took the time to count the men who began the ministry with me at Oklahoma Baptist University, and of these twenty men, only four are still in the ministry." Lost axe heads can create lost ministries.
We cannot do ministry with a dull or lost axe head. We may keep swinging the axe handle, but it does no good! When the sharp edge is gone or the axe head is sunk, we need a new miracle in our ministry.
III. ALL WE HAVE IN LIFE OR MINISTRY IS BORROWED FROM GOD
The young preacher cried to Elisha about his lost axe head and sunken ministry, "Alas, master! For it was borrowed" (II Kings 6:5). Paul, by the Holy Spirit, reminds us, "What do you have that you did not receive?" (I Corinthians 4:7)
All life, talents, and calls are borrowed gifts from God. Sometimes God allows us to "loose our axe head" to teach us this ministry energizing lesson.
A W. Pink records a poem which illustrates beautifully that all the glory must go to God. We have borrowed all from Him. He is the source of our call. He alone is the miracle in our ministry.
"You cannot put one little star in motion;
God desires the preacher to learn that, "Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: to Whom be glory forever" (Romans 11:36). The miracle begins when we realize that all we have is borrowed briefly from God.
A wealthy Texas rancher went to hear the new pastor. The sermon was titled, "God Owns It All . . . Give Him The Glory." The rancher invited the pastor to his expansive ranch the next day. After the midday meal, the rancher and pastor rode horses for over an hour and came to a high hill overlooking a spacious plain. "Young man," said the rancher, "look as far as your eye can see in every direction. I own all this land . . . every bit of it. God does not own it." The young pastor received proper insight from God for the occasion and responded, "Sir, let us postpone our discussion for one hundred years and come back to this very spot and decide who owns this land."
Pastor, God owns your ministry. He saved you. He preserved you. He called you. He trained you. He gifted and equipped you. He even allows you to lose your sharp edge, your miracle, and your axe head of effectiveness. Now, let Him put the miracle back by His grace.
IV. MIRACLES BEGIN WHERE REPENTANCE IS REAL
"Where fell it?" asked the man of God. (II Kings 6:6) Where did you lose the miracle? Go back to that spot! Find grace to confess your need or fault. Start over. The Holy Spirit is there where it fell. Yes, preachers need new grace every day. When we loose the miracle, we must repent and grow.
Puritan writer David Gurnall in 1665 penned a twelve hundred page classic commentary on eleven verses of Scripture in Ephesians 6:10-20 titled "The Christian in Complete Armour." Gurnall wrote, "To the minister, into your hand this sword of the Lord is given in an especial manner . . . Tremble at the charge which is deposited. O, how shall the people grow if the minister does not? How shall he grow if he does not daily drink in more than he pours forth?" (Vol. II, p. 282) The miracle begins to return when we hunger for that fresh touch from God in the preacher’s heart.
V. THE CROSS IS WHERE YOUR MIRACLE WILL BE FOUND
Elisha did a strange thing to give this preacher back the miracle of ministry. "He cut down a stick and cast it in (the Jordan River), and the iron did swim." (II Kings 6:6) It did not just float—it swam! God did a miracle. The young preacher’s face glowed with joy—"My borrowed and lost ministry is back!" He became like Jonah—"The Word of the Lord came unto Jonah a second time" (Jonah 3:1).
What is the meaning and power of this stick of Elisha’s? How could a stick do a miracle and pull up heavy iron? How can a stick put the miracle into ministry? I Corinthians 10:4 says the "rock" in Exodus 17:6 was "Christ." The stick of Elisha is the cross of Christ!" The word cross means a "stake." I Peter 2:24 says, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree."
The Gospel is the story of Christ crucified. The preacher with a sharp edge and a miracle ministry will stay at the foot of the cross. He must go back to the stick, the cross. Find personal grace at the cross daily and preach that grace to fellow sinners. John 12:32 claims, "I, if I be lifted up will draw all men to Me." Christ was lifted up on the cross—all His sheep come to Him. The stick was lifted up over the lost axe head. The axe head sprang up from the bottom just as lost, repentant sinners come to the cross. Put the stick, the cross right in the middle of your daily life and preaching. The miracle will always come back at the cross. Be like Paul who had this testimony, "I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).
VI. RECEIVE THE MIRACLE OF GOD’S CALL IN YOU AND GO TO WORK
Evangelist Gipsy Smith preached with vigor well into his 80’s. When asked his secret of longevity, he exclaimed, "I’ve never lost the wonder!"
We can keep the wonder. We can maintain the miracle. We must believe God is in us by the grace of His call to preach the cross to lift men’s souls from death and hell.
"And he put out his hand and took it" (II Kings 6:7). The preacher found his swimming axe head, took it, and went back to do ministry with Elisha for Jehovah God. Every blow of that newly found axe head was now a miracle! He found the miracle in his ministry. His life became a miracle.
When the preacher comes back to the cross, he hears again the "still, small voice" (I Kings 19:12) of God. By grace, the call and the miracle is in ministry again. Every sermon, every visit, every phone call to a hurting soul becomes a miracle of ministry because of the cross. God is glorified. The church is built up. Rewards are laid up.
R. G. Lee preached the Gospel of the grace of Jesus to the age of 91 when he died in 1977. He "brought forth fruit in old age" (Psalm 92:14). Toward the end of his storied life, a newspaper interviewer inquired as to the secret of his abundant ministry and impassioned preaching. Tears came to the aged preacher’s eyes, who wore a white suit every Sunday to preach Christ, as he said, "I love Jesus with all my heart."
R. G. Lee’s life and ministry were a miracle. Ours can be, too, if we have the passion and love for Christ and Him crucified as did Dr. Lee.
When this writer was an eleven year old boy, he was taken by his beloved parents on a Sunday evening to hear R. G. Lee preach. The church building was filled to overflowing. There were no seats in the auditorium. The parents and child went to the front vestibule. The steps to the choir loft were the only seats available. Dr. Lee could not be seen, but he could be heard. His voice carried the one theme that dominated his preaching, "Jesus Christ is Wonderful Savior!" As Dr. Lee finished his sermon, he began to enunciate the Bible’s many names for Jesus Christ. Even that eleven year old boy sensed the passionate heart of the preacher and thought, "Jesus truly is wonderful!"
At Union University, the library and desk of Robert G. Lee are housed. Forty years later that little boy had the privilege of spending three days in Dr. Lee’s study. There he found the very notes for the conclusion of the sermon that had moved his young soul forty years earlier.
As you read, you will feel the heartbeat of a man who kept the miracle in his ministry. We will do well to imitate by the Holy Spirit the love of R. G. Lee’s heart for the Lord Jesus Christ, as now expressed here in his exact words.
"His Name Shall be Called Wonderful"
He is Adam, Advocate, Anointed, Apostle, Author, Amen, Alpha, Ancient of Days.
He is Born of a woman, the Beginning, the Begotten, Beloved, Branch, Bread, Bridegroom, Bright and Morning Star, Bishop of our souls, Brightness of the Father’s glory.
He is the Cluster of Camphire, Captain, Consolation, Chief Cornerstone, Counselor, Covenant, Chosen of God, Christ.
He is the Daysman, Deliverer, Dayspring, Daystar, Door, Desire of all nations.
He is the Elect, Ensign, Everlasting Father, Emmanuel.
He is the Finisher of our Faith, Forerunner, Friend, First Fruits, Faithful Witness, Fountain of Life issuing from the cave of death.
He is God, the Gift of God, Governor, Guide, Glorious Lord.
He is Help, Hope, Husband, Horn of Salvation, Hearer, Head of the Church, Heir of all things, High Priest, Hell’s dread, Heaven’s wonder—the Holy One!
He is I Am, Inheritance, Image of God’s person, Immortal and Invisible.
He is Judah, Judge, the Just, Jesus.
He is King, King of Israel, King of Kings, King of glory, King everlasting.
He is Life, the Light, Love, Lily, Lion, Lamb, Lawgiver, Living Stone, the Lord of glory.
He is Messenger, Mediator, Master, Messiah, Mighty God, Mercy‘s paradox.
He is a Nazarene.
He is Offspring of David, Omega, Only Begotten of God, Offering and Offerer.
He is Priest, Passover, Potentate, Prophet, Propitiation, Prince of life, Prince of Peace, Physician.
He is Righteousness, Rabbi, Ransom, Rest, Root of Jesse, Root of David, Refiner, Refuge, Resurrection, Rose of Sharon, blossoming in the shades of Hell, Whose sweat, tears and blood, quenched for all believers the fires of Hell and clothed the crater of damnation with foliage, fruit and flowers. Yes. Ruler He is—Redeemer, Rock of Ages, Regenerate breath rekindling the dead fires on the soul’s altar and restoring the broken strings of the Spirit’s silent lyre, tuning them to Heaven’s harmony.
He is the Stone, Shepherd, Son of God, Son of Man, Shield, Servant, Seed of the Woman, Surety, Sufferer, Savior, Sinless Sacrifice, the Same yesterday, today, forever.
He is Teacher, Truth, Tabernacle, Testator, Treasure, Tree of Life.
He is Witness, the Word, the Way, the Wisdom of God, the Wonderful.
In all things, through all ages, He is the lovely and mighty Christ, beyond all comprehension of the finite mind. His is "the sweetest name on mortal tongue, sweetest carol ever sung."
And all of us preachers today who want our ministries to be a miracle say, "AMEN AND AMEN."
Written by Dr. Roger Freeman, Pastor
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Roger P. Freeman has been pastor of First Baptist Church, Clarksville, Tennessee since 1993. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee; the master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Freeman and his wife Priscilla have four children: Melanie, David, Daniel and Sarah.