Measuring Ministry

When we moved from the U.S. to Canada in 1982, one of our challenges was adjusting to the metric system. We were raised with cars going “miles per hour”; up north it’s “kilometers per hour.” I never could switch from fuel economy as”miles per gallon.” In the grocery store there is a whole assortment of changes. There are four liters of milk instead of a gallon; a block of butter is 454 grams instead of a pound; a can of soup is 284 milliliters instead of 10 fluid ounces; and a bag of potatoes is 4.54 kilograms instead of 10 pounds. I realize that most international readers are already used to the metric system. The challenge for you would be to think in non-metric measurements. And most of us stand amazed at our British friends who can make sense of weighing themselves on a scale that reads “stones”!

This idea of measuring also comes up in our study of the abundant life in Christ. We discover that God’s way of “measuring” is often quite different from ours. This shouldn’t surprise us, since God announced in Isaiah 55:8-9,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Let’s survey some examples of how God evaluates things differently.

Consider God’s reckoning of cities. God values cities, not on their size of population, their military might, or even political power. Such high-profile centers were not chosen by the LORD as places to advance His plan of redemption. Instead, Jerusalem became the place He appointed as a center for worship.

“His foundation is in the holy mountains.
The LORD loves the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you,
O city of God!” (Psalm 87:1-3; see also Psalm 48:1-3,8-13).

In this city, David and his descendants reigned over Judah. In this city, God’s temple was built, serving as the center for worship during the thousand years before Christ.

Consider the way God measured the significance of the temple there. The one built by Solomon was a magnificent building, but after about four centuries it was destroyed when God used Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to judge His wayward people. Some seventy years later, the remnant of Israel returned to Jerusalem and started to rebuild the temple (Ezra 3-6). It was a discouraging task because they did not have the skill nor the resources of Solomon’s prosperous age. However, the prophet Haggai encouraged the people in their task:

“‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong… all you people of the land,’ says the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,. . . I will fill this temple with glory, … The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace’…” (Haggai 2:3-4,7,9).

When measured by building materials and size, the rebuilt temple was a disappointment, but God said it would have greater glory! He measures differently. The final Old Testament prophet gives us a hint as to why this second temple would be glorious: “‘… And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,’ Says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1). This was the temple that Jesus would visit as a boy; the temple where Jesus would teach; the temple that Jesus would cleanse. [1]

Turning to the New Testament we see other examples of God’s distinctive measuring. When the Lord Jesus was observing those who gave at the temple treasury, who did He identify as the most generous? We would naturally have been impressed with the larger bags of coins that rattled into the offering boxes. Instead Christ pointed out the woman who gave her two small copper coins! “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had” (Luke 21:3-4).

Few Christians made the “Who’s Who” list of first century society. The social status of most early believers was not impressive. As Paul observed,

“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

Many who achieve higher levels of education become puffed up with intellectualism. This bias was described by a former poet laureate of England. In “The Everlasting Mercy,” John Masefield wrote,

“But trained men’s minds are spread too thin,
They let all sorts of darkness in;
Whatever light they find, they doubt it;
They love not the light, just talk about it.” [2]

We are also prone to use secular standards of evaluation. Consciously or unconsciously, we measure ourselves (and others) by factors such as fame, wealth, power, appearance, talent, etc. Such measurements are material and temporal.

Then, how should God’s spiritual and eternal standards affect how we measure things? (2 Cor. 4:16,17).

For instance, how does God measure churches? Not by the size of their building (although good facilities are an asset), not by numbers (although the more people reached the better), nor even the amount of money in the budget (although God loves a cheerful giver). His concern is that churches are effective lampstands (Rev. 1:20). He corrected the distorted values of the churches of Asia Minor because He longed to use them and reward them (Rev. 2:1-3:21).

And how does God measure families? Not by the size of their house, nor their wardrobe, nor their education, nor by their careers. He calls them to be centers of discipleship, hospitality, and loving relationships (Deut. 6:6-9).

Are you tired of trying to measure up to the expectations of others? and of yourself? God is calling you to be “poor in spirit.” See how all the beatitudes demonstrate God’s true measurements and their rewards (Matt. 5:1-12). Confess your inadequacy and inability apart from His grace (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Ready for some encouragement? If you are in Christ, by His grace you already measure up: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1 NIV). You are accepted in the Beloved One! (Eph. 1:6).

Maybe you think your contribution to the Kingdom of God doesn’t amount to much. Yet, whatever God gives you to do, respond with total dependence on Him, not to earn His acceptance, but to express your gratitude for His abundant grace.

A senior citizen confessed to me that she feels bad because she isn’t serving the Lord as in earlier years. Her comment reminds me of how the Lord corrected the leaders who were rebuilding the temple: “For who has despised the day of small things?. . .” (Zech. 4:10). Your ministry is not small if you’re letting God live through you!

Each person you reach out to is valuable; Christ died for them (1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 2:2).

  • Mom–those children of yours are worth your commitment.
  • Sunday School teacher–your class is worth your spiritual investment.
  • Prayer warrior–your intercession will bear fruit for eternity!

This kind of measuring is echoed in a song:

“Little is much when God is in it,
Labor is not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ name.”

What God looks for in His people is faithfulness. This principle transcends all cultural measurements; it counts for time and eternity. So, whatever your abilities and opportunities, be a faithful steward “of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10; 1 Cor 4:2). And where can you get such faithfulness? From God’s Spirit:

“… His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘Therefore I hope in Him!'” (Lam. 3:22-23).

May we continue to renew our minds, learning to measure things God’s way


[1] Another example would be the birthplace of Jesus. God chose the inconspicuous Bethlehem. As the prophet Micah foretold, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting” (Micah 5:2). The world may have applauded the grandeur of Memphis (Egypt), the might of Nineveh, the architecture of Babylon, the scholarship of Athens, or the government of Rome–but God chose places like Jerusalem and Bethlehem. He measures differently.

[2] quoted in V. Raymond Edman, But God, (Zondervan, 1962), p.109

Wow, this article must be over two cubits long! 🙂

Copyright 2000 by John Woodward, third edition. Permission is granted to reprint this article for noncommercial, ministry use if credit is given to the author and Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Copyright by Thomas Nelson).