Time Served Ministry is a religious organization that carries the gospel inside the jail and prison communities to reach inmates. Attendees are interested in learning about the hope (love) that Jesus Christ has to offer. We offer Bible studies, reading plans, prayer time, and gospel-centered worship services. Since 2008, TSM continues to bring a Christ-centered gospel message of hope and restoration to the incarcerated, their families, and the nearby communities that have been affected by addiction. *All* proceeds from purchases on this webpage are used to support Time Served Ministry's "Bible Drive" for their weekly visitations. Enjoy!


How to Glorify God in Business Success


We talk often about glorifying God when things are hard, glorifying God in suffering and loss and even in death. Philippians 1:20 is a key text for us, one we’ve addressed now over thirty times on the podcast, for good reason.

But what about glorifying God when things in life are good — and especially when your business is flourishing? That’s our question today from a listener named Matt. “Hello, Pastor John. Thank you for this podcast! How should a Christian Hedonist who is successful in business and a prominent leader speak in front of others about their story? It seems like many ‘Christian business leaders’ make their success story all about themselves and then mask it all in a thin Christian wrapper. So what is the best way to authentically and humbly recognize a position of leadership and success, but to speak of it in a way that makes God look great?”

I really appreciate this question, especially the way it’s phrased there at the end, because I think that is the goal of everything in life: to make God, Christ, look great. But I am going to push it back one step. Matt asks about how a successful person in a leadership position may speak so as to make God look great. I’m going to push it back and say that almost everything hangs on how a successful person in a leadership position thinks and feels about his success and leadership. I really do believe that if a person’s thinking and feeling about his success and his work and his relationships and his leadership are deeply biblical and spiritual, then the speaking and all the more or less subtle forms of communication will take care of themselves.

Let me try to explain what I mean by right thinking and right feeling when it comes to one’s success and leadership. There are five ways to think and, I think, five ways to feel about our life’s achievements, if God has given us success and given us (therefore) leadership.

Patterns of Right Thinking

First, you will think rightly about the nature of what success is. You will not assume the world’s definition of success, though there will be overlaps. Essential to your definition of success will be your goals in life. These will not be identical with the world’s goals. Success is reaching goals; that’s what success is. And so, choosing life goals is prior to seeking success. Yours will include pleasing your Creator and the Lord of your life, getting in sync with his goals in the world. This will involve doing good for people in the hope of showing Christ’s supreme worth. This will imply pervasive integrity, honesty, justice, generosity, the true good of clients and customers and employees and community.

Second, you will think rightly about the fact that absolutely everything that makes this business flourish is a free and undeserved gift of God, including the raw materials, the skill of employees, the social conditions, the weather, the managerial successes and processes, and your own life abilities, disciplines. Acts 17:25 says, “[God is not] served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Life and breath and everything are a gift of God. You will think rightly about that.

Third, you will think rightly about the relationship between hard work and divine blessing. You will know God is decisive in all blessing, but you will not make the mistake of thinking that he does not use human means and human giftedness. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). Both. Your preparations are essential, but God is decisive. Or 1 Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” So yes, you worked. Yes, you are gifted. Yes, that’s crucial. But all of it — all of it — is owing to grace.

Fourth, you will remember that God is sovereign and governs the world for his wise purposes. The smallest turn of affairs is ordered by God. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). Every sparrow dies, and it dies by God’s will. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). This conviction is essential to right thinking about success.

Fifth, you will think rightly about the fact that as an undeserving sinner, not only is every good thing that comes to you a gift of God, but it comes to you, as his child, undeserved, and owing to the purchase he made by the blood of Christ. Most Christians don’t make this connection between the death of Christ and the blessings they receive in this life. They think only in terms of forgiveness. But consider Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” In other words, everything that comes to God’s undeserving children is owing to God’s not sparing his Son but giving him up for us. Every gift that we have from God in our business life, in our leadership, comes with a price tag: the blood of Jesus. We need to think rightly about that.

Patterns of Right Feeling

Now, what about feeling? If you’re going to speak about your successful business and your leadership in a way that makes Christ look great, you will need to be transformed into the kind of person, from the inside out, who actually feels the greatness of Christ — not just knows it, but thinks it and feels it, and all the things that go with it.

First, you will feel thankful for everything. Ephesians 5:20: “[Give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” If you take those two texts together, it says “for all things” and “in all things.” Few feelings are more winsome, humbling, others-oriented than thankfulness. This cannot be pretended; it is a feeling. It is a feeling before it is words. Do you really feel thankful? That will make a huge difference in how you talk.

Second, you will feel not just thankful for all good things; you will feel undeserving — really undeserving. This is huge. Do you? Your understanding of sin will be existential in your business life. You will know that every morning that you wake up, and you don’t wake up in hell, is a good morning, an undeserved morning. If your doctrine of sin does not bring you to this point, you need to return to thinking rightly about the issue of sin and go deeper into Scripture. We must pray. This doesn’t come naturally. We must plead with God that the truth of our own fall and nature as children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) will cause us to feel undeserving of every single good that comes to us.

Third, you will feel amazed. This is the upside of undeserving when grace rises to meet every degree of guilt we feel. The feelings of thankfulness and being undeserving now overflow with amazement, as if a million-dollar check landed in your mailbox every single morning — only better. The grace of God is amazing.

Fourth, you will not feel proud but humble — not just think it but feel it. This makes all the difference. First Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Or here’s James 4:13–16. This is spoken directly to businessmen and women:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.” . . . Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

In other words, it’s arrogant to say, “I’m going downtown today to do some business.” You don’t know if you’re going to make it downtown. The sovereignty of God and the grace of God over every detail of our lives, James says, cancels boasting and causes us to feel humble.

Fifth, you will feel an overflowing joy that inclines you to love other people and be generous with them. Second Corinthians 8:2: “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy . . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”

If you have these five aspects of right thinking and these five aspects of right feeling about your success and leadership, there will be an overflow of right speaking to make Christ look great.


  (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Come, Lord Jesus.


Ministering to the Incarcerated

Dr. R.C. Sproul once recounted his first experience with visiting a maximum-security prison in Minnesota. R.C.’s friend was preaching in a ratty old auditorium to about four hundred of the most hardened criminals in the state. He noted that it was a frightening experience. After he left, Dr. Sproul offered the following reflection:

As I left the confines of the prison, I carried a profound sense of satisfaction, for at least on one occasion I fulfilled the direct mandate of Christ to visit those who are in prison (Matt. 25:36Heb. 13:31 Peter 3:19). Since that initial visit, I have had many other experiences in prisons and considerable exposure to inmates, as we regularly hold seminars for them.

Most Americans are unaware that nearly one out of every one hundred people in the United States is incarcerated. Most of us have never known someone who has been incarcerated. Because of this, churches can easily overlook prison ministry. Out of sight, out of mind. Dr. Sproul saw firsthand the necessity for prison ministry. He came away from that initial visit with a sense of gratification that he remembered those in prison. It is important that the church also minister to those who are incarcerated because Scripture commands us to show compassion to and to remember and receive the imprisoned.


Jesus calls His people to show compassion to those in prison. Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:36—“I was in prison and you came to me”—are commonly used as a proof-text to care for those incarcerated. And so they are. But how are we to do so? Let us remove our twenty-first-century Western understanding of imprisonment and consider its broader context. Jesus also states, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me” (v. 36) and “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (v. 40). Jesus emphasizes that the Christian’s compassion for those in need reveals his inward righteousness. In other words, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked do not make one righteous. But instead, those who are truly righteous in Christ, those who have experienced Christ’s compassion in their own lives, desire to show compassion for those in need, the hungry, the thirsty, and the imprisoned—especially with respect to other believers in those situations.

Even today, many inmates lack the necessary food, water, or clothing in prison. The incarcerated need our compassion. Those in prison need the physical, emotional, and spiritual support of in-person visitation or written correspondence. One of the ways that Christ calls believers to provide evidence of holiness in their lives is through exercising compassion for those imprisoned. To care for the incarcerated is to live in obedience to Christ. Jesus says in verse 40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” By ministering to incarcerated brothers and sisters, we minister to Christ. We must recognize that the church behind bars is nevertheless part of the invisible church of Christ. 


Jesus commands His church to remember those in prison, especially those who are imprisoned on account of their faith. The author of Hebrews writes to Christians, many of whom were under persecution at the time: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3). Throughout the New Testament, we read of the mistreatments and sufferings of Christians (Heb. 10:32–34) and wrongful imprisonments (Acts 5:18; 16:25–31; 28:14–15). Rather than encouraging the church to avoid those in prison, they ought to remember them. Further, we ought to think of ourselves as if we were imprisoned with them. As members of the same body, we are to consider the church behind bars no differently than we consider the active members of the local congregation to which we are committed. As John Calvin wrote, “There is nothing that can give us a more genuine feeling of compassion than to put ourselves in the place of those who are in distress [incarcerated].”

Are there no elect in prison? Surely God’s people are there. So let us consider the church behind bars not as a dying church but as a part of the church, the one body of Christ. The incarcerated are some of the most intentionally forgotten people in our society. Just because the general public cannot see the incarcerated church does not mean that it does not exist. On the contrary, incarcerated Christians are members of Christ’s body. Remembering the incarcerated should be considered a part of building and edifying the local church. The church is blessed as it counsels, reaches, teaches, and preaches to those behind bars. Christ would have His church learn how to sympathize with their Christian brothers and sisters who have been transformed by the power of the gospel behind bars. In most cases, it is only a matter of time before they physically join a local church.


Jesus commands us to welcome those who share our faith in Him, and this includes believers who have been imprisoned. Consider the book of Philemon, a story of reconciliation and restoration. A friend of the Apostle Paul named Onesimus had stolen from his master, Philemon, and escaped. While on the run, Onesimus met Paul and was saved under the Apostle’s ministry, and Paul sent him back (reentry) to Philemon. Philemon was a Christian, and Paul urged him to “receive [Onesimus] as you would receive me” (Philemon 17)—as a fellow partaker of the same grace of the gospel. Paul further explained to Philemon that Onesimus was now more valuable as a Christian than he had been beforehand. If only the church today was as welcoming to those who have come to faith in Christ while in prison as Paul urged Philemon to be toward Onesimus.

More than ten thousand men and women are released back into society every week in the United States. Inmates who eventually leave prison will reenter our society. Ninety-five percent of the approximately two million incarcerated in America will return to a neighborhood near you. They shop in the same stores, drive on the same roads, and visit the same libraries. They may even live on the same street. One of the most significant challenges that those reentering society face is not knowing where and how to resume their lives. They must also deal with the strain that they have placed on their families. The penitent ex-convict who has received God’s forgiveness needs a family to welcome him home. The church can meet this need. The preaching of the gospel to inmates affects every community where inmates go when they are released. Transformed men and women often become blessings to the church just as Onesimus became one.

It is important that the church minister to the incarcerated because Scripture commands us to care for, remember, and receive the imprisoned. To that end, here are a few ways that Ligonier is seeking to equip churches and believers to carry out the task of ministering to those in prison:

Dr. Sproul’s reaction to his first prison visit serves as an excellent reminder that we are carrying on the legacy and burden that was impressed on the heart of Ligonier’s founder so many years ago. Ligonier’s prison outreach exists to reach the incarcerated with the knowledge of God and the hope of the gospel. We accomplish this by emphasizing the need for a right understanding of who God is and how this leads to a right understanding of ourselves. Right theology leads to right living, and the Lord uses the teaching of His Word to set souls free from the prison of sin (Isa. 61:1). Ligonier supplies good biblical and theological resources to correctional facility chaplains and inmates to help incarcerated men and women rebuild their lives on the solid foundation of Scripture.

Ligonier serves prison chaplains by providing them with credits to obtain discipleship resources for effective prison ministry. We also offer chaplains complimentary bulk subscriptions to Tabletalk magazine. We are eager to supply access to many Ligonier teaching series and the Ligonier Connect online learning platform that can be broadcast throughout the facility’s closed-circuit television systems or uploaded onto the electronic devices that some inmates can access. In addition to these resources, Ligonier covers the cost of admission for all correctional chaplains and their spouses who want to attend Ligonier’s national or regional conferences.

Ligonier provides inmates with access to a wide range of free resources. Over the past four years, we have directly served more than fifteen thousand inmates across America. We receive more than 150 letters each week from inmates requesting resources. In response to such correspondence, we provide free copies of the Reformation Study Bible in a format that complies with most correctional facilities’ standards. We have also given many inmates complimentary subscriptions to Tabletalk. In addition to these resources, we offer inmates a request form for them to obtain books written by Dr. Sproul, our Ligonier Teaching Fellows, and other authors that are available in our online store. Our Ask Ligonier service provides inmates with a platform to ask biblical and theological questions and to receive answers from well-trained staff members.

Ligonier is honored to minister to those in prison, and our supporters make this work possible. There are other ministries and churches doing good gospel ministry in prisons as well. Whatever the avenue we choose, let us as the people of God work to make sure that incarcerated men and women can access the hope of the gospel.


Michael Dewalt is chaplain outreach coordinator at Ligonier Ministries and discipleship and outreach coordinator at Midway Presbyterian Church in Powder Springs, Ga.


The Clay-Pot Conspiracy

 Hope for Leaders Losing Heart:

One year ago, we lost our youngest daughter to her longstanding battle against addiction. Walking alongside her in this multiyear struggle sank us into parts of this broken world we never dreamed we would inhabit. Dark places with desperate people became familiar terrain. We fought for life. Death won. Now our precious daughter is gone. Each morning I stare into the eyes of her 2-year-old son, now entrusted to us.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about grief. I have seen how it attacks meaning and motivation. Grief creeps up and seizes a moment, an hour, an afternoon. I think it’s going to be like this for a while. The shadow of death; the empty chair; the burden of shame; the clay pot, broken.

Ministry, if I’m honest, is conflicting. It’s been more splendid than I possibly expected and more painful than I ever dreamed. Somewhere along the way, I began to think differently about resilience. It’s no longer the place I am reaching for after the pain. It’s the work of God, in and through mystery and agony, by which he is helping me persevere in a way that reveals his power.

Treasure in Jars of Clay

In 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd was herding his flock on a hill near the Dead Sea. Since sheep are prone to wander, one little lamb ambled away. The shepherd set out on a search that led him to a dark cave on the northwestern ridge.

The young shepherd approached the cave mouth, peered inside, and then chucked a rock into the darkness. Something shattered. Crawling through the entrance, the intrepid shepherd came face to face with an archaeological wonder.

The boy found a row of enormous clay pots, larger than him — each one sealed shut. Popping one lid, he found ancient scrolls inside — some wrapped in linen, others blackened to the point of being unreadable. Little did the shepherd know that he would be immortalized as the guy who discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A treasure of incomprehensible value. Stored in clay pots.

Clay-Pot Conspiracy

Make no mistake: ministry is hard. We come aboard assuming God tapped us for our strengths. But God’s program incorporates many of our weaknesses. In a broken world, ministry is often conveyed through broken vessels. Listen to how the apostle Paul describes it:

We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7–12)

Paul faced opposition in Corinth. Tradition has it that he was somewhat unattractive and sported some kind of eye condition (see 2 Corinthians 10:10Galatians 4:13–15). From his opponents’ point of view, Paul was too plain, too contemptible, too weak. But Paul counters with a decidedly unconventional defense. To the charge that he’s insufficient, Paul says, “Guilty.” To the charge that he’s an unrefined orator, Paul repeats, “Guilty.” To the charge that he’s weak, Paul asserts, “Guilty!” Paul flips the script on his detractors by saying, “You think my weakness disqualifies me. But actually, it’s the core of my credentials.”

Paul discovered a secret: his weakness was an opportunity for God’s power. He learned that when our weakness meets God’s grace, strength abounds. It’s what I like to call the “clay-pot conspiracy.”

Although the word conspiracy has dark overtones, I think it accurately conveys the essence behind God’s hidden agenda. God has a covert plan to sabotage the enemy and to display his power. It’s a secret design to humble the proud, abolish boasting, and establish the ground for our longevity.

That’s what I mean by the clay-pot conspiracy. And it’s as simple as this: Our weakness + God’s power = resilient ministry.

Filled with Gospel

Paul states, “We have treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Paul’s treasure is his gospel ministry. Paul is speaking about the resplendent worth of the incomparable gospel, the priceless message about the Savior who left the glory of heaven and died to save sinners. But let’s connect a couple of dots. Gospel ministry is a privilege many of us share with Paul. It is a privilege that we’re called to when we enter ministry as leaders in the local church. We share the glorious honor of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, to see the light of God’s glory go forward through the finished work of Jesus.

Now comes the conspiracy. At the heart of this passage rests a stunning contrast. This incomprehensible treasure is stored in fragile jars of clay. Church leader, God is talking about you. You have something of infinite value stored in your ministry, your body, your life — your clay pot. You are the receptacle; you are the clay pot in which the treasure of the gospel rests.

Can You Own Your Weakness?

When I was 7 years old, my brother — such a nutcase, my brother — called me over to the gravel parking lot across from our house. “Dave,” he said. “Come here. I want to show you something.”

In his hand was a gold nugget — at least what looked like a gold nugget; I didn’t yet see the gold spray-paint cans littered on the ground around his feet.

“Whoa! Where did you get that?” I said.

“Right here, man!” he said. “And they’re sprinkled all over the parking lot. It’s filled with gold!”

I stood astounded. But my brother was just getting started. “And guess what? I bought the whole lot!

Then he stepped forward. “And since I’m your brother, here’s the first piece of gold from my new lot.” He reached over and set the spray-painted piece of gravel in my sweaty hand. When I close my eyes, I can still remember the sensation of awe as I palmed this priceless mineral that had transformed me into a wildly wealthy kid.

Feeling the burden of spontaneous wealth, I knew my gold needed to be secured. So I ran home, rushed upstairs, and grabbed a shoe box. I put my gold nugget in the middle of the shoe box, and I stuffed newspaper all around it. Then I wrapped it in duct tape (because we all know that duct tape is impregnable to burglars). The box then went into the bottom drawer of my dresser (because no criminal would ever think of going into the bottom drawer). Even at 7, I knew that my treasure should be in the safest place I could find.

But God’s strategy is different. God stores his treasure in something common and breakable. We think our battle with anxiety makes us less effective to lead. We assume our bodily illness or our prodigal child means the end of usefulness for God. But beneath your pain there is a plan — the clay-pot conspiracy. God is working to make your life speak in ways you never imagined. How? God stores his treasure in clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to him and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7).

We are not always strong. We are weak. And the only way to experience God’s surpassing power is to own our fragility. God stores his treasure in jars of clay. Can you own it?

Break the Pot to Free the Power

The intruders in Corinth were known for boasting about their power — for talking incessantly about the triumphs of their leadership. So, Paul says to them, “Let me share with you my ministry profile.” Then, the apostle provides these four contrasts (2 Corinthians 4:8–9):

  • “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.”
  • “We are . . . perplexed, but not driven to despair.”
  • “We are . . . persecuted, but not forsaken.”
  • “We are . . . struck down, but not destroyed.”

Ministry, for Paul, was complicated and excruciating. It was a life where you’re afflicted, baffled, persecuted, and struck down. Paul summarizes it by saying, “We are . . . always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:10).

As with Paul, your pain is designed to produce a leader who embodies the gospel message. God triggers experiences of death in us so that gospel life might flow. It’s a series of trials where your kids see you maligned, but you do not retaliate; where one sleepless night rolls into the next; where you keep loving when you feel like your heart is empty.

But it’s all part of the plan. Death is at work “so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Do you see the plan? God breaks the pot to free the power.

That’s right. Your weaknesses and struggles — the very places your mind is going as you read this — are the very places God makes his power known most clearly. You are walking the path behind Paul. “I carry death, so that the life of Christ may be manifested in me.”

It’s strange, isn’t it? We come into leadership thinking the kingdom advances by strong people using amazing gifts to bear epic fruit. But God says, “Not really. When I want to shape a soul for service, I bid him to come and die. When I want my gospel to ring forth, I break the pot.”

Your suffering is meant to produce life for others. It’s not merely confounding. It’s the clay-pot conspiracy. Our weakness + God’s power = resilient ministry.

Resilience Right Now

Leader, remember: Your suffering is not an obstacle to resilience. It’s the means of producing it. It’s all part of God’s conspiracy, where “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4). God breaks the pot to shape the soul. It’s a mysterious grace we are given, a grace upon which we stand (Romans 5:2).

If you’re struggling for resilience right now, remember: Your pot is not the first to be broken. The clay pot of Christ’s body was broken for our sins. Then Christ rose from death on the third day. It’s the conspiracy’s origin: God made death produce life.

Leaders, don’t begrudge the nails that pin you to the cross. Don’t despise your places of death. From the ashes of your brokenness, God is kindling the fire of hope and life. Though it baffles the mind, those wounds are fortifying the resilience you seek. And they are preparing your soul to meet a Savior. Each day in heaven will be more glorious because of what you have borne on earth.

When I look into my grandson’s eyes and see my daughter, the pang reminds me that God breaks the pot to free his power. If you’re in ministry and experiencing any kind of loss, the breaking is also forging a more durable soul. The kind that reminds the world of the true power behind a crucified Savior.

My weakness plus God’s power equals my resilience. It’s the clay-pot conspiracy. And it is magnificent! 


 (@RevDaveHarvey) is the president of Great Commission Collective and the author of Stronger Together: 7 Partnership Virtues and the Vices that Subvert Them. He and his wife, Kimm, live in southwest Florida.

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