In the communal and ecclesiastical context of the local church, believers are accustomed to pastoral leaders who tend to their flock much like shepherds would sheep. Pastoral ministry will never become irrelevant—the Church would grind to a halt without it. However, other biblical ministries can be seen operating within the church structure as demonstrated in the early NT gatherings. “For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world.” (Acts 11:27) The very first forms of NT church featured a prominent space for “prophets.”
Is this still true in today’s church? How are we to interpret “the prophetic” in a pastor-led, shepherding, caring atmosphere? The answers are hidden beneath multiple layers of dogma and passé teaching. We must adopt a larger, kingdom perspective. In the Kingdom, there is a prophetic dimension, which is not limited to or by the four walls of a church. The prophetic dimension is a distinct area of Christ’s multi-faceted ministry as Prophet, Priest, and King. It has the potential to develop beautifully and corporately if stewarded correctly. Still, many westerners are immersed in a pastorally designed mindset to the point that a legitimate prophetic anointing can be off-putting. It is viewed by some as threatening, uninvited doom-saying or unloving confrontation. Conversely, some church activity labeled “prophetic” could not have a more inaccurate label.
Having been discussed ad nauseam in charismatic circles, there is a vast difference between the office of prophet and a situation-based prophetic gift. The office-holder is characterized by a mantle that cannot be removed.1 The congregational gift of prophecy is mostly spontaneous words of edification, encouragement, and comfort (1 Cor. 14: 29-32). Occasionally they will contain a predictive element, but mostly they edify. Individuals with an on/off prophetic gift tend to give reassuring, comforting messages such as “God is good; He loves you; your sins are washed away by the blood; today is a new day, etc.” Prophetic office holders are iconoclasts par excellence. Under a strong anointing, they don’t waste time or dawdle. They will commandeer a spiritual scalpel and pinpoint roots of any and every type of malaise imaginable. They diagnose, then articulate a Remedy who is Christ. They are profound discerners, rarely fooled any of the time by outward appearance. They can (unintentionally) make people feel as though being X-rayed. A conversation might feature a tone similar to this:
PROPHET: Relax, here’s the splinter that was causing your limp!
Prophets are highly keen on justice and executing divine commands with precision. Any injustice, especially exploits of the weak or defenseless, may cause a blood-boiling offense in the prophet’s spirit and psyche. Like a “ringing” on the inside of his head, he will be unable to ignore it. Although he grapples with injustice, he may learn over time how to major in grace administration. Here is a view from the inside: God’s heart, mind and Word are like lava oozing and bubbling forth in perpetuity inside the prophet. As Jeremiah said: “But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).
A life of superficial, mundane trivialities is the antithesis of a genuine prophetic call. His is the call to shatter false paradigms and obstructions to the accurate apprehension of Christ-character. To the prophet, the whole world is his burden, injustice his constant companion. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “the prophet shares in the divine pathos.2” Prophets are elicitors of repentance, calling the Body to maturity, uprightness, and obedience, just as John the Baptist came offering a baptism of repentance. He will issue a summons to the conditional and demand decision. “If you love me, then you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). “What will you do with your life?” Choose, before it’s too late. Repent now! (Matthew 3:2).
This is where pastors often fail to “get” prophets, or the cause of a prophet. It sounds elementary but is not. As Scott Webster says, “prophets are not primarily blessers. They are builders, and will not experience fulfillment operating only on the level of personal blessing. They are deeply coded to build.3” It is not simply about delivering warm and fuzzy “feel-good” messages to everyone in the congregation. Prophets build accurate “hearing” and discernment into others, biblically sound systems of knowledge, platforms for diverse ministries, and have a penchant for ethical standards. They want to “build it right, or not at all.” To be prophetic is also to have healthy spiritual faculties: highly accurate sight, developed hearing and obeying, and a sixth sense for supernatural timing or seasons.
The kind of “presence” they exude can vary from easy-going and approachable, to down-right harsh and sharp around all edges. It all depends on the level of personal development and God’s preferences for a given situation. Mature prophets will have an eye toward redemption at all times. If a prophet ascertains an underlying fracture, his concern for “setting the bone” and healing will be in the forefront. Of course, it takes decades of transformation, obedience, and training for a prophet to have a beneficial ministry. A failure to wait for God’s release to minister can result in dangerous, damaging results. Those less-seasoned in their gift and unaware of how to handle power will tend to enjoy tearing down and exposing problems.
Therefore, prophets must be the product of a drawn-out sojourning through trials and impossible seasons (think Joseph or Moses). They must possess radically transformed character and embody the frequency that is “change.” They are to exemplify God’s desired future season for the Body, always leading through the valley and to a promised land. Like apostles, prophets are not born in the natural, overnight, nor will they ever be. Neither can anyone choose to become a prophet. Like all gifts and callings of God, God alone picks and chooses. If they are charged with communicating and representing God’s intentions, what part of the prophet’s natural self is involved in such a task? Only one who is truly dead to self will be authoritatively empowered to speak the mind of God and set captives free.
Exposing and dismantling are a fundamental part of the prophetic function (John 3:20). “But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare” (1 Corinthians 14:24, 25). But these are not supposed to be the final destination. As even the OT prophet Jeremiah was commanded “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10, emphasis mine) There should be a developed grace for ‘rebuilding’ in the prophetic minister as well.
The world may try to silence or discredit the prophetic voice since it so often serves to announce its corrupt and inconsistent ways. Insecure Christians operating in a crooked spirit will attempt to mute the voice (the prophet) to prevent uncomfortable exposure of heavily guarded secrets or false identities. These Christians try to accuse him of sinful motives, brandishing “projectile weapon” words: “mean-spirited, arrogant, disrespectful,” etc. Hubristic, vituperative reaction to and aggressive retaliation on the messenger usually reveal a prophet’s cause to be accurate (See Mark 6:18). The prophet’s job is not for the faint-hearted. Therefore, the prophet must be unflappable, possessing herculean internal and spiritual strength. Knowing deeply who he is, he can rest despite what he is called to do. He can take solace knowing Jesus was no cream puff with some of his accusers. Dr. Lyle Story puts it this way in his article—The Parable of the Strong Man and the Stronger One:
His critics, the Jerusalem Scribes, reveal a blindness that cannot distinguish between the work of Jesus that brings wholeness and the work of Satan that brings destruction and death. What evil is more heinous than the malignant moral blindness which affirms that good is evil? This warning is perhaps the strongest word that Jesus ever speaks. The direct context, found in the tradition of all three Synoptic writers shows clearly the charge against Jesus—that He accomplishes exorcisms by the power of Beelzebul. For those who hold this view, there is, says Jesus, no hope.4
Although no one enjoys being rebuked, much less severely, it is intended to produce a redemptive outcome. When performed with authority (sans human volition), it brings supernatural order and clears the clutter for the road crews to lay asphalt. In the streets, prophetic ministry might manifest through an inviting, gracious, and encouraging demeanor. Recipients of this ministry will be full of hope and inspired to attend a church. It lovingly encourages through a call or invitation to change, to abandon one’s current ways in exchange for a superior, Christ-centered solution. Over time, a prophet might build a relational platform that “draws out” and empowers another individual to be ready for their calling and ministry. Other elements of the prophetic function include:
- preparation (John the Baptist was the “way-preparer” for the Lord Jesus Christ)
- incisive separating of wheat from chaff (identifying, separating falsehood from truth)
- a messenger
- a healer
- a watchman or overseer
- bringing other believers into alignment with God
- giving courage to face a difficult season
- imparting strength to jump over stumbling blocks
Distractions come in many shapes and sizes, but the principle forms of distraction manifest as various degrees of busyness and time limitations. Commitment to full-time employment, children, spouse, school—all conspire together to produce a difficult equation. On top of these, a few other important responsibilities—friendships, church, and business—clamor for attention all in simultaneity. Finding time has proven to be an exceptionally difficult thing to locate when stuck in a crazy schedule and culture of hyper-productivity. At the end of the day, relationships take the biggest toll if counter-measures are not taken deliberately, proactively, and routinely. Yet for a Christian, human relationships should not occupy the “first place” any more than the all-important relationship with the Heavenly Father.
In a prayer life and in general, I have discovered the core issue is no longer solely about “finding enough time.” Rather, it is the condition of my heart throughout the process. God can design a season where we are required to burn the midnight oil all the time. This uncomfortable season will be his method of teaching us how to rely exclusively on Him over and above self. We should not forget that “rest” is part of His plan for our lives, though it alludes us during this time. But how does one do this when constantly on the go? In my case I’ve relied on particular gifts and abilities to sail through certain parts of life. This gift-reliance has actually mitigated against a necessary transformation process in Christ.
When there is so much to do as there is now, skills and abilities just don’t work well enough to “get the job done.” To complicate matters, my pride forms a reinforced barrier to knowing and connecting with God. So, to effectively address the root and attack idolatrous survival mechanisms, He “corners” a person until they have nowhere left to run or hide. This method has been utilized so many times in my life that I lost count. For as embarrassing and uncomfortable as it always is, legitimate growth and change unfailingly results each time. His desire is that I step into the storm, and when I step out on the other side, I am no longer recognizably the same person, but enhanced and more dependent on Him in precisely the areas He desires.
I recently had a curious experience throughout this process of desperately trying to handle my time, and failing constantly. I would routinely walk past a certain room and while passing by the voice of the Lord would register very gently inside my spirit. The voice of His Spirit was beckoning: “come, spend some time with Me” every time I was near this room. It was never a frantic or pushy tone, much less condemning. Rather, it was always a gentle and soft-spoken invitation to simply share with the Father. To connect with Him. It was hard to resist when presented in this way and eventually I took Him up on His offer!
It is helpful to know that my Father is not watching to see how much time I spend with Him in prayer. He knows it is vital, but He also has objectives for my time and plans, sharing in His heart and mind, and for developing my character.
Without trying to discount the power of prayer in any way, endless diligent hours of prayer and study are not always the way to please God. Nor are they the best way to connect with Him. “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7). I remember a young man who would spend endless hours in prayer, to the point where he’d work up a sweat. Like a 10 year old boy mowing the grass in sweltering heat and sweating profusely, this was “soaking prayer”, but not the good kind you hear about in your local spirit-filled church. After countless attempts to hear a specific answer to prayer, he received absolutely no response. After becoming frustrated he cried out to God for an answer, and then it occurred to him that such an approach did nothing to impress God; it was really about a performance metric more than anything else. Inwardly he was expecting to be rewarded for external behaviors. Christians have to reconcile that God is not asking them to become Pavlovian dogs in their approach to intimacy with Him.
In contrast, intimacy occurs when the heart is right and in alignment with the Creator. Intimacy is not an earned reward nor the product of endless mental and spiritual gymnastics. Unfailingly when the heart of an individual is in the right place, he or she will want to spend time in prayer. Fellowshipping with God on a daily basis, hearing from Him, journaling, and studying Scripture will all be like second nature. This is the only formula that produces the sure result: allow God to be God in your life. God will never stop using tailored seasons to produce a specific result, which often involve bringing a Christian to the end of himself or to a place of brokenness. In turn this produces genuine fellowship rather than contrived, or man-made relational dynamics. Remember, God wants us to connect with Him, not a performance-based program of human or mental origin. God is never obligated to get with our program; we are called to get on His!
A foundational ministry function which has slowly been emerging (in public view) over the past decades is “apostolic” in nature. This “gift” is highly debated, polemical, and denied by a large portion of the Body of Christ. The apostolic function does not share an equal level of revelation or authority as the original 12 apostles of the Lamb; the canon of Scripture is closed. Yet the office of apostle continues today, because the work of building and founding (establishing) the church has not ended. I don’t believe there should be a special hierarchical status for this continuing gift (and if there were a hierarchy, the apostolic would be at the “bottom.”) Instead, I believe (and I’m not alone in this belief) there remain apostolic “builders” within the church who major in the following qualities:
1) Wield a “breakthrough” spiritual capacity not dissimilar to the iconoclasm of a genuine prophetic anointing. For example, when a church suffers from factions or unchallenged dysfunction, apostolic ministers are able to deliver a highly skilled, spiritual ‘chiropractic session’ for corporate transition—a spiritual reconfiguration that is hardly pastoral in nature.
2) Capacity to establish platforms and build up networks (connected churches, businesses, etc.) with global relevance and impact for highly specific reasons, be they marketplace ministries, ecclesiastical, educational, or leadership development centered in ethos.
3) Spiritual ability to “prepare the way,” a torchbearer, pioneering new roads of innovation and discovery which benefit the generations. For example, Amelia Earhart was a “pioneer” for women and in aviation in general.
4) Planting and watering emerging ministers. Able to leverage and draw on vastly diverse disciplines for the benefit and instruction of the apprentice.
5) A special capacity for “sharing in the mind of God,” receiving divine instruction in the form of blueprints for issues that affect the direction of the global Church.
6) “Five-fold” in the sense that they can carry prophetic, teaching, evangelistic, and pastoral gifting all at once alongside a primary apostolic anointing.
7) Persevere faithfully through long seasons of agonizing suffering and lack.
Apostles are spectacles of transformation on display before the Body. Paul said “for it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.” (1 Corinthians 4:9) He has undergone legitimate redemptive suffering over a period of multiple decades. An apostle functioning fully in his calling, and one who is “new” to suffering, are an elephantine contradiction. Loss and intense struggle are a prerequisite for the calling!
Someone remarked on a cute baby picture: “Praise God! An apostle has been born!” Such a statement, although innocently made, represents the pinnacle of ignorance, given that apostles are not born naturally—they are forged in the fires, losses, and trials of desert wandering. They undergo a process of being mentored and strengthening, aided by a collection of Fathers. Through the sacrificial service of such godly men, an apostolic ministry slowly takes shape. If there are no fathers available, and there often aren’t, God will father the emerging minister Himself, at times allowing him to fall flat on his face, for the purpose of instruction and birthing fortitude within.
In an ecclesiastical context (a church setting), an apostle will function effectively as an iconoclast, always challenging the congregational body to face hurdles to attaining maturity, and illuminating hidden root causes which hinder corporate progress. He will often operate as a visionary, seeking after, and drawing from seemingly impossible goals that God has planted deep in an underground well of resources. Apostles are experts at drawing forth wisdom from the ‘unknown,’ and have a well-developed capacity for hearing directional ‘words’ then executing them in a “now” capacity. For the church at times he is a cheerleader, an administrator, a teacher, and other times, an incisive prophetic voice to command repentance. Overall, he is a skillful architect and wise master builder (1 Corinthians 3:9-10, Amplified Bible).
Apostolic functions almost always are “hidden,” foundational functions in the sense that very few understand or need to know what is going on spiritually behind the scenes. But their hiddenness does not negate the authority and mandate intertwined with the function. Apostles are not interested in parading around and proclaiming their calling to anyone, so as to garner attention. They know nothing is completed entirely, but in many ways, their involvement in the work of ministry is only a commencement. They undergo decades of excruciating processing to “arrive” to the point where God releases them to a more public ministry, yet many never attain recognition during their lifetime. All the same they labor faithfully to proactively and corporately “set in motion” the purposes of God.
A great way to sum up apostolic ministry is with this quote below:
Don’t aspire to be like the gilded weather vane on top of a great building. However much it may glitter, however high it may be, it adds nothing to the firmness of the structure. Rather be like an old stone block hidden in the foundations, under the ground where no one can see you. Because of you, the house will not fall. -St. Jose Maria Escriva
An apostle charged with overseeing a network of 10 churches might think in terms of the (caring) sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He may have some pastoral concerns for the members, yet will usually emphasize the corrective measures that are needed for their maturity as any good father would. For a seasoned minister a church-split would cause heartache and a lingering sense of loss. Paul spoke of himself as a knowing and compassionate father. “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15). Much like the father who saw the prodigal from a long way off and ran to embrace him, (Luke 15:20) the apostolic church minister will have in his heart a fatherly vision for the congregation (Luke 15:21-22). Situations of disorder and fractures in the church may vary from case to case, but the proper biblical response would involve loving measures of restoration (if possible), and an attempt to reestablish and encourage growth.
In the case of Paul and Silas in building believers in the emergent church, the Scripture says “… they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.” (Acts 16:40) The last part of the verse indicates that Paul and Silas did not stick around forever to care for personal needs, but allowed the brothers and sisters to face life on their own (for their good).
Have you ever met someone who was exactly the same over time? 3, 5, 10, 20, or 30 years pass by and very little, if anything at all, is different. Same habits, same conversation topics, same anger and emotional baggage. Down to microscopic idiosyncrasies, nothing is new with the passage of time; an unchanged individual reigns as ruler of his or her Lilliputian world of predictable (and dysfunctional) patterns. There, this person experiences a semblance of control and comfort.
Countless Christians are as described above.
I wish this weren’t the case, and feel bad (and sad) that it is.
This debacle is truly baffling—how a Christian can go multiple decades and stay exactly the same. Yes, I understand change is hard, nobody really “likes” it. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient. Most people (if honest) are downright hostile toward change–they abhor it. Stable, consistent comfort is, well… more comfortable. It’s easier to digest and live with patterns of the same old stuff. But how are Christians called to live?
Getting down to brass tacks, Christians are definitely not called to remain the same over time. Certainly not in a state of denial or unchallenged comfort zones. To sign the Christ “contract,” receive His loving acceptance, then reject the call to obedience, discipleship, and transformation, is an anathema. Christ said it bluntly in love: “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15). Change is not optional or conditioned upon how you feel about it. If you love God, you will undergo change, obeying Him throughout seasons of stretching, discomfort, and growth.
Christian Guys’ Groups
For a decade I’ve witnessed this aversion to change firsthand among groups of Christian guys. Typically in men’s groups, there will be a little pre-established cliquish structure in place, most of them sharing similar interests. They prefer “shop talk,” stats and numbers, performance at work, etc. They are very much concentrated on what they can control, polishing head knowledge or “intellectualizing” intimacy. Intellectual or cultural topics and commonalities are used as a way to relate and identify with one another. It’s a noble attempt and there is nothing wrong with being intellectual or cultured. The issue at hand is the heart. Ten years could go by and they would still be in a circle discussing the exact same aforementioned themes, playing it safe. Discussing weaknesses or anything emotional? Nope. Vulnerability? Not a chance. Sensitivity? Oops, it’s considered debility to be sensitive. David, Goliath slayer, was very sensitive, and exemplified an extraordinary vulnerability of heart with his God. (See book of Psalms). Did that make him a weakling? Today’s Christian men usually display niceness at a highly controlled ten foot distance, no closer. You encounter a hand in the “stop” position if you attempt to get any closer, or sometimes a fist.
What’s up with that?
Imagine for a moment yourself talking with Christ. Do you tell Him about all you’ve mastered? How proud you are about your performance in life? Read off a list of things you have under control? I would certainly hope not. How on earth do you plan on interacting and engaging with a God who has an unfathomable mind, who already happens to comprehend everything known and unknown (to us) in the created universe? Earth to man … uh, breaking news, real relationship happens from the heart, not from intellect or activities disconnected from personal spirit. This God has grace sufficient to make meaningful relationship a reality.
Now, here’s an example that highlights the necessity of change and openness to the process of change.
The American Church
If the following words offend the Sunday faithful, I will understand entirely. Please hear out my reasoning. During certain seasons of life I stopped attending church regularly, down to about once or twice a month. I “get it” that to be able to worship freely is no small blessing in a country where there is freedom from religious persecution. However, during these seasons, when going to church, I could barely stay awake. In fact it’s embarrassing to admit, but I slept through the entire sermon so many times. The worship was so un-engaging, and the sermon just sounded exactly the same every Sunday … different words, same monotone, emotionally restrained spirit behind words. The whole time spent in what is supposed to be a sanctified place of worship would fall totally flat. The people were all very nice, but I was so bored by it all and could think of a hundred other things that would be a better use of time. In contrast, once while viewing a famous worship band, my arms spontaneously raised themselves in exaltation. I thought, “wow, this is the point of church, to really encounter God and interact with Him!! What a difference it makes when you find life in the Spirit!”
I am not advocating fulfillment of some personal exigency, emotionalism, nor to get “my fix” for a day. Rather, to taste Christ within a community. The common accepted definitions of church have turned Sunday gatherings into a lifeless, programmatic exercise that feels like a duty rather than a lighthearted joy. This should not be.
I am not at all anti-church. Nothing of the sort. In fact I am 110% pro-church: a supporter of vibrant, Holy Spirit-filled church gatherings. Am I suggesting that a church which focuses more on preaching the Word and has boring worship is doing all things wrong or invalidating the notion of God as a charismatic being? Not in the slightest. The issue is that I cannot seem to locate the Holy Spirit in the Church, and often wonder where He went. The Holy Spirit is God, and I’m on a mission to recover Him. He is alive in His Word, and in Spirit. So why is it so hard to find Him and why do people doze off in church rather than come alive?
This recovery mission is not about going to extremes, nor to reject the idea of church, rather, to strip away all the deadening protocol and unneeded structural nonsense that, quite frankly, kills life rather than sustains it. I know I am not alone in this expression and sentiment. But it will require change: cultural, spiritual, and lifestyle change. Recovering access to the Spirit of God in this part of the hemisphere’s Church is a gigantesque project for the undertaking, like building a city from scratch, or bulldozing an existing one and starting all over.
With a few beacon-of-light exceptions, the American Christian church, in an overly Gospel-saturated society, has lost Godly power and relevance. It is doing its job of “preaching” the word, but the American church is not doing its job of demonstrating, to the unsaved and saved alike, the likeness of Christ—who He is and what He looks like.
God is alive and present in everyday life, just as much on Monday as on Sunday; He’s not a religious idea. Many assume that somehow if we think hard enough about this idea and wax eloquent, we can wear the title ‘master Christian.’ The world is so tired of that example which the Pharisees immortalized, and sees right through it to the wickedness and total lack of transformation in people’s hearts. No wonder the world is disgusted and repelled by Christians. They are just as bad and sometimes worse than the unregenerate. So often I see examples of the unsaved who inspire me with their impressive display of love, gentleness, consideration for others then wonder why Christians don’t act like that? Why do they act more Christ-like than the very disciples of Christ? Shouldn’t the world be looking to the examples of Christ on this earth and be in awe?
So, how to discover and recover access to the relational, living God? The short answer: transformation into something better… it’s the whole point!
How do you enroll in the University of Transformation?
Listen and obey God through joyful seasons and painful seasons. There are no rocket science courses. But it’s not simple or quick, either. That’s why you will need Him as your navigator for an eternity. The goal is not greater and greater levels of control and pseudo-confidence. Transformation is a life-long process and it requires your participation and yes, change. You have to change in order to grow, decisively abandoning self-effort in favor of God’s strength (finding His strength in your weakness). This way, you’ll begin to imitate, and actually look like Christ, otherwise you are not really following Christ as you say you are. Redemptive suffering is mostly what qualifies one for high ministry responsibility and spirit flow, not degrees of activism, exclusive head knowledge, or holding varying lay service positions in church.
What do the beginnings of this process of change look like for you? It could mean…
- opening up socially when you are afraid to (facing and conquering fears)
- getting out of the house to explore when you’d rather stay a home hermit
- spending more time with family rather than escaping to work
- really listening when you’re accustomed to blabbing unceasingly about yourself
- asking others for help or direction
- practicing/exemplifying patience and kindness
- building up in word and deed (edification)
- dismantling and tearing down false or otherwise sinful structures
- working through negative emotions and resolving root causes
- considering others’ feelings above your own (this is called empathy)
- exercise in lieu of television
- remaining faithful
- persevering through a long, seemingly unending season
- facing disappointment responsibly
- receiving, appropriating, and imparting grace
- letting go of the past and refusing to let it define you
- not ignoring your past as though it didn’t happen
- planning for the future (responsible stewardship)
- abandoning perfected, burnished external ‘image’
- graduating from consuming milk to eating meat
- living from the heart! (not just the mind)
Without ever endorsing a granular or rigid formula, the general pattern of obtaining Christlikeness is characterized by decades, not a few days. It features seasons of suffering, not extensive self-indulgence. Fulfilled dreams, not fake ascetics. Transformed Christians who are serious about Christ and His commands actually follow Him and wholeheartedly embrace the processes and trials, not just describe them from a distance.
Going through and into life’s difficulties, not around, over, under, or avoiding altogether, is the recipe for transformed heart and renewed mind. The goal is to go through the fire and come out much better on the other side, not only purified, but completely transformed and made new! Then you will have something of supreme value to offer to others: beauty, (spiritual) life, and virtue! In a nutshell, Christ himself. Time spent with you will be considered a highly valuable commodity.
Aforesaid transformation per divine design is intended to occur to the extent that people genuinely taste and see Christ in and through you—no longer solely a gifted, but unchanged person.
The other day I walked into the deli section at the local grocery store, and a store employee greeted me from behind, in transit turning to say, “would you like a sandwich, sir?” Yes I would, please. As we worked out the details of a Virginia honey ham sandwich, the number of sweet pickles, and how much Vitamin E-rich guacamole to spread on the bun, it became apparent this individual was bubbling over with joy. When questioned about nationality, the reply was “Egypt,” and then out of the blue, “I’m a Christian.” Delightfully, the conversation changed direction. Are there a lot of Christians in Egypt? “Yes! Something like 13 million.” Wow, and how many people total? “80 million!” “Oh!” (gasping) “but there is so much persecution of Christians there! We are always being persecuted,” came the exclamation. I responded with that’s part of being a Christian – the world doesn’t like it!
Do you boldly worship the eternal, three-in-one God? Are you well-acquainted with His timeless love? If so, do you love following God? Enjoy following His commands? It involves discipline, namely your own, on behalf of a Father who will have His way any-way. Inescapable trials, lows, challenges, and joys are the method of training. The below writing will highlight the necessity of discipline, and introduce the pattern of Spirit-empowered life. The term Father will be utilized as a word interchangeable with leader.
Functional fathers are relational. Rather than strictly programmatic, militaristic planners, they delight in relating and sharing laughter. They connect, share, communicate, remain open, and sacrificially give things of substantial value to others, such as time and intimacy. They are always seeking to bless those under their care. For example, fathers affirm and affirm and affirm others with weighty words of high esteem. The value and weight contained in these words is not derived from rationalistic mastery of an intellectual discipline, nor from tenure status or position. The weight comes solely from the Spirit of God, the author of authenticity and life. They do not teach their children to think of themselves as ‘above’ others. They do not strive to ‘act manly’ or need to alter their voice to achieve a deeper bass tone. Security in the Heavenly Father’s love begets security, depth, and knowing one’s identity, as a child of God (Matthew 3:17). Yet, a lesser understood, and often misunderstood facet of fatherly love is discipline.
Discipline, is the work of a knowing Father. He disciplines only out of love, for the betterment, growth, and correction of those under his domain. The end goal never experientially parallels the middle of the process. Instead, the process of being molded, confronted, rebuked, straightened, and exposed to light, is one of purification. “He is like a Refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a Refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3, NKJV). Literally and symbolically, the value of gold is in its consistent integrity. Gold won’t tarnish or corrode over time. It retains a distinct color, luster, and beauty indefinitely.
To get the impurities out (of us), we as Christians need to undergo a transformation process. Contrary to mass opinion, deep transformation is never a quick pit-stop in a lifetime of euphoric, Christian goodness. It is the vehicle of Christian growth. Good leaders must emphasize “character processing” above gift development. Failure to do so will likely yield the next generation of gifted, but unchanged Christians. Everyone is gifted (freely), too few are transformed or purified in heart, mind, and spirit. Change must be presented as a requirement, not an option on a menu of many options.
The Consequences of No or Bad Fathering
Good fathers make room and get out of the way for emerging leaders, giving them a chance to develop in a balanced fashion. They are sensitive, excellent listeners, and are careful to avoid stifling growth or blocking access to life. A lack of fathering, or total absence of fathering, produces malformed, obstinate, or rebellious children. Of course, the heart of a Father, especially God our Father, never sees a juvenile, rebellious exterior as the ‘final verdict’ on His child’s life, but rather a hurdle to lovingly be overcome.
Fathers and leaders, one and the same, are not searching for the limelight or a big horn to toot. They do not seek out positions of leadership in order to feel better about self or to satisfy an egoistic thirst for power or prominence. They do not need to prove strength or dominance by making others feel small. They do not downplay their achievements or privileged position with false humility. Nor do they use deceptive tactics to keep unsuspecting subordinates in a position of perpetual subservience. In other words, they do not make big, flowery promises which entice followers, then fail to deliver. Outstanding leaders promote, encourage, and disavow all favoritism. Favoritism has nothing to do with Christian love, and everything to do with unchecked narcissism. To truly love is to divest oneself of personal benefit, to seek the greatest good for another, with zero strings attached (1 Corinthians 13). It is ground-floor, and it is costly. In spite of the cost, it is a delightful, always-sound investment worth making.
Sensitivity is a Key to Life
Good leaders are extraordinarily sensitive to hear and obey moves of the Spirit. This signifies that they possess genuine, accurate insight about the death and resurrection processes of the Cross-life all are called to embrace. Inexperienced or untrained leaders confuse seasons of the Spirit and leverage uncrucified presuppositions or envy to control interactions with others. Instead of welcoming a person into life, they consistently insist on “my way,” ignore communication, and may have a penchant for branding others’ assertions of individuality as carnal demand. A leader’s failure to distinguish between forceful demand versus the gentle growth of a younger person into greater dimensions of maturity, can be lethal. The spark of grace gets extinguished. An invisible stronghold can govern such interactions and dynamics; the undiscerning are incapable of recognizing it. The stronghold thrives on a mindset of clever favoritism, and is fueled by select, chosen disciples to extend a false power structure. If left unchallenged or unnoticed over long periods of time, as our adversary would most prefer, this “thing” takes on a life of its own. A tornado-like vortex, the destructive, devouring dynamic must be confronted by the in-wrought power of Calvary, and dismantled. The process of confrontation is a grace-filled, godly process!
Notice, it is the falseness, energized by demonic strongholds, which must meet its end, not the people or their hearts. God loves with everlasting zeal and kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). He also hates sin and darkness. The psalmist said “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path” (Psalm 119:104). Wrong mindsets and (sinful) heart attitudes energize darkness, opening doors for the adversary to set up operations. The heart of our God is always redemptive and focused on restoration. Yet the way to graceful restoration occurs via Calvary, not managerial perfection. Of course the old self has to die, and this should be a daily death as well (1 Corinthians 15:31). A failure to embrace the Cross-life, the death-resurrection process, results in impatient, loud, unchanged people. This is doubly important to grasp for those in positions of power or influence, who when ungoverned by the Cross, will hinder, and at times work against the expression of Christ.
Walking in humility is impossible if you’ve never been humbled by a holy God. Unchallenged pride and a Christian celebrity culture mitigate against the true Kingdom building work, which in actuality, takes place mostly behind the scenes. Anyone who, like Diotrephes, insists on always being first in everything, seeks to exalt himself rather than the God he claims to serve (3 John 1:9-11). These leaders are the most in need of God’s Fatherly grace, because they have not yet understood that genuine promotion is a divine placement which occurs by dying to self and never through clawing and greedily grabbing for it.
All Christians who aspire to be involved in ministry should seek after the ideal form of service: hidden, behind-the-scenes service. As Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline, “hidden, anonymous ministries affect even people who know nothing of them. They sense a deeper love and compassion among people though they cannot account for the feeling. If a secret service is done on their behalf, they are inspired to deeper devotion, for they know that the well of service is far deeper than they can see. It is a ministry that can be engaged in frequently by all people. It sends ripples of joy and celebration through any community of people” (Foster, 1998, 134). The more a Christian grows, the more one who formerly sought attention will value hiddenness from the spotlight. This too is a process. When the time comes to step into the public arena, he should be well-versed in the disciplines of remaining hidden, to the point that public attention is no longer desirable.
Resistance and Deafness hinder Growth
Those sectors of the Body of Christ charged with delivering a corporate message may tire of repeating the same message(s) again and again. The message may be, for example, “humble yourself and submit to God and His ways.” Yet, when hearers ignore the call to change or write it off as “the same old news,” time and again, then clearly the message has not been properly received. Either it was intentionally ignored, rejected, or not understood correctly. Jeremiah was tasked with confronting deaf Jerusalem and Judah. Ezekiel too declared a word of repentance and change and received absolutely no response from what we can tell. Still, the quality of the response does not eliminate the urgency or exigency of the initial command (Jeremiah 1:4-10). The call to obedience never changes. When so much hangs in the balance (eternal life, right relationship with God) repetition becomes a vital necessity, even if a monotonous, or disliked duty. The hope and principle idea behind the method is a shift and return to the throne and objectives of an omniscient God.
God is always calling His sheep into greater positions of alignment and desires to share details of His plans. God’s sharing may come through dreams, whisperings of truth or poignancy, or solitude with the Scriptures. It may come through a talk with a trusted friend, or, a difficult reconciliation. Our ongoing issue is nearly always one of resistance; we resist God and His voice because of a lack of understanding, unwillingness to learn, distrust or discomfort. Our inaccurate positions and unwillingness to adjust, block the flow of life from Him. He never promised an easy journey or smooth sailing. Our job is merely to obey, adjusting the sails to the winds of His Spirit whenever He says so.
Discipline involves Correction and Adjustment
If you seriously love your Creator, are submitted to His will, and are intent on obeying, you’ll be disciplined very strongly (in love). “If you love Me, you will obey My commands” (John 14:15). Of course we will all fail, and by grace God will restore us. At times His correction may be gentle, other times we may perceive it as harsh or even unfair. Still, there is never room for self-pity in the process of moving slowly closer and closer to the Father. “For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12, NASB). Continuing the theme, particularly those who are in ministry must be open to adjustment and remain accountable. Ignoring godly correction or seeking to retaliate as a response to correction signals a complete misunderstanding of God’s heart, who as a Father loves enough to reveal where we need to change. His tone is never condemnatory or angry, but compassionate and understanding, albeit firm and resolute. He knows our frame is made of dust, and gracefully empowers change.
The sheep who hear their master’s voice, will move like an ocean wave, in unison in the direction He indicates. Or, like a vast field of wheat–when the wind blows, the wheat moves! Bending, bowing, flexing, and dancing with the winds of the Spirit, all are in synchronous unison. We must flow in the same Spirit’s breeze toward progressively greater levels of grace and precision. Just like the Egyptian Christian I met in the local deli who was well-acquainted with trials and suffering, but boldly declared within 5 minutes, “Jesus is my Savior!” I unabashedly replied “Mine too!”