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!”