Prayer Isn't Enough
Maximize Your Strengths
There's a line of thinking in the western education system that has also influenced the western church that says if we're not good at something (say, math), then we need to develop our skills at math until it's one of our strengths, which necessarily means we don't work at our developing the areas that are already our strengths (say, writing), so they don't develop so much.
We tend to think that it’s best to be a pastor or a teacher, because that’s what we see modeled. But if that isn’t you, then you have a choice: either try to fake it, or be who you really are, even if it’s something that isn’t as well recognized.
|Exercise your strengths.|
That’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?
What took the Seahawks to the Superbowl twice recently was each member recognizing that they have a gift that is different that others' gifts, and each member developing their strength, and trusting others' strengths in places where they are not strong.
You've seen how Marshawn treasures his offensive linemen? He buys them gifts, sometimes expensive gifts, because they do very well what he cannot, and it makes the way for him to do (very well!) what they cannot.
Yeah, that's how it works. We don’t ignore the gifts we don’t have, but neither do we focus on them. It’s absolute foolishness to ignore the gift that God has given us in order to develop what someone thinks is a more important gift.
|Don't be a copycat.|
It never works, anyway.
I’ve got more important things to do than prepare for Heaven’s bonfire. So do you.
Use the gifts God has given you, even if you don’t know another soul with those gifts. Be you! God doesn’t need copycats.
Mid-Course Correction Going On
Five Ways of God’s Provision
Stages of Spiritual Development
12 I write to you, little children,
Because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake.
13 I write to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
Because you have overcome the wicked one.
I write to you, little children,
Because you have known the Father.
14 I have written to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I have written to you, young men,
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,
And you have overcome the wicked one.
Since I’ve been obsessing with the thought of believers growing up, this seemed appropriate to discuss.
In the English translations of this passage, there are three stages of development, each is repeated twice:
2. Young Men
In the original Greek language, “young men” twice is a translation of neaniskos, which is literally, a young man, a man under 40 years of age. Both times, “fathers” is a translation of pater which is not a giant intellectual leap.
But John uses two different words for "children." The first time, he uses the Greek word teknion, which means “children”, but is only used figuratively in the New Testament: it’s a term of affection by a teacher to his disciples connoting tenderness. The second time, he uses the word paidon, an infant freshly born.
Distinguishing those two, we show four stages of development. But since
1. fresh newborns, characterized by knowing God as Father.
2. young children, disciples, characterized by the revelation of forgiveness, and that forgiveness is for “His name's sake.”
3. young men, both times described as “have overcome the wicked one,” and the second time adds “you are strong, and the word of God abides in you.” In other words, the young men (who may or may not actually be “men”) are the warriors (they overcome the wicked one) and they’re strong (“you are strong”) because the word of God of God abides (dwells, lives) in them.
4. fathers, both times described as “you have known Him who is from the beginning.” Fathers, of course, are people who are raising the next generation, in this time, the next generation of the church. But
When I teach this to young believers, I always follow it up with two questions, which I present for your consideration:
1) Looking at the descriptions, who are you? Which group do you fit in? What is your stage of spiritual development?
2) Looking at the descriptions of that group, what is the thing you should be working on now? How do you need to know God in this stage of spiritual growth? How well do you know him in that way? Then stop worrying about not living up to the other stages if they’re not where God has you right now!!
There’s a Goal to the Process.
Like so many things in the Kingdom of God, we have a paradox here. Yes, our walk of faith is a process; there is tremendous value in the steps along the way: the relationships with each other and with the Lord, the lessons learned in trials and victories, they joy of worship and of being part of the move of God in a region or in an individual: these are priceless treasures, and clear indications of the value of the journey, apart from the goal at the end. In no way do I intend to devalue that truth in what I am about to say.
But ultimately, we really are working towards a goal. There will come an end to the process – regardless of how valuable that process has been – and our effectiveness at accomplishing the goal will be measured. The goal can be quoted a number of different ways:
Make disciples. (Matthew 28:19)
Produce fruit of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:23)
Preach the gospel (Mark 16:15)
Be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)
Bring forgiveness to the world (John 20:21-23)
Ultimately, they can all be summarized by a passage in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. It is our job to make this happen:
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Some whom I trust would argue that this is not our task to do, but this is our prayer to pray; to them I would answer: do you not expect your prayers to be answered? If you are praying for the expansion of the Kingdom of God on earth, then we should see that the Kingdom expanded on your watch, in your area of influence.
Others would argue that this responsibility is ours not just to pray about, but to work towards as well, but the same standards apply if they’re right: we should see that the Kingdom expanded on your watch, in your area of influence.
My point is this: There will come a day when we will stand before our Heavenly King, and He will judge us. This is not about heaven or hell: we who believe in
I have the privilege (and I consider it a privilege, an honor) of talking with thousands of people from thousands of churches. One of the things that I hear as I talk with them is the value for the weekly events of the church. I hear the value of “business as usual.”
It seems that there are an awful lot of local congregations that have the “church as a process” value down well: they gather Sunday mornings, talk over coffee afterwards. Midweek, they have the same event that they did last year. Their Easter and Christmas are a little different this year than last, but functionally, they do the same thing week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade.
Please don’t get me wrong. This is not the waste of time and energy that some of the more radical voices among us might imply. These congregations are doing a good job of “shepherding the flock of God” which is not, as the evangelists among us might imply, ignoring the command of God. They are very effective at the “process” part of the paradox.
But many churches, perhaps tens of thousands of them, are succeeding at the process but are not succeeding at the goal. They’re enjoying the fellowship at this week’s coffee hour and this month’s potluck supper, but the kingdom of God is not expanding in their area of responsibility.
Sure, a few more people are attending the church this year, but their community is not more representative of the Kingdom of God this year than it was last year; there are not increasing numbers of people pressing back darkness or similar numbers pressing darkness back more effectively; the dead are not raised, the sick are not healed, and nobody is grieving about it because the fellowship is good, the mortgage on the building is paid, and we’re enjoying the journey.
I’m thankful that we the church have finally begun to learn about the process of the Christian life. Now I’m praying that we’d reach the prize effectively as well.
Let’s go change the world; let's really change it!
Ministry Flows Through Relationships.
Are Christians Lazy?
Go! Preach! Heal!
Invest Yourself in Your Community
It had been only three or four days since I heard first whisper to me, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you,” and in those few days, two other people have come to me with the same message. They’re the first two people who have brought that particular verse to me in more than a decade.
Jeremiah 29:3-9: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. ‘For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD.
There is a commonly held opinion in the church today that we are now raising the last generation that will live on this planet, that the end of this world is near and that Jesus will soon come back to collect His bride and take home to Him in Heaven. I’ve known some young believers who jokingly engage in “Rapture Practice”: standing outdoors and jumping towards heaven, arms outstretched, as if to be taken heavenward any second.
And I’ve heard some Christians grow frustrated with the leaders of this world, and write them off with, “Aww, they can have it!” the clear implication being that they are soon to abandon this world for the next. I remember old hymns by the names of “I’ll Fly Away” and “I’ve Got A Mansion, Way Up Yonder.”
On the other hand, there are other believers who live from day to day, not paying much attention to the imminent return of
Both groups are in error, of course; the “Steady Eddie’s” for ignoring the approaching Day, and the Rapture Fanatics for ignoring their assignments on Earth.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to be away of the drawing near of that day, and to make changes in our lives accordingly:
Hebrews 10:24-25: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (emphasis added)
The way I see it, we’re supposed to live for heaven, but we’re supposed to live on earth. We live with our eyes on our Heavenly Father, but our hands on the work that He’s given us to do on this earth.
Scripture is given, you recall, as an example to us.
Genesis 41:39-45: Then Pharaoh said to
42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on
There’s a verse that I’ve been puzzling about for a long time. Finally, with this command of “Invest in your community, Son,” it begins to make sense:
Luke 19:13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. (KJV)
A newer translation says it this way:
Luke 19:13-14 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.' (NKJV)
The English word “occupy” is a military word; it means you’ve already conquered the territory, now keep it governed for the new rulers. The Greek word for “occupy” or “do business” is pragmateúomai and it is a business term, but it’s a term of ownership, not busywork. It means both “Be engaged in a business for profit,” and “be occupied with reference to the affairs of state.
God is looking for a gain, a profit, an increase from us, which means that we must invest the resources that He’s given us into the people and circumstances that He’s placed around us.
Clearly, He’s not looking for money from us; “You can’t take it with you” clearly applies, but having money is a fine way to accomplish a profit in terms of lives, of influence, of relationship. Have you noticed how much influence the wealthy have as compared to the poor?
So the command is to invest in the community that God has placed you into.
‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you….’
Our place is to be in the world, not of the world. The other half of that, of course, is to be of Heaven, but not yet in Heaven: we have a job to do here.
The Work of Giving Birth
Just sitting and waiting for them isn’t enough to make them come. I can sit and wait forever, and some things just won’t come to pass.
Maybe you know that you’re going to have children, you’re going to be a parent someday. That’s not enough to make it happen. Knowing something will happen does not make it happen.
If you want to give birth, first you need to become intimate. I understand that you can’t get pregnant without getting intimate: just doesn’t happen that way. You will be a parent of that child; the one you become intimate with is the other parent. That’s just the way it is: no intimacy – no pregnancy. No love – no sons and daughters.
Then you need to make preparations in your life for the change that’s not yet come: pregnant women live somewhat as if they already have a baby: they decorate the room, buy furniture and clothes and those silly little dangly toys that hang over the crib. They have baby-parties (which they call “showers”) and they celebrate the child that is coming. Some activities need to be given up altogether: if she doesn’t stop bungee jumping or scuba diving, she may unintentionally kill her child.
Obstetricians don’t need to advertise their services. It seems that expectant women possess an almost a genetic urge to place themselves in the hands of a medical doctor: “What do I do? How do I get ready? How do I protect this little one inside?” They take large pills and vitamins specifically designed for expectant mothers.
Being pregnant appears to be terribly uncomfortable; it’s awkward, inconvenient. Her body changes and things work completely differently. The digestive system changes; the bowels stop working right, the bladder shrinks to a fraction of its former size. Various portions of anatomy change size or dimension. Her chemistry changes and therefore moods change. She want to eat pickles. Right now. It’s really weird living with a pregnant woman!
Everybody can see that she’s pregnant: her belly eventually precedes her wherever she goes, and her gait is unique to the pregnant. Other women get weird around pregnant ladies, and it seems impossible to speak to them without rubbing their tummy.
Eventually it comes time for the child to be born, but even that requires pretty aggressive, assertive action. The doctor commands, “PUSH!” and she pours every fiber of her being into pushing, even though the urge to push was incomprehensible until the transition is upon her. But when that time comes, her whole person is focused on the birthing of the baby. If she cannot or will not push, the child is not born correctly, and the insurance company is displeased because the alternative is expensive.
We have some promises that we’re looking forward to. Like children. But having the promise isn’t enough. Having a prophetic word isn’t enough. The prophetic word gives us a target to aim for, it promises that if we work that direction we will be successful, but most of the time (there are exceptions), the prophetic declaration does not make the thing happen. That part is up to us.
If we want to give birth to the promise, first we must get intimate with the one who can inseminate us with promise. We must come to His private chambers and uncover ourselves. We must draw near with love and let Him plant the dream in our uncovered heart.
Then we need to make preparations in our lives for the changes that are not there yet: we must live in some measure as if the thing which was promised was already here. We need to make room for it. Has God promised you a teaching ministry? Then you’d better spend hours in the Word. Has God promised you riches? Then you must learn responsibility and restraint. Has God promised you a mate? Then you must make room in your house, your budget, your personality for him or her. There are some activities and more attitudes that must be eliminated altogether; if we don’t, we may unintentionally kill the promise.
Being pregnant with promise is as terribly uncomfortable, awkward, inconvenient as physical pregnancy. Things work completely differently. You’re in the “Now but not yet” place that makes no sense. My relationship with God is different: He sees the promise fulfilled yet, even though I can’t see that fulfillment to save my life.
My relationship with my church family is different: some of them can see the bulging promise, and some cannot. We can’t see the promises ourselves sometimes. Those that can see it can’t help but speak to it, rubbing our belly as it were; those that can’t see it don’t understand why we’re acting the way we are; they complain and whine about the changes we are making in favor of the promise.
Eventually it comes time for the promise to be born, but even then, aggressive faith is required. There’s a “push” that is needed, and often, we don’t understand it until it’s time. But if we don’t push, the promise may be stillborn.
Babies and promises are alike in that they don’t happen without a whole lot of participation on our part.
There are many among us that are pregnant with promise in these days. Some are aware, are under the care of a “doctor” in the form of a mentor, and as a result, many are moving well towards their goals and dreams. Others have no doctor caring for them, but the Father of their pregnancy is counseling them wisely, and their birth is approaching well; there are no complications.
Yet there are some who sit around watching TV and wonder at what’s happening to them. Some keep bungee-jumping or deep-sea diving, and reject the counsel of those older and wiser around them, and they wonder that the birth of their dreams is not proceeding well. They make no room in their lives for the promise, and they wonder that the promise does not come in the way they expect it, in the time they expect.
Do you have a promise that has not been fulfilled? Have you submitted yourself to the care of a mentor, to the care of the Father, or are you still living as you did before you received the promise? Are you making room for the promise, making preparations to birth?