Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Do We Love The Church Or Our Ministry?

The Critical Eighteen Inches  Part 4
The Journey from Head Knowledge to Heart Revelation

            The Apostle Paul instructed us, “Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).  Paul ends this thought with a little two word phrase, “in love”, which may be the pivotal point of his instruction.  Love enables the parts to function together and without it everything breaks down.
            Tertullian, an early church father, made the observation that the world looked at the church and commented, “behold how they love one another.”  Christianity is more readily caught than taught.  It is not so much what we say that counts, but what we do.  The church is a great place to find out if our love is just a mental concept, or an experiential reality.  I once was somewhat surprised about what I found out about my love in a church in a south seas paradise.

The Church
I worked for weeks preparing for the revival meetings at the church. Now I don’t even want to go to tonight’s meeting. What’s wrong with me?
      I was working with Youth With a Mission in Hawaii. I was attending a church in Kailua-Kona where I had developed a friendship with the pastor of the church. The pastor and I had spoken on several occasions of the possibility of my assisting him in ministry. I submitted a request to my mission leadership that I spend half of my time working with my pastor and the church, and they concurred. It was a perfect match. The church was small, and the pastor had no other staff. I could support him in numerous areas and could learn about pastoral ministry firsthand. It was a symbiotic relationship, good for the church and good for me.
      Every minute of the experience was enjoyable. My undertaking projects around the church freed the pastor to develop new areas. When he had to be away, I filled the pulpit for him. I was serving him, and he was mentoring me. Life was good.
      One day the pastor approached me with a new church project. For some time the church had been planning a series of special revival services. A revivalist, one of the most sought-out speakers in this denomination, was scheduled to speak. I was asked to coordinate the effort. It involved organizing promotional activities, prayer support, and other activities that might be necessary to make these revival services successful. I was delighted, and with great excitement I set my hand to the task.
       Promotional activities such as prayer, canvassing the neighborhoods, etc., began weeks before the start of the meetings, and the closer we got to the event, the more excited I became. I sensed that God was planning on “showing up.”
      After much anticipation, the first day of the revival meetings was finally upon us. The revivalist had arrived. When he started to speak, I could sense that the Holy Spirit was speaking through him. God commenced to bless the meetings, and people responded by repenting and recommitting themselves the Lord. All the prayer and preparation were paying their dividends. Everything seemed great.
The meetings started on Sunday night. Monday night went well. But by Tuesday night I noticed something had changed. Prior to the start of the revival, the pastor and I had been working together. Now it was the pastor and the revivalist working in tandem, and I was sitting in the pews. I had done all the work to prepare for the meetings, and now I had been relegated to the sidelines.  I was starting to feel like the odd man out.
            God continued to move, but was I excited? Not really. Negative and critical thoughts surfaced. When the revivalist was speaking, I thought,
If I got a chance to preach in meetings like these, I could probably preach like him. He’s good, but he’s not that good. What was the source of these feelings?
Then theological and hermeneutical hair-splitting dominated my thought processes. As the revivalist spoke, I would say to myself, I don’t think I agree with his interpretation of that scripture. I think he might be a bit off in the biblical basis of his message. I developed a sudden concern for biblical “correctness.” Instead of being excited about the right things God was doing, I was more concerned with whether the revivalist was doing it right. I was majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. My attitude was slipping.
      This downward spiral continued until midweek. I arrived at the church just before lunch on Wednesday. Wednesday was the day the pastor and I met for lunch to develop our mentoring relationship. The pastor was not there when I arrived. He must be running a little late, I assumed. I waited patiently. Time slipped away. He must have been unavoidably detained. He’ll call me later, I thought. I received no call from the pastor that afternoon, and that evening at the meeting he did not mention his absence. Not only had our rendezvous slipped his mind, but he didn’t even realize he had forgotten. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My deep-seated attitude problems erupted like a Hawaiian volcano. How could the pastor forget? I felt like the amazing disappearing man!
      That night and throughout the next day, my offended pride rose to a new level as I started to lose my desire to be present. I had prayed and planned and worked for these meetings, and now I didn’t even want to attend. It is amazing what surfaces from the human heart when life’s circumstances squeeze us a bit.
      Being the great spiritual giant that I was(not!), I started to realize that some things were amiss. What did I need to do now?  I had to place the responsibility directly where it belonged. The problem was not the circumstance God had allowed in my life. The villain was not my pastor. As a matter of fact, knowing the godly character of my pastor and how inclusive he had been with me up to that point, I have to conclude that God gave him a divine episode of memory loss to deal with these issues in my heart.
      What was the problem? As the cartoon character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I had to get real. I was willing to serve as long as I was included and treated as I thought I should be. But when not recognized or appreciated, my service took on a pretty joyless ring. I could get excited about what God was doing as long as I was central to, or at least considered part of, the process. But let those self-imposed parameters for my service be violated and my commitment to God plummeted from joyful obedience to a forced acquiescence. Coming out of my heart were what Galatians 5:19 calls “the deeds of the flesh,” which include jealousy and envy, enmities and strife. Not a real pretty picture.
       Repentance must have actions and not just words. It must be more than just a prayer. It is a 180-degree turn in our attitudes and corresponding behaviors. How do we change these things? It starts by admitting that we cannot change them. Our efforts are hopeless without God. I can’t change my heart.
      After establishing these facts in my mind, there were things that I could do. When jealousy or envy raised its ugly head, I could respond with gratefulness. I could thank the Lord for the privilege of supporting the pastor and the revivalist. I prayed that the Lord would bless and enrich the time my pastor and the revivalist spent together. When enmities and strife (being critical of the revivalist’s theology) sought to pervade my thoughts, I responded with love and acceptance, which cover a multitude of sins. I prayed that God would bless the ministry of the revivalist, and I inclined my heart to learn from this man. I resolved to return to the meetings in my role, which was to be a prayerful, supportive attendee, and allow the pastor and the revivalist to perform their roles to lead and to preach.
      I obeyed God. But to be honest, I started doing most of these things by faith and not by feeling. As I continued in prayer to bless, honor, and support those whom God had chosen to do his work, positive feelings returned. Thursday moved onto Friday, and Friday onto Saturday, and my excitement increased. My joy was not far behind.
      Sunday night arrived, the final night of the revival. So much had happened in one short week. It was like God had squeezed a year’s worth of dealings in my life into 168 short hours. I was sitting in the middle section of the pews toward the rear, now feeling good about what had transpired in the meetings. God had blessed people, and I had played a part in that process, and that was enough. The pastor assumed the podium and looked in my direction and asked me to stand up. Then he enumerated all the things I had done to make the meetings a success. He listed everything I had done and probably some things that I hadn’t. He went on and on; it was almost embarrassing.
      I sat down surprised and a little perplexed. Why had my pastor waited until this particular time to recognize my contributions? If he had done this on Monday or Tuesday, all the spiritual adjustments I went through that week could possibly have been eliminated. Later as I pondered this, the answer became evident. God is never early or late. His timing can be explained by the verse, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). God always acts in the most loving manner. Is it loving to affirm pride? Recognizing my accomplishments early on would have been sanctioning pride and self-centeredness—obviously not good for me or the most loving thing to do. God delayed; he waited for me to incline my heart toward humility. Then he released his extravagant affirmation at just the right time and place. God responds to us in that perfect balance between correction and approval. He never gets the two mixed up.
      “Humility goes before honor” (Prov. 18:12). Prior to this experience I had a head knowledge of this principle, but it was the critical eighteen inches between my head and my heart that God was skillfully traversing. Am I saying that after this experience I was completely humble? Of course not—we’re always in process. But in this one episode, God was waiting for me to incline my heart away from my purposes and toward his, which humility always leads us to do.
            I had to do my part in the revival meeting, which was to organize, promote, and support. I also had to let the pastor and the revivalist do their parts, to lead and to preach. The body grows healthy when we do our part in a manner that helps the other parts, not competing or attempting to outdo them—thus fulfilling the law of love.
            “As each has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Peter 4:10 NASB).  We must lovingly use our gifts and callings to serve one another. Not to get, but to give. What a different world this might be if Christendom would live and serve in this manner.  What a different world it might be if we allowed God’s Word to move from our heads to sink deep down into our hearts.

Adapted from Ken Barnes, The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2011), 77-82.


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