Motive for Ministry

Gordon Macdonald, in His book Building Below the Waterline, vulnerably shares four flawed motivations for his entering ministry.

  • Need for Approval
  • Validation by Achievement
  • Longing for Intimacy
  • Power of Idealism

Motives are very rarely pure, when I first considered taking a year out of work to serve a Navigators ministry at the university. I asked my pastor at the time for wisdom. I admitted to him that my motives were quite muddy, either way. His response was that ‘motives are very rarely pure, even when they are they remain susceptible to twisting and distortion’.

This has been a principle for me in discipleship all these years later.

But if motives are so susceptible, what can we do about it?? 2 quotes from Macdonald which may help:

“Only the man or woman who baptises his or her motivations every dat will have any hope that things will not turn sour down the road”

“The moment you think of the Kingdom as a place to achieve, to become valuable, to connect, or to be a major player, you will quickly discover that this was never what Jesus had in mind when He said, ‘Follow me’.”

May we be a people who ‘baptise our motivations’ daily, and purge ourselves (with the Spirit’s help) of any and all fleshly residue!

Spiritual Regimen, Rhythm or Intention

If you’re anything like me, you will know the feeling of setting yourself new resolutions and goals. After hearing a talk, reading a book or meditating on scripture we may feel prompted to act on the message we’ve received.

But how should we respond.

It may be tempting to respond by implementing a Spiritual discipline, such as prayer, fasting or solitude. We may want to commit to a 30 day plan of Bible reading, purity or a couple of months of attending Church whatever the weather.

This is all well and good. I love spiritual disciplines! But as many devoted Christians will have already discovered, after the 10th quiet time, our lives can quickly become full of new spiritual practices. And we soon struggle to maintain our new morning routine, exercise regimen, Thursday Fast, 1-on-1 weekly discipleship meeting, helping out at a local charity shop on the weekends, all the while serving our family with lovingly made dinners each night.

This is why the framework of Spiritual Regimens, Rhythms or Intentions is helpful!

Dr. John Coe, in his course on Spiritual Formation, recognises that as zealous Christians we may be tempted to overload our lives with activities and plans. But we must also remember that we are finite Christians as well (- and his finiteness, should draw us to God, just as much as our zealousness!) And so Dr. Coe suggests three categories of response (and they’re not complicated!):

  1. Spiritual Regimens – This could be a set time period (e.g. a week, month or year) whereby we will stick to a plan/regimen of particular conduct, in order to give God room to challenge and grow us in the area. For example: taking an online course, watching a series of lectures, starting a small group for a book, not buying anything online, etc.
  2. Spiritual Rhythms – This could be a particular discipline, such as Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, fasting from cakes, Netflix or video games, silence, etc. We agree to incorporate such a discipline in our daily/weekly lives to strengthen the “muscles” of our faith.
  3. Spiritual Intentions: This is where we acknowledge, a calling from God to change our behaviour, grow our character, exhibit a virtue. But also acknowledge that there isn’t room in our finiteness, to incorporate yet another discipline towards this end. And so we offer up ourselves in prayer to God.
    • Present – “God, here I am, confronted by the challenge/example/conviction of x, y, z”
    • Recollect – “God, I understand that this is my current status because of everything you have done for me”
    • Honesty – “And yet, I am reluctant for whatever reason to change, thank You for revealing this to me.”
    • Discernment – “God, what are you doing, what is Your will, what is from You and what is not. Please give me wisdom on how to respond”.

It may be after praying in such a way, God will lead us to a regimen or a rhythm. Or it may be the case, that God simply wanted us to talk to Him about it and leave it in His hands. In Spiritual Intentions, we lean upon God’s power to transform us, and rely on His grace to work in our weakness. Yes, there will be times to actively co-labour with God, but there are also times to trust God’s Spirit at work – producing fruit – in us.

There is a real danger when we try and bring about the formation in our own strength, with countless lists of disciplines and plans. Rather, it is better to seek wisdom and ask God how we ought to respond to such truth.

And so next time you are challenged in a quiet time or talk, or even a walk in the park. Consider whether to turn this challenge into a Regimen, a Rhythm or an Intention.

Why do I pursue God’s heart?

I’ve been taking a course online over the last month and a bit, and I hit a bit of a wall. In the course we are taught a little about The Dark Night of the Soul, a season in life where we find very little pleasure in pursuing God’s heart. We may be reading our Bible, praying, worshipping, going to Church and all of this, but to be frank it is: tough going.

We just don’t feel like it.

One of the aims of the course is to explore the purpose of these seasons and help believers understand the work God is doing. So we can be encouraged and encourage others.

The course guides us to consider that God is weaning us of the ‘pursuit of spirituality for pleasure’s sake’.

It is here that I hit a wall. So I stopped reading and started thinking through why this troubled me.

It wasn’t long before I identified my main obstacle.

Belief 1 (from before the course): God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
Belief 2 (from the course): Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake is immature.

So how can I reconcile these beliefs, are they compatible. Is one true and one wrong. What does wisdom say? Pen and paper out, Bible opened up.

I wrote down the beliefs more fully on a notepad:

Belief 1: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Therefore, God promises pleasure to those who pursue Him (Psalm 16:11)
Belief 2: Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake is immature. Therefore, God uses seasons of “Desolation” to teach us to pursue Him for His sake rather than pleasure. (James 1:2-3)

Then I asked myself some questions: What motivates me to pursue God? What should motivate me? What do I want to motivate me? Is there scripture to back up these reasons.

  1. I pursue God for my sake and He is glorified in this (Exodus 33:12-19)
  2. I pursue God because it is Right and He has taught/convinced me of this (therefore I cannot boast!) (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)
  3. I pursue God for His Glory’s sake and His glory fills the earth (Isaiah 6:3-8)

Perhaps both beliefs are true, and yet, incomplete without each other. I would phrase slightly differently to demonstrate this:

Belief 1: God is glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, He is gracious to fulfil His promises of pleasure to those who pursue Him.
Belief 2: Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake alone is immature, though it is not necessarily wrong. Oftentimes, God will uses seasons of desolation/dark night of the soul, to teach us to pursue Him for His glory’s sake.

I hope this helped. Why do you pursue God’s heart?

God the All

I am slowly working through some puritan prayers, this one impacts me on many levels.

Oh God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creatures power and goodness, when, if thou didn’t not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incarnate.

I know this to be true of myself, although I frequently forget it and tell myself I am a “good person” because of x, y, and z. No, the truth is God is kind to me that my sinful nature does not dominate me to the fullest extent it could. Thank you Jesus.

I know that thou are the author and finisher of faith, that the whole work of redemption is thine alone.

This is something I have been realising more and more recently. I actually don’t have the power, capacity or drive to be a better person, to be holy. I need to rely on Jesus to do this, I need to abide in Him. I need to receive His work of redemption and sanctification and formation, and I need to put to death by the spirit my fleshly attempts to earn redemption, sanctification and formation.

If thou bidst me to decide for myself in any affair, I would choose to refer all to thee, for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss, as I am in danger of doing.

As I pray this, I ask for this particular perspective to permeate my conscious and sub-conscious mind. I long for the wisdom to surrender to Him who is Good, without fear or reservation.

Then prayer turns wholly into praise.

When my mantra in life becomes “He must increase, I must decrease”, all that is left for me is to adore and bless Him.

Black and White – or Grey

I am young, relatively, at least in my mind. I still tend to see the majority of decisions as black and white. When I turn the heating on, it’s either “fully on” (5/5 on all the radiator dials) or “fully off”.

When I order a pizza, unless my wise wife stops me, it’s a ‘large’ with all the sides.

These are trivial examples. The more controversial: who should I vote for? How honest should I be? Who can lead a Church, who can preach, and who can’t…and why? What is gender, can it be changed, can it be defined? What is loving, what is not? Should I sell all my possessions to the poor?

I know a lot of people say that as you get older things become less black and white, and a little bit more grey. There is balance, there is nuance, there are caveats and conditions.

I think I am old enough to believe this.

But, at the same time, I think I’m young enough to know the importance of black and white clarity.

Black and white clarity, enables confidence. Where greyness, implies compromise.

Balance. So, was Jesus black and white, or was He grey? A few moments spring to mind:

1) When asked whether His disciples should pay tax, He said: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.

2) What speaking on promises and vows, He taught that: we shouldn’t swear by heaven or earth, but let our ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ mean ‘no’.

3) When confronted with the woman caught in adultery, He challenged the accusers ‘to throw the first stone only if they had not sinned themselves’.

4) When asked upon which mountain worship was to happen, He foretold: that a time was coming where people would worship in Spirit and Truth.

5) When asked if He was the Son of God, He replied: This is what you say I am.

6) When asked whether or not the disciple John would live forever, Jesus explained: “If I want Him to remain alive, what is that to you”

7) When asked “who is my neighbour”, He told a story and asked in return: “which man was a neighbour?”

It seems our Lord and Saviour was black and white in certain areas, with a wisdom and Gandalf-like ambiguity in other areas. He spoke plainly to some, in parables to others and in riddles to many.

Prayer Projects

I’ve been taking a free course at Biola Learn , on Spiritual Formation and the temptations of moralism. It’s part of God’s recent dealings with me to dismantle unhealthy patterns of relating to Him, and to replace them with a more grace filled, spirit empowered, cross-entered faith.

Anyway, as part of the course there are these assignments called “Prayer Projects”. You are instructed to find a quiet place and pray through particular issues over a set period of time. It’s a practice that is surprisingly new to me….

But I love it!!!

You’re given a bunch of topics to pray through systematically, and encouraged to spend extended time in God’s presence processing the material.

Because the lecturers expected ‘Prayer Projects’ to be new to most of the participants, they gave us some fantastic Q&A guidelines. Here is one of the Questions with an Answer that I found particularly insightful. I’m sharing because I think it helps address the many feelings of guilt and obstacles to spending long times with God in prayer.

Enjoy!

What might I experience during my Prayer Project?

At the outset, it is important that the Spirit governs the encounter in prayer, and as such each experience will vary. That said, here are some common occurrences that happen during Prayer Projects and how you might respond to them:

Consolation/Joy – This is when you experience a deep sense of joy, of being loved, of being at peace in the presence of God. This is a real gift from the Lord – cherish it! No guidance is necessary for this – the Lord will direct your heart.

Distraction – So very common for all of us in prayer. We start to pray about one topic but find our hearts and minds wandering elsewhere. This is an opportunity to ask the Lord what He wants to do with that thought. You don’t have to try to resist it. Rather, mention it to the Lord in your prayer. (Example: “Lord, I find my mind wandering to ____. What would You want me to do with this?”) Then see how He responds. In general, it is worth staying with the original prayer topic unless you experience a strong sense that you should pursue this new thought.

Fatigue – You might feel tired in prayer, even to the point of falling asleep. If this happens, and you realize that you have been asleep, pay attention to the feelings that arise in your heart as you awake. Talk with God about those feelings, whether they be gratitude at the gift of rest or anxiety about having fallen asleep on Him. This is your honest experience in prayer, and even this can become a topic for conversation with God.

Guilt, Shame, Anxiety – You may experience guilt, shame, or anxiety over what you’re praying about. This is particularly so if you’re praying about something that has been hidden in your heart, something you may not have talked about before. What is most important to remember during these times is that you are completely loved by God just as you are, regardless of whether you feel that or not. The temptation is to hide our guilt and shame and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or we might panic before God and try desperately to get Him to reassure us that we’re okay. You are encouraged instead to name your feelings to God. If you’re feeling guilty, ashamed, or anxious, tell God exactly that. Trust that if He has brought those feelings up, then He wants to meet you in them. He is using them not to condemn you, but to draw closer to you.

Despair/Darkness – You may have times when you feel like God is distant, like your prayer life is dark. Or you may be tempted to despair, to think that God is not listening to you or is not even present. You may feel so overwhelmed by your spiritual failure that you think that your situation is hopeless. These can be very hard and painful times in prayer. If you are able, continue to pray. Name what you’re feeling to God. Tell Him about the darkness and distance and despair.

Note: You might reach a point where the darkness feels too overwhelming for you and that it feels too difficult to go on in prayer. If you reach this point, then pull back. You may stop your prayer at this point. Find a passage of Scripture instead, especially one reminding you of the love of God (e.g., Psalm 139:1-18, Romans 5 or 8) and read it for the remainder of the prayer time. Please also contact a trusted spiritual advisor, such as your pastor, small group leader, or mentor and tell him or her what you are experiencing. Allow this person to offer you more specific encouragement and guidance for your situation.

For more information please visit: Biola Learn: https://www.biola.edu/learn/catalog

Christ bids a man – come and die

Christ asks me to take up my cross daily, to die to self, die to my own efforts (even those to “work for Him”. To die to it all.

But where does this leave me? Where does this leave me in terms of my commitments and ambitions – shall I not simply become flimsical and waversome in all my resolves?

1) this leaves me on Christ’s cross. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. I surrendered this right to being when I was baptised into His life.

2) my commitments and ambitions are naught and meaningless. So is my character, honour, reputation and even my relationships. It is all nothing compared to Christ. Only Christ – this is the call.

3) flimsical? Waversome? Not in the slightest. For His power and love and joy and peace are at work in me (this clay jar) – emptied like Christ – and will be proved mighty and steadfast.

I cry with John, or rather His spirit compels me to cry, “He must increase, I must decrease”

A few awesome quotes on evangelism

Me and a group of guys have slowly (but surely) been working through a book on Discipleship over the last few months. Each week sharing our top three things from the particular chapter we were reading.

Coming to the end of the book, second to last chapter, we’ve hit on the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20)

For a very familiar passage, I wasn’t giving it my 100% receptive heart! But the under the sub-heading : Making Disciples by Baptizing, my highlighter got very busy.

Here are three thought provoking, challenging quotes:

1) Baptism is an act of initiation and conversion. It speaks powerfully of the time a person comes under the rule of Christ.

As someone who reads a lot I keep coming across the fashionable idea that people simply “drift” towards Christ. I can’t disagree, but we must be wary that this mentality drives us to complacency in our evangelism and discipleship. At some point people must choose to come under the lordship of Christ. This is baptism.

2) We need a surer understanding of the gospel, a deeper love for people, a strong commitment to intercession, a greater wisdom so we can share winsomely – at the right time and in the right way.. finally we need more courage.

I love a concrete list. These are definitely areas I want to pray into, and trust God to increase in me. Particularly commitment to intercession, courage and a deeper love.

3) we may need to repent of our lack of evangelistic passion, but we must not despair.

These words are much needed for the Church and for me. I tend towards despair when I consider the lack of evangelism in my own life and in the Church I see. But such despair is symptomatic of doubt in Gods power and conviction for His global mission. Great words!

To finish this post I want to leave you with a picture of some of my notes on a talk given by a friend. In it he shared 8 types of evangelism.

Relinquishing Omniscience

Warning – this is an uncomfortable post.

I have journaled very consistently for the last 8 years. I have two journals on the go at any one point. One to record my prayers and the other to record all my notes (from books, talks or 1-on-1s with people, even my sets and reps from weightlifting). The black books pictured above are the latter.

For some time now I have wanted to digitalise these notebooks and categorise the years and years worth of notes into a digital resource. It’s an ambitious task. I want everything I have ever studied to be easily accessible.

Why? Well firstly, I’ve argued that it was part of being a good steward. Secondly, it will make for helpful teaching of others. Thirdly, I feel very good about my walk with God when I consider all the things God has taught me, and looking on a photo like this. I see 8 years of walking with God all documented, tangible and real. Didn’t the Israelites set up stones to remind themselves of God’s goodness?

However there is a fourth reason, and one more deadly than the third. A desire for omniscience, a desire to know all, and in so doing a subtle desire to be like God. Because my human brain is fragile, I forget things and can’t always remember. So I wanted to protect against that by outsourcing my memory to a computer. I want to have a digital database at hand by which I could answer any question thrown at me.

And so, I read books, I study the Bible, I listen to sermons and all the while I take notes. And over the years, over the months, I build an altar to knowledge, an altar to experience and memory…and then God speaks.

You see, God isn’t happy when anything comes between Him and me. He doesn’t appreciate when I start making an idol out of something else, even something good. Even if I’m only heading in that direction, God wants to address it.

When God asked me, how I felt about throwing those journals away. My response was, “yeah right!”. My journals, my notebooks, my ambition to ‘remember’ everything I had ever learnt was placed above my obedience to God.

Red flag.

Long story short, I’ve been praying and realising that God is way more important than books and journals, and vast databases of knowledge. (Obvious I know, but difficult to come to terms with when you are asked to throw it away.) I’ve been realising that everything else is rubbish compared to knowing Christ and obeying Him!

1) ‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people’. Jeremiah 31:33

2) ‘Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth of wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict of resist’ Luke 21:14

3) Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ’ Phil 3:8

And so I am offering these books back to God, by “burning” them (putting them in the kitchen bin)…Because they are garbage, compared to knowing Christ and I should not forget that.

Be aware, of setting idols in your heart. Be aware, of clinging to anything in this world rather than Christ. His Spirit is a sharp sword, His Word is a sharp sword, He will reveal the hidden treasures of your heart. And ask you to surrender them.

Be like the good kings of old, who tore down the high places, who broke the altars to false gods. Whether it be your tv addiction, your physic accomplishments, medals, and trophies, certificates or awards. Your blog following. Your job. Your reputation, ego or pride. Put it to death. Gain Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?