“Leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment” – John C. Maxwell.
This morning I was reading through The Acts of the Apostles and stumbled upon this verse:
“It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables…we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word”
It made me think of priorities and what do we do.
I’m currently feel slowly being nudged back into “church ministry” after a 9+ month withdrawal. It’s been a refreshing and revealing season, with several challenges, unexpected accomplishments and a lot of heart work.
And now, I’m being presented with several opportunities to serve in different ways. From preaching, to mentoring. From youth groups to small groups. I’m still establishing myself in the habit of writing and learning new things in that area.
So how do I choose what to engage with and what not? (See Life Purpose)
In this Bible reading, I realised there is another solution when presented with an opportunity. Another solution aside from engage or not engaging. A solution called: delegation.
Delegation: Frees me to focus on my calling, allows others to step into leadership, encourages me to pass on what I know, affirms the gifts and passions of others.
Earlier this week I shared a post about the importance of taking initiative. I would recommend reading it, here. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a little more about initiative and I wanted to add this nuanced post-script.
Talking about taking the initiative is very empowering, it’s very popular and “go-getter” speech. But there are a few important caveats that we need to remember.
1) Initiative doesn’t negate listening to God
The Bible is filled with stories and characters who were so keen to “take the initiative” that they ignored the process of listening to God. We see the downfall of King Saul begin this way, so keen to take the initiative that he refused to wait for Samuel. We see the Israelites, led by Joshua making a hasty alliance with the Gibeonites without enquiring of the LORD. Even one of Jesus’ disciples took the initiative to “defend” Jesus against the Roman soldiers by slicing off an ear! Not a good idea.
Yes, let us take the initiative, especially in areas where God has led us to move. But let us be quicker to listen to God before we act.
2) Initiative doesn’t mean automatic (immediate) success
Just because we act, because we move first, or we move boldly forward, does not mean that we will be successful. (Even if we’ve enquired of God!) This isn’t talked about much, but is so important.
Remember Stephen, who preached the gospel, who did all the right things and was still stoned? Remember Joseph who took initiative to flee from Potipher’s wife – and who was still falsely accused? Remember the early Church, scattered and persecuted? Remember our Lord Jesus, who was without sin, who was crucified?
No, obedience to God, and initiative doesn’t always magically produce “success” (at least how we might define it). In our obedience and initiative, we must take the attitude of the three faithful men who said:
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know…that we will not bow to the image of gold” [Daniel 3:17-18]
3) Initiative taking in one area, doesn’t mean you can relent in other areas
We all have strengths and weaknesses. It will be easy for us to take initiative in some areas of life, more so than in others. Just because we’ve taken the initiative in exercise, doesn’t mean we don’t have to care about our relationships etc.
I’ll come into land with this thought: God encourages initiative. This is why He selected 12 disciples to lead the Church movement forward. This is why repeatedly throughout scripture God is trusting men and women to co-labour with Him, to be His hands and feet, to represent Him in the world.
The second thing that I’ve learnt from studying these 34 verses is that God provides. We mentioned it in the last post as one of God’s activities in Genesis 1. In the story God provides: breath, life, food, work and relationships. But there are two other subtle gifts that God has given.
These provisions will be explored in this post.
1. God Provides Authority
Notice the various words for authority in the passage: “Rule”, “Dominion”, “Subdue”.
The sun, moon and stars are told to ‘rule’ and govern the night and day, the light and darkness. Additionally, mankind is told to have ‘dominion’ over the animals and to ‘subdue’ the earth. In Hebrew these are three different words Rule, Dominion and Subdue (Mashal, Radah, Kabash).
One of the few significant things I have learned about leadership over the last few years, is that competent and confident leaders are not afraid to give away authority – or to delegate it. It is often because we fear being usurped, out-done or overshadowed that we are most tempted to “hoard” our power. So in delegating authority God reveals His confidence and competence.
We may be stingy with our authority is because we are scared of losing control. Giving it away to other people’s is a risk. In doing so we open up the opportunity for others to wreck havoc on our “master-plan”. God’s choice to give authority to His creation reveals His confidence in His own power and sovereignty. He knows that nothing is too far gone for Him to redeem – as in fact He will later do!
We see this same kind of faith extended towards humanity by Jesus, when He leaves the “keys of the kingdom” in the hands of a man who would soon deny Him three times! We see Jesus again, trusting man, when He commits the future of the Church to 11 unqualified fishermen, and one man who was the “worst of sinners” (Paul).
The fact that God provides authority to those He has created demonstrates His power and ability to save.
It also re-affirms the truth that ‘People are God’s Plan A’. In the book ‘How People Grow’, the authors argue that God’s number one plan for getting His people to move into maturity is through other people! God is less about “zapping” people to maturity and more about relationally nurturing them into it!
But God doesn’t just provide authority and power…
God provides Order(ed-time) in the midst of Chaos
One of the things the commentators picked up on, which I totally missed, was how God provides order. We see it in the layout of six days, the first three days are spent creating spaces, whilst the second three days are spent creating creatures to fill those places. We also see it when it says that the world was ‘formless and void’ and that ‘darkness was over the face of the deep’ – a state of chaos. The Hebrew words “Bohu” and “Tohu” are used. But God brings order when He speaks, light, form and purpose into the world.
The commentator of ‘The Message of Genesis’, went further to remind me that it didn’t have to be done this way. In fact God could have created a world of chaos. Where there would be no rules, no rationality, no patterns, in this kind of “contingency” science would not have been possible. However, science is possible and does exist because creation has been made in such a way that we can see patterns, logic and order.
It is because we can expect the law of gravity to work that we can map out black holes in the furthest reaches of the galaxy.
(In other words, it is because God has created a ‘cosmos of order’ that the theory of the Big Bang could even exist!) Mind-blowing!
This provision of order, is very clearly seen in the uses of stars, sun and moon to demonstrate ‘signs, seasons, days and years’. Time is possible because God made it so. He has provided time.
Taking this one step further: Not only has God provided chronological time (Greek: Chronos), He has also provided significant moments of time in which He moves (Greek: Kairos). The mention of the various lights to serve as ‘signs to mark sacred times’ implies these Kairos moments. These are instances when ‘God invests in our time, turning Chronos moments into Kairos moments’! This is a big concept to mention in a post on its own – forgive me! (I’m just making connections!)
“A Kairos moment is when God breaks into your circumstances” (Building a discipline culture – Breen)
God has Provided and therefore we need to Steward well
Since God has provided so much, including authority and ‘ordered-time’, it is our responsibility to steward these resources well. This is one way we can labour for others to pursue God’s heart.
In the Gospels, Jesus teaches through parables the importance of stewardship. What God has given us, He expects us to use, invest and manage wisely. This includes resources such as time and authority.
In my times with God this week I’ve been thinking about the various positions of authority I have, as well as the amount of time I have at my disposal. I want to make the most of the time God has given me and invest it well.
All this is to mention nothing of our responsibility to steward this planet well!
It’s been an interesting transition the last few weeks, I’ve made a move to combine blogging with my walk with God. And there have been some great benefits to doing this:
- Consolidating my thoughts
- A mild form of accountability
- Future Benefits – I’m creating a resource to look back on and use later.
- Encouraging others – at least I hope so!
However one main concern has surfaced fairly quickly. I do not want to sacrifice the intimacy I have with God during my quiet times because my mind is elsewhere, thinking about how every thought and idea could be transposed into blog format!
It was an issue I found, as a teenager, when I decided to start a weekly gathering for other young guys at my Church. I would be churning through Bible readings, sermon podcasts and books to glean material for the next meeting.
This is not the point of reading the Bible, prayer or listening to sermons. I don’t read the Bible to become a “man of the word”, I don’t pray to become a “man of prayer”, I don’t listen to talks to regurgitate the latest insights. I engage in these activities to nurture my relationship with God, to become more like Jesus and to better equip myself to serve, encourage and love others.
So how do I fight for intimacy whilst at the same time seek to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others? How do I fight to keep my relationship with God from becoming a transactional encounter? What have I learned over the last couple of weeks?
- I journal my prayers – a few years ago I was having coffee with a mentor and he pulled out of his bag a proper looking leather bound journal. It was like something out of Lord of the Rings! He opened it up and told me to read one of his prayers, while he went to order another coffee. Just holding that journal was precious, and I could see later as he flicked through it that the pages were filled with numerous prayers. A few weeks later and I’d ordered my own. So what with note-taking, blogging and journaling, there is a lot of writing in my times with God. But this is helpful for me, it helps me to remember, to process and to express myself. It also helps my mind to focus when I’m talking to God, it’s difficult to write and think about breakfast (or fall asleep!) It also slows down my thinking, so that I can invite God to interrupt the chaos in my mind.
Journaling allows me to keep the intimacy in the midst of blogging, because it keeps a part of my relationship with God hidden and secretive.
- I take my time. Before I started seriously studying God’s word, my morning routine was packed with 4 main activities. Exercise, Time with God, Writing, and reading. I’d give about 45-60 minutes to each all before work started. Now, I’ve reduced my morning routine down to two items. 1) Running and Weightlifting, 2) Time with God. And so each morning I’m getting a solid chunk of time uninterrupted to study, to pray and to process God’s word. It has been so refreshing, and I think one of the most helpful things towards this is: that I have set aside the space so that I can take my time.
You’ll have also noticed I’m only publishing 3x study blogs a week. This means there is very little pressure to post every day what God’s teaching me. There is room, and time, to wrestle with God through private issues. And scope for me to spend mornings simply being with God. It’s so good! And I would highly recommend it.
- I listen to God’s Spirit. I believe it was He, who made me aware of the dangers of losing the Intimacy in the first place. He, who bought it to my attention so that I could counterbalance the dangers, and protect myself. It will be Him, who will guard my heart and mind and bring me to maturity.
May I continue to choose what is better, like Mary, and sit at Jesus’ feet. Rather than being distracted by all the “preparations”, the work, the ministry.