Friday, December 31, 2010

Practical Wisdom and the Spirit's Leading

A friend of mine was having to make a tough decision in an area where there appeared to be some tension between practical wisdom and what the Spirit of the Lord was leading him to do. Below is an email exchange of our conversation. The unusual nature of the topic may spur some of you to comment.

My friend's email
I wanted to shoot a quick note your way with an update letting you know that I'm about to take a major leap of faith and leave my current job with no other job lined up to step into. I know many people would consider this to be CRAZY, especially with the current state of the economy, but, at the risk of sounding like a spiritual nut, I truly feel as though it's the direction God is moving me in.

I've been praying for wisdom/clarity of thought in what steps to take next, and I'd be much appreciative for your prayers as well. This is the first time in my life I've stepped away from something without having something else in place to move's a bit nerve-racking. I'm sure you've experienced those times when you move back and forth between that peace that passes all understanding, and the fear of the uncertain...that's exactly what I'm feeling this past week. Any thoughts or wisdom you care to impart will ALWAYS be welcomed!


My response
Hello, _______,
Thanks for the email. I certainly understand where you are. I’ve had a few similar situations in the past. I remember once, when I was making a similar step of faith, I told everybody I felt like a man standing on a platform blindfolded. I didn’t know if I was about to step-up or step-off. There were times it felt like I did both.

Paradoxes are abundant in our spiritual walk. Natural wisdom and specific, unique direction from the Holy Spirit most of the time flow together without tension. But once in a while they seem to stand in contrast, at times when the Holy Spirit leads us in what we normally wouldn’t do in the practical order of things. Sometimes people will foolishly use the “leading of the Spirit” as an excuse to do some very unwise things. Then other times we use “natural and practical wisdom” as an excuse to not follow the Lord’s specific leading, because we are either afraid or simply unwilling to obey. We should not use "spirituality” to neglect practical wisdom and prudence, but neither should we use natural wisdom to neglect our spiritual walk. Both are necessary in our walk with God in the real world.

We have to know natural wisdom (which is also godly) and we have to know the voice of the Holy Spirit, who generally leads us into practical wisdom. These are usually in perfect harmony, and we know our instrument is tuned properly when the strings harmonize beautifully. This requires a genuine walk with the Lord and the ability to discern the situation and hear His voice.

Sometimes though, the Holy Spirit will lead us down an unusual and unexpected path that on the surface appears to go against the normal expectations of wisdom. But this is God’s prerogative. But it means we really need to know His voice, and not let this principal of the “unusual road” become a stumbling block by using it to cast aside wisdom, discretion, and prudence in the name of the Lord’s leading. What it boils down to, is that a man has to cast himself at the feet of the Lord with a sincere and honest heart seeking to do His will, and then put his trust in the Lord for guidance.

I have lived and walked on both sides of the coin. Looking back, I don’t know whether everything I did was exactly according to the perfect will and direction of the Holy Spirit, or whether the Lord was merciful to me and simply blessed me in times I might have followed the foolishness of youthful or misguided zeal. In any case however, He has been merciful and good to me, blessing my obedience, and showing mercy over my ignorance and failures.

I’ll be praying for you, and I know the Lord will direct and guide you. Please let me know how things go. I’d love to hear what God does and some of the lessons you may learn. Keep in mind, if the Lord is in it, it will still require faith once you make the step. A word from God gives you faith to face what comes, but it does not remove the battle or the opposition. It gives you grace to persevere until the purpose of God is done.

Please let me know how things go. I look forward to the next time we can get together and visit in person.

Bless you,

Usual advice for the unusual decisions
Generally speaking, it is best to follow practical wisdom as taught in the book of Proverbs.The Holy Spirit's leading is not inconsistent with common sense. However, there are exceptional times when He may lead us in what appears on the surface to be unorthodox and unconventional. During these times it is important that we ask God to search and purify our hearts. We should also discuss the matter with someone we trust. A person who isolates himself from input is often a person who is seeking to do his own will. We can be led astray by selfish desires and wrong motives, and we need faithful friends who will be honest with us regarding what they see in us. Ultimately however, we have to make our own decisons. It is important that we be able to walk them out in faith and good conscience.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3: 5-6

“And when he brings out His own sheep, He goes before them; and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” John 10: 4

“The integrity of the upright will guide them.” Proverbs 11: 3

“The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way aright, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness.” Proverbs 11: 6

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tribulation and Good Cheer

"..and a sword shall pierce your soul.” -Luke 2: 35

A supernatural word from God does not mean your life will henceforth be easy and free of grief and pain. Sometimes, to the contrary, it may mean the suffering, hardship and tribulation involved in entering the kingdom of God and extending it into a hostile world system. The Apostle Paul’s commissioning word from God included the phrase, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My sake.”

The angel Gabriel visited Mary telling her that she would be the earthly mother of Jesus. We celebrate these words at Christmas as we sing about the joy and wonder of it all, while often failing to recognize the perplexities that accompanied the fulfillment of that revelation. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song inspired by the subsequent word given to Mary by the elderly prophet who warned her of the grief she would someday suffer at Jesus’ crucifixion. “A sword shall pierce through your soul.”

Then later Mary must have wept with tremendous inner grief when she realized the price paid by those mothers in Ramah who lost their babies when Herod, overcome by the fear of One being born who might be a potential threat to his position, had all the male children under two years of age put to death by the sword. What were Mary's thoughts, knowing that others had lost their children when it was her child Herod was trying to kill? The realities would have been very difficult to understand and even harder to explain.  She must have pondered these things in her heart as she trusted God to comfort those who had suffered without knowing why.

Jameson, Faucet, and Brown in their commentary on Matthew 2:16-18 say eloquently what must have been God’s answer to these mothers: “O ye mothers of Bethlehem! methinks I hear you asking why your innocent babes should be the ram caught in the thicket, while Isaac escapes. I cannot tell you, but one thing I know, that ye shall, some of you, live to see a day when that Babe of Bethlehem shall be Himself the Ram, caught in another sort of thicket, in order that your babes may escape a worse doom than they now endure. And if these babes of yours be now in glory, through the dear might of that blessed Babe, will they not deem it their honor that the tyrant's rage was exhausted upon themselves instead of their infant Lord?”

Jesus died and gave His life that the Kingdom of God may come. And one day righteousness, peace, and joy will reign on this earth and the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. The lion will lay down with the lamb. The child will play near the snake, and there will be no hurt or sorrow. There will be no breaking in or breaking out, and no outcry in the streets. But meanwhile, as we proclaim the joy and salvation that is in Christ Jesus, we must be prepared for the spiritual warfare that is necessary in proclaiming God’s kingdom and seeing it extended into the lives of people in this present age. The apostle Paul who preached in the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit, returned to the new Christian communities strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and reminding them that "we through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  (John 16: 33)

Temptation's Deception

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Serving Faithfully and Joyfully Without Complaint

What blessing, strength, encouragement, and life we receive from those who serve the Lord faithfully and without complaint! How our hearts are touched by those whose lives demonstrate such surrender to God’s will, and whose love for the Lord is revealed in their willingness to lay down self, take up their cross, and follow Him. Below is an email from a friend whose life has been such an example to me.

An Email From A Friend October 28, 2002.
Dear Billy and Laurel,
...I've been meditating recently on a comment by FB Meyer: "There is a providence of loss, a ministry of failing and fading things, a gift of emptiness…" This has been relevant to me, obviously, in the face of our family's loss and the necessity of giving 5-6 hours a day, 7/7, en route to or at the hospital. Let me say, there is no place I'd rather be. I don't begrudge it at all. My heart is to be there. But it has been a huge pruning as far as having time, energy, strength for "ministry". And we have no idea what the future holds. It seems a strange way for Him to dispose of His servant's time and energies. I'm thinking of you and us.
Dennis Peacocke said, while he was with us in London, that we were "an expensive piece of work", indicating that the Lord has invested lots in our lives over the last 40 years. The phrase struck me, because He [the Lord] seems to be getting very little return on His investment during this season. But that is His job. I bow to His sovereignty, and wait in hope...
And I know that our friendship together, born out of years, deep love, and some fire, is inviolable. That friendship was Jesus’ goal with those the Father put with Him. And they are still with Him, surrounding Him, helping Him extend His government.

I don't have answers for our predicament at this point - and don't need them. I just need Him - and He gives Himself freely.

I look forward to talking.
Our love to you both,

The following true story stands in stark contrast to the email quoted above.
I was observing a roofing crew at work on a phone company facility. Because of the crucial nature of the equipment in this building and the absolute need to ensure no interruption of the phone service to customers, the contractor was required to have a man (the “spotter”) stand inside and inspect the ceiling underneath the roofing work area during the early morning tear-off phase of the work. The spotter’s job was to make sure there were no leaks, dust, or particles falling from the ceiling onto the equipment. His job, though very important, is relatively easy and comfortable compared to the physical labor of the men at work on the roof. Company policy requires the spotter to remain inside only during early morning tear-off and during removal of the old roofing membrane. He then returns to work on the roof with the other men as soon as the tear-off phase is completed and installation of the new membrane has begun.

On this particular job, however, the foreman kept the spotter inside the building through the entire workday. The other workers complained, thinking they were being treated unfairly and that the foreman was showing favoritism. “Why does he allow M____ to sit inside all day while we have to work, sweat, and suffer up here in the heat? Why does he not make M____ come back onto the roof when tear-off is completed, instead of remaining inside when it is not necessary for him to be there?”

A Surprising Explanation
Hearing their complaints against the foreman I went to him and asked, “Why do you allow the spotter to remain inside all day?” His answer surprised me. “I leave him in there because I don’t like him. He is lazy and he doesn’t do good work. I keep him down there because I don’t want him around me and I don’t want him up here where the work is going on.”

His response showed me how badly the working crew had misinterpreted the foreman’s actions and motives. They had completely misjudged him and his opinion of them and of the spotter. He was not honoring the man who was left in the shade, and he was not disrespecting the ones who were required to work in the hot sun. To the contrary, it was his respect for their skill and diligence that caused him to keep them in the more difficult and necessary place. He needed them on the roof because he could depend on them to do a good job. It was his displeasure with the spotter that caused the foreman to leave that worker inside in the “easier” place all day. He placed more responsibility upon and asked more of those from whom he expected more, from those he knew would do the best work.

Our Load May Represent God's Confidence In Us.
If these workers could so greatly misunderstand their boss, how much more do we in our limited knowledge misunderstand the deeper mysteries of God in the way He works in our lives?
God disciplines those He loves and He requires more from those He favors. He asks more from those upon whom He has placed a high calling and from those who have been given more. It is an honor for God to ask of you more than He asks of others.
The early Christians did not complain and say, “Why me?” when they were persecuted and beaten for Christ’s sake, but rather they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His sake. They knew they were being honored as “worthy to drink the cup” (Mark 10: 35-39). The true spiritual giants are not those who seem to glide along effortlessly in “flowery beds of ease” on a warm and balmy day. The horses who submit to the training bridle are the ones chosen to pull the kings carriage, not the ones who are left to run wild and free in the pasture. It is not a compliment when God asks nothing of you.

Why is God asking hard things of us and requiring more of us than seems fair? It may be that we need it. But also it may be associated with the high calling He has placed on our lives, a reflection of His great expectations regarding our character and potential. It may also be that He has honored us by allowing our  participation in such an important cause and great work, the depth and significance of which is known only to Him. We will not know the full ramifications of our service until we stand in His presence in the age to come.  But in any case, we should always know that He works with a view to the joy and delight He will have in bestowing rewards and blessing upon those He loves so dearly, and especially upon those who serve Him so faithfully.

Luke 12: 48. “…For everyone to whom much has been given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”
Matthew 25: 23. "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'"