Principle: God expects you to invest your life in work that meets His agenda on earth.
(1 Corinthians 15:58)
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
What Is God’s Work/Mission?
Mission is work that meets God’s agenda on earth.
What is God’s agenda on earth? What does God intend to do in the world? To answer these questions, you need to turn to Scripture where God makes His intentions for the world crystal clear.
Broadly speaking, Scripture tells us that God intends to restore all mankind to personal wholeness, and to a right relationship with Him and with others.
Restoration (salvation) has been God’s agenda since The Fall. Scripture is rich in its description of God’s mission:
He intends to draw all those who’ve never heard of His love to Himself. God intends to feed the hungry, restore sight to the blind, and bring wholeness to the broken. God intends to bring justice to the poor, reconciliation to the divided, and peace to those in conflict. God intends that the good news will be preached and proclaimed to all nations. God intends that people of every tribe, language, people, and nation will learn that the Lamb of God, Jesus, has purchased their salvation with His blood. God intends that every stronghold of Satan will be penetrated and shattered with His light and love.
It’s obvious that there’s a major contrast between God’s intentions for the world, and the world as it actually exists today. Inter-Varsity’s David Bryant has called this difference “the gap.” Bryant’s book In the Gap shows that God’s intentions for the world are supposed to be fulfilled through Christian people like you.
God expects you to do work/leadership that meets His agenda on earth. It isn’t enough to do work that expresses your talents and provides for your needs. You must also ask: “How does God want to use my life to fulfill His intentions for His world?” It’s critically important that you see that God has given your gifts to advance His kingdom, and not principally to advance your private career.
Because God’s intentions are so vast, it’s often hard to know how to become personally involved in mission. One way to understand what it means to do God’s work is to study the life of Jesus. Jesus, more than anybody, personifies a life that was dedicated to meeting God’s agenda on earth. At the beginning of His life, Jesus announced that He came to finish the work God gave Him (John 4:34). At the end of His earthly life, Jesus thanked God that He’d finished the work the Father had given Him (John 17:4).
I want to make this as clear as I know: I want to emphatically assert that Jesus desperately wants you to allow him to work through you to begin to change His world into the world He wills for it to be.
God’s Leadership/Mission in the Life of Jesus
What does Jesus’ life teach us about God’s leadership on earth? There are eight points to consider:
God’s Leadership is love in action.
Jesus was asked what God wants His disciples to do on earth. His answer: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Loving God, Loving others, plus loving yourself is the foundation on which Jesus built His earthly life. But the love Jesus described wasn’t just a feeling or lofty concept. Love, in Jesus’ vocabulary, always means action. To love the Father means to obey the Father (John 15:10). To love your brother means to lay down your life (John 15:13). “Love in action” is an apt description of Jesus’ life. Nobody questioned Jesus’ love for God, because He obeyed God. Nobody questioned Jesus’ love for people, because He showed people His love through his service and death.
“Love in action” is the foundation of God’s leadership. In what ways do you put your love into action with God and with others?
2. God’s leadership is lived out in relationships.
When Jesus set out to change the world, He did it by loving people one at a time. Jesus’ ministry grew out of the relationships He had with people in everyday life.
Jesus didn’t have a complex program, or a media campaign; Jesus didn’t use a set formula. Jesus ministered to the people who crossed His path every day.
If you think of God’s leadership as programs, you’ll tend to overlook the opportunities in your everyday life-your neighbors, your family, your fellow workers. These are the relationships God’s given you, and that’s where God’s work should start for you.
3. God’s leadership is loving the whole person.
One of the most striking things about Jesus was His capacity to meet the total needs of people. There was no concern for which He lacked compassion. He gave sight to the blind man, and a new chance to walk to the lame. he restored a sense of self-dignity to the woman at the well, and caused God’s spirit to dwell within the poor soul who was once possessed by demons. And the amazing thing is that by meeting these individual needs, Jesus changed the whole person. For Him, the call to mission wasn’t complete until He had met a person’s entire needs-physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
Jesus’ mission of serving the whole person is your mission. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you will meet people suffering from the pain of broken self-esteem. broken homes, broken marriages, and broken bodies. They will be men and women hoping that there’s still a way they can put the pieces back together. And as a Christian who is committed to meeting God’s agenda, you can touch them where they hurt and know that through you, Jesus Christ can touch their entire lives and make them whole.
4. God’s leadership is word and deed.
Today there’s debate about whether it’s more important to verbalize your faith, or to demonstrate your faith to people through acts of love.
Jesus’ life allowed no such dichotomy. Jesus loved people through both word and deed. He never told someone about God’s love when they needed to see it in action. He never showed them God’s love when they needed to hear it. Jesus integrated both word and deed, inseparably.
The early church was reminded constantly about the need to integrate word and deed: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
This balance of word and deed characterized the early church. The early Christians dedicated their lives to obeying God, to loving their neighbor. They showed God’s love like Christ did, by caring for the orphans, praying for the sick, giving to the poor, visiting the prisoners, and by verbally proclaiming the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sin wherever they were.
God’s leadership is carried out through both word and deed. It was true for Jesus. It was true for the early church. And it’s still true for you today.
5. God’s leadership is loving the whole world, beginning where you are.
Jesus’ life and ministry were geographically confined to one country, but Jesus’ mission was global. Through strategically discipling a few lay people, Jesus prepared them to do Good’s work worldwide.
There are three important lessons to be learned from Jesus’ global view of mission.
First, God calls you to be a world Christian. When Jesus commanded His followers to go make disciples, He didn’t say “Canvass the city and be back by noon.” He could have been more bold and said, “Feel free to go into the next country, as long as you don’t exceed our campaign’s 50 mile radius.” Or in desperation, Jesus could have insisted, “Go as far as you want, but if you get any further than Rome, you’re on your own.”
Jesus didn’t think this way. He wanted God’s mission confined to the neighborhood-a global neighborhood. So, to the members of the first church He said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). World mission isn’t the domain of a zealous few. it’s the business of every believer-this means you!
Second, you’re to invest your life strategically in world mission. Jesus focused on one country because it was the best way for Him to do His part in reaching the whole world. Jesus specifically commanded the early church to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 25:19a). Yet today, 2.5 billion people have not been reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are currently only less than 10,000 Christians working cross culturally with these 2.5 billion. The shortage of missionaries worldwide has led some to rename the Great Commission, the Great Omission. The command has been given, and never rescinded, that we as Christians are responsible for world evangelization.
In addition to financial support, what part can you play in reaching the whole world with God’s love? Could you befriend an international student living in the U.S.? Should you consider a cross cultural assignment in your leadership? Could you join a world Christian prayer group?
Third, you should love the whole world beginning where you are. Jesus wasn’t so obsessed with His worldwide mandate that He ignored the everyday people in His life.
Whatever part you’re to play worldwide, you must start in your own house, your own neighborhood, your current job.
Where Ministry Starts
The believer’s Ministry is being Christ’s person right where He or She is, in the marketplace or the Home, every moment of the day. This is the very Nature of Loving God.
6. God’s leadership is full-time.
Intercristo is often asked, “Should I enter full-time Christian service?” Their answer if always the same: Yes!-whatever your occupation. Every Christian is already in full-time Christian work. God’s work demands a total commitment; there’s no room in the world for part-time Christians.
For Jesus, mission was a full-time endeavor. It had to be, because the needs were so great with the lonely, the despised, the young, the old, the religious and the pagan, the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor. Jesus’ mission to them consumed His total time and energy, His entire hopes and dreams.
Should mission be any less for you today? The lame, the brokenhearted, the beleaguered, the kind of people Jesus sought to touch, still live in our global neighborhood. If Jesus were here today, He would be totally consumed in their lives. Despite rumors to the contrary, Jesus is still here today working through Christians who’ve made His full-time mission their own.
Doing God’s full-time work knows no boundaries, If your work carries you into the “secular” arena, then you have a great opportunity to be Christ’s presence there. If your work is at home with a family, then you can dedicate your life to God’s leadership in your home and neighborhood. Whatever the setting, live fully for Jesus there so that, in the words of Cotton Mather, “The blessing of God might show forth in every area of life.”
7. God’s work is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
One of the vital principles of fulfilling God’s mission is that God’s leadership can only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. You can work endlessly and try to soar under your own efforts. When you crash in mid-flight, Scripture has something to teach you: “I am the vine and you are the branches… Apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5). These words come from Jesus, Himself, who knew the source of His own power: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me” (Luke 4:18).
A Church In Need
E. M. Bounds
What the Church needs today is not more machinery, not new organizations, or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use-men of prayer, Men might in prayer.
Fulfilling God’s mission through your work means relying on the power of His Spirit and not your own human effort. Why else did Jesus make this promise to the members of that first church: “But You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). This is a promise of enormous dimension, and for good reason; the needs of people in today’s world are enormous. And the Spirit of God can be enormously powerful in you.
8. God’s leadership is your leadership.
The eighth characteristic of mission reminds us of who Jesus calls to reach His world. That person is you. You can thank history for this truth. In Jesus’ day, there were no seminaries, no teacher-training workshops, no conferences or films Jesus could rely upon to develop polished, professional helpers. There was no such thing as full-time clergy. There were only full-time servants, everyday Christians who wanted to pitch in and help Jesus change the world.
Jesus’ plan from the start was that His leadership would be carried on from generation to generation by ordinary people, discipled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, then set forth to show the world God’s love in word and deed.
In the first-century church, we read of lay people having a tremendous impact on their culture: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
This bit of history teaches an important lesson: If God can use a ragtag collection fishermen and other workers to change the course of history, then He can certainly use you and your leadership to make disciples of others. Fulfilling God’s agenda requires your willingness to see that God’s mission work is yours as well.
Cop-Out #1: “Let the Clergy Do the Work
The first temptation for Christians who weigh the cost of mission is to delegate God’s work to the clergy. And why not? These professional ministers are educated men and women who have the training, experience, and calling to be in full-time Christian service. So naturally, shouldn’t they be the ones to turn to when we’re concerned about getting God’s work done? Not necessarily. Making the clergy responsible for God’s entire work is not only unrealistic, it’s also inconsistent with Scripture.
Paul makes it clear that God has gifted some “to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12).
Clearly, God calls the clergy to prepare and equip lay people so that THEY, the laity, can do God’s work. Elton Trueblood describes the clergy/lay dilemma in a sports analogy: “There are 22 players on the field desperately in need of rest, and 80,000 people in the stands desperately in need of exercise!”
Cop-Out #2: “I Support Christian Organizations.”
There’s a second common temptation for Christians who would rather not take on the responsibility of doing God’s work. If you can’t pass on to a Christian organization. Today, our culture is blessed with hundreds of parachurch organizations. Working alongside the church, these groups are committed to doing God’s work through youth ministry, drug rehabilitation, rescue missions, summer camps, overseas missions, media, relief and development, and evangelistic outreach. Though these ministries do excellent work, the many people who support them financially have made their regular monthly gifts a substitute for personal involvement. Example: Instead of volunteering to serve food at a downtown soup kitchen, the dutiful Christian today writes out a monthly check so that a favorite parachurch organization can do God’s work.
These groups deserve faithful support, yes. But a Christian can’t delegate responsibility for mission by simply giving money. Samuel told King Saul, “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). God wants you to offer you to offer your body, not just your wallet, as a living sacrifice. And that truth can surely come to life when you decide personally to make God’s work your work.
Called To Something More
I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.
The new Reformation
For God’s agenda to be met, for His work to be done, for the world to hear about and see His love, you need to be involved personally in God’s work. Lay people have been described as God’s “frozen assets.” What a tragedy! In the Reformation, lay people were given God’s Word. Could it be that we need a second Reformation that gives today’s lay people God’s LEADERSHIP?
How can you discover your part in God’s work? Here are four simple suggestions with profound implications:
1. Look Up!
Nobody has ever discovered God’s perspective in leadership without becoming intimately acquainted with God and His Word. Before sending the disciples into the harvest, Jesus told them to pray (Matthew 9:37-38). Before Isaiah offered himself for service, he received a clearer vision of the holiness of God (Isaiah 6); before Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, he fasted and prayed (Nehemiah 1:4).
Reading God’s Word prayerfully and carefully will help you gain God’s perspective on yourself and the world around you.
“The Call of God”: Clearing Up Some Misconceptions
One of the reasons that there aren’t more lay Christians actively doing God’s work in the world is because they believe they haven’t been ‘called’ to serve. The ‘Call of God’ is probably the most common phrase associated with the Christian’s discovery of Mission. Unfortunately, many Christians today are wondering if their line is busy because God’s call never seems to come! The reason is simple: God hasn’t promised a specific ‘Call’ for the believer. Let’s take a minute and clear up these misconceptions about the Biblical use of the word ‘Call.’
The first definition of this word is ‘To beckon,’ or ‘to summon,’ the Greek word, Kaleo, is most frequently used in this sense. It simply means ‘to call out to someone, to get their attention, to ask them to come and talk.’ The word has no religious overtones.
Paul developed a secondary and religious use for the word by using ‘calling’ to refer to the Christian way of life. In Ephesians 4:1 Paul urges Christians to ‘live a life worthy of the calling you have received.’ Here, ‘calling’ refers not to a specific mission or activity in life, but rather to a new quality of life characterized by humility, gentleness, patience, love, and unity (Ephesians 4:2-3).
It’s important to note that the Greek word for ‘Call’ used in this verse was translated ‘Vocare’ in the Latin Biblical texts. This is the same word from which we get ‘Vocation,’ a word that has now become interchangeable with the word ‘Occupation.’ This Etymological evolution has resulted in a incorrect merging of the word ‘Vocation.’ Paul’s use of the word refers to summoning a Christian to a new Quality of Life, not to an occupation. However, when associated with the word ‘Vocation,’ the same Greek word has been misunderstood to imply a specific occupation.
There’s a third use of the Greek word for ‘Call.’ Paul uses it to refer to a specific mission or task that was part of his ‘calling’ as an apostle. This is a very specific application in which Paul contrasted his own apostolic calling to the general calling of his Christian readers. Paul DID receive a specific, audible summons from God to a mission. But he didn’t apply the word in this way to other Christians simply because Paul didn’t expect that God issues such a specific ‘Calling’ to every believer.
“From this brief Biblical overview, there are two things we can conclude about how the ‘Call of God’ relates to your own call:
1. God can issue an audible summons to a Christian to do a specific task or mission, but it’s not the norm. Paul joined the ranks of a select few in history, who received such indisputable directions for their Leadership (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel).
2. There’s a distinction between a Christian’s general calling to a new quality of life, and a specific responsibility for mission. All Christians are called to a Quality of Life, and ALL Christians have certain tasks in common for instance, ALL believers are called to be witnesses of the new life in Christ. ALL believers are called to be salt and light to the rest of the world. This ‘call’ to a new life in Christ, however , is not to be confused with a Christian’s ‘Call’ to a specific mission.
2. Look Around!
Involvement in God’s work begins with a deep awareness of the needs around you. Usually, as you get God’s perspective, you’ll begin to identify certain needs that you are particularly concerned about meeting.
What in your world needs doing? The way you answer that question is often an important clue in discovering what burdens God is placing on your heart.
3. Look In!
After looking to the Lord and looking at the world around you, look within yourself. Look at your heart. Often, your unique experiences in life have sensitized you to particular needs in the world. Perhaps you were an orphan. or you’ve been divorced. Or you were raised in a foreign country. Or your sister is handicapped. These experiences, and others like them, can give you a heart for particular needs in your world. Listen to your heart.
4. Look at your talents.
After you identify your particular burden, you need to determine what specifically you can do about that burden. You may have a burden for feeding the poor that came from reading Scripture, watching BBC film footage of Ethiopia, and becoming aware of your own life of plenty. By assessing your skills and talents, you can decide how to maximize your life in addressing that need. An administrator, an advertising executive, and a social worker would each bring important and different skills to the task of meeting the need of world hunger.
God desires to advance His kingdom in this world of need. He intends to accomplish His kingdom leadership through His followers. Through Christians like you, God intends to change the world. Jesus is your model in mission, and through Jesus you learn that you can be in full-time service every day, right where you are. God’s leadership can’t be delegated to paid professionals or Christian organizations. God’s leadership is your leadership.
Mission: What Do YOU Think?
Take some time right now to see how mission applies to your life. Respond to these four questions.
1. Read again the section describing God’s agenda on earth. Who are some people you know now working to accomplish God’s leadership? Why are they motivated to do God’s leadership? What are their rewards? In what ways can you picture yourself meeting God’s agenda on earth?
2. When you look at your world-your neighborhood, nation-what three items would you put at the top of God’s agenda in order to further His kingdom here on earth?
3. If you only had one year left to live and wanted to invest it in God’s leadership, what would you choose to do in that year? What keeps you from doing that now?
4. Imagine you were leaving one week from today to go overseas on a five-year mission. What things would you have to sacrifice to fulfill this calling? Based on your knowledge of actually having been a missionary, or of having know others who were missionaries, what things would you gain from such an experience?
5. Set an “action goal” that will help you apply the principle of mission. Make it measurable and specific. Example: “I’m going to volunteer one evening a week this month to lead a Bible Study group.”
Read 1 Timothy 1:1-11
Paul warned the Ephesian elders of false teachers who inevitably would come after he had left. (Acts 20:17-31). Paul wrote this letter of encouragement and instruction to help Timothy deal with the difficult situation.
Paul calls himself an apostle meaning one who is sent. How was Paul an apostle “by the command of God?” In Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit, through the prophets said, “Set apart for me Barnabus and Saul (Paul) for the work to which I have called them.” From Romans 16:25, 26 and Titus 1:3 it is obvious that Paul regarded his commission as directly from God.
The false teachers were motivated by there own interests rather than Christ’s. They embroiled the church in endless and irrelevant questions and controversies, taking precious time away from the study of the truth. Stay away from religious speculation and pointless theological arguments. They expend time we should use to share the gospel with others. You should avoid anything that keeps you from doing God’s work.
How can you recognize false teaching? (1) It promotes controversies instead of helping people come to Jesus(1:4). (2) It is often initiated by those whose motivation to make a name for themselves (1:7). (3) It will be contrary to the true teaching of the scriptures (1:6, 7; 4:1-3). To protect yourself, you should learn what the Bible teaches and remain steadfast in your faith in Christ above.
The false teachers were motivated by a spirit of curiosity and a desire to gain power and prestige. By contrast genuine Christian teachers are motivated by sincere faith and a desire to do what is right.
We should know what the Bible says, apply it to our lives daily, and teach it to others. When we do this, we will be able to evaluate all teachings in light of the central truth about Jesus. Don’t focus on the minute details of the Bible to the exclusion of the main point God is teaching you.
The false teachers wanted to become famous as teachers of God’s law, but they didn’t even understand the law’s purpose.
This past week, what was more important to you than love: The desire to be “on top”? To be right? In control? To look good? What else?
In your church, what seems to be lacking: Sound doctrine, clear conscience, pure heart, or sincere faith?
Which of these do you lack? Why?
The Training Connection
1.Understand “cups of cold water” as Christian resources of equal worth with the other more explicit and traditional resources.
2.Understand the limitations involved in forcing a false dichotomy between cups of cold water and traditional resources.
3.Experience a broader conception of Christian training.
4.Experience God’s claim on their whole life.
5.Develop skills in administering cups of cold water with the class.
6.Explore together the connection between training and sharing.
7.Discuss the factors that can lead to success or failure in training.
8.Practice the skill and develop the art of sharing God’s good news with others in the class.
9.Gain increasing sensitivity to daily opportunities for training.
10.Practice fitting the good news to the situations of others (making the good news, good news for them).
11.Experience the benefits of an sharing-training community in the class.
Lord Jesus, by becoming human and by suffering and dying in our place, you have laid claim to our whole lives. By virtue of our union with you, you cause every act of caring we do to testify to the greatness of your love. Give us the freedom that comes from knowing all acts of kindness we do are acceptable to God the Father, through you.
Lord Jesus, you came among us as good news alive. You never confined the gospel to what you said; it burst out in every deed you accomplished for the entire human family. Help us to live our lives in such a way that all we do or say is good news to those around us. Amen.
An axiom of good writing is, “Don’t merely tell them; show them!” Much the same thing could be said of good-that is effective – sharing. Good sharing both verbally relates a message of good news and seeks to be good news. It doesn’t only tell people gospel; it is gospel to people.
Our Christian calling to share is closely connected to our calling to train others. We show others God’s love when we love them ourselves. Our concern for the needs of others helps them to believe in God’s love.
In this lesson, we will talk about sharing. We will learn what makes effective sharing. We will discover how we can better share God’s love through what we say and do.
Matthew 35 contains Jesus’ teaching on the last judgment. On that day, Jesus will commend his chosen ones for reaching out to meet his needs – reaching out, not just with prayer and Bible reading but with visits, caring conversations, giving our clothing, food, and drink (all of which Jesus elsewhere calls “cups of cold water”). We tend to consider these demonstrations of love something less than distinctively Christian. What a refreshingly different attitude Jesus displays! Let’s try on the mind-set of Jesus and examine just what makes an act of caring sacred in the first place.
Training for the Christian Life
As a great amount of training is needed for athletic activities, so we must train diligently for the Christian life. Such training takes time, dedication, energy, continued practice, and vision. We must all commit ourselves to the Christian life, but we must first know the rules as prescribed in God’s word (2 Timothy 2:5).
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27) we learn that we must train ourselves to run the race of life. So we keep our eyes on Christ-the goal-and don’t get sidetracked or slowed down.
In Philippians 3:13, 14 we also learn that living the Christian life demands all of our energy. We can forget the past and strain for the goal because we know Christ promises eternity with him at the races end.
In 1 Timothy 4:7-10 we see a lesson of as we must repeat exercises to tone our bodies, so we must steadily repeat spiritual exercises to be spiritually fit. When we do this. we will be better Christians, living in accordance with God’s will. Such a life will attract others to Christ and pay dividends in this present life and the next.
In 2 Timothy 4:7, 8 we see the Christian life is a fight against evil forces from without and temptation from within. If we stay true to God through it all, he promises an end, a rest, and a crown.
The Value of a Cup of Cold Water
God’s supportive presence makes every aspect of your training relationships distinctively Christian from the start. Jesus calls these actions of love flowing from God’s promptings “cups of cold water.”
“And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42).
Explicit God-talk might or might not accompany these actions, but they are nonetheless vital aspects of total Christian training.
To be sure, when you pray, speak words of guidance, and talk about God, you are being distinctively Christian. But that’s only one part of the picture.
Jesus Christ does not stand on the sidelines waiting for us to use the right signal words for him to step in and be there. Rather, he is already in the middle of thee situation. He’s only waiting for us to see that.
The distinction frequently drawn between sacred and secular is more destructive then beneficial. It is just one way humans try to keep God boxed up and out of their everyday affairs. But God refuses to be put into any sacred boxes. He claims all of life – also the “secular” – – to be his own.
This is the idea underlying this lesson: whatever training you give or relating you do – even on days other than Sunday and in any life situation – that training and relating is, by virtue of whose you are, distinctively Christian,
The Umbrella of Training
We should envision the entirety of Christian training as an umbrella. That umbrella covers such things as prayer, talk about God, using the Bible, and “cups of cold water.” Giving a cup of cold water is not subservient or superior to any of the other more explicit Christian resources. It is part and parcel of Christian training.
Resources like prayer and Bible reading are important, but giving a cup of cold water is important as well. It is not an either/or proposition. It is a case of both a cup of cord water and traditional, explicit resources. Both are distinctively Christian tools. Both have their place.
The person who attempts to train others without appropriately using traditional resources is like a person trying to swim with one or both arms tied behind one’s back. And conversely, the person who only uses traditional resources and consistently neglects the cup of cold water is left with only a caricature of true Christian training. Anyone who makes this an either/or proposition necessarily offers less than complete Christian training.
The Sharing Connection
The word evangelism/sharing arouses mixed emotions among Christians. For some it represents the positive, forward thrust of sharing God’s love, perhaps accompanied by a growing Christian community. But others have the impressions that only preachy, fanatical Christians engage in evangelism/sharing. I am convinced that sharing should evoke nothing but positive reactions and attittudes.
Sharing/evangelism is the act of bringing good news to someone. Originally, it had the connotation of bringing news of a battle won or of a fallen enemy. It is the action of onw who witnesses a victory, and then runs to tell others about it. So, evangelism/sharing is the communication of good news that you yourself have witnessed to others.
Christian sharing is communicating the surprising and beautiful fact that God truly loves us, and that he showed it by winning the victory over sin and death through the death and resurrection of His Son. God calls us to share the gospel message with all people. Jus as I am called by God to be a Christian trainer, so I am also called to share. But I need to look at how I share, how I communicate this good news. True Christian sharing is training, distinctively Christian training is one vital aspect of sharing.
Sharing is Training
Sharing is training because the message you proclaim is the most precious message you possess. What greater gift could you share with others than love and life in Jesus Christ? Indeed, when I witness to what Jesus Christ has done for me – I show that I truly care about them. You show interest in their present and future.
Sharing is also training because the gospel of Jesus Christ is shared person to person. A true Christian witness is not a computer spewing out a canned message to people in general. He or she is a warm human being who has been personally touched by God’s redeeming love and is now personally touching others.
The statement that sharing is training has a number of important implications.
•Love is a vital motive for sharing. I need to be continually evaluating what lead’s me to witness for Christ. Am I simply interested in putting another notch on my spiritual gun or gaining members for my church? Am I concerned about the total life – the total Christian life – of the person to whom I am witnessing? St. Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). One might read it this way: “If I speak all the right words of sharing, but have not love, I am only making a lot of noise.” If my sharing is to be effective, my emphasis must be on training the person. Your starting point is a message to and with an individual person who needs to be loved.
•Sharing is dialog, not monolog. If I care about someone, I will want to listen to that person. I will want to find out what that person is thinking, feeling, believing, and experiencing. I have a message to share, but before I can share it effectively, I need to hear the other person. What I say (or don’t say) needs to be based on what I hear. This is amply illustrated throughout the New Testament. It explains why Jesus proclaimed the good news differently to Nicodemus (John 3) then he did to the Samaritan woman (John 4). Sharing as dialog is also evident throughout Acts. Consider the interaction going on between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) and the way Peter relates to Cornelius and his household (Acts 10). If your sharing is not dialog, your words are worthless.
•Good sharing communicates God’s love. It is all too easy for you to set up false standards to judge the success of your sharing. For example, it is tempting to play the numbers game, to see how many people you can superficially corral. What you must remember, however, is that you need to communicate your message of God’s love to the depth of people’s lives, because it is there that the Holy Spirit creates faith. You cannot do this through superficial contacts. Time must be invested in people’s lives. It takes a good deal of self-sacrifice, an essential part of love.
Bearing all this in mind, you will also discover that there are limitations to your responsibility in sharing.
If you are a diligent sharer, if you have spoken and concretely demonstrated the love of God to another, and if in spite of all that, the other will not receive the love of God, then you have done all you can. You have communicated God’s love, and good sharing has taken place. The criterion for good sharing is your communicating God’s love as best you can, regardless of whether the other person receives it.
Training is Sharing
If sharing is training, is training sharing? At first glance, it might not seem so. Actions of training might appear to be quite removed from the work of sharing. Certainly many people show love and concern in this world. Many who train are not Christian. Those who are Christian might not be identified as such. Thus, training in and of itself might not seem on the surface to witness to the love of Jesus Christ.
But holistic training is always sharing. Sharing with another person involves meeting the needs of that whole person. Through actions of love, God reaches down and touches people with his power. His healing activity can renew all aspects of an individual’s life. I am wrong if I try to limit God to what I might define as “spiritual.” Your training provides a channel through which God’s love can flow. Your words and actions of love concretely demonstrate the good news.
This is particularly true of a good training relationship. A quality Christian training relationship is a concrete embodiment of the gospel, a model for the love that God wishes to communicate to people. It is God’s mercy and grace that can now show forth in your relationships as you serve others, as you go the extra mile, as you go beyond justice and give of yourself to those in need (1 John 4:7-16).
Training is sharing when in an imperfect would you actively live Jesus Christ. This does not mean that words are unimportant, but what you say and what you do must never be separated. Together they constitute a dynamic whole the Holy Spirit can use to transform the attitudes and beliefs of people, helping them to be made whole themselves.
The sharing-training connection works!
Good sharing and good training are inseparable: each embodies the other. Sharing shows forth a love for people, and a love for people shows forth the good news of Jesus Christ. This sharing-training connection presents an enormous challenge to you as a Christian. The work of sharing-training / training-sharing cannot be accomplished if you restrict yourself to your church area, or if you speak the gospel without being the gospel. You need to get out into the world where people desperately need the love of Jesus Christ. May the Lord enable you to get on with the task at hand.
The experience of Grief is universal and felt by every person during the course of a lifetime. Since grief is so common and since it has concerned people for centuries, it might be expected that grief is a well-understood experience. But this does not seem to be true. Death and grief are difficult issues to face. When they come we cope as best we can, but otherwise we prefer not to discuss them. Only recently, therefore, have there been careful studies of the grief process.
In 1917, Freud published one of the first careful studies on grief. Almost thirty years later a Harvard professor named Erich Lindemann wrote about his interviews with 101 grieving relatives, and soon a number of books and articles began to appear. It was in 1969, however, that a previously unknown psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published her book, On Death and Dying. Soon an avalanche of publications appeared and although many of these consist of personal experiences and “sticky-sweet poems,” others give excellent helpful insights into the process of grieving. Within a decade, therefore, we have seen the development of a whole new literature and field of study known as thanatology – “the branch of knowledge dealing with the dying and the bereaved.”
Grief is an important, normal response to the loss of any significant object or person. It is an experience of deprivation and anxiety which can show itself physically, emotionally, cognitively, socially and spiritually. Any loss can bring about grief: divorce, retirement from one’s job, amputations, death of a pet or plant, departure of a child to college or of a pastor to some other church, moving from a friendly neighborhood, selling one’s car, losing a home or valued object, loss of a contest or athletic game, health failures, and even the loss of confidence or enthusiasm. Doubts, the loss of one’s faith, the waning of one’s spiritual vitality, or the inability to find meaning in life can all produce a sadness and emptiness which indicate grief. Indeed, whenever a part of life is removed there is grief.
Most discussions of grief, however, concern losses which come when a loved one or other meaningful person has died. Death, of course, happens to everyone and the mourners are left to grieve. Such grieving is never easy. We try to soften the trauma by dressing up the corpse, surrounding it with flowers or soft lights, and using words like “passed away” instead of “died,” but we cannot make death into something beautiful. As Christians we take comfort in the certainty of the resurrection, but this does not soften the emptiness and pain of being forced to let go of someone we love. When we experience “loss by death grievers are faced with an absolute, unalterable, irreversible situation; there is nothing they can do to, for or about that relationship.” Death, says the Bible, is a stinging enemy, and grief can be devastating. Eventually each of us will die and in the meantime most of us will grieve at least periodically. Such grieving gives trainers a difficult but rewarding challenge – to help people deal with death.
The Bible and Grief
The Bible is a realistic book which describes the deaths and subsequent grieving of many people. in the Old Testament, we read of God’s presence and comfort as we ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death”: we learn that the Word of God strengthens grievers; and we are introduced to the Messiah as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows he carried.”
In the New Testament, a variety of passages deal with death and grief. These might be grouped into tow categories, each dealing with the influence of Jesus Christ.
1. Christ has Changed the Meaning of Grieving. There are many nonbelievers who grieve without any hope for the future. For them, death is the end of a relationship – forever.
But the Christian does not believe that. In the two clearest New Testament passages on this subject, we learn that “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” We can “comfort one another with these words,” convinced that in the future “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed…. When this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.'”
For the Christian, death is not the end of existence; it is the entrance (graduation) into life eternal. The one who believes in Christ knows that Christians will ‘always be with the Lord.” Physical death is still present because the devil has “the power of death,” but because of the crucifixion and resurrection, Christ has defeated death and promised that the one who lives and believes in Christ “shall never die.”
This knowledge is comforting but it does not eliminate the intense pain of grief and the need for comfort. In a discussion of death, Paul encouraged his readers to take courage and not lose heart since the person who is absent from the body is present with the Lord. Believers are encouraged to be steadfast, immovable and doing the Lord’s work since such effort is not in vain when we have assurance of the resurrection.
2. Christ Has Demonstrated the Importance of Grieving. Early in his ministry, Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount and spoke about grieving: “Blessed are those that mourn,” he said, “for they will be comforted.” Mourning was taken for granted. Apparently it was seen as something positive since it is listed among a group of desirable qualities such as meekness, gentleness, mercy, purity of heart and peacemaking. Might we also assume from this passage that without mourning, comfort cannot be given?
When Lazarus died, Jesus was troubled and deeply moved. He accepted, without comment, the apparent anger that came from Mary, Lazarus’ sister, and he wept with the mourners. Jesus knew that Lazarus was about to be raised from the dead, but the Lord still grieved. He also withdrew and grieved when he learned that John the Baptist had been executed. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was “deeply grieved,” perhaps with an anticipatory grief, more intense but similar to that experienced by David as he watched his infant son die.
Even for the Christian, then, grief is normal and healthy. But it also can be pathological and unhealthy. As we shall see, this difference is of special concern to any Christian lifestyle trainer. Also, there is a lesson on “Death” that should be studied, within the Theology (Quality of Life) series.
The Causes of Grief
In one sense, the cause of grief can be stated simply: Something or someone has been lost and the griever is faced with the almost overwhelming and time-consuming task of readjusting. According to Lindemann, this grief work following a death involves three big tasks: untangling oneself from the ties that bind one to the deceased, readjusting to an environment in which the deceased person is missing, and forming new relationships. All of this takes work.
“Grief work” (a term first used by Freud) is just what it says, the task of mourning. And it is work – hard, long, painful, slow, repetitive, a suffering through the same effort over and over. It’s a matter of rethinking and refeeling, reworking the same long-past fields, the same old emotional material, over and over – breaking through the denial and disbelief that the past and the deceased are both dead; re-examining on’s past life repeatedly and seeing each thought, each intimate experience, with and without the deceased, looking at everything that has gone before from a thousand or more points of view until finally the past like the deceased is ready to be buried. out of this a whole new mourner emerges with new attitudes, new concepts, new values, new appreciations of life itself, and if these are better than the old, then there has been growth and change and all the suffering has been worthwhile, then the grief has been good.
But the grief isn’t always good. It is possible to distinguish normal grief from pathological grief. Normal grief often involves intense sorrow, pain, loneliness, anger, depression, physical symptoms and changes in interpersonal relations, all of which comprise a period of deprivation and transition that may last for as long as three years – or more. often there is denial, fantasy, restlessness, disorganization, inefficiency, irritability, a desire to talk considerably about the deceased, an unconscious adoption of the lost person’s mannerisms, and a feeling that life no longer has meaning. In all of this there are great individual differences. How one grieves depends on one’s personality, background, religious beliefs, relationship with the deceased, and cultural environment. Because of the unique ways in which we grieve, it is difficult to determine when a normal grief reaction is becoming unhealthy or pathological. Normal grief has been called “uncomplicated grief.” It is a process which runs a reasonably consistent course and leads eventually to a restoration of mental and physical well-being.
Sometimes, however, grief is complicated or pathological. It is grief that is intensified, delayed, prolonged, or otherwise deviating from normal grief, resulting in a bondage to the deceased that prevents one from coping adequately with life. There are no symptoms unique to pathological grief, but some behavior is seen frequently. This includes a delay in grieving, hyperactivity, a ‘giving-up” attitude of helplessness and hopelessness, intense guilt, a strong self-condemnation, extreme social withdrawal or moodiness, impulsivity, antisocial behavior, excessive drinking, and veiled threats of self-destruction. Such people seem unable to emancipate themselves from the deceased. Each of these signals may be present in normal grief, but the symptoms are more intense and of longer duration when the grief is pathological.
What “causes” grief to be normal or pathological? Among the many possible influences are the griever’s beliefs, personality, social environment, and circumstances surrounding the deceased person’s death.
1. Beliefs. In an attempt to help others, numerous authors have written of their own grief and struggles with readjustment. Each of these describes the turmoil and deep pain involved in grieving, but many also point to the sustaining power of religious beliefs. Often there are periods of doubt, confusion, and even anger with God, but in time the healing power of one’s faith becomes evident. Religion gives support, meaning, hope for the future and comfort. Christians believe, in addition, that the Holy Spirit who lives within each believer gives supernatural comfort and peace in times of mourning. When the griever has no religious beliefs, he or she grieves without hope. Thus, the pain is greater, the grieving may be more difficult, and presumably there is greater potential for pathological grief.
2. Background and Personality. Widely accepted in psychology is a rule which states that “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” One indication of how mourning will be handled is how the mourner reacted to separations and losses in the past. If such separations were difficult and problem-producing, grieving may be more difficult. In addition, people who are insecure, dependent, unable to control or express feelings and prone to depression often have more difficulty handling their grief.
It must be emphasized, however, that grief is so unique and individualized that it is impossible to list “typical” grief reactions. Grievers differ in their personal needs, closeness to the deceased, typical way of handling feelings, willingness and ability to face the reality of the loss, closeness to others who can give support, personal views about life after death, flexibility and ability to cope with crisis. Grieving is always difficult but for some people it seems to hit harder than for others.
3. Social Environment. Most, if not all cultures have socially sanctioned ways of meeting needs at the time of bereavement. These social mores often are built around religious beliefs or practices, and frequently there are wide variations even between communities that are relatively close to each other. Ethnic and racial backgrounds also become important and clearly apparent in times of mourning. In a city like Chicago, for example, Polish Americans may express their grief in ways that differ from the customs in black, latino, Irish or Jewish neighborhoods. Cultural and religious groups also differ in the extent to which they allow, discourage or encourage the overt expression of sorrow. There are differences in practices concerning the wake, and in the social behavior expected from visiting friends and relatives. Even funerals differ, although it appears that in every culture the funeral offers group support to the bereaved, involves some expression of religious values, beliefs and/or rituals, includes some visual confrontation with the dead body, and tends to end in a procession which, in the opinion of some writers, symbolically pictures a “final journey.”
In spite of these social, cultural and religious variations, there are some commonly held values. In the American society, for example, there has tended to be an intolerance of prolonged grieving. In a country which values efficiency, intellectualism, rationalism and pragmatism, death often is seen as an inconvenience or embarrassment. Emotional expressions are discouraged and grief is viewed as something which, while inevitable, should end as quickly as possible. Since most Americans die in hospitals, away from their families, and since the society encourages a mobility and independence which separates us from close contact with others, it is easier to deny or ignore the reality of death. This can make the loss more traumatic for close relatives of the deceased, but there are fewer intimate people nearby who can give continual, warm, in-dept support. In our society, instead, we have encouraged ourselves and one another to deny death and to respond to the bereavement of others with little more than a card, a casserole or sending some cut flowers. of course, such an analysis does not apply to every person or to all communities, but surely many of us will recognize that our modern attitudes toward death greatly influence how mourners are able to experience, express and work through the grieving process.
4. Circumstances Accompanying the Death. The death of a revered and respected national leader can bring grief to thousands of people, but this mass grieving surely differs from the grief experienced by a widow or child of the deceased. If the dead person was elderly and sick for a long time the grief of relatives is less likely to be prolonged or pathological than when the loss is sudden or the deceased is a child – especially a grown child. When a brother or sister dies, there often is a sense of personal threat and a “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I” feeling which can make mourning more difficult.
Closeness to the deceased, suddenness of death, and the age of the deceased can each influence the mourner’s reaction to the death. But there are other circumstances which can complicate the grieving process. One psychiatrist has listed almost fifty such complicating influences. For example, grieving may be prolonged and more difficult when:
•The death is considered exceptionally untimely, as in the death of a child, adolescent, or successful adult “in the prime of life, at the height of a career”;
•the mode of death is considered incomprehensible or tragic, as in suicide or auto accidents;
•there is a sense of guilt at having “participated” in the event which caused the death (e.g., the driver of a car involved in a wreck in which someone else was killed);
•there are ambivalent (both positive and negative) feelings toward the deceased;
•there was so intimate a relationship with the deceased that close relationships with others did not exist;
•there was extreme dependency on the lost person to give the mourner identity, self-confidence and meaning in life;
•the deceased person had been excessively dependent on the survivor;
•the mourner’s work, family, or other environmental circumstances disallows the expression of grief;
•the dead person has extracted a promise that the survivor would not grieve, be sad, remarry, move, and so on;
•there is excessive attachment and proximity to the deceased person’s possessions, allowing the survivor to maintain a belief that the deceased is still alive;
•there is excessive and premature involvement in life activities to the point that the loss is not acknowledged; and/or
The Effects of Grief
Grief has been described as a deprivation experience in which the griever must adjust to a significant loss. Grief is a searching experience where the survivor searches for new relationships and new ways of living. Grief, as we have seen, is an individual experience in which each person copes in a unique way.
In spite of this uniqueness, there are so many similarities among the grieving that several writers have attempted to identify stages of grief. C.M. Parkes, for example, describes four phases. In the phase of numbness there is shock and a period when the reality of the loss is partially disregarded. In the phase of yearning there is an urge to recover the lost object and the permanence. in the phase of disorganization and despair, both the fact and permanence of the loss are accepted and attempts tp recover the lost object are given up. Finally there is a phase of reorganization of behavior.
In an influential little book, Granger Westberg identified several stages of grief: shock, emotional release, depression-loneliness, physical distress, panic, guilt, hostility/resentment, inability to return to usual activities, gradual hope, and struggles to affirm reality. Similar to this are the stages listed by J.R, Hodge: shock and surprise, emotional release, loneliness, anxiety and physical distress, panic, guilt, hostility and projection, suffering silence, gradual overcoming, and readjustment.
Trainers might question whether the identification of stages really is of practical value in their understanding and work with the grieving. In his own grief C.S. Lewis noted how the stages overlap and merge with each other:
Tonight all the hells of young grief have opened again, the mad words, the bitter resentment, the fluttering in the stomach, the nightmare unreality, the wallowed-in tears. For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
1. Common Effects of Grief. Perhaps the three most commonly observed reactions to grief are crying 9which expresses deep feelings and releases tension), restlessness (including sleep disturbances0 and depression. Also common are physical symptoms such as exhaustion, weakness, headaches, shortness of breath, indigestion, loss of appetite, or sometimes an increase in eating, anxiety, feelings of inner emptiness, guilt, anger, irritability, withdrawal from others, forgetfulness, declining interest in sex, dreams about the deceased, nightmares, errors in judgment and feelings of loneliness. often there is a loss of zest, disorganization of routines, and a realization that even the simplest activities which once were done automatically now require great effort and expending considerable energy. Frequently, the survivor takes on and begins to show some of the characteristics of the deceased person. Each of these symptoms, as Lewis observed, comes in waves, and rarely are they all present, all the time. As the months pass they tend to fade, but they come back with renewed intensity sometimes when they are least expected.
Most grievers also experience anniversary reactions. The first Christmas, Easter, birthday or wedding anniversary after the loss can be especially difficult emotionally, as can the anniversaries of the death. Often these anniversary reactions continue for a number of years. On specific significant days, or in the presence of outstanding reminders of the loss (such as on subsequent visits to the hospital where the person died), many of the old grief feelings and reactions sweep over the person with new intensity. If this continues for several years it is probable that there still is uncompleted or perhaps pathological mourning. Sometimes, when people are not free to mourn immediately after the death,, a full grief reaction will be triggered by a later anniversary or other reminder of the loss.
2. Pathological Effects of Grief. Most grieving begins with a period of shock, numbness, denial, intense crying, and sometimes collapse. It moves into a prolonged period of sorrow, restlessness, apathy, memories, loneliness and sleep disturbances. Then there emerges a slow waning of grief symptoms and a resumption of normal life activities.
Pathological grief reactions occur when this normal grief process is denied, delayed, or distorted. This most often can be expected when the death has been sudden or unexpected; the mourner has been excessively dependent on the deceased; there was an ambivalent relationship (love mixed with hatred) between the mourner and the lost one; there was “unfinished business” between mourner and the lost one; (such as siblings who hadn’t talked for years, family conflicts that hadn’t been resolved, confessions that hadn’t been made, or love that hadn’t been expressed) the cause of death was violent, accidental, or suicidal; and/or the loss left the mourner with practical difficulties such as raising children or making business decisions.
Among the most prevalent indications of pathological grief are the mourner’s:
•increasing conviction that he or she is no longer valuable as a person;
•tendency to speak of the deceased in the present tense (e.g., “he doesn’t like what you are doing”);
•subtle or open threats of self-destruction;
•excessive hostility, moodiness, or guilt;
•excessive drinking or drug abuse;
•complete withdrawal and refusal to interact with others;
•persisting psychosomatic illnesses;
•veneration of objects that remind one of the deceased and link the mourner with the deceased;
•preoccupation with the dead person;
•refusal to change the deceased’s room, or to dispose of his or her clothing and other possessions;
•extreme emotional expression;
•a resistance to any offers of training or other help;
•intense busyness and unusual hyperactivity.
Most writers believe that the most intense portion of grieving will be completed within a year or two. If it continues longer, especially when some of the above symptoms are present, this gives a fairly clear indication that pathology is present.
Training and Grief
Pondering the illness and death of his wife, the well-known Southern Baptist preacher Vance Havner wrote that “whoever thinks he has the ways of God conveniently tabulated, analyzed, and correlated with convenient, glib answers to ease every question from aching hearts has not been far in this maze of mystery we call life and death.” Havner realized what some well meaning trainers have failed to realize: the grieving are not looking for pat responses from people who come to talk rather than to listen. Instead, they need understanding, reassurance, and contact with people who care.
1. Training and Normal Grief. Normal grief is a difficult, long-term process of healing which “needs no special help; it takes care of itself and with time the mourner heals and recovers.” The most widely available sources of help are family members, friends, ministers and physicians. These people can help in the following ways:
Encourage discussions about death before it occurs. When dying persons and their families feel free to express their feelings and discuss death before it occurs, there is an anticipatory grief which tends to make grieving more normal after the loss has occurred.
Be present and available. “There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me,” wrote C. S. Lewis. “I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” Try to be available after the funeral. if the mourner is a special friend, phone periodically to “touch base” – and be alert to giving support or expressing concern on holidays and anniversaries.
Make it known that expression of feelings is good and acceptable – but do not pressure the griever to show feelings.
Be a receptive, careful listener. Recognize that grieving people need, at their own time, to talk about issues such as the feelings and symptoms that are being experienced, the details of the death and funeral, details of past contacts with the deceased, the ultimate reasons for the death (Why did God allow this now?”) and thoughts about the future. Guilt, anger, confusion and despair will all be expressed at times and need to be heard by the trainer, rather than condemned, squelched or explained away.
Help the grieving person make decisions.
Gently challenge pathological or irrational conclusions, giving the grieving person opportunity to respond and discuss the issues.
Provide practical help – such as meal preparation or baby-sitting. This frees the person to grieve, especially at the beginning.
Do not discourage grieving rituals. Participation in a wake, funeral, memorial service and religious ritual can help to make the death more real, demonstrate the support of friends, and encourage the expression of feelings and stimulate the work of mourning.
Pray for the bereaved and comfort them with the words of Scripture – without preaching or using religious clichés as means for stifling the expression of grief.
In all of this, remember that our desire is to support the mourner and not to build unhealthy dependency, to avoid reality, or to stimulate denial. In time, the support and care of friends will help the bereaved work through the grief process and resume the normal activities of life once again.
2. Training and Pathological Grief. Trainers are more often called upon to work with people who are showing pathological grief reactions. These people often resist help but the trainer’s task is to bring a transformation of abnormal grief into a normal grief reaction. This process has been called “re-grief”: a re-experiencing of the grief process in order to free the trainee from his or her bondage to the deceased.
To accomplish this, it can be helpful to discuss, in detail, the trainee’s relationship with the deceased.
The relationship with the deceased needs to be explored in detail, preferably from its inception through its crises, its highlights and its low points, till the time of death. Gentle encouragement and an interest in knowing of the deceased will promote this. Visits to the home where memories are real, the viewing of photographs and treasured possessions may facilitate this.
The trainer should try to avoid the clichés and exhortations that may have come previously from friends and relatives. Encourage the expression of feelings and gently challenge some of the irrational thoughts and actions which may have developed since the deceased person’s time of death. Often it can be helpful if trainees learn about the grief process and discover that their feelings and symptoms are relatively common. Reading books can often help in this learning process, providing the contents are discussed later in training. This prevents misconceptions and stimulates discussion about the trainee’s own reactions. At times there can be value in raising questions about the future and challenging trainees to make some realistic plans. Encourage discussion of practical issues – such as raising children, meeting financial needs, and dealing with sexual frustrations. In all of this remember that your goal is to help trainees avoid denial and deal with the reality of their loss. As Parkes has noted:
The treatment of pathological relations to bereavement follows the same principles as those that have been indicated for the support of bereaved people in general. Thus the appropriate treatment for delayed or inhibited grief would seem to be a form of psychotherapy in which it becomes possible for the patient to begin to express his grief and to overcome the fixations or blocks to realization which have prevented him from “unlearning” his attachment to the lost person.
Overcoming “fixations or blocks” may require the expertise of a more specialized counselor, such as a professional clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, and for this reason referral should always be considered as a possibility in working with pathological grief.
Of special interest to Christian lifestyle trainers is an approach long held in counseling but more recently popularized in a controversial book by Ruth Carter Stapleton. Recognizing that trainers can bring some healing by “probing into the past and bringing understanding of our weak and vulnerable spots and our angry and fearful reactions,” Stapleton argues, nevertheless, that only the Holy Spirit can really remove the scars. Through prayer and discussion of past memories and attitudes, the trainer and trainee “are really asking Jesus to walk back into the dark places of our lives and bring healing to the distressing and painful memories of the past.” Some professionals have criticized the Freudian overtones in this approach, the simplicity and the dangers involved when lay people “help people to find and expose repressed painful memories … in order that any unhealed, crippling memory can be touched by the Great Healer.” Nevertheless, the approach has considerable potential and demonstrates the power of Christ to help people deal (among other things) with the basics of pathological grief.
3. Training When Children Grieve. In the midst of grieving, relatives sometimes try to protect children from the realities of grieving, relatives sometimes try to protect children from the realities and sadness of death. It should be remembered, however, that children also have a need to grieve and to understand as best they can.
To really understand death, children must be able to distinguish between themselves and others, between themselves and others, between living and nonliving, between thought and reality, and between past, present and future. Whether or not the child has this understanding he or she must be helped to comprehend the finality of death, to express emotion and to ask questions. It is important to reassure children (repeatedly by words and actions) that they are loved and will be cared for. Children often interpret death, especially the death of a adult insecurity and need to know that they will not be forsaken. Many trainers would agree that children also should be present at the wake and funeral since young people need emotional support and opportunity to accept the reality of the loss, just as do adults.
4. Training When Children Die. Death is always difficult for survivors to handle, but when the deceases is a child, the experience is especially upsetting. Approximately one out of every 350 babies born alive die of something called the Sudden Infant Death (SID) Syndrome. The cause is not completely understood and since the babies are strong and healthy before death, the loss comes as a rude jolt. Even when children are weak or malformed before death, it is difficult for parents to accept the reality of death after so short a time on earth. Guilt, self-condemnation, despondency and unanswered questions abound.
As we have seen, each grief reaction is somewhat unique, although there are similarities in all cases. To a large extent, therefore, training following the death of a child is similar to any other grief training. Recognize, however, that the loss and grief are as real as the death of a spouse or close adult friend. Comments like “You can always have another child” are not at all comforting. When children die, the survivors must be helped to express their feelings, accept the loss, and learn to readjust. Often this help comes from neighbors and friends, from church leaders, and from the support of other parents who understand because they have experienced similar losses in the past.
Prevention and Grief
1. Before the Time of Death. The prevention of unhealthy grief reactions should begin long before a death occurs. Such pre-death prevention can include the following.
(a) Developing Healthy Attitudes in the Home. When parents are open and honest about death, children learn that this is an issue to be open and honest about death, children learn that this is an issue to be faced honestly and discussed openly. Misconceptions then can be corrected and there is natural opportunity to answer questions. It is probably true that a child can never be prepared for death, but an open attitude at home facilitates communication an makes later discussions of death more natural.
(b) Clarifying Family Relationships. Grief sometimes is complicated by guilt, anger, jealousy, bitterness, competitiveness and other issues which never were resolved before the death. This could be prevented and subsequent grief made smoother if, before death, family members could:
•learn to express and discuss feelings and frustrations;
•verbally forgive and accept forgiveness from each other;
•express love, appreciation and respect;
•develop a healthy interdependence which avoids manipulation or immature dependency relationships.
To build better families is an important way to prevent pathological grief. This, of course, is an ideal which many families cannot reach unless they are helped through training and counseling.
(c) Building Friendships. Grief is harder when there is no established network of supporting friends who can give intimate support in times of sorrow. Each of us needs a group of quality relationships, rather than exclusive dependence on only one or two people. In all of society, the church gives the best example of a community of caring, affirming, accepting friends. Next to the immediate family, the church and its pastor become the first line of support in times of bereavement. When there is involvement in the church before the loss, this community support is more meaningful at the time of a death and afterward.
(d) Activity Development. people who are involved in a variety of recreational and other activities have meaningful and fulfilling involvements which help soften the pain of death and other losses.
(e) Stimulating Mental Health. Well-adjusted people who have learned to handle “little crises” successfully usually handle grief with success. Such people have learned to express emotions freely, to face their frustrations openly, and to admit and discuss their confusions and problems.
(f) Anticipating and Learning About Death. Death education is a relatively new but growing emphasis. In schools, churches and other places, people are learning to talk about death (including their own deaths), and to discuss such issues as how the terminally ill face death, how people grieve, and how to make a will and plan for the needs of our families should we die first. It is difficult to talk of one’s own death, funeral, place of burial, and afterlife. But it is easier to consider these issues when all those involved are healthy, and this can be very helpful as a survivor makes funeral arrangements in the future.
(g) Anticipatory Grieving. When people develop terminal illnesses, families and friends frequently pretend that all will be well, and there is no talk of “leave-taking.” When patients and families can talk about the possibilities of imminent death and can be honest about their sadness, the subsequent grief process is less likely to be pathological. Such honesty, it has been found, is even important in talking with dying children.
(h) Theological Understanding. After the funeral is not the time to begin asking about eternal life and the reality of heaven or hell. The Bible says a great deal about death, the meaning of life, the reality of the promise of eternal life with Christ for believers, and the pain of mourning. These truths should be taught and understood before death occurs. Such teaching is comforting and better understood after the grieving process has begun.
2. At the Time of Death. The hours and days following a death can have a strong influence on how grief is handled.
(a) Communicating the News. It is not easy to announce a death and for this reason, medical personnel, policemen and others often carry out this task as quickly and explicitly (and hence as abruptly) as possible.
It is much better to communicate the news gently, somewhat gradually and, if possible, in a location private enough to permit the free expression of emotion. Give the survivor time to respond, to ask questions, and to be surrounded by two or three friends who can be present to give continuing initial support.
(b) Giving Support. Some people face their grief with no one present to give immediate support and help in making decisions. This makes grieving harder. In our society the clergyman is the one designated to give immediate care to the bereaved, but the church leader’s task is much easier and more effective if church members give additional support. Perhaps this is especially important when the circumstances of death were unusual or violent, such as a suicide or murder. In such cases, grief is often mixed with shame and fear of social rejection.
When a family recently lost their son, a friend from the church came almost immediately to offer condolences. the grief-stricken family declined the offer of help so the friend went back to his car and sat there. Several hours passed before the family became aware of the friend’s continued quiet presence outside. Later they reported that this, more than anything else, sustained them through their subsequent grief.
(c) Planning Funerals. Within recent years, funeral practices have come under considerable criticism, and long-established customs and rituals have been discarded. These changes are not necessarily bad, but it must be remembered that funeral rituals do serve several useful functions: helping the survivors accept the reality of death, the support of friends, the present state of the deceased, the need for readjustment, and the peace and presence of God. Funerals should develop a balance between a realistic acknowledgment of grief, and sincere rejoicing over the fact that believers who are absent from the body are then present with the Lord. A carefully planned, worshipful funeral service can facilitate the grieving process and help prevent pathological grieving.
(d) Using Drugs? In an effort to sedate the grief-stricken, drugs are often given to survivors at the time of the death. Although there may be nothing wrong with this as a temporary measure, there is a real danger that chemicals can dull the pain and inhibit the grief process. in general, therefore, the use of drugs does not contribute to the prevention of pathological grief.
3. After the Time of Death. The continuing presence of supportive care-givers, including Christian lifestyle trainers , can help the griever during the months following the death. It is during this period that the training procedures described earlier in this lesson can help trainees to avoid pathological grief.
4. The Church and Preparation for Death. Much of the discussion in the preceding paragraphs has presumed that death preparation and the prevention of pathological grief often take place in the church. Pastoral training (including anticipatory grief training), the preaching of periodic sermons on the subject of death and related topics, education about death in Sunday school classes and study groups, encouraging church members to read a book or two on dying and bereavement, and stimulating church members to pray and care for the spiritual, emotional and practical needs of the grieving, can all help to prepare people for death.
But there can also be indirect preparation through the strengthening of family communication, the stimulation of loving honesty as well as the open expression of feelings, and the natural about death in the church – with the suggestion that such natural talk should also extend to the home. Church members may also be encouraged to develop a philosophy of life which is built on biblical teaching and which incorporates the reality of death both intellectually and emotionally into the person’s way of thinking. See the teaching on death.
Conclusions about Grief
Grief is a universal experience. Few escape it, some are trapped by it, and those who come through it find that they have been through a painful refining process. Perhaps it is true that grief is a gift – not something to be grasped eagerly and used to satisfy our gleeful desires, but a permanent, reluctantly received growth experience from God. To profit from its influence we must accept it honestly and move through it both with the help of our friends and the support of our Lord who uses the pain to mature us and make us holy and fit for the Master’s use.
One thing is certain when your dearest leaves you for heaven and you plod on alone – there can be no harder blow ….m It does no good to continually accuse and condemn ourselves. Things might even have been worse if we had done some things we think would have been better. let us put the past, good and bad, and whatever might have been into God’s hands and resume our pilgrimage.
Helping others resume the pilgrimage is the real goal of grief training.
Quality of Life
The Call to Ministry
The apostle Paul took inventory of his vocation and asked, “Who is equal to such a task?” Our version of that question coves many times as we are in ministry: Just what do you think you are doing here? Who are you, of all people, to tell these people what God thinks?
The question strikes most ministers now and then. They spend countless hours with people crushed by life’s weight. They have tried to convey something of the mercy and hope of Jesus. And they wonder: Verily, just what do you think you are doing here?
We would have no right, no reason, no hope in ministry were it not for one thing: Almighty God, in his inscrutable wisdom, has called us to it. That is all. He has willed it, not us. The Spirit blows where he wants, and he has blown some into the ordained ministry. Like the new birth, we were born into this thing not by the will of a person or an institution, but by the will of our Father in heaven. Yet we still puzzle over this thing we designate a “call.” What is it? How does it come? How do we know when it does?
Hearing the Call
A call, has no maps, no itinerary to follow, no destination to envision. Rather, a call depends upon hearing a Voice. The organ of faith is the ear, not the eye. First and last, it is something one listens for. Everything depends upon the relationship of the listener to the One who calls.
When Moses heard God call him to free the slaves in Egypt, he first responded as though he were presented with a career decision. Was he qualified? Did he have the proper experience and unique skills required by such an undertaking? He talked to God as though he were in a job interview: Who am I to do such a thing? What if the people don’t follow? Doesn’t God know that I am a poor public speaker?
All of this was irrelevant to God. All that mattered was that Moses believe God could be trusted when he said, “I will be with you.” In short, all that mattered was the call, and that Moses bind himself to the One who issued the call. There was no road map, only the Voice.
Ministry is not an occupation but a vocation. It primarily demands not professional credentials but the ability to hear and heed the call of God. Therefore, we must stay quiet enough, long enough and close enough to hear his voice and be held firm in our impossible task by his everlasting arms.
Discerning the Right Voice
How do we know we are hearing God’s voice and not merely the voice of our own aspirations, desires that themselves contain godly ambition and selfishness commingled? How do we sort God’s voice out of the clamor of so many messages?
By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work, (a) that you need most to do, and (b) that the world most needs to have done.
I like the way Buechner concludes: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Without both, we fail.
Too many people in the church are doing things that “ought to be done,” but they don’t like it. It’s just wearing them down, and there’s a joylessness about the whole thing. We are failing when we are doing something that “needs to be done” but doing it with no gladness.
Gladness isn’t necessarily emotional bubbles as much as it is a sense of significance, meaning, purpose, seeing the work as worthwhile. We can suffer and sacrifice and still be glad about it.
It’s just as wrong to do something that needs doing and hate it as it is to just do something that we like but that doesn’t really need to be done. So a working theology of a call needs to include this sense of gladness, trying to find the common ground between our deep gladness and the needs we see around us.
Biblical Requirements of Leaders
Can you think of any greater privilege than to be called to be a leader in the church of Jesus Christ? The church is his Body, his Bride, the Temple of his Spirit, his Flock, his Army, his Family.
Can you think of any greater responsibility to be a leader to His children?
This is why God’s Word has laid before us such challenging requirements for Quality of Life. The standards are rightly high, not only for the sake of the church’s vitality but also for the sake of the leader’s vitality.
The chief biblical texts that develop the requirements of leaders are 1 Timothy 3:1-13, 2 Timothy 2:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, Acts 6:1-6, and Exodus 18:21-22. The qualifications spelled out in these passages can be summarized in four words:
Are the would-be leaders clearly committed to Jesus Christ as Savior and LORD? Is there a passion to know him in all his fullness? While passion is expressed differently by different personality types, there must be evidence of a fire to know and OBEY the Crucified and Risen One.
Do the would-be leaders have biblically informed convictions – about who God is, who humans are, the meaning of history, the nature of the church, and especially the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Are they learning what it means to be transformed by the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2), to “think Christianly” about every dimension of their recreation? For this reason, Paul warns against being too quick to call recent converts to leadership: commitment and conviction take time to deepen.
Do the would-be leaders know how to make their way through the Scriptures? Can they help others find their way around the sacred pages (2 Tim. 2:15)?
Have the would-be leaders been entrusted with appropriate gifts of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:11-12, 1 Cor. 12:12-31, Rom. 12:3-8)? Do they have a working understanding of the gifts, and can they help others discern and deploy those entrusted to them? Do they have the necessary relational skills for this position? Do their relationships manifest the integrity and love of Jesus, especially in their marriage and with their children (2 Tim. 3:5)? The Kingdom of God, after all, is about righteousness, that is, right relationship.
Are the would-be leaders taking on the character of Jesus? Someone has astutely observed, “It’s not a matter of perfection, but direction.” Are we moving toward greater and greater Christlikeness? The lists of leadership requirements are finally about character. Is there self-control, hospitality, gentleness (control of anger), quest for holiness, temperance? Is there evidence of dying to the love of money, to manipulation, to always having it one’s own way? Are they faithful to their spouse (“husband of one wife”)?
It should be noted that the injunction in 1 Timothy 3:4 that requires a leader to “see that his children obey him with proper respect” is not a demand for perfection. Children can choose to disobey even the best parents (see Luke 15). Paul’s concern is that leadership give their best energies and time to training their children.
And “above reproach”? The point is that we should seek to be all the Master calls us to be. It means being above condemnation as we confess and repent of our sins and failures and seek, by grace, to grow.
The biblical qualifications of a leader are commitment, conviction, competency, and character. The greatest of these is character.
Recognizing the professional Realities
The call doesn’t take place in a vacuum. There are churches and individuals and requirements that God uses to prepare us for ministry. These things must be attended to with a seriousness that befits one who is called.
Once a person becomes ordained and full-time paid staff, other professional elements enter the picture. For example, personnel issues, performance evaluations, salary levels, and housing allowances. These issues don’t go away just because they are not central to the call. Again, for those called to ministry these issues must be attended to responsibly.
In fact, we might think of professional requirements and duties as household chores. Taking out the trash is not the most important part of family life, but things get messy if it’s not done. If we do take out the trash and do the dishes, home life won’t necessarily become great. But if we don’t do these things, the house will surely start to stink!
The best thing that education and professional standards can do is prevent disaster. These aspects of the call aren’t unspiritual, but neither are they the essence of the call. They are simply some of the unavoidable things leaders do because of the call. Still, for all that, the far more common danger among leaders is to let such matters dominate their ministry, to think of ministry primarily as a career.
The picture that immediately comes to our minds when we think of ordination probably cannot be sustained by the new Testament. It is a picture of a formal ceremony in which one receives some kind of certification by a duly constituted religious institution. In fact, the New Testament does not use the words ordination or ordain. Rather the words are choose (Mark 3:14, Luke 6:13), appoint (Acts 14:23, 1 Cor. 12:28, Titus 1:5), number (Acts 1:26), God gave (Eph. 4:11).
Some sort of rite was involved in calling people to ministry, as is evidenced by Paul’s words to Timothy: “Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands” (2 Tim. 1:6); “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Tim. 4:14).
What does ordination in its various traditions commonly entail? At least four things:
We are acknowledging and affirming that, yes, this person has been entrusted (by God’s sovereign grace) with appropriate gifts of the Spirit for leadership in Christ’s Body (1 Cor. 12:28-31). We are acknowledging that, yes, “the Holy Spirit is calling you to this particular work because we see evidence of particular workings of the Spirit of Jesus as LORD in your life.”
We are then saying that this appropriately gifted person is to be set apart from “normal” responsibilities in order to take up the mantle of leadership in the church. We affirm that all believers are “set apart by God for God” (the meaning of the word saint in 1 Corinthians 1:2, for instance). But we also affirm that some are called to be set apart by God for God in a different way, on order to give undivided attention to the preaching of the Word and the equipping of the saints (Eph. 4:11-12). We are saying, “The Holy Spirit is calling you to this particular work, and we, in agreement with him, are setting you apart for it.” Usually this also means, “We will do everything we can to take care of your financial and temporal needs so that you, and we, can obey God’s call.”
We are then empowering the gifted person, usually by the laying on of hands. That is, our hands in that act become the hands of Christ, conveying to the person Christ’s divine energy (1 Cor. 12:4-6). And our hands are granting the person authority to function in a leadership role in our lives. We are saying, “The Holy Spirit is calling you to this particular work, and we claim Christ’s power for you, and we give you the right to lead us into his will.” It is a solemn moment, therefore, not only for the ordained but also for the church. Is that not why Paul tells Timothy, “Do not be hasty with laying on of hands” (1 Tim. 5:22)?
Finally, we are calling those ordained to accountability. We are asking of them fidelity to Jesus Christ as Lord of the church, to the Scriptures as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice, and to our unique theological emphases, and to our special way of doing things. Thus we extract a vow from the person: “Do you promise to uphold our standards?” “Will you abide by our form of disciplines?” “Will you be a faithful minister, ordering your personal life by the Word and Spirit of Jesus Christ?”
Essentially we are recognizing gifts, setting apart for special functions, empowering, and entering into sacred accountability.
is it any wonder that those who are ordained experience both great joy and fear?
Confronting the Perils of Professionalism
If we view our calling only as a career, we reduce the servant of Christ to a vapid creature called “the professional.” Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry …. For there is no professional childlikeness, no professional tender-heartedness, no professional panting after God’s will …. How do you carry a cross professionally? … What is professional faith?”
Heeding the Untamed Call
Inherent in God’s call is something fierce and unmanageable. He summons, but he will not be summoned. He does the calling; we do the answering.
Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). There is always a sense of compulsion, at times eve a sense of violence, about God’s call. Struck blind on the road to Damascus, Paul said later, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9;16). Jeremiah complained that God had seduced him into his vocation and wouldn’t let him out, no matter how much it hurt: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20:9). Spurgeon saw the divine constraint as such a sure sign of a call that he advised young men considering the ministry not to do it if, in any way, they could see themselves doing something else.
At times we try to tame the call by equating a staff position in a church or religious organization with the call itself. But the call always transcends the things we do to earn money, even if those things are done in the church. The same distinction we urge our people to recognize applies to us: Our vocation in Christ is one thing; our occupations, quite another.
Our vocation is our calling to serve Christ; our occupations are the jobs we do to earn our way in the world. While it is our calling to press our occupations into the service of our vocation, it is idolatrous to equate the two. Happy is the man or woman whose vocation and occupation come close. But it is no disaster if they do not.
If tomorrow, your relationship with your current ministry is terminated, your vocation would remain intact. You still would be called to minister. Nothing would have changed your call substantially, just the situation in which you obey it. As Ralph Turnbull points out, I may preach as the paid pastor of a church, but I am not being paid to preach. I am given an allowance so that I can be more free to preach.
At times we try to tame the call by “clericalizing” it. Seminary education does not qualify a person for the ordained ministry, nor does additional psychological testing and field experience. naturally, these may be valuable and even necessary for the ministry, but none of them alone or in combination is sufficient.
No office or position can be equated with the call. No credential, degree, or test should be confused with it. No professional jargon or psychobabble can tame it. No training or experience or ecclesiastical success can replace it. Only the call suffices.
Professional Development and Career Tracks
“When James and John decided to move closer to Jesus,” writes Schnase, “it was commendable and inspired ambition. But when they decided to sit closest to Jesus, their focus changed. Rather than looking to Jesus, they furtively glanced over their shoulders at the other disciples, anticipating that their own spiritual accomplishments had markedly overshadowed everyone else’s. Pride redirects ambition.”
If our measure of worth is based on arriving at the top position, we will be emotional slaves to a goal contrary to God’s values. And we will continually come up short of our own impossible standards; someone will always be perched on a higher rung than ours.
A Higher Trajectory
In Romans 12:3, the apostle Paul writes, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment….” Paul refocuses the career question from “How can I reach the top?” to “How can my life have its God-intended optimal impact?” Here are two avenues to maximize our impact:
Our spiritual gifts.
There probably have been times when each of us felt stuck in what we considered the backwaters of God’s wilderness and watched as other colleagues landed positions that we drooled over. In jealousy, we may have railed against God, “I am as capable as they! What about me?”
By urging us to not to think “more highly than we ought,” however, Paul suggests we look honestly at who we are, not who we think we are. We ought not to spend our life living out some fantasy self-perception that has little to do with reality.
For God’s optimally intended impact, we must, as Paul commands, soberly asses our gifts. We should ask, “What is the truth about what I have to offer?” We are in touch with our gifts when we can answer the question, “When we serve the body of Christ, where is joyful energy released?”
We can also ask our fellow believers to answer honestly, “What spiritual gifts do you benefit from in my life?”
Our call is the sphere in which our gifts best function. Is our life’s energy being spent addressing the concern that God has planted in our hearts? When our gifts operate in our spere of call, God’s people intuitively recognize the innate authority of our lives and give us room to operate. The answer to the question “What have you done with the gifts and call the Lord has entrusted to you?” should under-gird our career ambitions, wherever they may lead.
Ambition and Contentment
Good, holy ambition drives the mills of excellent ministry, helps us accomplish tasks the un-ambitious might deem impossible, transforms churches, maximizes gifts. Raw ambition, on the other hand – the desire to claw our way to the top – pours sand in the ministry gears and forces the machinery to produce an unholy product: human pride.
Predictable occasions awaken questions of ambition and force the issue:
•Decisions. Any decision to launch something significant in ministry carries with it questions of personal ambition.
•Comparisons. Why him and not me? Have I done as well?
•Expectations. Is ministry for us a frightening sprint toward acceptability through accomplishment?
An Ambition Check
Our ambition may surprise us.
•Jealousy and competition. if “burying the competition” – the other churches in town – becomes our quest, ambition has streaked our souls.
•Discontent and fruitlessness. Satisfaction cannot be found in direct pursuit; ambitious striving often produces the opposite effect from the one desired.
•Self-promotion and divine displacement. Ambition is out of bounds when we become brighter lights than Jesus our Lord or his Father.
Holy ambition, on the other hand, is Joshua conquering the land, Nehemiah restoring his people, Paul going on to Derbe after being stoned in Lystra. It appears as a desire to do all for Christ, to elevate HIM, to deny self and enjoy the freedom and fulfillment of doing God’s will. Holy ambition is willing even to fail if it will further God’s purposes.
Training Our Ambition
So how do we tame the ravenous beast of selfish ambition and yet feed the workhorse of holy ambition?
•Reflectively. We must allow ourselves time to think with God about how we are investing our life. Stepping back often gives us a fuller picture.
•Devotionally. Prayer and Scripture reading remain powerful correctives for vaulting ambition. Stepping into the pulpit, the Welsh evangelist Peter Joshua would pray, “Lord, O want them to think well of me, but more than that, I want them to think well of me, but more than that, I want them to think well of you.”
•Strategically. Our strategies are discipline and accountability. The disciplines of taking a Sabbath for rest helps us keep from feeling too important to take time off, and practicing servanthood can keep us humble. But probably the best strategy is to become openly accountable to friends willing to help us deal with hard issues.
•Gracefully. All this soul searching can get heavy, so we need to be as merciful with ourselves as we would be with another. Being tempted and even struggling with ambition are givens; what we do in that battle of mixed motives is up to us and God.
Wise leaders continually help their people see how God is working in their midst. Joshua, Moses’ Successor, continued the tradition from Moses who did this in Deuteronomy (is essentially a series of sermons in which Moses recounted to the Israelites all God had done for them up to that point). In Joshua 24:1-13, the old warrior recalled all that God had done for his people over the years. God spoke through Joshua. Joshua recounted the entire history of the Israelites in a story in which God was the central character. After hearing all that God had done, the people were motivated to move forward to see what God would do next!
Dear Lord, teach me your love, your forgiveness, your mercy, and your truth. Make Christ my one true hero, and let me follow his ways all the days of my life. Amen.
1. What positive feelings do you have about the word sharing? Any negative ones?
2. What different forms, if any, might sharing (or training) take in:
•an upper middle-class area?
•the poverty-stricken sections of Calcutta, India?
•your own area?
3. Are there opportunities for training/sharing in our neighborhood, your work community or circle of acquaintances? How could that training/sharing be carried out?
4. What do you think about this statement: “All that we have been learning, discussing, and doing in our study of Christian Training has been sharing?
5. Have you ever been in a “formal” sharing position (evangelism committee, church visitor, deacon or deaconess or the like)? What about those situations was satisfying? Dissatisfying?
6. How would you evaluate your “informal” sharing contacts?
7. “The distinction frequently drawn between sacred and secular is more destructive than beneficial.” What do you think about that statement?
8. What are some of the ways we “try to keep God boxed up and out of our everyday affairs?”
9. The class states that anyone who makes the distinction between cups of cold water and traditional, explicit resources an either/or proposition necessarily offers less than complete Christian training. Why might this be so?
10. At what point does our training become Christian?
11. god claims all of our lives, both sacred and secular, as his own. How might this realization change common perceptions of worship, church, stewardship, and the like?
12. Can you think of a time when you gave a “cup of cold water” to someone? How was that experience “Christian” for you?
13. Sharing: Yay! Boo!
Spend 15 minutes sharing. Share examples from your own experience of sharing done effectively as well as ineffectively. After each example, discuss what factors made the sharing helpful and what factors hindered its helpfulness. Keep a list of the positive and negative factors to be shared with the class as a whole. You may begin.
14. Good News That Worked
12-15 minutes-I would like each of you to think about one or more times when good news was communicated effectively to you. If a specific act of training was involved in that sharing, think of how it tied into the experience. Take a minute alone to think of such a time and perhaps jot some notes if you like.
Giving “a cup of cold water” can, at times, be frightening. It can be risky in several ways to stop and offer help and comfort to someone who is injured, imprisoned, or trapped in painful circumstances.
Spend six to eight minutes discussing any fears each of you might have about being a “good Samaritan.” Try to determine the reasons for these fears which can be rational or irrational.
16. A Time for Everything
For the next 15 minutes, please share at least one situation in which a “cup of cold water” might be more effective Christian training/sharing than the use of traditional resources. Discuss what form the “cup of cold water” might take and how other Christian resources might be used later on.
17. In Your Shoes-7 minutes
Close your eyes and use your imagination. Imagine yourself driving home from work, school, or shopping. Put yourself in the scene. Go ahead, take a few seconds to imagine it.
Now imagine your car breaking down. You try to fix it, but no luck. You’re on a lonely, deserted stretch of road. It’s getting dark, and you’re starting to worry. Nobody is coming by. Finally, a car comes by and stops. Three people get out and approach you, but something in their manner sets off danger signals in your brain. You start to run, but they grab you and knock you to the ground. Two of then kick you while you’re lying there. The pain is terrific. You lose consciousness.
Now, You’re awake again, but you hurt too badly to set up. You crawl to the road so the passing cars can see you. A car comes by and slows down. The driver is looking at you: you can tell by his clothing that he’s a minister or priest. But now he’s speeding up. He’s not stopping! A few minutes later, another car comes by. It’s a prominent member of your church who lives down the street from you, She know you, so you know that she’ll stop. But she doesn’t even slow down; with just a glance in your direction she speeds by.”
Your thirst and pain by now is terrible. You no longer have the strength to crawl. A stranger comes by. She stops, approaches you. She doesn’t leave! She gives you a drink of water she has while administering first aid. Taste the water; You’ve never tasted anything like it. The pain seems to decrease. She helps you into here car and takes you to the hospital. Your relief at arriving there changes to fear as the admitting clerk tells you that since you have no money or identification, you cannot be admitted. You are too weak to argue, but the stranger offers to sigh the admittance form as a guarantor for all the bills. You are then admitted and she leaves.
Now slowly read James 2:15-17; and then write out your thoughts.
God Almighty, grant us grace to do, speak, and be good news among our families, neighbors, friends, fellow workers indeed everyone in our community and our world. Amen.