Intimacy with God

Every Day, Every Moment

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 1998

There was never a moment in the last seven days of your life when Jesus wasn’t present with you—fully aware of everything you were doing.

Now, what do you think? Is that good news, or bad news?

For most of my spiritual life that kind of thinking was a bit disconcerting to me. The very thought of such a reality made me focus with guilt on every failure and lapse of good judgment. I hate to think Jesus saw all of that.

What’s more, at thoughts of him being present with me, I’d feel bad about how little I’d been aware of him with me. Even the good things I’d attempted were the result of my best wisdom, not necessarily his leading. Eventually they would collapse under the weight of the human wisdom they were built on and I’d feel like an idiot.

The words of that perennial Sunday school song would replay in my head: “Oh, be careful little eyes what you see for the Father up above is looking down in love.” I know it’s a fun song for kids to sing as they get to point to various body parts, but it makes a horrible connection between God’s love and an image of him as the divine cop shaking his finger at us whenever we falter or fail. This is certainly not the image of his Father that Jesus passed on to his followers.

Jesus’ presence with us is not to police, to condemn, or to harass us. Rather, he is with us to lead us into the fullness of the Father’s life. Growing in our awareness and dependence of his presence with us is the whole of what it means to live the Christian life.

I’d Rather Do It Myself

Last month I took my son Andy with me for my appearance on TNN. My brother is the director of Prime Time Country and Andy wanted to see the inner-workings of television production. For the most part, I’m not as cool in his eyes as I used to be. In fact I have been known to be an embarrassment to him at times, even when I’m not trying. When I had to go off and do other things at the studio, he didn’t miss me much.

That is a part of growing up and learning to take responsibility for himself in the world. Unfortunately what’s good for growing up to be a responsible adult in the world is the opposite of what it means to mature in Christ. The Christian life is not something we’re supposed to learn to live on our own. In fact, the most important lesson we all need to learn is that we cannot live the Christian life without the daily intervention of Jesus in our lives.

I did get a taste of that on the flight home with Andy. Andy hates to fly and to make matters worse we encountered severe turbulence as we flew into another El Nino storm invading California. Suddenly Dad wasn’t so uncool anymore. He wanted me there so that every few seconds he could ask me about our safety. He also needed someone on which to vent his firm resolve that he would never fly again.

That’s the picture Jesus wants us to have of him—in times of need and times of joy.

He Lives!

It is easy to celebrate the fact of the resurrection as we did at Easter last month and miss the most important implication of that fact. It means Jesus is alive. He didn’t come to found a religion but to invite us to participate in the relationship that Father, Son and Spirit have shared for all eternity.

He yearns for us to live in the reality of his presence with us at every moment, offering access to the Father, wisdom for the circumstances we’ve en-gaged, and power for God to be glorified through our lives.

If we are going to be God’s people in the earth we not only need to embrace the theological fact of the resurrection but the relational reality of it as well. He is alive—no longer just with his followers, but in them. I love Paul’s description of Christian maturity in Gal 4:19 “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you—”

What a powerful image! The risen Christ wants to take shape in you. Think of that! What could describe our life in him any better? Not only is it a joyful hope, but it also points up how incapable we are of producing that by our own strength or ingenuity.

“Remain in Me”

The last instructions Jesus left his followers was to remain, or abide in him, and to love each other. He didn’t want them mistaking Christianity for an ethic to be observed or a tradition to follow. They had learned to just live with him for three years or more, he wanted to continue that relationship within them after his resurrection.

But he knew it wouldn’t be easy. How do we stay aware of that which we cannot see? We all know how easy it is to live significant chunks of our lives without even thinking of Jesus being with us, much less hearing his voice direct us, or seeing his power equip us.

That is the challenge isn’t it? How do we develop a relationship with him whom we cannot see and how do we live in that awareness of him, when everything about life in this age distracts us from knowing him?

Unfortunately we have too clear a picture of what it means to be a good Christian today. It means going to church, reading our Bibles, trying to live moral lives and sharing the gospel with others. We know what we should do, think or say in any situation and yet we find ourselves incapable of living out the very ethic we embrace. Though we find comfort in doing the things we think God expects of us, we may have no idea how to cultivate our relationship with him.

The sad truth is most of us have had far more training in religion than we have had in relationship.

      • How do I rest in the security of Father’s love, even though I still fall short of my own expectations?
      • How can I be aware of his presence with me all the time, and not just when I’m afraid or in need?
      • How do I identify Jesus’ voice when he speaks and how can I know what he’s doing in my life through the circumstance I’m caught in?
      • How can I really draw on his power and not just give it my best effort?

Those are relational questions. This is what every new convert should learn in their first ten years of becoming a Christian. We shouldn’t hasten them on so quickly to get them to look and act more Christian, but to learn how to live out a real friendship with Jesus every day of their lives. If we did that, everything else that needed to happen in their lives would—they’d grow increasingly free of sin, they’d bear God’s fruit before the world, they’d love others and see God answer their prayers. Without that relationship, Jesus warned us, we would not be able to do anything that would be fruitful for his work in us or those around us.

How Do I Do That?

If your first thought here is to buy a book or find a seminar or spiritual intimacy, I’m afraid the journey is over before it begins. It’s not that those things can’t be helpful, but building a relationship with Jesus means spending time cultivating my awareness of his presence and submitting my heart to his will and purpose in me.

Read all the books you want and you won’t find that in any of them. That happens only in the dynamic growth of a relationship between you and him. He modeled for us with the disciples what that would look like. It’s a friendship. The disciples walked with him every day. They knew his laughter and rebukes, argued with him and listened to his wisdom, called to him in their fears and shook their heads when his words confused them. They grew to know God as a friend.

Jesus wants no less for you. He can take you right where you are and lead you into that friendship that can fill every day with his presence.

The first thing you can do is simply be honest with him about your struggles to know him as a friend. Tell him the hungers on your heart and the disappointments of past attempts. Ask him to teach you how to know him better and to recognize him through the normal course of daily life.

His presence is not something we experience only in Bible studies and worship services. He wants to be no less real in all the other places we inhabit the rest of the week—offices, houses, schools, cars, airplanes and fields. If we’ll just pause even a few seconds throughout our day and recognize the truth of that, we’ll find ourselves engaging a conversation with him that runs through our entire life. He will show us things we would easily miss and teach us how to love people around us like he has loved us.

He can teach you how to do that better than anyone. He has been building friendships with people since the world began and is wonderfully good at it. It may be a struggle at times, but learning how to cultivate that relationship is the greatest joy of being a believer in him.

Now I know that there is a not a moment of my life that Jesus is not there, completely aware of everything going on around me and at work to lead me to the fullness Father’s life. Even where I struggle, I have no pangs of shame, because only he can change me—and he is well on the way to doing that!

Sidebar 1: God in the Shower?

After a gathering with believers in Ohio a professor visiting the US from India on an exchange program approached me with a question. He loved the informality of our gathering, but was bothered by the casual dress. “If I was going to meet the President of the United States today, I would dress up in a suit and tie. Should we offer God any less?”

“And so would I,” I responded. “But there is someone who would feel no need whatsoever to dress up if they met the President today.” He looked at me quizzically. “Chelsea. In fact, the President wouldn’t want her to dress up because he’s her father and no formality is needed.”

Isn’t it a joy that we are sons and daughters who need no pretense in Father’s presence? He invites us to enjoy him, not impress him.

But this question bothers me in another way. Its hidden premise is that God is somehow more present at a gathering of believers than he is when we take a shower in the morning, or when we’re hot and sweaty from a hard day’s work. And he’s not, you know!

Sidebar 2: It’s the Process, not Perfection!

After a time of teaching about how Father extends his grace to us while he reshapes our lives, a brother shared something he had discovered: “I think I finally understood something today, I have thought that God was only pleased by my perfection. Since I never measured up to that I have always struggled. But I am beginning to think he not only wants me to be whole, but that he actually enjoys the process of getting me there.”

What else explains why Father just doesn’t wave his arms over us and make us all perfect overnight. He wants us to reflect his glory from the inside out. He patiently shapes our lives until Christ is fully formed in us. Like a potter spinning a new pot, he’s not just excited about getting it done, but he actually enjoys the whole process—softening the clay, kneading it in his hands, and fashioning with great care into that which he sees in his heart.

If we only think him satisfied when we get it all together, I’m afraid our lives will be filled with frustration—for ourselves and others! But if he enjoys the process, shouldn’t we also? He is fashioning you so that Jesus can take form in you. Can you see how he’s doing that? But if we can with him enjoy the process of him allowing Jesus to take form in us, then we too can be more patient with our still-glaring deficiencies.

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The Businessman and the Beggar

The Businessman and the Beggar

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • March 1998

Two men approached Jesus on his last journey to Jerusalem–a businessman and a beggar.

The first was a righteous man who had meticulously kept the law all of his life. He only wanted to ensure that his efforts would be enough to secure him eternal life. Tragically, he went away deeply grieved and broken, his request unsatisfied.

The other was a beggar–blind since birth. When he heard Jesus was near he called out for help. People around him tried to silence him, but he shouted above them anyway. However, he was part of an incredible miracle that not only restored his sight, but saved his soul.

What made the difference? Why did one receive from Jesus and one did not? And why was it that the one we would more naturally deem less worthy found the answer he sought?

I find such contrasts intriguing. There’s nothing more I want in my life than to receive freely of God’s life–his wisdom, power and love–in every situation. When I see one man walking away from Jesus grieved and another rejoicing, I want to know why.

Rarely a day passes where I am not looking to Father for help in my own circumstances and for people he has related me to. Sometimes his wisdom or provision seems clear and effortless. At other times I struggle for weeks or months, calling out to him, examining myself trying to figure out what I might be doing wrong that blocks his work in me or through me.

But it does seem the harder I try to make something happen, the further I get from God’s provision. Do you ever feel that way? If so, we both have something wonderful to learn from Jesus’ encounter with the businessman and the beggar. (You’ll find them both in Mark 10–the rich young ruler in verses 17-31 and Bartimaeus in verses 46-52.)

What we’ll discover is not that Jesus loved one more than the other; nor that he gave to one and not the other. For he graciously gave to both of them. It’s just that one recognized it and one did not and the difference between the two gives us incredible insight into how we can relate to Jesus every day of our lives.

Caught In The Do-Dos

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The rich man’s question sounded innocent enough; even humble. How much more compliant could anyone be? He wanted eternal life and wanted to know what he had to do to get it.

Jesus immediately answers his query by referring him to the commandments. The rich man’s answer gives us a look into his heart. “I have kept all of these from my youth up.”

Really? Had he? Paul the Apostle said that no man has ever kept all of God’s law–that if even one person could have earned his or her way into God’s life by the law, then Christ died in vain.

No, he had not kept the law, what was most critical here was that he thought he had. Since he was a little child he had worked hard to keep the law in hopes of earning his place with God. But the fact that he is still seeking eternal life makes it clear that he hadn’t found it yet, nor was he secure that his current course would produced it in the future.

This man was steeped in his own works. That was evident by the question he had asked Jesus at the outset. The “I” and the “do” gave him away. He was focused on himself and his ability and resources. He was trying to earn what could only be a gift. His efforts would continue to fail.

How much Jesus wanted him to understand that! Mark specifically mentions that Jesus looks on this man and felt a deep love for him. What did he see? Did he see a little boy trying to be perfect as the only way to earn his father’s affirmation? Did he see the years of fruitless labor that still held periodic failures that had to be covered up to maintain his illusion of righteousness? Did he see the gnawing in the young man’s stomach born of his obsessive drive to perfection that was destroying him from within?

Probably he saw all that and more and Jesus intended to help him see it too. His next response seems on the surface to be one of Jesus’ most difficult sayings: “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” On hearing the words, the businessman’s countenance fell. Unable to do what had just been asked of him, he walks away in grief.

I’ve taught this parable so many times, and with unwitting arrogance railed at the rich man’s inability to do what Jesus asked of him. What a fool! He was too greedy to follow Jesus. But that was not the lesson. Who of us would have come to this kingdom if those were the terms? How many people would have come streaming forward at Billy Graham crusades if the price of salvation had been to sell everything in your possession give it to the poor and then come forward? I don’t even know one person who came to Christ on those terms and I don’t know that many of us who would stay if that’s what he required of us!

But that was not Jesus’ point. He had something far better in mind.

Raising the Bar

If you want to train a high jumper of pole vaulter for the Olympics, you wouldn’t start them out by putting the bar at world-record height and have them try to jump until they could clear it. The task would be too daunting. You would start with a height that can be successfully achieved and slowly raise the bar allowing refined technique, practice and conditioning to help the athlete do better.

But that’s not what Jesus did here. He put the bar at world-record height at the very beginning. And the businessman did exactly what any athlete would do, he went away discouraged.

But Jesus didn’t do it to be mean to him. He raised the bar so high, the man could never get over it, because Jesus wanted him to stop trying. He offered the man an incredible gift–to be free from having to earn God’s favor by his efforts. Jesus wanted him free from the “do-dos” to realize that what he could not earn for himself, Jesus would give to him.

All he would have had to do was look Jesus in the eye and say “I don’t think I can do that!” To which Jesus might have answered, “Good, now stop doing all the other silly things you’re trying to do to earn God’s favor. Stop striving; stop pretending, stop trying to earn what you can never earn!”

That’s why Jesus specifically notes how difficult it is for people of wealth to find their way into the kingdom. Such people always feel like they can earn it or pay for it. They are so focused on their own efforts and resources that they can’t recognize what Jesus can do for them.

Even when Peter started to boast in what they had left to follow him, Jesus reminds him that none of them had left anything that he wasn’t going to replace with far more and far better. The fact is they had left their stuff not to earn salvation, but because of a relationship with Jesus that had captured their hearts.

Sadly, we don’t get to see the end for this young businessman. My hope would be that Jesus’ words finally worked through his heart at some point. But whether they did or didn’t, Jesus still offered him an incredible gift, the freedom from having to earn what he could never earn and he missed it!

One other man approached Jesus asking him what he must do to inherit eternal life. This man was an expert in the law and when Jesus asked him what the law said, he answered correctly citing the call to love God with everything we are and our neighbor as ourselves.

Looking for a loophole the man then asked him who his neighbor was. Jesus answers by telling the story of the Good Samaritan–a man who loved across racial and cultural barriers and extended himself at great personal cost of time and money to make sure the man’s every need was taken care of. Was Jesus raising the bar again to unattainable heights? I think so.

Isn’t it interesting that we teach these two responses of Jesus as actions attainable by dedicated believers?

We can’t keep the law, nor can we love others enough to earn our way to this kingdom. Far from offering these as viable options, Jesus was trying to show both men that their best efforts wouldn’t work.

That’s not to say that as we love him he won’t bring us greater freedom from our possessions or greater love for others, for he will do both. But that will rise not out of our attempts to earn his favor, but as grateful responses to the love of a gracious Father.

That’s the lesson we will have to learn if we are going to live in his kingdom. He didn’t come to form a religion but rather to offer us a relationship with the Father. We will never earn one thing from his hand. But relationship isn’t about earning, it’s about loving. He loves us so much that he does all the work for us.

“Do I Have To?”

To understand Jesus’ invitation to the kingdom we must understand it relationally not religiously. He wasn’t inviting people to a rigid ethic or ceremonial rituals. He invited people to relationship. Those that engage the relationship will live transformed lives, but often those who only conform their outward behavior miss out on the depth of relationship that Father wants to have with them.

“Do I have to to be saved?” That was the most frequently-asked question I receive from people who seek the Lord’s wisdom, but have not discovered him relationally. What they are seeking to uncover is minimal salvation. I don’t want to do one bit more than is absolutely necessary to get what I want.

This is just like a son telling his father that he really doesn’t want to to spend time with him unless he has to to ensure that he won’t be disinherited. Can you imagine how that son would respond to a dinner invitation from his father? “If I don’t, Dad, will you cut me out of the will?”

What answer could the father give to that question. None would really suffice, since the question misses the whole point of relationship and will always leave us short of Father’s desire for us. He has the best goodies in all the universe, but the person who seeks his things without desiring to know him misses out on the real life of the kingdom.

That’s what people are saying who wonder if they must do one thing or another or risk losing their salvation. They don’t want one drop more of God’s life than the minimum required to escape the flames of hell. How tragic! No wonder they missed the best gift God could give them, and why Jesus wanted so desperately to free them from the tyranny of trying to earn eternal life by their own religious efforts.

“Lord, Have Mercy!”

Bartimaeus sat by the road and begged. As a blind man in that society he had few other options. On one incredible day he heard a great commotion coming toward him on the road. When he inquired he found out that Jesus the Nazarene was coming that way with a great throng of people. Bartimaeus had already heard enough about this teacher from Galilee, to know that he might be able to help him. He began to call out instantly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

People nearby were embarrassed by his shouts and sternly told him to keep quiet. But that only made Barti-maeus cry out even louder. Finally Jesus heard his plea and called for him. Bartimaeus had one simple request: “I want to regain my sight.”

Notice he doesn’t ask what he needed to do to see again. He did not barter based on his righteousness. He didn’t ask for what he could do to earn his healing. He simply put all of his confidence in the mercy of the man sent from God.

That was enough. Jesus didn’t ask him to sell all he had. Jesus didn’t tell him to go love the people he hated most. Jesus healed him and noted that Bartimaeus’ simple focus was all that was needed. “Go, your way; your faith has saved you.” He not only received healing, but salvation as well.

Do you get it? Approach God on the basis of your own efforts and you will always be disappointed. Trust him for mercy we could never deserve and you’ll find his grace flow through you like a raging river. It’s the strangest of things: Try to do enough to earn God’s favor and you will ensure that you will fall painfully short no matter how much you do. Accept his mercy, however, and you will end up enjoying his life and doing the very things that please him most.

In Luke 18:9-17, Jesus tells a parable that captures this lesson perfectly. A Pharisee and a tax-collector entered the temple. The Pharisee delighted in his righteousness–how he was more committed than anyone else he knew. He even puffed himself up at the expense of the tax-gatherer praying nearby. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…even like this tax collector.”

That’s what living by our own works produces. Since we’ll never be good enough on our own we will seek to justify ourselves by being better than other believers around us. To create that facade we have to focus on their weaknesses and hold them in contempt. Any time we set ourselves above other people, we only prove that we are not walking in God’s mercy. We are trying to earn what we never can. At times like that we need to see the bar that Jesus raised so high we could never get over it no matter how much better we think ourselves than others.

Then, melting before him we can like the tax-collector fall on our knees, “God, be merciful to me!” It was this man who went home in right standing with God, not the one who had sacrificed for all his religious activities.

Is that incredible? The key to walking out the life of Jesus is to trust his love, not to earn it. Each day I can gratefully acknowledge Father’s mercy and receive whatever he has for me. Unless God works in me today, in spite of my weaknesses and failures, I really have no hope at all. But he does. And therefore I do!

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Why Are You So Afraid?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1997

From out of no where it seemed the storm had charged across the lake and threatened to sink the small boat and the disciples. Terrified they finally realize Jesus was asleep and awakened him. He looked in their frantic eyes and asked them one simple question. “Why are you so afraid?”

Why? Because. Because they were a long way from the shore.

Because their boat was at one moment tossed into the air by an angry wave, and in the next it would slam into the bottom of a trough where more waves washed over the side, threatening to rip them out of the boat.

Because they were about to capsize and they couldn’t even see where the nearest shoreline was. Because they were about to die. Weren’t those reasons enough to be afraid?

Sure, they might seem silly now that the sky was clear, the wind barely a whisper and only the tiniest of ripples lapped against the side of the boat, but how were they to know he could or would command the storm to silence? How were they to know that they would be safe after all?

They didn’t, of course, which couldn’t have been his point. Certainly the circumstances were such that any rational person would be afraid.


Unless they were looking at someone more certain than the wind, more powerful than the waves, more loving toward them than any of them yet knew.

‘You of little faith,’ he had called them. I would love to see the look on his face when he did so. I don’t think this is the angry rebuke our movie versions have made it out to be. Couldn’t he have said it with a chuckle in his voice as he’s roughing up Matthew’s hair? That’s what I suspect, because this was a lesson not a test. There was something he wanted them to grasp here.

Having “little faith” is not a measurement of quantity. On another occasion when Jesus pointed out how little their faith was, the disciples asked him to increase their faith. He responded that faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains.

So if quantity was not his concern, then it must have been something else.

If our faith is in the wind and the sea, then you will only feel safe when it is clear and calm. When it is not, you will be stricken with fear. But if you can learn to vest your trust in Father’s love and care for you, then it matters little what wind and sea can hurl at you.

This is perhaps your greatest challenge in learning the freedom and joy of trusting Father. For in trusting him we have to put more faith in what we cannot see than what we do. Nothing is more difficult for us to learn. We are physical creatures that find it easier to trust the tangibles in time and space more than we trust Father’s love for us.

But isn’t our trust in circumstances, really a trust in ourselves? Before the storm hit, the disciples trusted the skills of the fishermen among them. They were certain of their abilities to sail the sea as long as the weather didn’t get too nasty. Up until the moment it did, they had no fear because they were certain of themselves. But when the storm reached full fury, they knew they were in over their heads.

We do the same thing, don’t we? We take care of ourselves the best we can. As long as everything works the way we want it to, we are content. But when crisis hits, our misdirected faith is unmasked. We are not so well-equipped as we thought. Now, not only do our eyes fix on the circumstances that rage around us, but also on our own failures to deal with them.

Perhaps even the disciples, swamped by the tempest turned to blaming themselves. We should have stayed closer to land. We should have taken a bigger boat. Whose idea was it to go boating today?

And once you start down that road there is no hope in crisis. How can I trust God with something when it’s my own fault to begin with? We can rattle off a hundred things we could have done differently, and all of them become excuses for why we can’t trust him now.

Trust in God based on our own performance, is still trust in ourselves. If God only helps the perfect, what hope have any of us? If we must earn the right to trust in Father, then we still end up only believing in ourselves. It will even work for us as long as the weather is nice. But when the storm crashes down us, such faith is worthless indeed. Who cannot point to weaknesses, ignorance or failure in our own lives that would make it impossible to believe he will help me out?

Jesus’s ministry with his closest friends was designed to bring them to the end of themselves so that they might trust in Father alone. But no matter how hard they tried, they always seemed to come up short. Even on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter was so certain his faith in God would overcome any temptation to deny his friend. But it wasn’t so. As soon as the heat was turned up he caved in, his fears overwhelming his faith.

You know what that is like, don’t you? If you’re like me you probably have plenty of stories where you really needed to entrust yourself to his care, but instead reacted to your fears. Like Peter, we look back at our faithlessness and weep. Blame and accusation swallow up any confidence we have that God will work in our lives. As long as I’ve been a Christian I should be doing better by now.

But our self-focused faith only let’s every trial and difficulty either prove that we’re not good enough, or that God doesn’t care enough about us. Both will make us afraid. Both are ‘little faith,’ because that faith is vested is something so little ourselves!

As God invites us into relationship with him where he becomes far more real than any circumstance we encounter. Instead of seeing wind and waves, or our inability to deal with them, we see him in the midst of it all. We may not know how he is going to deal with our circumstances, but we can rest secure that no one loves us more. And when his work is unfolding in our lives, no circumstance is a cause for fear.

How can we get to that place?

Wrong question, for in asking it we only prove our eyes are still on ourselves. Like the storm on Galilee, it matters little what we do, only what he will do. By keeping our eyes on him we can be free of fear or anxiety no matter what we might encounter in this life.

And what he has done in us and what he will continue to do even in the midst of the most painful circumstances you face today, will absolutely astound you.

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Welcome Home!

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • July 1997

The warm lights of the dinning room spill out through opened curtains into the growing darkness of the yard. The alluring aroma of dinner, tender conversation and cheerful laughter drift out through the open windows.

What could be more inviting? But in the front yard the tension is nearly unbearable.

I am kneeling on the lawn, my eyes on a stray puppy not 15 yards away. It’s in her mind that the battle rages.

“Should I or shouldn’t I? I really want to, but will I be safe?”

I can see the torment in her eyes. She wants to trust me, but is too afraid of what I might do. She is tired of fending for herself, alone in a cruel world.

But the choice to trust is never easy. Will I take care of her and help her, or will I be like all the others who have hurt her or abandoned her? She doesn’t want any more pain, preferring to leave now if my invitation will only bring her added disappointment.

I would love to run to her, sweep her up in my arms and assure her I mean her no harm, but she will not let me. Every time I make the slightest move toward her she moves further away. If I’m going to help her, she will have to risk trusting me. Little does she know that there is probably not a better home in all the world for her than ours.

So many strays show up here, that I think our address must be listed on every fire hydrant in town. There is nothing that evokes more compassion from my wife than a lost or stray dog.

From the moment we spot a strange dog in our front yard, we watch it carefully to see if it’s just passing through, or if it is lost. If my wife concludes the later, it will get the royal treatment. We’ll invite her into our home and offer her plenty of water and food. Sara will check to see if she has any dog tags, and if she does she will call the owners right away and let them know their dog is safe.

If she has no tags, within a few hours she will be given a bath, including a treatment for fleas. She will be cuddled and coddled and assured she’s safe, wonderful and loved. Then Sara will call the dog pound to see if the owner has contacted them and leaves the dog’s description in case they do later. But she will not take it to the pound. No dog will ever die at her hand.

She will also put an ad in the paper describing the lost dog and leaving our phone number. If no one calls in a week, she takes out another ad to offer the dog to a good home and screens every caller until she’s satisfied the potential owners are worthy of her dog.

Right now, the dog across from me has no idea all this awaits her if she can overcome her fear. But all the benefits of my house are hers, if she comes. I hold out my hand, offering her food. I know she hasn’t eaten in awhile because I can count every rib right through her fur. I coax lovingly, speaking in soft tones, trying to caress her with my words.

She makes a few halting steps toward me, then thinks better of it. She backs off, turning her head away as if to break a spell about to overcome her. The game will continue for awhile. I will not force her into my home, and thus allow her fears to be a risk to my dogs or my children. If she comes, she’ll have to come willingly.

Every time I play this game with the latest stray through our neighborhood, I can’t help but think how much this pictures God’s entreaty to each of us.

He has prepared an incredible place for us in himself and invited us to come into his house and be part of his family. For us to come, however, we will have to trust him. That’s not easy when you’ve been disappointed by others or even when we’re unsure that we are worthy of coming to his house.

Yet there he is, patiently extending his hand to us, trying to get closer, until we cower away in fear. Then he backs off so he will not add to our fear, hoping by his gentleness to convince us that we can trust him.

But we’ve been disappointed so many times before. Per-haps like some of the strays who come to our house, every one we’ve ever trusted has betrayed that trust. Maybe even things we thought were God in the past turned out to be hurtful, so we really want to be sure this time it is really him. If the truth be told many of us have been exploited by people who came to us in God’s name, claiming to know God’s will for us, who only had in mind exploiting us for their own needs.

Trust. It is so easy to talk about, but so hard to put into practice. Nothing is more theologically certain than that God is faithful and trustworthy. But learning how to live in that trust through the twists and turns of our lives is the most difficult challenge we face.

No one knows that better than our loving Father. So while we look longingly in his direction, hoping against hope that he is who he claims to be. His soft voice beckons us closer. “It’s okay. I love you. I really do.”

How I want to believe him. I take a step toward him, but as soon as I do, fear begins to build again. What if he hurts me? What if he makes me do something I’ll really hate?

Worse yet, what if this isn’t really God at all, just the figment of my imagination. I have too often been suckered into the enemy’s trap. I don’t know if I can handle the disappointment again.

Fear finally overwhelms trust and we step back again, turning aside, wishing it would all go away and life would be better. But we are still lost, still hungry and know there is no where else to go that can really give us life. We glance back his direction. Should we go? Is it too good to be true?

As difficult as it is for that puppy to trust me, because I can so quickly and easily hurt her, it is far more risky for us to trust God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth. His very presence conveys how powerless and undeserving we are. But he has provided a way. He wants to teach us to trust him far more than we want to learn it.

It took him almost Abraham’s entire life to teach him the joy of trusting him. But he did it. Even when he was asked to give up his only son and heir, he trusted God’s plan and God’s nature enough to set about the task. This, from the one who had risked his wife’s virtue by lying to Pharaoh that she was not his wife. This, from the one who had impregnated his wife’s maidservant when it didn’t appear God would give Sarah the child he promised.

To accomplish that, God did some extraordinary things for Abraham, so that he could know what was in God’s heart for him.

Rest assured, God knows how difficult it is for you to trust him.

He is not threatened by that nor angry with you. He simply wants you to keep your eye on him and learn.

He knows that only by trusting him can you participate in relationship with him and enjoy the fullness of life in his household. This is why he created you and why he designed such an extraordinary plan to teach you exactly how to lay aside your fears and walk into his arms.

Then he can scoop you up, hold you closely to himself and fulfill what began in his heart for you since before the creation of the world.

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What’s In it For Me?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 1997

Over the last few years I’ve shared a meal or two with some incredible brothers and sisters.

All of them had been involved in successful vocations or ministries at one point in their lives, most of them at the head of it, and yet all of them found occasion to walk away. For all of them at the time it had been a very painful decision, and none of them really knew what lie beyond it. Often their friends or families didn’t understand what they were doing, and either ridiculed them or withdrew from them.

But they had some wonderful things in common. None of them were bitter, or pined away for their “successful past.” They all confessed how deeply their relationship with Jesus had grown and their understanding of the power of God’s grace. All of them said they had discovered life and freedom in Jesus they never imagined existed when they made their difficult decision.

People who do not act in their own best interest have always fascinated me. It’s easy to understand why people do good things when there is something in it for them. Even our pleas for volunteer help or charitable contributions are almost always linked to tax-deductions, feeling good about yourself and or giving something back, as a way of appealing to people who make choices only because it is in their best interest to do so. That’s just the way our world works.

But that’s not the way Father’s kingdom works. Jesus said so in perhaps the most paradoxical statement of his ministry: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

When we worry about what’s in it for us, struggle to do the best we can for ourselves, even in our pursuit of God, we will always find ourselves deeply disappointed. But if we can let go of that which seeks our perception of our own best interest, we will discover the life of God in the fullest measure.

This is an incredible kingdom our Father has crafted. Choosing his way is undoubtedly the best decision we can make for ourselves. However, our knowledge about what is truly best for us is so limited, that decisions we make seeking our own best interest only draw us further from him. That’s why Jesus warned anyone who would come after him that he would need to, “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Only where we mistrust our pursuit of happiness on our terms, will we discover that true joy lies only in him. For our joy comes not in attaining anything, but being free from our own selfish passions and desires. The problem is that’s not how most of us were introduced to the Father’s kingdom.

Bribed and Threatened

The two most effective evangelism tools of our century both appeal to people’s best interests.

“If you died tonight do you know that you would go to heaven?” Many people come to this kingdom threatened with the fiery stench of hell. It’s a terrifying concept, isn’t it? Once you convince people that heaven and hell, are both real and God decides who goes where, the work of evangelism is done. What fool would choose hell over heaven if they really believe both existed?

Yet this approach to God leaves us in a horrible dilemma. How do you build a loving relationship with the God who would hurl you into eternal torture if you don’t? Is there something so wrong with God that we have to be threatened with torture to come to him?

The second tool, takes the opposite approach to our best interests. “God has a wonderful plan for your life;” and with it we conjure up images of a blissful life with a God who will keep us at peace, happy and free from suffering if we’ll just follow him. So, people come to God in hopes of finding in him what they couldn’t find for themselves in the world. But self is still at the center-we come to him for ourselves. Joy is still defined in our terms.

This becomes painfully obvious whenever expectations are disappointed or difficulties arise. We begin to doubt God’s love if we don’t get the job we wanted or if our children battle a serious illness. Most Christians I have dealt with in years of ministry seem to have more stress over the fact that God is allowing them to be in crisis, than the crisis itself would ever produce.

In appealing to people’s best interest for themselves, both of these invitations to the kingdom may be counterproductive to the kingdom itself. By getting people to chose the kingdom based on their fear of punishment or their greed for the good life, they are only further ensnared in their bondage to self. Rather than leading them closer to the embrace of a living God, they end up only frustrated that Christianity isn’t all it pretends to be.

The relationship that God invites us to share in is the same one that he has enjoyed through all eternity. The Father, Son and Spirit live together in absolute love, sharing together life, glory, and joy. Love in this sense is complete selflessness, each of them giving and serving without any thought for themselves. This kind of love is hard for us to grasp, for what love defines in our age is usually nothing more than mutually-beneficial relationship. People say they love each other when each of them provide some benefit or enjoyment to the other. But as soon as one stops benefiting from the relationship, they usually withdraw pursuing other more-satisfying relationships.

Such self-based love really isn’t love at all. When we approach God in this way we will find ourselves often disappointed when he doesn’t do what we expect him to. When Jesus invited us to the depths of relationship with the Father, the Spirit and himself, he knew the only way we could discover the depth of joy is where we abandon the pursuit of our own best interests and completely trust him to provide everything we need. But that runs against everything we’ve ever known.

What Else Do you Do With Flesh?

Adam and Eve made their choice in the garden, certain they were acting in their own best interest. We will become like God, they thought, never understanding all the ramifications of that choice until it was too late.

I’ve often wondered why God was not a bit more specific about the trees he’d planted in that garden. About the tree they ate from, he warned them they would die if they did. But why didn’t he tell them all of it? Why didn’t he tell them that if they ate of it they would subject themselves and thousands of generations to follow to the horrible atrocities of sin, disease, depression, broken relationships, abuse and death? If he had, and told them all they had to do to avoid these things was to go over and eat of the Tree of Life, don’t you suppose they would have done it?

Of course they would. But why, because they loved and trusted him? No. They would have done it only because it would have been in their best interest. They would have still chosen control of their own life and by doing so would have missed out on the relationship he wanted them to discover. So they came to know good and evil without any power to choose the good.

But let us not forget, that God knew from the beginning what their choice would be and had already set about to use their failure in the process of redemption. Immediately after their fall, he prescribed conditions in which their bent for choosing in their own best interest would be used to help hold their sin in check until the Savior would come. The curses and eventually the law God used rewards and punishments to make God’s ways appeal to our self-interest.

We do the same thing when we discipline our children. Their flesh will not want to do good on their own, but through discipline we seek to make disobedience less attractive. This is how our world conforms behavior. We obey traffic laws, for fear of getting a ticket. The military makes people conform to the standards of conduct they want by an exhaustive set of rewards and punishments, all designed to use self-interest as the motivating force. Grades in school and incentives in business are all meant to appeal to our greed and fear to hold us in check.

So it is natural for us to assume then that God would use hell and the promise of the abundant life to conform our behavior in the kingdom. That’s why so much fear and guilt or promise of God’s blessing or leadership positions are used to get believers to do what’s right.

The Problem with Self-Interest

But anyone who has ever used self-interest as a motivating tool, knows it ultimately doesn’t work. God never expected his own law to work, because our flesh was just too weak. While it can be successful in conforming external behaviors (there’s a lot less adultery around if people get stoned for it), it ultimately cannot transform people.

That’s why children who have only been motivated by fear will end up in rebellion in the teen-age years. Fear never endures. Having been taught all their lives to respond to self-interest what do parents do when that self-interest is served more by going along with their crowd instead of following the desires of their parents?

Even Paul blamed the same process that made him a Pharisee and faultless in legalistic righteousness, as that which made him the chiefest of sinners. Outside his life conformed to God’s law, even though inside hate raged against people he considered a threat to the God he thought he knew. So he murdered in God’s name, and only by God’s mercy found the light of God.

That ought to give us pause, because much of our orientation to the Christian life today is incredibly similar to the Pharisees. We might call them ‘New Testament principles’ instead of law but they still are a set of dos and don’ts that we try to package to appeal to people’s self interest. Regrettably the results are the same. Externally we may look like good Christians and might even take great pride in that; while the most despicable of sins devours us from within. Scripture and history show us that even the most religious of us, will only end up using our traditions and principles to maximize our own best interests, like tax-lawyers groping for loopholes.

It’s no wonder that this process cannot draw us any closer to him, and why God had a better plan in mind.

Serving God Without Preference

God’s ultimate plan to deal with self-interest was not going to come through law or obligation. He knew our flesh was too weak for that. The only way to life was for self to be swallowed up in the immensity of Father’s love.

So Jesus came to die, not because God needed a victim on which to expend his wrath, but that we needed a demonstration of love so powerful, that we could abandon all trust in living to our own best interests and come to participate in the community of God. Because we would trust his love and care for our lives, we would no longer have to look out for ourselves, but follow him freely all of our days.

That’s what Paul taught regarding the cross. “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor 5:15) That became incredibly practical for me recently. I was reminded about a near accident I had while driving a car when I was eighteen. I was speeding down a dark country road with five passengers aboard. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with an urge to slam on my brakes and did so without even consciously choosing to. As the car skidded to a stop a diamond-shaped reflector sign came into view. The road was coming to a dead-end into a cement ditch. My tires stopped within a foot of that sign.

I haven’t thought about that for a long time, until a time of prayer when I was complaining to God about some difficult things that were going in my life. “Why can’t I get away with doing what seems to work for everyone else?”

At that moment I thought of my near accident and heard that still, small voice: “Ever since that night I’ve considered you mine. You deserved to die in a tragedy that would have taken five other lives, but I saved you. I own you.”

What captured my heart in that moment was the overwhelming love of God. Being owned by him was not bondage. What he was doing in my life was not punishment I needed to fear, but his grace that was showing me the depth of his love. He was inviting me to a relationship with him that acting in my best interest would never approach.

“But perfect love drives out fear,” John wrote, “because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

What a gift! Abandoning our best-interest is a no-brainer decision in the face of the cross. Our agenda is exposed clearly for what it is, a march for self-destruction. Now, we can face every situation without the horrible bondage of figuring out how to make it work best for me. We can simply yield ourselves to God and watch him work out his purposes.

Obedience is no longer the onerous task of trying to keep God appeased, but the simple result of living in trust. After all, isn’t sin only the result of trying to provide for ourselves what God said he would provide for us? If so, then when we are confident that God will have his way, we no longer have to push for our own agendas. In the cross Wayne’s best interest has ceased to exist and no longer needs to be served. That’s not just true of sinful acts but even visions of ministry. He is at work in me for his pleasure. I don’t have to scheme or manipulate people anymore.

The One Who Is Truly Free

What has touched me most about the people I mentioned at the beginning of this article is that they are the most liberated people I’ve ever known. They had uncovered a greater depth of relationship, not because Father rewarded their efforts, but because they had discovered a life in God beyond self. They had seen God take care of them and were learning to enjoy his presence because they were no longer blowing by him in the night continuing to pursue their own agendas.

We understand people who serve their self-interest. In fact it is easy to manipulate people with threats and bribery. But when someone ceases to be motivated by such things, they themselves become a threat to the self-interest system. Others will call them rebels and accuse them of being unsubmitted.

The free person in Christ and the rebellious will always look the same to those who labor under religious obligation, because both ignore the conventions that govern men. But there is a major difference between the two. The rebel does it to serve himself and his passions, always harming others in the process and leaving a wake of anarchy behind him.

The free person in Christ, however, does so because they no longer have a need to serve themselves. They have embraced God’s love at a far deeper level than any method of behavioral conformity will touch, and they will guard that freedom even if it means others will misunderstand them. They reject the conventions not to please themselves, but Father, and because they want others to find that same joy in the hands of a loving Father.

This is the parent, co-worker, brother, sister, son or daughter that God wants to scatter over the whole earth, and by liberating us from self-interest based, legalistic righteousness, allows us to taste the majesty and depth of all that waits for us in God.

This is the purpose of God in bringing his children into his glory. As long as you seek your own best interest in the circumstances you face, you will never find the life of God. Learn to let go of your agenda and trust Father’s immense love, and you will discover what true freedom and joy really are.

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The Father’s Delight

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1996

What greater sound is there than that of children laughing? I’m still hooked on it and mine are in their mid to late teens. As their father, nothing touches me more deeply nor gives me greater pleasure than watching them explode in laughter at some new experience or story. Long after they’ve left the room, I still find myself enjoying their joy.

Have you ever wondered what brings that kind of delight to God’s heart? Well, wonder no more. Jesus already told us.

His disciples had just returned from going through the villages of Palestine sharing the good news of the kingdom. They had watched blind people see for the first time; lepers weep in joy at the touch of their new skin; and people oppressed by demons dancing in joy at suddenly being returned to their right mind.

To get the impact of this, we have to remember who they were. We think of them now as “The Apostles”, men of great wisdom, character and training. We forget that at the time they were simply bad fishermen, tax collectors and who knows what else. Far from being highly respected religious people, they were normal, every-day people who had been infused with God’s life, power and a bit of his wisdom.

Here, for the only time in Scripture, we are told that Jesus was “full of joy” and declared: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

What gives the Father pleasure? Revealing his life to people the world would have little regard for. That’s the point here, isn’t it? His emphasis is not who God hides things from, but who he reveals them to. And he delights to reveal himself to people like Peter, Bartholomew and Matthew those who still fought over who would be first in the kingdom, who still didn’t understand the full import of Jesus’ mission, who couldn’t even figure out most of the stories Jesus told.

And he delights to reveal his will, his plans and his power to you as much as I enjoy hearing the laughter of my children.

A Kingdom without Hierarchy

What demonstrates the magnificence of Jesus’ kingdom over every other institutional arrangement of our world is the fact that Father wants direct contact with everyone in his kingdom. He established no hierarchy to feed his plans through, but invited every one of us to a relationship with him close enough so that he could give us his life and direction first hand.

This was God’s plan from the beginning. Ezekiel chastised the shepherds of Israel for abusing the sheep only for what they could get out of them. “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “I am against the shepherds (and) will remove them from tending the flock. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them. I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” (34:10-11)

Jesus wasn’t looking for better shepherds, he would be the only shepherd anyone would need for he who would look after his sheep individually and draw them to himself without a human mediator. “My sheep know my voice,” he said. “A stranger they simply will not follow.” “There shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:4, 5, 16, 27)

Why then do we have so many today who claim to be shepherds, and so many separate flocks divided up by their care? Aren’t we missing something incredibly basic in this kingdom, that it was designed for only one shepherd. He can lead each of his sheep. Even the youngest among him know his voice, can understand what’s true and what is a lie. He wants us to trust that.

But we don’t.

We live in an age that is enamored with experts. That’s not a bad thing if you need heart surgery, car repair, and or a house built. But Jesus offered us a kingdom without human experts a place where every son and daughter is directly linked to him. Why is it then that we fall into the trap of deferring to others, especially leadership, as having greater insight than the rest of the flock? Nowhere in Scripture are leaders or institutions made the test of sound doctrine, the managers of the body’s ministry, or the final check on personal obedience. Quite the opposite, every time such things are needed, it is referred to the body itself, not its leadership.

Why? Because we are all connected to Jesus, the only expert in this kingdom.

While leaders are encouraged to teach only that which is sound doctrine, the proof of that is in the ears of the body of Christ. Are we hearing Jesus’ voice in what is being said, or the voice of a stranger? Don’t forget, every false teaching that emerged in the early church came from those who aspired to be leaders.

“Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” The leaders in Galatia were pushing the body toward legalism so that they could boast in how well their flock looked. Paul said that their teachings bore no resemblance to the gospel and when he corrected it he didn’t appeal to the leaders to kick out the false teachers, he appealed to the body to ignore their ravings.

When those who claimed to be leaders in Ephesus exalted themselves over the lives of others, John went directly to the conscience of God’s people. “You have an anointing from the Holy One,” he said, “and all of you know the truth.” (1 John 2:20-21) John didn’t appeal to a church tribunal, to the leaders or even to his apostleship. He appealed to the fact that Jesus was able to make his truth known in each of those who were following him.

He knew what was coming. Diotrephes, one of their own elders, had decided he wanted to be first among the body able to decide who could and who couldn’t have place in the body and would punish those who didn’t follow his wishes. Hope for the body didn’t lie in trusting their leaders, but in trusting the Spirit’s voice in each of them.

Breeding Insensitivity

Instead of encouraging that sensitivity, however, leaders often end up undermining it. I knew a young man would share frequently during our worship gatherings. He seemed to have a heart for God, and there was often a nugget of truth in what he shared. Just as often, however, it was buried beneath a load of self-focus that made him appear harsh and his words confused. Every time he shared someone would tell me that they struggled with the content and character of his words.

Not wanting them to misjudge the brother, I would hear them out but try to convince them that they may not be seeing things clearly. They were letting his weaknesses prevent them from hearing what the Lord was speaking through him. Because he was recognized as a regular contributor to our services, I felt I had to defend him. I didn’t realize it at the time but by doing so I was only training people to be insensitive to the Spirit. That ‘anointing’ had alerted them to be cautious about what they were hearing. They knew not to give it a lot of weight and instead of teaching them to trust that, I tried to get them to be more ‘open,’ clearly communicating that they weren’t competent enough to judge such things.

Another time a couple came to me confused. They felt God had called them to give up some of their duties in the church to become more active in a civic organization where they had frequent opportunities to share the Lord with people who didn’t know him. They had talked to their pastor who said they were being deceived . Their gifts were far more useful in the church than in a secular organization.

“What should we do? We don’t want to be rebellious, but we feel God has called us to go.” At the heart of their dilemma lay this question: who best hears the voice of Jesus for our lives, and how does Jesus want to communicate with his body?

This was 20 years ago and I have long regretted the answer I gave them. I told them they needed to trust the leadership God had placed over them and follow the counsel of their pastor. Even if he is wrong, I told them, God would honor them for obeying him and work things out well for them.

If I could remember who the couple was, I would hunt them down today and beg their forgiveness. At the time certainly was caught up in the pervasive Bill Gothard mentality of the 70’s that God had given us “coverings” in our lives to protect us from making mistakes.

What an absurd conclusion, however, to encourage anyone to defer to another person at the price of being disobedient to God. I can see this couple standing with God someday: “I really had a marvelous opportunity set up there for you to take my light into a dark place. Why didn’t you go?”

“Wayne told us we shouldn’t.” I can hear them answer.

And how would God respond? “Oh, that’s okay, then. If Wayne told you not to do what I wanted you to do, then of course he would know best.” I don’t think so!

Jesus alone is the only shepherd to guide and direct his sheep.

Why then Leaders?

Please understand that the vast majority of leaders I have known in the body of Christ have never wanted to hurt anyone, or take Jesus’ place in their lives. But one of the pitfalls of assuming the place of a program manager in the body of Christ is to think your insight better than others who are not so employed.

What begins out of a desire to help people, can subtly become a means to press people to conform to the needs of the program. “We’re just trying to help people here and we will be able to do that if everyone will just cooperate with us.” Why should they? The reasons are varied, but all have in mind elevating some people above others. “We are better trained, more mature, closer to God, pray more, equipped with a special leadership ‘anointing’, hold a designated church ‘office’ or simply because they attend leadership meetings.

It’s only a small jump from there to accuse people who don’t follow the ‘church program’ designed by those with ‘superior insight’ to be closed, defensive, independent, rebellious or unsubmitted. And if they don’t give in, they often get whispered about as those who have “stretched out their hands against God’s anointed.”

It is so easy to paint someone who is seeking to be true to the Lord’s direction in them as arrogant. “Who are they to think they hear God better than all of us?” The Pharisees did it to Jesus and his disciples. Their modern-day counterparts still do it to those they cannot press to conformity.

When you hear or see such things being spoken, run as far as you can as fast as you can. Don’t misunderstand. The people who do such things often do so with the best of intentions, trying to serve people the best way they can. But that’s the problem. It’s the best way that they see, and whenever we remove from people their responsibility to hear and follow the Shepherd we do them a grave disservice no matter how well-intentioned our actions might be.

John calls this elevation of one believer’s perspective over another as the spirit of the anti-Christ, because it works against Christ’s presence in all of us. It creates a dependency on leaders and by doing so circumvents the very relationship Jesus wants with all of his sheep. Jesus never assigned the proof of his working to leadership. He came to be the shepherd to every member of his flock. This is so easy to forget amidst the way of our world that exalts coaches, managers, directors and even pastors. The role of leadership is not to manage the flock nor provide a buffer between people and Jesus, but to equip the flock to know Jesus better, hear him more clearly and follow him with greater courage.

As such true leaders in Christ’s body will not burden the flock with obligations that serve the program needs of the fellowship, but will free them up to walk with the Living God. They will be excited to encourage them to follow what the Shepherd has spoken to them and support them in trusting his anointing in their lives. As such their ministry will not breed a persistent dependency on themselves or the church program, but on Father himself, through Jesus Christ.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be honest when they have legitimate concerns, but will not make judgments against the motives of people and punish them if they don’t conform. They will know that the only way to learn to follow the shepherd is by freeing them to make their own choices, even allowing mistakes to be part of the learning process.

Freedom, not Anarchy

I know some reading this are about to jump through the roof, fearing this will only breed anarchy in the body of Christ, giving people an excuse to pursue their own desires and say they are being led by God.

Paul makes that exact point in the pastoral epistles. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3) But Paul does not even for that reason, inject human leaders as mediators between God and people.

For he knew that what we often do to protect against the abuse of those who are not really followers of Christ devours those who really are. The pressure to conform to a program and the invitation to be transformed by the life of Jesus are two very different things. The former will eventually produce only hurt and emptiness, the later is necessary to help believers embrace the presence of God in their lives.

People who really have a heart for God will not allow their discernment of Jesus’ voice to breed greater independence. Quite the opposite.

Those who take the responsibility to be lead of the Spirit will become more diligent students of Scripture, wanting to understand for themselves the ways and character of God. They will listen to teaching, read other books, but all the while listening for the familiar voice of the Shepherd. They simply will not follow the voice of an imposter.

People who know the voice of the shepherd, will realize the value of a fuller perspective that comes from being linked with other believers. In times of decision or need they will seek out the counsel of other believers, including those they might consider to be further down the road than they. But they won’t just do what they are told, they will be listening for that ever-familiar voice of the one shepherd they have pledged to follow.

Finally, they will cooperate with other believers and leaders in the body, since they understand the gentleness of God’s character.

But they will not allow any man or institution to drive a wedge between them and their dependence on Jesus and will turn away from those who try even at great personal cost. They know how seductive Jesus- surrogates are; how easily they have fallen in the past because it is far easier to follow a man or a program than it is to put their trust in Jesus directly.

This attitude is so critical for those who would grow in a trusting relationship with Father. It will transform them from being passive learners, who just hear sermons they mostly forget by Tuesday, into those who actively seek the presence and voice of Jesus in their own lives. They find him to be a Shepherd no man could duplicate and a certain refuge in the midst of every storm.

And I also think they get to hear God laugh with delight. For he loves nothing more than to reveal his treasures not to the wise, but to babes in the kingdom to you and me who simply want to love him with all our hearts. This is his good pleasure. It can be ours as well!

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