Years ago as a young believer, naïve and full of zeal, I came to think that being like Jesus meant we should battle in prayer to heal, deliver, and encourage hurting people. That’s what my ministry beginning was like. Somehow I’ve gotten away from it and I confess that I miss it greatly.
I assumed then that everyone who claimed to be a Christian, and certainly every pastor, would be delighted to see more people becoming more like Jesus and doing more of his works. Before I became a paid professional pastor, that’s what I used to do. Then I found out that doing the works of Jesus had a lower priority in the religious world than having big crowds, fancy buildings, and keeping everybody under control of the system of our unspoken expectations.
It’s not the written expectations that hold us back, nobody would dare put on paper what is wordlessly communicated. For example:
Don’t get too passionate for Christ or too burdened for souls, it may become emotionalism. Don’t hold small prayer meetings in your home, it may get out of order if an elder isn’t there. Don’t prophesy out of turn, it may be imperfect or you might miss the mark. Don’t pray for the sick, only the elders are authorized to do that. Don’t attend other meetings across town, they may have error. Don’t plant another church or preach elsewhere unless we’ve sent you, or else you will be in rebellion.
How can obeying Jesus be rebellion? To this day, the seat of Moses has not lacked a Pharisee to sit in it and issue new decrees.
There’s something about the clerical collar that chokes the spiritual life out of good men who used to be spiritual sponges. All of a sudden they know everything. The spirit of adventure, of learning, of lowering themselves to admit their need, departs. They quit humbly spreading the kingdom to small circles of intimate acquaintances and start managing the crowds, building the facilities, raising the money, holding advertising campaigns to reach the world. I’m saddened by this outcome of our success.
We’ve become ‘professional clergy’ instead of men who simply follow and imitate Jesus. Our prayers get pious; our demeanor gets cynical; our preaching gets hard; our family life suffers. People around us feel used instead of treasured. How do we get out of this trap? We turn and we bow down at the feet of Jesus. He hasn’t changed; we have.
The road back to reality is the road of repentance. It is the way of honesty and humility that first gave us our taste of salvation.
One of Jesus’ ways was secret prayer. He was always moving from one prayer meeting to another. He talked with God like He was his Father. Why, he even prayed with his eyes open! In between times of prayer, he was fellowshipping with real people. And along the way, he stopped to heal people, to forgive sin, and to break oppression off of them. Sounds like fun to me. Does it to you?
This company of un-churched, un-bathed non-religious pioneers ate together, drank together, sat around the fire talking, rode through storms on rough seas, and then worked miracles outside the sanctuary under the noses of the Pharisees. “Hypocrites, white-washed tombs, murderers of the prophets,” Jesus named them and shamed them.
Those same ordinary men watched Jesus demonstrate God’s kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit. He demonstrated it by driving out demons, forgiving sins, curing diseases, and encouraging beaten-down people. Why, he even prophesied to blatant sinners! That, my friends, is the kingdom of God in a nutshell. We need it today.
No formality, no religious piety, no rigid rules, no legalistic “thou shalt nots.” Just men and women being progressively liberated and becoming whole, and in the process, doing real damage to Satan’s realm as many victims were set free. I like the thought of it, don’t you?
This band of brothers also saw Jesus get roaring mad at religious leaders who burdened people with rules but never lifted their loads.
Later, after training by “doing” (not lectures), Jesus sent his disciples out to do what he had been doing. “You go do it, too,” he was saying. He didn’t keep the authority to himself. He delegated to them the power to drive out devils and heal diseases. He shared his anointing with them. He made every person who believed in him an agent of his kingdom. He didn’t create a new elite priesthood who alone had the franchise; instead, he distributed gifts freely to his whole body.
Recently I had a conversation with an experienced supervisor at one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing companies. He told me that his purpose was to help the people under his care develop, to use all of their gifts and talents, and to be promoted beyond where he was. He said if they succeeded, then he was a success.
My heart cried silently inside. This secular manager knew more about God’s ways than most preachers. I said in my heart, “If only every pastor viewed every person on every pew as a soldier in the battle and would not rest until everyone under his (or her) influence was equipped to wage war and to win in the name of our King!”…..