Saturday, October 15, 2011

An Anointed Life: Living in the"Musts" of the Spirit

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

There are so many good works out there that need to be done. But there are specific good works that God has prepared for you.

Once our spiritual eyes are opened, we begin to see that our relationship with God through Jesus extends beyond the obvious personal blessings.  Indeed, His love compels us to be a blessing to others through the love He has poured out in our hearts. Once we realize that, we initially tend to see the world as an endless sea of need. It can become overwhelming.

If you are struggling today with a specific aspect of ministry, I hope that something God has taught me recently helps you like it has helped me: There is a difference between "should", "could", and "must".

Some of us are wired such that our tendency is to the “shoulds”. I’m not talking about Biblical commands – we’ll discuss those momentarily. Instead, I’m talking about the tendency to take on needs God intends someone else to meet. If you’ve walked with the Lord very long you know what I’m talking about: we all have those things we’ve done because we felt guilty not doing them. The pastor calls for nursery workers three weeks in a row, and you volunteer because you feel bad for him that nobody has responded. You see the pictures of hungry kids in Africa and write a check to the advertised organization just so you feel you did something about it. And so on.

God sees your heart in all of this, and I’m a firm believer that He honors the intent of our hearts even when it wasn’t necessarily a good work that He laid out for us. He redeems everything done for His glory – even when we take on burdens He didn’t lay on us. I’ve seen this in my own life. My three failed attempts at children’s ministry taught me a lot – first, that I’m not called to children’s ministry! But God also used those seasons to teach me how to communicate His word in simple language and to experience up-close what childlike faith looks like in practice. Those children didn’t doubt God could do anything! To this day I feel strengthened when I know some of the children in our church are praying for a person or a situation, because I know that they are praying faith-filled prayers. Children’s ministry was definitely a “should” for me – but not a wasted one. Nothing done for His glory is ever wasted.

Another group of us have a tendency toward the “coulds”. These are the idea people, and boy can I ever relate! I fall squarely into this group. When I’m passionate about something I can have an idea a minute. I love brainstorming sessions with others who have missional hearts. The problem, of course, is that I can’t do everything that I “could” do and expect to do it well. I have long list of ideas that have popped up over the years – teaching ESL to immigrants; writing and publishing Bible studies and devotionals; taking additional classes; becoming fluent in a foreign language; finding a job that utilizes my degree; books to read and Bible studies to do. All “good works.” All things I “could” do. But obviously not all things God has laid out for me to do.

Again, “coulds” are not all bad. Seeing a need and then asking “What if we …” is a great way to see what God might be placing on your church’s heart. Missional churches will often see God moving on the hearts of many in the congregation in a similar direction. The challenge for leadership is to discern the specifics of that direction to discern the collective “good works” God has for that congregation. Similarly, our individual challenge is to discern the specifics of the “good works” God has prepared for us individually.

The Apostle Paul faced such a challenge on his second missionary journey. Luke records the process:  
“And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Acts 16:6-10 (NASB)
Paul and his team were led by the Spirit. They discerned in some way the Holy Spirit prohibiting them from entering Asia and then Bithynia. We’re not sure how they knew the Spirit was not permitting those movements – clearly they at least attempted to enter Bithynia before they knew God was saying no. But they very clearly recognized in Paul’s vision a “must” of the Spirit – something that God was calling them to do, something that they had to say yes to in order to be obedient and continue walking in the leading of the Spirit. Scripture tells us they obeyed “immediately”.

“Walking in the Spirit” includes walking in what He has called and anointed us to do – not living in the shoulds and the coulds, but in the call. The "musts". When God calls us to a task, He fully equips us for that task. He gives us the spiritual gifts, the team, the provision, and ultimately the anointing of the Holy Spirit to do that task. Some “good works” are for a lifetime – for example, if you are married, God has called you to that spouse and so the call to be a picture of Christ and the church will always be upon you and your spouse. Other “good works” are for a season – parenting toddlers, working at a full-time job, teaching a Bible study group – and in that season we find the grace to do the good work God sets before us.

So how can we grow in discernment to know the “musts” of the Spirit for us individually and corporately, and to know when a season has ended and a new calling awaits? Scripture gives us several principles but there are just a few I want to highlight:

·         Stay in the Word – all of it. Probably the best way to grow in discernment is to consistently read and study Scripture. It’s important to read the entire Bible, because God has revealed Himself in every segment of Scripture. We will have an unbalanced understanding of who He is and His heart and His character unless we read it all. It’s also important to study Scripture – take more time to go in-depth. This can happen through sermons, Bible study groups, and individual studies.

As you stay in the Word, you will grow in your understanding of God’s character and begin to recognize His voice. You’ll also have a growing discernment of what is NOT from Him. For example, over time I’ve come to know that God goes to great lengths to remove fear from His children. He wants us to fear nothing but Him – and that is a respectful awe rather than an anxious fear. I’ve come to know that when I’m sensing something that is accompanied by a spirit of fearful anxiety, I’m not hearing from the Lord. Either the enemy or my own flesh is trying to get me distracted by fear. When I discern a caution that is from the Lord, it comes with a sense of purpose and determination, but not fear. Sometimes I have to battle my own fears within that context, but I always have a sense that God has prepared me for that battle by reminding me that HE is in the situation.

The other really cool thing that happens when you take in the Word through multiple streams is that you’ll see a consistency of the message. You’ll read a passage in your daily reading, then pick up your Bible study and have a similar theme or even the same scripture, then go to Bible study and get another connection to that specific word, and then the next Sunday your pastor will preach on it. This doesn’t happen every time, of course, but often when I’m seeking discernment and I want to know undoubtedly that the voice I hear is God’s, He’ll line all these sources up in a way I never could have orchestrated. This is sometimes called the rhema word of God – it’s a word frequently used in Scripture for specific words of God (as opposed to logos which is generally used for the entire collection of Scripture and is also used to refer to Jesus as God’s Word). It’s a way that God makes a passage or Biblical principle “jump out” so that I know He is guiding me a certain direction.

·         Act on His Word. Remember when we talked about “shoulds” above? As I indicated, those “shoulds” come from our own flesh – a sense of guilt, legalism, or even a very strong gift of mercy that we are still learning to direct to the specific works God has planned for us. Obedience to Scripture, however, is not legalism or a “should”. It’s a “must”. As we walk out His Word and live in obedience, we not only undermine the enemy’s attempts to distract us but we increase our ability to hear His voice and discern in our spirit the “musts” of the calling He has for us. Paul talked about the connection between how we walk and discernment:

“…you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8-10).

“Trying to learn” means “to discover by examination.” In other words, as we “walk as children of light” – which Paul has just told them how to do in Ephesians 4 – we discover by a process of examination what is pleasing to the Lord. As we increasingly know what pleases Him, our discernment continues to grow.

·         Pray. Through prayer, God will utilize His Word and His Spirit to impress upon us what specific good works He has for us. We will learn specifically HOW to walk out the  more general commands of Scripture such as "love your neighbor". We will also learn to know shoulds and coulds from musts.

I’ve learned to take my list of “coulds” to the Lord and seek Him for which tasks to pursue, which to leave on the list for continued prayer, and which to remove. This past summer I applied for a position in another department on campus. It was a perfect example of a “could” – the position utilized my degree, fit my strengths and personality, and offered a nice salary bump without any increase in hours. I knew I could do that job, and do it well. I eagerly applied and had a phone interview. Then the wheels started turning slowly, and I spent significant time in prayer. After about 10 days I knew I had heard from the Lord: I needed to remove myself from consideration. God wasn’t finished with me in my current position. He confirmed that through my husband. With great peace and joy I withdrew my name from a job that only a couple of weeks earlier I had been excited to pursue. Since that time I’ve seen multiple evidences confirming that position was definitely a “could”, not a “must”.

Walking in the Spirit, seeking the continual infilling of the Spirit, will also have a tremendous impact on our desires. While our natural hearts are deceitful, our regenerated heart, filled with His Spirit, is created to beat in unity with His heart. As we grow in the Word, obedience, and prayer, we begin to recognize those areas where our heart beats just a little stronger because it is aligned with His. We begin to see threads throughout our walk with Him that reveal some of the uniqueness that He has placed within us – clues to those ‘good works’ He has called us to do. We know when He is putting an excitement in our heart. Then when we are in the middle of that good work, and we know we have His Spirit upon us empowering us for service, we can look up and sense His pleasure - His smile upon us, saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And we know we have His anointing, so we look up and give all the glory to Him.

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