October 5, 2011

False Start

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By Mikey Osborne

Early in marriage, I learned a valuable lesson I simply will never forget (which is the nice way of saying – I messed up royally).  Apparently, the depths of marital wisdom had not yet been engrained into my mind.  As I sat in a ministry-planning meeting with a host of volunteers, student leaders, and other staff members, we laid out our elaborate plans for the next twelve months of ministry.   From dodgeball to work camp, we seemed to strategically plan every single aspect of the ministry with which we had been entrusted.  We even managed to acquire both school and community calendars early in order to avoid any and every pitfall that could have entangled us.  We were veterans; administrators of all that came our way…or so we thought.  With the perfect balance of events, we seemed to be more adequately prepared for the next year than ever before…until I got home.
On returning home, I began to excitedly share every minute detail with my wife.  Though she listened intently, there seemed to be a look of wonder on her face.  Not by our simulated bungee jumping, toilet bowl hockey, or even our monthly widow projects.  No, that was not what incited my new bride’s perplexing look; there was definitely something greater, something this noob was missing.  Maybe it was our lack of focus on orphans or the interns we were planning on hiring?  No, that wasn’t it, it certainly wasn’t it.  With each word, the “look” grew a little more intense, more explicit.  So after about an hour of rambling, this bewildered begotten finally asked her, “What’s wrong baby, you don’t seem that excited?”

At once everything made sense.  Her wonder seemed to penetrate my heart as I was faced with a stark reality.  Her eyes, her countenance spoke louder than any words she could have ever spoken.  In all of our planning, our calendar gathering, and listing of community happenings, I had failed to acquire the schedule of that which in creation meant the most to me – my new bride.  My obvious neglect of her spoke volumes.  Was it intentional?  Absolutely not!  But it was indicative of a great problem, I was not operating as “one” with my wife.  In all of my busyness, I began operating independent of that which was joined to me.
As I sat outside mulling over my mistake an even greater revelation hit me.  As profound and blatant a neglect I had shown to my wife, I had shown an even greater abandonment of my Father.  We read volumes of youth ministry journals, scores of student literature, but never once had we really stopped to ask the Father what we should do with His ministry.  Oh, we began our meeting with prayer – and even asked Him to instruct us on what we were doing…but we were not operating as “one”; we were operating independent of the Head.  In all of our planning, we had overlooked the single most important factor in ministry, not just our spouse…but our Father.   In our professionalism and strategizing we futilely planned as kingdom orphans though the advice, provision, and wisdom of our Father was readily awaiting us.  If we were going to accomplish anything for His glory, we had to stop, re-evaluate, and listen.

The implications of this neglect seemed to have kingdom deficiency written all over it.  Even if we chose to do good things, if they were apart from the Father then they were simply…nothing.  Why?   You can feed an entire country, but if it is not done in accordance with the leadership of Christ, then it is ultimately deficient of kingdom influence, and therefore, not eternally profitable.  Scary? Yes!  That is why we must walk in intimate communion with the Father.
In Acts 16, Paul and his companions attempt to preach the gospel in several regions that desperately need deliverance, completely void of the good news.  Every strategist and book would have led them to those specific areas.  The harvest seemed to be plentiful, but it was obvious that it was not the Lord’s intent.  The scripture clearly states, they were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6).  Even after trying to enter Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them” to cross over  (Acts 16:7).  Wow, their heart’s desire was to preach the Gospel and to carry it to the ends of the earth, but the Spirit would not allow them to go to those areas.  Why?  Because there was a Macedonian man about to have an appointment with the Divine Wonder (Acts 16:9).  Did the Word need to be preached in the other regions?  Absolutely.  The task however was not for Paul and his companions at this time.  It did not mean the task wasn’t admirable, worthy, or even doctrinal; it simply meant that area was not the intended place of ministry for Paul and his companions at that particular moment in time.
What if Paul had not gone to Macedonia?  What if the call of the disciples was left up to their intellect, reasoning, and rationalizing, instead of the Spirit of God?  What if the province of Asia had received the preaching of the gospel instead of Macedonia?  They might have done something admirable, maybe something even worthy of being mentioned in bestseller books, but it simply would not have been eternally profitable because it ultimately would have been rooted in disobedience.  The results would have been…well…human, not Divine.

John 15:5 seems to be pretty clear, Jesus says, “apart from me you can do NOTHING…” Nothing.  You may conquer hunger, social injustice and a hosts of other things, but apart from Christ it has absolutely no eternal significance.  Does it make the pursuit of these things wrong – absolutely not, but for eternal implications they must be done as “one” with Christ.  We definitively know one eternal implication of Paul and his sojourners listening intently.  A slave girl, a jailer and their entire families came to the miraculous grace of our Savior.   The results were certainly not human; they were Divine!
How would it disrupt our planning meetings if we asked God first?  If we listened before asking God to bless what “we” are doing?  What if God did not want us to do our annual back to school rally which always proves to be the most successful thing we do?  What if God said, “not now, not you, or not here?”  What if we were supposed to be at a location that didn’t make sense? That was less attractive?  Our actions must be dictated by the Father if they are going to have the kind of impact we read about in scripture.  Otherwise, all we will have succeeded at doing is building a teenage country club complete with all the bells and whistles anyone can handle.

We wonder why God doesn’t bless what we do when we never take the time to seek His guidance on what we should do.
We wonder why our planning isn’t having kingdom results.
We wonder why our preaching in the area of Bithynia hasn’t prospered.
It is because the ministry of the Father has become “our” ministry instead of His.
We are not operating as “One”; we are operating apart from the One.
Why do you do what you do?
Why do you do what you do when you do it?
Is it because the Father has led you to do such things? Or because you need to?
Are we willing?  Are we willing to abandon good things in order to participate in great things?
Are we willing to take the time to listen before planning?

If there is any motivation outside of our Father’s leading, prompting, and strength we may need to re-evaluate our intentions.  After all, it is His work not ours.  After my clash with reality, I asked every single member of our ministry team to bring calendars back to yet another meeting.  As the meeting started, we read, we prayed, we repented, and threw every single calendar we had planned in the trash.  Two weeks later, our new plan had the handiwork of the Master, complete with a list of Macedonian people crying out to be reached.  It was, by far, the most successful year of ministry I had experienced up to that point in my life.
I wish I could tell you that I had instituted a foolproof plan that has led me to be prompted entirely every moment of my life by the Father’s voice, but I simply cannot.  Even as I think on this article, I am evaluating our own direction in ministry.  It is okay to make mistakes, but it is not okay to continue to operate the same way after being convicted.  Allow the Father to lead you like he did Paul.  If we are ever going to operate in the power of YHWH, we simply have to function as one with the One.
There’s a great work in Macedonia, but we must first turn our attention to His voice in order to receive instruction.

Prayer

May everything we fashion be knitted under the delicate placing of His hands.  May the symphony of our life be the response of his heartbeat.  May we abandon every thing we plan as orphans, and may we embrace the instructions of a loving Father waiting to lead us in the path of kingdom productivity.  May we hear the voice of instructions, beckonings, and warnings.  And may our ministries be a reflection of Divine whispers spoken to us as we intimately seek His presence.

This is part 4 of a series called “Out of Order”.

 

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