Several years ago, as I was finishing up my degree at the University of Missouri, I felt the Lord leading me to make a change in direction for my life. I wasn’t sure where that change would lead – I was finishing up the MBA degree program at the MU Business School at the time. I had a sense of wanting to give myself some time to seek God’s direction. Eventually, His path led me – and Diana – to seminary, the mission field, and full-time ministry.
Recently, a young French friend who is in the job market emailed me to ask how it was that I found the Lord’s direction at that time. It was a good reminder to me of a time when I was growing spiritually and when God, little by little, gave me some clarity. I vividly remember that three things – three fairly simple steps – helped me in that seeking process :
1. In my mind, I chose to make myself available to whatever God wanted for me. That was a mental choice and, I suppose, it was my prayer too. Two passages of Scripture were important :
Psalm 37:4 — Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
I took that verse at face value and believed that if I wanted to have a clear path ahead of me, the first step was to get to know God better … because that’s His order of doing things : First, God ; then, everything else.
Romans 12:1 – I urge you, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual (reasonable) service of worship.
If we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, God does expect us to present ourselves as (what the Old Testament calls) burnt offerings. A burnt offering was an offering that was completely consumed (burnt up) on the altar of God’s temple as a picture of total devotion to Him. I’m still, even today, learning that God will require me to give myself as a burnt offering before my earthly life is over. I can try to withhold parts of myself, but ultimately, if I am truly following, I will have to offer it all.
2. I took a few minutes – usually around an hour – each day to read a book that would challenge me spiritually. If you are looking for some clarity, find some writings by Christian authors that will challenge you or, at the very least, give you some clarity about what it means to be a disciple. Some of my favorites at the time I was finishing up college studies are old-timers now (but still good !) :
- Improving Your Serve : The Art of Unselfish Living, by Chuck Swindoll
- The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer
- The Attributes of God, by A.W. Pink
- True Discipleship, by William MacDonald
- Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
There are so many good resources ! God wants you to take advantage of them. Ask Pastor Jeff, or another person you consider to be a spiritual leader, for other ideas. Then, go for it ! Try some books that aren’t on the front page of the Christian book catalog you receive in the mail. The bestsellers may be good, but the really good nuggets of spiritual truth and growth are often found in the lesser-known books. God has so many good servants – not all are necessarily well marketed ! Try some of these during your “blessing hour” of the day :
- Champagne for the Soul, or Practicing the Presence of People, by Mike Mason. (Mason also has a good one on marriage, called The Mystery of Marriage.)
- The Promise, by Robert J. Morgan
- A Journey to Victorious Praying, by Bill Thrasher.
A thicker volume I’ve recently enjoyed that puts together the events of the end times is The Footsteps of the Messiah, by Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum.
Read Christian biographies ! Every disciple ought to be reading about, and studying, lives of other believers who went before us. You’ll be amazed at the personalities you will find, at the variety of spiritual “walks” people have had with the Lord. You’ll be amazed at how small your problems seem compared with trials others have encountered before us. The kids and I are in the middle of an exciting volume of missionary stories about amazing people who lived mostly in the 1800s and who took the Gospel to Asia, Africa, South America, and to wilderness parts of North America, including Alaska. Broaden your horizons ! The whole world needs to hear the Gospel !
A commitment to being challenged through the writings of spiritual mentors opened me up to more about who God is and gave me so much confidence in God that I was able to make a significant life-change (at an early age) and follow Him.
3. I prayed.
I don’t remember exactly what my praying was like back then, but I’ve learned that as I pray God does many things :
- He reveals sin in my life.
- He shows me other things He wants to do before He does the thing I’m asking about.
- He puts me in situations where I am obligated to trust Him more greatly.
- He shows me things that are gods in my life.
- He teaches me about Himself, … which is the best thing I could have happen in my life.
I’ve also come to understand that I can’t tell God to do anything. How presumptuous some of my praying is ! I can certainly ask, but many of us approach God with the answer already in hand, supposing that in our praying we actually tell God what we understand to be the correct answer or plan of action.
I hope these thoughts are a help to you. Be patient. Be humble. Remember, from our lesson last Sunday in Daniel 4, that people who are humble(d) learn to know God more.
“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7). We’re going to see this Sunday that Daniel waited a long time. He spent his entire adult life as a captive in Babylon. As we come to the latter chapters of his book, he is an old man ! Yet, it was at that stage of his life that God did perhaps some of the greatest work through him. I don’t always understand God’s waiting plan, but I suspect it has to do with growing us into men and women who really know Him and really trust Him.
101 Class is over – Now what ?
I was so pleased with our “Discovering Christ & Our Church Family Class 101.” Thank you for your attendance and participation. At the end of this letter, I will summarize some of the “Emmanuel Commitments” we discussed last Sunday, the last day of our class. Truly, I think we may be on the cusp of something really great happening at Emmanuel, and the 101 class helped focus us on a common set of commitments and principles as a church family.
What next ?
Our 201 class will be “Discovering Spiritual Maturity” and will take place during the four Sundays in November. I urge you to mark those four Sundays on your calendar and to plan on joining us at 9:00 a.m. The desire of the Elder Board is that we have maximum adult attendance for our 101, 201, 301, and 401 classes this year. They are meant to knit us together in an understanding of who we are and what we do at Emmanuel. (Besides that, some of you will be needed to teach these classes next year !) So, please don’t think these are optional or only for newcomers. Not at all. We want the whole church family – and especially ministry leaders – to be present because these are the guiding principles for ministry at Emmanuel. Let’s show good leadership by everyone being there in November. There will be activities for children, ages 3-11, at that time.
In October, there will be an adult class entitled “Why Sin Stinks and Why Church Discipline Usually Fails.” I would love to have you join me and others for this discussion that will be, in some ways, a follow-up to some of the discussion on church unity we had in our 101 class. How is the church to handle disunity and sin in its ranks ? Why does it seem that the most frequently cited passages dealing with “discipline” in the church (Matthew 5 and Matthew 18) don’t “work” ? Do we understand church discipline ? Do we understand sin ? Do we really understand what it means to live in community with each other ? Are we a Body, or are we just a collection of individuals ? We’ll have some good discussion and hopefully some good prayer too – Sunday mornings at 9:00. There is no organized childcare in October ; your kids are welcome to bring something to do quietly while you participate in the class.
October : “Why Sin Stinks & Why Church Discipline Usually Fails” — meet in the dining room
November : “Discovering Spiritual Maturity 201” — with childcare
- Looking forward to Daniel 5 this Sunday.
- Very excited about what I see happening on Wednesday nights at the church – Seedling, JAM, Overflow. (A big thank you to many servant-volunteers !)
- Still learning to function as a single parent. Needing to understand better how it works.
- Needing more alone time and better sleep at night – not so much worry.
- I’m a grandfather now – something else to worry about ???
- I will be leading a JAM small-group called Ignite starting this Sunday, for about 7 middle-school-aged boys. Wow, how did that happen to me ? I vaguely remember doing youth ministry when I was in my 30s. That was a long time ago ! Need your prayers for a powerful time of spiritual growth for these guys !
- Looking forward to hearing about the women’s Monday Bible study starting soon – “Sacred Secrets.” Let’s pray for that important ministry.
- Sensing we need a time of focused prayer as a church body : suggestions for how to make that work ?
The Emmanuel Membership Commitment (from “Discovering Christ & Our Church Family 101,” 9-29-13)
Having received Christ as my Lord and Savior, and being in agreement with Emmanuel’s statements, strategy, and structure, I now feel led by the Holy Spirit to unite with the Emmanuel church family. In doing so, I commit myself to God and to the other members by …
- acting in love toward other members of the church
- refusing to gossip
- following the leaders
- praying for the growth of the church
- inviting the unchurched to attend
- warmly welcoming those who visit
- discovering my gifts and talents
- being equipped to serve
- developing a servant’s heart
- attending faithfully
- living a godly life
- giving regularly.
Let’s remind ourselves that these are our commitments as those who make up the church family at Emmanuel !
Hope to see you Sunday !