There’s a time for ministry and a time to withdraw, which Jesus understood well. For example, Luke 5:15-16 reads, “Yet the news about his spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” With all of these people, some in need and others coming to hear some preaching, Jesus withdraws to a place where he can pray.
What lesson might this teach us about living on mission with God that Jesus, of all people, withdraws himself for prayer time?
The truth is that as much as Jesus was the Divine Son of God, he was equally a human. His humanity can never be divorced from his divinity, even though in my experience that is what Christians tend to do until it comes time for him to die in which we like to avoid the reality that this human Jesus is also God Incarnate dying on the cross. But I digress… My point is that Jesus faced all the obstacles everyone of us are vulnerable to in life such a fatigue, fear, criticism, temptation, and even abuse. What that means is that it was always possible for Jesus to lose sight of the kingdom-gospel-vision he was sent to carry out. The counter punch to all the possible distractions and impediments was prayer in which Jesus gave attention to his Father’s will by listening.
When we begin to lose sight of who we have been created and redeemed to be, as individual Christians and as a collective church, the way back on track begins with prayer. Not the more formal type of prayers as we so often are accustomed to praying during worship gatherings. Rather, I’m talking about prayer as a dialogue between God and us, with a lot more listening on our part so that God may have time to speak when he so chooses. We enter into prayerful times of listening seeking guidance from God as to what is going on, how he is trying to work and lead us, and what he expects us to do in response. However, because it is a prayer of listening, we allow God his rightful time to speak whether he chooses to speak through scripture we might be reading along with our prayers, through the imagination that God stirs in us, through other followers of Jesus, etc… This means that our prayerful times of listening also involves learning to listen to each other so that we might hear how God is answering our prayers for guidance through others.
Listen ♱ Obey
So what I have been learning to do is become more disciplined with entering into prayerful times of listening to God, recognizing the kairos moments when God is trying to speak, and entering into that moment where I listen to God by observation, reflection, and discussion and then obey what God is revealing with a plan, accountability, and action.* As I have sought to become more intentional this way, one of those kairos moments came. While I’ll spare you the details that led up to this kairos moment (which was all good), what I learned is that I need to be even more intentional about listening to the church I lead as a minister. So in hearing God speak to me about listening to the church more intently, I have been setting up interviews with each church member (as many as are willing) to interview them and listen to them – believing that God can also speak through them about the direction he wants the Columbia Church of Christ to move in as we continue stepping into his mission.
In case you are wondering… Here are the questions I am asking the church members:
- What do you like about the Columbia Church of Christ? What do you dislike (if anything)?
- What do you believe the mission of Jesus’ church is?
- How do you believe God has spiritually gifted you to participate in the mission of Jesus’ church?
- If you could make any changes you like, what changes would you make to the Columbia Church of Christ? What would those changes pragmatically look like?
- What direction do you believe the Columbia Church of Christ should move in?
- What do you believe the Columbia Church of Christ could do to help bring restoration and renewal to the city of Columbia in the name of Jesus Christ?
One of the values in listening to the church is because they too, as believers in Jesus, are indwelled by the Spirit of God. Therefore I expect God to speak through them just as he does through scripture, our dreams and imaginations, other preachers and teachers of the gospel, etc… Discernment is a communal activity for Christians as the Spirit-filled body of Christ. Ministers and other church leaders who are unwilling to invite their churches into the gift of prayerful listening to God and discernment of God’s voice fool themselves. Self-discernment or self-perception can too easily become self-deception. So I not only want to invite the church into more intentional prayerful times of listening but I also want to listen to what God is saying through them as I listen to them answer the same questions I am asking.
I hope that makes sense in a concrete manner, especially if you belong to a small church or serve a small church as minister. Many churches of all sizes are seeking renewal and want to continue stepping into God’s mission as they move forward. The starts as we begin prayerfully listening to God so that we can obey what God is saying.