Monday, January 22, 2007

Hearing and heeding

And so it would seem that rumor I heard? Could apply to more than one family in my church. And these are not families on the fringe, if you know what I mean. These are families like us, invested heavily in the life of the church. Families like us I suppose, growing weary in the wait.

It's a difficult issue, to leave a church. I certainly don't have the answers, though I wish fervently I did! Monday, the day after I posted, I got a phone call from a dear friend, a phone call I knew was coming (and you know who you are!). She was concerned and worried, and, well, somewhat shocked at the depth of my sentiment. As we discussed my post, I found it difficult to articulate what it was I wanted and what I felt was lacking. All I know, I told another friend in an email later, is it is not THIS.

So, I began to wonder, how do you know when to go?

I considered making a couple of lists: "Reasons to Go" and "Reasons to Stay." Or maybe, "What Makes Me Want to Go" and "What Makes Me Stay." All theoretically speaking, of course.

But the list ideaa I quickly scratched, because, really, no matter what it looks like on paper, there is only one reason to go and correspondingly only one reason to stay: obedience. If the Spirit says go, then go. If the Spirit says stay, then stay.

And, really, in my heart I do want to be obedient. More than seeing God move or being a part of a growing, thriving body of believers, I want to count the cost and say yes, whatever He may ask and wherever He may lead.

I just want to know what He's asking.

So the question becomes, not when is it right (or wrong) to go, but one of hearing...and heeding...the Holy Spirit. How can I know what He is saying? How can I distinguish between what is His leadership and what may be just my wants and my desires?

Very often I pray for the Holy Spirit to make His way and His will clear and unmistakable. But today, the thought came to me: if it were clear and unmistakable, where would be the need for faith? You and I as believers are called to walk by faith, not by sight. There are many issues, certainly, that are in fact clear and unmistakable. Perhaps you are of the opinion that this is one of those. Yet there are also those issues that are not so clear cut in the Word of God, issues that demand the following of our own personal conviction, which in turn depends on the hearing and heeding of which we speak.

We receive email devotions each day from Os Hillsman. I don't know much about him or his ministry apart from the devotionals we receive in our inbox each day. A couple of weeks ago, one of the devotionals concerned knowing the will of God, comparing our normal method of seeking God's will with driving bumper cars:
We keep going in one direction until we bump into an obstacle, turn, and go in another direction. It is a constant process of elimination, failure, or success.
I am dissatisfied and discontent. I find myself often bitter and resentful here in the "now" as I yearn for the "not yet." I do not know if it is a holy discontent, or one with more selfish motives. It is certainly easy to make church all about me, me, me and my wants and my desires, demanding that church and the experience thereof conform to my expectations.

But I don't want to play bumper cars with church, backing up and turning when it gets difficult. And to mix metaphors, I don't want be a quitter or jump ship. I want to see God do what only He can do: turn mere embers into a roaring, all consuming fire of His glory. I want it more than mere words can describe to you. And it is this passion and this desire that keeps me doing what I do.

But I want to be faithful even more. Whatever He asks, I want the courage to say yes. Perhaps to go. Perhaps to stay. Or what if He asks me to stay but never see the fire I yearn for? How will I know? That is the question, is it not?

In the same devotional cited above, Hillsman makes the statement:
It isn't enough to have a desire to follow God; we must put our energy into getting to know Him. His will for us flows out of our relationship, it is not an end in itself.
His will for us flows out of our relationship; it is not an end in itself. This speaks volumes to me. Again I find myself guilty of making my Christianity about the things I do. His will for me is relationship. Knowing Him in intimacy.

As I seek Him in prayer and hear Him speak in the pages of His Word, I will know His will, but even more...even better...I will know Him.

Then you will call upon and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jer. 29:12-13

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. Jer. 33:3

Let's be found faithful! Let's know Him in ever-increasing intimacy, seeking Him in prayer and the study of His Word! And may we have the courage to follow hard after Him, wherever He may lead and whatever He may ask...


  1. Since I doubt many will touch this, I will. You hit the nail on the head with the situation(s) and I often struggle with knowing what I should be doing. I believe I've come to the conclusion (through prayer and listening to God) that I am looking for too much for ME. I want certain things at church. I want to see this or that. God has told me that, unfortunately, it's not about me. Never has been, never will be. I know, personally, I've got to get a different mindset, especially when I pray, over these type situations and listen to Him....then follow.

    As long as we are responding to God's call and following Him, if others choose to go elsewhere, that is their choice and not mine to worry about. I don't know their reasons and probably never will. I just pray they are following Jesus Christ and not man.

  2. Well said, Matt.

    I feel I need to make the point that my thoughts here are reflective of MY journey and by no means do I intend them as a reflection on someone else's decision.

  3. There are three major categories that one should look for in the local church:

    1. That the Word of God is rightly preached.

    2. That the ordinances are rightly observed.

    3. That discipline is maintained.

    If any of these three are neglected, the duty of the believer is to address the issue, not move to the church across town. The grass is not greener over there, they've got their own problems.

    Who is holding these folks accountable? Are they leaving for the above reasons? (Don't answer here! Just food for thought!) I'm disappointed in this. Your church is a wonderful church and a light to the community.

  4. Your point is well taken, Brad, and I can't help but wonder if maybe there isn't a mild rebuke in there somewhere? :-) Whether there is or not, I agree with you completely.

    Determining the church's adherence or neglect of the above imperatives demands a great degree of discernment. How does one determine whether the gospel is rightly preached? Does that mean merely tacking on an invitation at the end of a sermon? Does it not encompass the teaching of the whole counsel of God's Word, not only in the preaching, but also in all the other ministries of the church? And as far as confrontation and discipline, what if it is ignored, perhaps by those in leadership?

    Situations like these demand spiritual discernment. We must know the Truth for ourselves. We must recognize the testimony of His Spirit within our spirits. We must know Him.

    Both of my posts on this subject were written more out of my emotional response to what can be a very emotional issue. I appreciate so much the dialogue that has been prompted both on and off the computer screen. It is my prayer that we will not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

    He is the Lord of the harvest!