Wynona Judd has had quite a ride in her forty-one years of life, and in her recent memoir – Coming Home to Myself – she reveals both the agonies and ecstasies of the journey. In a sense, Wynona has spent most of her life trying to find herself. It came together in her 2004 tour titled “Herstory: Scenes from a Lifetime.” Her record label decided to film a DVD of the two hour show and release it. She expressed the purpose of the night like this:
“I’m going to celebrate what I am instead of being consumed with what I’m not. I’m going to show up and wait for God to walk through the room.”
On the night of the filming, everyone she cared about was there and she was understandably tense. Alone in the dressing room, right before the show, scenes from her life kept flashing before her. Her reverie was interrupted by a voice, calling her by her real name. “Hello, Christina,” he said. It was her lifetime friend – Don Potter. He walked over to her and put his arms around her and said: “Do not worry tonight. You are the instrument. Let the Lord play you.” [B,J,16,244]
That can be said about each of us, every time we stand up to preach. “You are the instrument. Let the Lord play you.”
In other words, the quality of spiritual music played through our sermons is not just determined by our understanding of the cultural context in which we live or by our empathy with the congregation to whom the sermons are delivered. The pastoral context is also determinative. We are the instrument the Lord plays in communicating his word through the words of our sermon.
Consequently, each of us should be passionate about being the best possible instrument for God to play. But how can we become a fit instrument for God’s service?
Perhaps Jesus’ growth pattern as described in the profound summary in Luke 2:52 is a fitting paradigm for us to consider as we think about becoming fit instruments for God’s service. The only information the Gospel writers provide of the approximately eighteen years between Jesus’ encounter with the teachers in the Temple and the inauguration of his ministry, is the classic commentary about Jesus most of us learned as children in Vacation Bible School:
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
I don’t know why Luke included that verse in his Gospel, but I’m glad he did. Because it serves as a reminder that life – for the Savior and also for us – is about growth. It is about development.
I want to use this model as the paradigm for our development into fit instruments for God’s service.
To become fit instruments for God’s service means that we must continue to develop INTELLECTUALLY. “Jesus grew in wisdom” Luke tells us.
A college professor at an advanced age continued to study every day as if he were a first year student. When his colleagues asked him why he continued to spend so much time reading and studying, he responded: “I would rather my students drink from a running stream than a stagnant pool.”
Such intellectual curiosity will enable all of us to be running streams that provide refreshing words from God for our thirsty congregations.
One reflection of this intellectual curiosity is a passion for books. A passion for books will develop us in two specific ways.
To begin with, books feed our minds with ideas and experiences and insights from other people. It is not true that a person can only live one life. We can actually live many lives by opening ourselves to the stories of others. And we can do that in our study or in the living room of our own homes.
C. S. Lewis put it like this: “My own eyes are not enough for me. I will see through those of others.” And then he concluded: “Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” [An Experiment in Criticism]
Reading enables us to transcend ourselves and become the selves God wants us to be.
However, books not only feed our minds. They can also stimulate our minds to embrace different perspectives by generating within our minds new insights that otherwise would have passed us by.
As a young pastor, I ran across a book by G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) and immediately became his fan and added many of his books to my library. I loved his exposition of the Scripture, most of which was done while he served as pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London. Something about him and his style attracted me, but I was not sure what it was until I read a biography of him written by his daughter.
In this biography of her father, Jill Morgan included an evaluation of him from an English newspaper that captured the source of his power.
“One does not know whether to describe it as his spiritual intellectuality or his intellectual spirituality,” the article explained, “but the attractiveness is certainly compounded out of a great brain and a great soul.” [B,M,6,216]
G. Campbell Morgan was the instrument – and he played beautiful sermonic music for a lifetime because he developed himself intellectually.
To become fit instruments for God’s service also means that we must continue to develop PHYSICALLY. “Jesus grew in . . . stature” Luke tells us.
The New Testament repeatedly affirms the need to take care of our physical bodies.
First Corinthians 6:19 asks the question, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you?”
First Corinthians 6:20 makes this bold declaration, “Therefore, honor God with your body.”
In Philippians 1:20, Paul expressed the urgent desire that “now as always Christ will be exalted in my body.”
When we recognize that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, we will,
discipline our bodies and
develop our bodies and
nourish our bodies and
build up our bodies
so they can be used to glorify God!
Dr. Lewis Thomas who taught at the Yale Medical School, in his delightful book The Medusa and the Snail, discusses what he calls the “seven healthy life habits concept.” Based on studies by a group of physicians from California, Blue Cross presented a recurring advertisement suggesting that by adopting seven easy-to-follow items of life-style, a person can achieve eleven years beyond what we would have without following these disciplines.
The magical seven are:
- eat breakfast
- exercise regularly
- maintain your normal weight
- don’t smoke
- don’t drink excessively
- sleep eight hours each night
- don’t eat between meals.
We don’t have to follow these exact disciplines, but we do need to take care of ourselves physically, because our emotional and spiritual well-being is inextricably connected with our physical well-being. There is more to faith than just being religious. Faith, real faith, will lead us to develop our bodies. As it was said about Jesus, so it should be said about us: “He grew in stature.”
In addition, to become fit instruments for God’s service means that we must continue to develop SPIRITUALLY. “Jesus grew . . . in favor with God” Luke tells us.
Ironically, one of the most difficult challenges for the preaching pastor is to find time to cultivate our relationship with God. And yet, it is absolutely essential. A continually maturing spiritual life is the only antidote for ministerial malaise or pastoral burnout. And we have many biblical models from whom we can learn.
We can learn from MOSES whose face reflected the radiance of God because, before he spoke to the people about God he had spoken to God about the people (Ex 34:29). That must also be our practice.
We can learn from DANIEL whose life was a pure instrument through which God could speak because, the Bible says, “Daniel resolved not to defile himself” (Dan 1:8). That must also be our commitment.
We can learn from JEREMIAH whose message was informed by a deep passion for the Word of God, because Jeremiah declared that God’s words “were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer 15:16). That must also be our passion.
We can learn from PETER AND JOHN who amazed the Sanhedrin with their courage and their effectiveness because, the Jewish leaders “took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Ac 4:13). That must be our pattern.
We can learn from PAUL who was never satisfied with who he had become or what he had accomplished but instead persistently pressed “on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Php 3:14). That must be our focus.
To be fit instruments for God’s service requires a continually growing, dynamic relationship with God that enables us to speak, in the words of David Day, “out of the overflow of our dialogue with God.” [P,D,8,37]
We must, like Jesus, grow “in favor with God.”’
To become fit instruments for God’s service means further that we must continue to develop RELATIONALLY. “Jesus grew . . . in favor . . . with men.”
This final phrase that describes the relational development of Jesus is the most difficult of the four phrases to grasp. The difficulty arises when we compare this description of Jesus given in the beginning of Luke with the picture of Jesus that gradually unfolds in the Gospel narratives.
Here’s the difficulty. Jesus did not seem to grow in favor with others, as we normally understand that term. Instead, he gradually lost favor with others, as
the support of the crowd evaporated,
the religious leaders defied him,
the disciples deserted him,
and he was eventually nailed to a Roman cross.
After contemplating that difficulty, I have concluded that the problem is our understanding – or should I say our misunderstanding – of the term “in favor with men.”
We normally interpret that phrase to mean popularity with other people. Growing in favor with others means more and more people like us and desire to be around us. We interpret favor to be a description of others’ attitude toward us.
I want to suggest that the kind of growth Luke attributed to Jesus in that phrase, “Jesus grew in favor with . . . men,” and the kind of growth that ought to be duplicated in our lives today as preachers who want to be fit instruments for God’s service, is not in others’ attitude toward us but our attitude toward others.
The word translated “favor” is the Greek word translated in other places as – GRACE!
Objectively, the word describes an act of kindness.
Subjectively, the word describes the attitude of graciousness.
In other words, grace is a kindly act toward others and the friendly disposition from which the kindly act proceeds.
That’s the kind of growth Jesus experienced. Jesus grew in his inward graciousness and in his outward kindness.
The issue in relational growth is not that we might become more popular but that we might become more grace-ful in the biblical meaning of that term.
An inward graciousness that manifests itself in an outward kindness – that ought to be increasingly evident in our lives.
I love the way Henri Nouwen puts it. He said we need to move
from hostility to hospitality
so that strangers can become friends and
conflict can be replaced by community.
An inward graciousness that manifests itself in an outward kindness – that ought to be increasingly evident in our lives. Because, after all, Jesus told the first disciples: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:35).
So how can we bring all of these different dimensions of development together in our lives?
The answer, which can be simply stated, is far from simple. It is a complex and challenging call to demonstrate the quality of life Jesus demonstrated. The answer is BALANCE.
Back in 2001, Jim Collins produced a bestselling business book titled Good to Great in which he identifies the key ingredients that enabled 11 special companies to experience sustained success over a period of 15 years. Jim Collins caught my attention, not just with these keys, but with an intriguing phrase. Collins commended what he called the “genius of AND.”
“The genius of AND” is the ability to embrace both extremes on a number of dimensions at the same time. In other words, instead of choosing A or B, we figure out how to have A and B.
One of the most important discoveries in life for the preacher who wants to be a fit instrument for God’s service is to discover “the genius of AND” – to recognize that we must develop ourselves intellectually and physically and spiritually and socially.
Now this is a demanding undertaking because each of these dimensions can be all absorbing, like a giant sink hole that sucks us under and engulfs our lives.
Yet, all dimensions must be developed if we are to become fit instruments for God’s service.
Bono is the lead singer of a group known as U2 – one of the most popular music groups in the world during this past decade. One of the songs on U2’s 2002 Grammy Award-winning album All That You Can’t Leave Behind was a song titled: “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.”
That is the problem with many of us – there was a moment in our past that continues to haunt every moment of our present and to steal from us all the moments of our future.
It might be a moment in which we did something – and we can’t seem to forgive ourselves.
It might be a moment in which someone did something to us – and we can’t seem to release our bitterness.
It might be a moment of failure that damaged our self-esteem.
It might be a moment of success that deceived us about our need for self-improvement.
Or it might simply be a habit we’ve fallen into – for example, the same pattern of putting our sermons together – that pushes us into the pulpit every Sunday morning simply because we have to say something rather than because we have something to say.
What can we do when we get “stuck in a moment we can’t get out of”?
The best advice I can offer is the paradigm of Jesus’ life. Like Jesus, we must institute in our lives the disciplines that will enable us to grow “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”