Prayer for Harvest Workers: Day 19 of the Pray-May Challenge

I want you to imagine a pre-industrial farmer checking his field, discovering that his crops are ripe earlier than expected. Harvest is needed now, but he doesn’t have anyone lined up to help for another two weeks. 

What does he do? He puts out the call immediately, trying to recruit workers early. And his main message? Come now, the harvest is ready. Let’s get to work!

When Jesus saw the great needs of the people around him, his compassionate heart broke for them. Seeing huge response to his kingdom message, he compelled his disciples to pray. Pray for what? For more workers to get in on what God was doing in the lives of people.  

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  (Matthew 9:35-38 NIV)

The same is true today. There are people all around us who need Jesus to heal them and begin his work of new creation in them.  And, contrary to what Christians often think, many people open to discovering who Jesus is, if they had people genuinely interested in them and willing to get into their lives for the sake of their healing. Rather than viewing those who are not yet following Jesus as somehow set against him, we need to see with the eyes of Jesus, who views the broken and hurting around him as signs of God’s harvest work happening. Too few of us do.

Today’s prayer challenge is to pray for more Jesus-workers in the lives of people who need his healing.

Here’s what I’m asking you to do today.

  1. Open with a prayer, asking Jesus to give you his eyes to see the people around you who need his healing and compassion.  Ask him to help you see beyond the exterior (be that grubby clothes or a shiny SUV), and by the Holy Spirit, to see the brokenness and the need that is present, so that you might have his compassion for them. We must start there, for people are not projects for ministry–they are people God loves.
  2. Next, let’s pray this prayer Jesus told his first disciples to pray. Lord of the Harvest, you who sees all and views our true condition with such compassion, send more workers into your harvest. Empower, equip and send more of your children into the lives of their neighbours, friends, and communities, so that they can be your healing agents, as you have called us to be.
  3. Consider, before the Lord of the Harvest, what is holding back the release of more workers. Is it apathy on the part of Christians? How must discipleship grow in our daily practice? What must be done, as the body of Christ, to equip more workers? How can we position ourselves to be more available to those God is healing? As you ruminate prayerfully, bring all your heart to Jesus and discuss this with him. What is he saying?
  4. And fourth, what must you do? We cannot pray this prayer without asking about our own role. Jesus, who are you calling me to love today? How can I be a more compassionate presence in the lives of those around me? Help me to move beyond my own concerns and into your mission to see lives healed and restored in you. 

You may want to mediate prayerfully on this story from Matthew 9:35-38. What challenges me as I do is how the cry for more workers comes from the compassionate heart of Jesus; it’s his compassionate heart that must inspire my own prayer and action. May it inspire all of us today.

We are surrounded by people desperate for the loving, healing power of Jesus, whether they are able to articulate it clearly or not. Can we see with Jesus’ eyes, and cry to the Lord of the harvest on the behalf of the world Jesus loves? That is our call to prayer.

May the compassionate heart of Jesus shape you today, as you see with his eyes and cry with his heart, and then follow him into the ripening fields. 

Find yourself following Jesus by chance? Not for long you won’t.

Alice and the Cheshire Cat“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where -” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

If you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t much matter which way you go. But if you want to follow Jesus, if you want to grow in your relationship with God, if you want to become the person you were created to be, then the direction you travel (and the fact that you are travelling) matters.

Here’s the thing: we don’t drift toward discipleship. Jesus calls us to follow him, and we have to get up and get going. Sometimes we think following Jesus will happen naturally if we just let it. As though dying to self, taking up our cross and following Jesus into a life of sacrificial service will simply fall into place if we let everything bump along unguided.

It’ll happen organically, we tell ourselves.

None of this should feel forced, we think.

Surely following Jesus would just flow, we say.

Wrong.

Following Jesus doesn’t just happen. Oh, there are times when it might feel like it’s just happening, maybe in the early stages of the journey when we find ourselves swept up in Jesus’ wake, intrigued by his words, attracted to his family, but there comes a point when what Jesus is actually saying hits home, where he is actually going becomes clear, and it can stop us cold. It’s at that point that we have to choose to follow him further. And that can be hard.

That’s why we hear stories of people suddenly pulling back from Jesus, shocked and sad at his challenges, even repulsed by the implications of his teaching. You can see it in Scripture; you can see it now. At that moment, there is nothing natural or organic about following Jesus–it costs, it’s a choice, and it can seem very counter to our natural inclination, leading to the possibility of incredible joy, yes, but also to undeniable sacrifice. Will we follow? Or will we stop?

And for those who have been following Jesus for a while, I think it can get even trickier. Because it’s possible to lull ourselves into thinking we are still following Jesus when we are simply drifting along with the current. We can dupe ourselves into thinking that we are still in lock step with Jesus when we’ve gradually become immune to his daily call to follow. We can mistake proximity with the road Jesus is travelling on with the act of getting on that road and heading after him. Why? Because having to “daily” (and Jesus did say dailychoose to follow, to lay down our own agenda, to adopt his plan, to give up our own way is hard, intentional, and (sometimes) unnatural work that keeps us heading down the road in the direction Jesus is going. The direction we want to go.

We don’t drift toward discipleship, accidentally following Jesus. We choose to put one foot in front of the other, keeping his back in our line of sight. And we choose it every day.

 

20/20: 20 Lessons From 20 Years–Lesson #1: Good Mentors Matter

On May 1, 1996, I walked into the Grande Prairie Church of Christ to begin my first full-time ministry gig. I was 21. The ink on my pastoral degree from Peace River Bible Institute (PRBI) wasn’t even dry, nor were the spots behind my ears.

It’s been 20 years since then. No fireworks went off, and as it was Sunday, I worshiped and connected and preached in our church just as I normally do.

But this two decade mark got me thinking. What have I learned? How have I changed? What has defined my ministry journey so far? So many things rushed to my mind that I thought I’d try something different: I’ll post 20 lessons I’ve learned, over the course of May. (I may intersperse others posts, too). By breaking it down, I’ll keep things shorter and not overwhelm one post. 🙂

So, here goes.

20 Lessons I’ve Learned from 20 Years of Vocational Ministry

Lesson 1: Good Mentors Matter.

From my earliest days growing up, through Bible school and into vocational ministry, I have been blessed with terrific mentors. Alan Jones, as my first vocational ministry leader heads that list, but there are others who’ve significantly impacted my life and ministry. Gerald, Waldie, Al and Duff, all who have walked with me “in the flesh” as it were. But, as I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve been shaped by good dead mentors, too, such as Hudson Taylor, Lesslie Newbigin, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen. I also have high regard for ministry mentors I’ve happily accessed through books, teachings and podcasts, such as James Houston, Eugene PetersonBill Hybels, Andy Stanley and Carey Neiuwhof.

Whether they be dead or alive, close-up or influencing me from a distance, mentors have made me who I am. These mentors have:

  • Challenged my character
  • Shaped my skills
  • Given me opportunities
  • Pushed me to step up
  • Showed me what truly matters
  • Kept me focused
  • Believed in me
  • Brought me back to the basics
  • Alerted me to pitfalls
  • Taught me God’s Word
  • Cut through the confusion
  • Led me toward health and strength
  • Made me more effective as a minister
  • Nurtured my relationship with Jesus

In fact, many of the lessons I’ll be sharing came from my good mentors.

Mentors have sharpened me, helping me become who God wanted me to be.
Mentors have sharpened me, helping me become who God wanted me to be.

Good mentors matter, not only for how they have shaped me, but also for how they have then helped me mentor others. As I have been led, so I have led. We know that’s how it goes. As I’ve learned and grown, as I’ve been challenged and shaped, what I have experienced I have passed on.  The influence of my mentors continues to extend to those I mentor. May their influence continue.

I’m challenged by this lesson because it reminds me of how vital mentoring is for the church today. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for great mentors. Nor would they.

So who is around me now that needs my close attention?
Who is around you? 

Coming up in my next post: Ministry Happens Best in Teams

 

Earthly Discipleship: What’s missing from Christian discipleship and needs to be recovered

Modern-day Christian discipleship is missing something central.

“Yeah, yeah,” I can hear you say. This comes as no surprise. I’m sure you could point out a lot of things that are missing. Perhaps we just don’t pray enough, haven’t learned how to read more critically, don’t care enough for others, aren’t serious about our faith, don’t this, don’t that, blah, blah, blah, and so on. But what if an entire category, a whole realm of discipleship, were missing, altogether? What then?

Because I think there is, and I think it’s earth care. To be a disciple of Jesus, we must care for God’s earth. If we don’t, our discipleship is missing something crucial, right alongside prayer or evangelism or worship or care for our neighbour.

Mother Hen and Chicks
A mother hen has tremendous instincts to lead and feed her chicks. It’s amazing to watch!

God created his human images to care for his good earth. In Genesis one, after a stunning creation start-up, God blesses his human images to “fill and govern” the whole earth, with special attention toward living creatures of sea, air and land; in chapter two, having placed the first man in a more localized garden, the Lord God tells him to “tend and watch over it.” These stories relay creation from different angles, yet both represent a basic, human calling: to be God’s images on God’s earth, expressing his ownership by helping the earth achieve its God-ordained potentiality. We were made to make God’s good creation greater. 

And yet, for some reason, caring for God’s earth isn’t even mentioned in most discussions of Christian discipleship. Many Christians, including pastors, don’t even bring in creation care when they are talking about stewardship, which I find mind-boggling. Why is this? I’m not sure but let me take a few guesses.

  • Maybe it comes from our cultural move away from an agrarian lifestyle into an industrial and now post-industrial world. We’ve become more and more disconnected from the earth, and it’s showing in our neglect.
  • It could be that our disregard of creation is the natural byproduct of a kind of spirit/matter dichotomy that has haunted Christian thinking for centuries. Matter = bad, Spirit = good, or so we’ve Platonized.
  • I suspect some Christians have bought an “end times” theology that’s led them to think this earth just doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all gonna burn anyway, so why care?
  • I’m suspicious that, for some, earth care has been slighted because of its association with an environmental movement that has often been, if not explicitly anti-christian, then certainly critical toward Christianity.
  • And it could be that caring for the earth, or even admitting we should, will impact our lifestyle so much that we shy away from it, simply due to its financial implications. Like the Southern plantation owner of the 1830’s unwilling to consider humans as equals because it was bad for business, we are unwilling to care for creation because it might be bad for business, too.
Mother Goose on nest
A mother goose protecting her brood, down on Hwy 21 in Creston.

Whatever the reasons might be, the excuses are wearing thin.  If we really do believe the “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,” then surely we must care for what he has made? And if God made us in his image for the purpose of caring for this world (a mandate God never rescinded), then how can we talk about following Jesus without some sort of concern for the world he is reconciling? If God’s promise of resurrection and recreation reveals his commitment to the world, then how can we ignore it any longer?

We can’t follow Jesus and then ignore his world, for it is “through him [Jesus] God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.”  (Colossians 1:16-17 NLT)

We follow the Jesus who holds all creation together. Therefore, we must recover earth care as essential to our discipleship.

Don’t get me wrong. Many Christians are starting to embrace our calling to care for God’s earth. I am myself barely waking up to it. Terrific organizations, such as A Rocha Canada, are leading us in good directions. But as a whole, we still have far to go. Earth care is seen as the province of a few “green” Christians who live in certain (hippy) places, viewed as fad by many others.  Let me just say: If earth care seems faddish to us, it’s because we’ve so utterly misplaced our basic calling that what should be normal now looks foreign. Earth care isn’t faddish–it’s foundational.

God has made us in his image to express his caring ownership of this world. As Jesus followers, being recreated into his image, we are given the mandate to continue expressing God’s caring ownership of this world, showing his love in the ways we care for all who live on God’s good earth, be they people, animals, birds or fish.

We’ve got to recover earth care as a vital expression of our Christian discipleship. And we’ve got to do it now.

How have you seen earth care included or ignored in Christian discipleship?

Why do you think Christians have resisted caring for the earth as an expression of their faith?

 

 

 

Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

You had one job. 

Have you seen these funny memes circulating through social media, featuring mistakes made doing one, clear job?

ggvN2Ou

I wonder sometimes if that’s what Jesus will say to us? Before Jesus left, he gave his peeps one job: make more disciples. Very clear. Not really up for debate. Jesus, possessing all authority in heaven and earth, tells people who are under his all-encompassing authority to do just one thing: Make More Disciples.

Every Jesus-follower agrees. Any church worth the name “church” hails Jesus’ Great Commission as their central mission.

But is that what we are doing? Are we making more disciples?

Sort of.

When I look around the church-scape, I am happy to say that “Yes, disciples are being made.” Men and women, boys and girls, are coming to follow Jesus, and I celebrate that! It’s amazing to see. But–and here’s my concern–making disciples seems to happen more by accident than intention. I’m thrilled for each person following Jesus, but can we do better? I think so.

When questioned about our one job, we often make more excuses than disciples. I’ve hear them from others; I hear them whispered in my own heart. Here’s the top 10 excuses I’ve heard. Do any of them sound familiar?

The Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

  1. I can’t disciple someone because I still have faith struggles.  This one’s a classic. We think we must operate at some higher level of spirituality to make disciples.  Listen, we are not perfect saints; we are forgiven sinners. What matters is who we follow together–he’s got enough perfection for all of us. Don’t let this excuse keep you from obedience.
  2. I don’t know enough.  While teaching and learning are central to discipleship, we don’t need to know everything. Invite people into places where you are learning and praying and serving. And as you do tAccident or Intention?hat, your own learning will accelerate quickly.
  3. I don’t know what to do. Discipleship is not complicated; it’s not about a technique or methodology. Wondering what to do? Here’s my thing: just start. Invite a friend to discuss spiritual things. Take someone to church with you. Pray for a friend. Learn along the way. It’s not nearly as complicated as you think. It’s simply helping someone take the next step after Jesus.
  4. That’s the pastor’s job. I love this one. As a pastor, I want to laugh out loud, mostly because it’s so absurd. All disciples must make disciples. Pastors help us become better disciple-makers, so we can all do our one job.
  5. I don’t want to be presumptuous. Actually, it’s not called presumption to help someone follow Jesus–it’s called loving obedience. Remember: any trace of presumption or hierarchy is evidence that you’ve forgotten what’s going on: we are not making people our disciples but disciples of Jesus.
  6. I’m not an academic.  You don’t need to be. In some circles discipleship has, unfortunately, become a kind of rigorous academic program–read these 40 books, pray 2 hours a day, etc. Discipleship is not primarily academic, though it includes loving God with our whole mind, as well as heart, soul and strength. In the end, we are not becoming religious egg-heads who know stuff but passionate followers of Jesus who serve him in the world. Be who you are.
  7. I tried that once and it didn’t go well.  Yep. Sometimes things don’t go well. That’s just true. And we learn through it. But stopping because it didn’t work out well? I don’t think Jesus left us that option.
  8. I don’t have time. Then your priorities are wrong. At any job, how long would we last if we kept ignoring the one thing we had been tasked to do, claiming we don’t have the time for it?
  9. I don’t feel I have much to give. This one really shuts people down, and often includes a combination of excuses. Here’s the fact: none of us have that much to give, but by the Holy Spirit can give through us. Keep your relationship with Jesus in focus, and simply share where you are growing. Let Jesus be the giver.
  10. I don’t want to. This final one isn’t an excuse–it’s flat out disobedience. If we are honest, there are times when we hear Jesus’ commission to us and we reject it. We don’t want to. What do we do with that? We need to repent, reconnect with Jesus’ heart for people, and get on with the task at hand. Because in the end, we only have one job. Are we getting it done? 

What kind of excuses do you hear the most? Which ones do you use?

How can we become more intentional disciple-makers?

10 Actions I Took When Mentoring One Young Leader

Mentoring young leaders is top priority. If the crush of life squeezes that out, then we’d better reevaluate what’s truly important. Dare I say it? Jesus placed mentoring young leaders as his top ministry priority. So should we.

I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside many young people as they follow Jesus. It’s one of the most influential things I’ve done.

Most recently, I’ve walked alongside one young follower of Jesus, from her pre-teen years through to college. Her name is Maddie.

How did the mentoring start? Not as mentoring, I assure you; it emerged from normal life. Our families are friends, and I connected with this little girl, just like I’d do with anyone. In 2011, I had the privilege of baptizing her into Christ. As she became an early teen, we chatted about books we loved and shared favourites.

As a violinist, Maddie has faithfully served our church, first as a budding, and now accomplished, musician. Our friendship grew, and in conversations with her, I saw a growing interest in science and faith, as she considered science for future study. Knowing how critical the integration of science and faith is for students, I asked if she wanted to meet for a coffee once a month to discuss some reading. Yes, she did. And so, mentoring began more formally.

After some time in the early chapters of Genesis, we dove into Ephesians. Why Ephesians, you ask? My vision for her was larger than just science and faith. To grow,  she needed to know how to read and receive God’s living word into her life. She was eager for that, too.

We then read and discussed a couple books on the topic of science and faith. Our conversations ranged from science and faith and into life, relationships, future plans, work struggles, God’s work in her life, her ministry in the church, and her family.

Maddie Preaching
Maddie preaching in our summer 2015 Proverbs series on “Making Good Plans”.

Seeing her deep engagement in Scripture and her passion for Jesus, I asked Maddie to preach during our summer 2015 Proverbs series. Initially taken aback (she was 16 at the time), I saw the passion flicker in her eyes. She leaped at the opportunity. Along with my close coaching, she chose her Proverbs theme, researched, prayed, studied, wrote, and then practiced her message delivery, many times. And then she preached it! It was a powerful experience of growth and development for her, for me, and for congregation. (You can listen to her message here.)

That preaching experience confirmed something that God had been growing in her–a desire to give herself fully to God’s kingdom work, using her spiritual gifts to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus. Where will that lead her? God only knows, but his path is beginning to unfold as Maddie leaves college science to pursue theological studies this fall. Wherever Jesus leads her, being invited into a mentoring relationship, being coached, encouraged, trusted, and affirmed by her community–all of that has shaped Maddie’s understanding of God, of herself, and of God’s passionate call on her life. I’m thrilled with her and thankful for God’s work in her.

Can you see why it’s such a privilege to walk with young leaders? 

As I reflected on our mentoring experience, some principles emerged. While happening naturally and intuitively, there are 10 actions I took when mentoring Maddie. I hope these encourage you as you walk alongside young leaders, too.

10 Actions You Can Take To Mentor Young Leaders

  1. You look for promise. Ask the Spirit to give you eyes to see the potential that lies in the person.
  2. You commit to guide, gently. I wouldn’t rush this. Don’t be overbearing. Let it develop slowly. Be present. Be Jesus placed mentoring young leaders as his top ministry priority.encouraging. Build trust.
  3. You look for response. At certain points, response is needed. They must take initiative.  This is important. Maddie said yes to reading and meeting for coffee.
  4. You provide opportunities for leadership, service and growth. If there’s no interest in serving or growing, they aren’t ready. That’s okay. Stay present. And keep watching.
  5. You speak life into them.  Tell them what you see. Encourage them, notice what is happening, fan the flames of their gifts. Cheer them on.
  6. You step out and call them deeply, onto risky paths. And then, because of trust, moments will arise when you can challenge them. I invited Maddie to preach; later, I raised the question of God’s call on her life. For each young leader this will be unique. But the challenge should be something that, though stretching for them, is within the realm of their developing gifts.
  7. You pray for them. Yep, lots. And their family, too.
  8. You help them grapple with possible paths. The future can look daunting, but having a guide to define and describe what a few possibilities might look like helps. A few months ago Maddie asked me to help her envision a couple future possibilities. It was exciting and I think she found that guidance helpful.
  9. You let the Holy Spirit lead. This is so crucial. We are not the ones leading a young leader’s life–the Spirit is. Our role is encouragement, support, cheer and challenge, helping them learn to follow the Spirit’s lead.
  10. You stay connected. Young leaders usually move on. But we still play an important role in their lives. Over the last year, Maddie and I haven’t met regularly as she’s been away at community college. But we stay connected through social media, as well as on weekends at church, and I keep encouraging her (and she keeps encouraging me!) as we follow Jesus.

Mentoring young leaders is top priority. So many things demand our time and our energy but none so important as this. Young leaders are worth making sacrifices for, so they become all that God has created and called them to be. Are you in?

How can we make sure young leaders are being mentored as they grow up?

What would you add to this list of 10 actions?

 

Finding Dead Mentors

Looking for a mentor? Your best spiritual mentors are probably already dead.

Really.

Living saints make good mentors, but don’t overlook the depth of spiritual direction we’ve already received from brothers and sisters gone on before us. Joining in the “communion of the saints” is a vital way of growing and learning, walking our days in the company of good men and holy women of old.

Over the last number of months, I’ve been walking more closely with C.S. Lewis again.Lewis bio After reading an early biography of Lewis by Hooper and Green in December, I dug into Mere Christianity (on audio from the library), a book that I’ve read a few times in the past. I couldn’t get enough of it, listening three times through, reflecting on his depth of insight and how his view of the Christian life helps me personally and pastorally. As I listened, there were moments of insight regarding situations I was facing, people I have been counseling, priorities I was struggling with. Like any good mentor, he has been able to speak into my life and guide me toward wisdom.  After reading The Great Divorce over Christmas, I then pulled a Lewis anthologyIMG_1665 off my shelf for 2016–The Business of Heaven takes short portions from Lewis’ theological works and sorts them into 365 daily readings. Other writings will round out the year. Lewis has mentored me in the past, and I’m walking with him again this year. More than once I’ve thanked God for his gift of Lewis to me.

There are many other mentors. Some are contemporaries, having passed into glory only recently, like Henri Nouwen, Elizabeth Eliot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Lesslie Newbigin.  Reaching further back we can walk with George MacDonald or even Teresa of Avila. For the stouter of heart, we can be mentored by some of the prolific theologians who’ve shaped us as a church, men like Augustine, Calvin, Luther and Wesley. And then we can venture further back yet to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the early church fathers, saints of old who offer a stunning depth of insight crossing time, space and culture in surprising, Spirit-filled ways.

Lewis himself, in his introduction to Athanasius’s work On the Incarnation, extolled the value of old books, arguing that by accessing writers of old (dare I say, dead mentors?) we are able to recognize errors of today.

Here’s how he said it:

“The only palliative [for our contemporary blindness to shared error] is to keep theCS-Lewis-on-the-Reading-of-Old-Books clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.” (C.S Lewis, from the introduction of On the Incarnation.)

We can find live mentors, and we should read contemporary authors. But let’s not forget the riches of the past, the depth of insight waiting to be given, from saints who’ve trod this very soil, faithfully following the same Jesus we follow today.

How have you found Christians from the past helpful in your walk today?

Do you have a favorite dead mentor?