Tag Archives: Listening

Leadership Lessons from Jesus’ Feeding the 5000

For any of you who have been involved in church ministry of some sort – either as a leader or as a participant involved in planning an event or service, let me describe a typical scenario and see if you resonate with it:

The people planning the event/ministry get together, and begin the meeting with a quick prayer asking Jesus to guide them and bless their meeting. Then, an hour is spent discussing ideas, issues, logistics, and maybe even desired results or purpose. Then, at the very end of the meeting another quick prayer, maybe 30 seconds long, thanking God for being there.

Does that sound about right? Have you had different experiences?

Unfortunately, this is all too common, even among pastors and elders. But, is saying a quick prayer at the beginning and end of a meeting really honouring to God? Does it say that we really want to hear or know His ideas and plans? No, it sounds more like we’re asking Him to rubber-stamp our plans instead. And I, for one, am tired of it. I believe it’s one of the great sins in the North American Church today. Sure, we might have good ideas, and even excellent ones, but what if they’re not what God wants for us? What about the scriptures that say “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Cor. 3:19), and “The foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans” (1 Cor. 1:25)?

My desire is that when we gather to plan, God will take a central role in those meetings, which means taking time to actually listen to Him, setting aside our ideas and ways. And I believe that this account in John’s Gospel is a model for what we should do – and what will happen – as we do allow Him to be Lord of our meetings and events.

The account of Jesus multiplying the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish is an unlikely source for leadership lessons, at first glance, but from the disciples’ point of view I believe we can learn a lot about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in a leadership position (especially a position in the Church).

If you don’t remember the details that much, give the passage a read here.

There are five principles we can take from this passage that teach us what doing God-honouring work looks like.

1. Jesus initiates the work.

Jesus, seeing the crowds following Him, turns to His disciple Philip and asks where bread can be bought to feed them all. Philip heard the work Jesus wanted to do and was incredulous that Jesus wanted to do it – it seemed humanly impossible (and for them, it was). The disciples didn’t tell Jesus that they wanted to feed the people, rather Jesus initiated the work.

For many of us, we tell Jesus what we want to do (and sometimes how we want Him to do it), but instead we should be listening for what Jesus wants us to do. Often, we’ll find that our own ideas and plans were too small anyway! That means that we need to take time and make space to listen to what He is saying to us, and discern together in the Spirit the work He has for us – which in our busyness and self-competence can be difficult to do, but oh so worth it.

2. He tests our faith in order to increase it.

Philip, as I mentioned, was incredulous at the enormity of what Jesus was asking – the amount of money it would require to buy that much bread was unrealistic (assuming a nearby town even had that much on hand to sell, which is doubtful). But Jesus already knew what He was going to do and was testing Philip, John’s Gospel tells us. Jesus wasn’t being mean or cruel, but rather testing Philip to grow His faith – Philip saw the (human) impossibility of what Jesus wanted to do, but Jesus did it! As we see Jesus do the work through us that He wants us to do, He will expand our faith in greater and greater ways.

3. He includes us in the work.

Jesus didn’t do it all alone, however. He took the bread and fish offered by the boy Andrew brought forward and multiplied those after He blessed God for them. Jesus takes the abilities, talents, skills, and resources that we have (and which are all gifts from Him anyway), and as we offer them to Him uses them to accomplish the work that He wants to do. He includes us in the work. After everyone has eaten their fill, Jesus tells the disciples to gather the leftovers, which they do. The great grace of God is that – while He could work on His own, He instead chooses to work through and with us humans, if we will obey Him.

4. We need to obey, even when we don’t have all the details.

Pay attention to the order of events in the passage: Jesus asks Philip where to get bread to feed the crowd. Andrew brings forward a boy offering his lunch (but scoffs at it’s adequacy too), Jesus tells the disciples to get the crowd to sit down, and everyone sits down.

This is important to notice, that while the disciples have no idea what Jesus is going to do in order to feed the crowd, they still obey Him when He tells them to have everyone sit down. Often God will not give us the full picture of the work that He wants to accomplish, but will give us just the next step. Our job is to be obedient to that next step, trusting that He is working everything out according to how He wants it. Again, in our self-competent pride we want to know how everything will work before we take the first step in obedience. But the Bible is full of examples of men and women who obeyed God without knowing the full picture (Abraham leaving Ur, and Mary and Martha at their brother’s tomb come immediately to mind).

5. He will blow our minds.

The Scriptures say “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, emphasis added).

A reminder: It’s not our work, but we join Jesus in the work He is already doing.  If it’s our work that we’re asking Him to approve, then while we may be doing good, were ultimately being disobedient to and limiting the better work He has for us.

God is not looking for people who will do their own work in His name, but who will instead do the work He gives them. I am determined to be one of those people – are you?

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Five Ways Not to Pray

Leaders of Judah: Jeremiah, please pray to God and ask his will for us! We promise we will do whatever it is, whether it’s good or bad. Like, seriously, we will. We promise.

Jeremiah: Okay I’ll ask and tell you what he says.

(ten days later)

Jeremiah: Hey, God says stay here in Judah. If you do, God will show mercy on you and deliver you from the king of Babylon. But, if you go to Egypt you are dead. Anyone who goes there will die by the sword, plague, and famine.

Leaders of Judah: Liar! You are lying! God didn’t say that! We’re going to Egypt.

Not Jeremiah.

A bullfrog. Not Jeremiah.

When I recently read this episode in Jeremiah 42-43, I think I actually laughed out loud. The leaders of Judah were so ridiculous. But after thinking about it more, I realized that I can do the same thing. And really, people today are not all that different from the leaders of Judah back then sometimes.

See, the people of Judah had already decided to flee to Egypt from the oncoming Babylonians, and in fact were in the process of doing that, when they stopped on the way to visit Jeremiah the prophet and ask him to inquire from God. In the same way, we can often decide our course of action, or the answer we want, in spite of praying for God’s guidance. This is not intentional, I’d argue, and I think there’s at least 5 reasons we do it:

1. We pray after we have thought through the issue/choice/desire instead of before, and have already decided what the right/rational/best course of action is.

2.  We pray before we have thought things through, but then proceed to decide the best answer ourselves instead of allowing God to speak. Doing this, we assume God will guide us through our decision-making process (and often he will), but often we don’t give him room to actually speak.

3. We don’t really believe God will give us guidance (again, subconsciously), and so take the task upon ourselves.

4. We have forgotten that God is both here and already working in or through whatever it is we’re praying about.

5. The prayer is mere ritual, done in a perfunctory manner before we get down to the “real business” ourselves.

When we do this, we treat God at worst like a vending machine, and at best like a benevolent bureaucrat waiting to rubber stamp all our plans and desires.

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What this type of praying tells me is that our spirituality is more religion than it is relationship. Or that it’s one-sided, at least, and we don’t really want to hear what God has to say. But if he is who he says he is and has our best interest always in mind (even if we don’t always recognize it as such); if Jesus is “the best and smartest man ever” as Dallas Willard says, and was God-in-flesh on earth; shouldn’t we listen to him? Shouldn’t we wait in prayer until we’ve heard his voice?

For God does speak–now one way, now another– though no one perceives it.” Job 33:14

May you and I be people who wait in listening prayer until we perceive his voice.

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Listening to Jesus

Today, Feb. 10th 2013, is Transfiguration Sunday, or the Feast of the Transfiguration.pic-transfiguration

It’s a well known story, and all three of the Synoptic Gospels recounts it almost exactly the same. Here’s Mark’s version:

Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John and led them alone up a high mountain privately. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiantly white, more so than any launderer in the world could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared before them along with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. So Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (For they were afraid, and he did not know what to say.) Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is my one dear Son. Listen to him!”Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more except Jesus. (Mark 9:2-8 NET)

Peter’s first reaction to seeing the glorified Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses was to build three tents for them; places where they could reside. This hearkens back to the tabernacle that the Israelites carried around in the desert with them, and which contained the Ark of the Covenant, and God’s glory. God the Father kaiboshes Peter’s idea, and instead affirms who Jesus is (“My Son,” or “My Chosen One”), and tells the disciples to listen to Him.

Mount Tabor is where historians think the Transfiguration took place, and ironically there are now two large churches on the site, a Catholic one and an Orthodox one right beside it.

Mount Tabor

“Listen to him”

But Peter’s reaction is not unique; I think all of us have a tendency to want to keep God at arms length, and in essence, to contain who He is (‘build a shelter for Him’), putting him in a box. Enshrining Him. This is largely subconscious, I’d wager. But God’s words to the three disciples are equally a commandment for us today – “Listen to him.”

The fact that Jesus doesn’t have any recorded words in this passage suggests to me that God wasn’t referring to any specific thing that Jesus said, but to everything that He said. And ‘listen’ doesn’t just mean ‘hear,’ of course, but to hear and do. Jesus essentially says this in John 14:23 – “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” And James affirms it – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

In the church today we have a tendency to focus on studying what the Bible teaches, what Jesus said and did, and what we as Christians are to do. There’s no shortage of new books coming out all the time on how to pray, how to evangelize, how to study the Bible, etc. But we’re woefully bad at actually doing these things. As Francis Chan has said, in the Great Commission we’ve focused on the “teaching the nations everything Jesus said” part, but not the “to obey” part. But it’s easy to hear. It’s difficult and costly to listen. But this is what God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (through the biblical writers) all call us to. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Rom. 2:13).

So I think the lesson of the Transfiguration, at least for me and at least at this point in my life, is to pause, and prayerfully take stock of where I may have built shrines to Jesus’ commands instead of listening to Him about them. What teachings I honour or think are important, but don’t put into practice, making me a fool.

Today, may you take time to do the same.

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