Discover Your Identity within the Body of Christ
(Seek Out, Soak Up, and Send Out)
Awaiting Your Orders
Breaking New Ground
Judge for Yourself
Eagerly Desire Spiritual Gifts
My Gift, Your Gift
Light Your Own Flame
A little boy named Zack reports how he learned to swim. “I learned to swim at an early age. We were all gathered at a church picnic and I was staring into the swimming pool, wondering what adventures it might promise. Suddenly, I was IN the water. Someone there must have believed in just throwing you in the water, and then you will either sink or swim. I sank.”
People watched as Zack struggled. Some laughed because it was a funny joke. Some were excited for him because he was tackling one of those rites of passage. Some wanted to help, but there was no one to tell them what to do. Others paid no attention because they were into their own things.
Zack continued with his account. “I really cannot remember who threw me in, because I seemed to have lost consciousness as I sank to the bottom of the pool. When I banged my head on the drain cover 9.5 feet down, I woke up again. Then I was pulled toward the light at the end of the tunnel… must have been the Son? Then I was gasping for air and swimming just like I knew what I was doing! I don't need a life jacket or arm wings or anything. And I am not afraid of the deep end. It is all deep to me. But I am not afraid.”
Awaiting Your Orders
Do you stare into the spiritual life at your church and wonder what adventures might it promise? If you take that plunge (on purpose or accidentally) will people laughed at you, or will they be excited for you? Will they want to help, but don’t know how? Or are they too busy running their own affairs to even notice if you sink or swim? Maybe you will proclaim, “I found the light at the end of the tunnel. I am not afraid of the deep end. It is all deep to me. But I am not afraid.” But will anyone hear you?
There seems to be few groups of people as dysfunctional as a group of Christians. Especially when they label themselves as “Brothers and Sisters” in Christ. Shouldn’t that label mean something regarding their relationships and interaction with each other? Maybe a congregation, or a subset thereof, can cooperate long enough to pull off a softball game or a spaghetti dinner (and that may be pushing it), but how often do you see selfless camaraderie, as they march toward victory for Christ’s Kingdom?
I know battles are won. But look at how much time passes between victories. Are these victories just accidents? Or do people get pleased with themselves and think the work is done? Do they just get lazy? Maybe the times just are not extreme enough for people to get involved. Maybe they prefer the old sink or swim tactic. But why wait until disaster strikes, or a crushing blow is imminent, to begin to live for the glory of God? Why wait until you are flat on you back to realize there is something more that you are missing? Don’t wait until it has been taken away from you before you realize just how tenaciously you should have clung to what was lost.
Yes, Christ’s strength is made perfect in weakness. ( 2 Corinthians 12:9 ) But I think we all have weaknesses galore to work with. We don’t need to invite any more defeat upon ourselves to give Christ room to operate. Or are you waiting for a drill sergeant to bark out the orders for you and your buddies, so you will all know what is expected of you? So you know who talks to whom and who does what.
Breaking New Ground
Zack has a couple more thoughts he’d like to share, as he questions his mother. “I don't understand things. I watch the other kids. Then I catch myself copying them and doing what they just did. But, Momma, I am too young to do those things. And I do things no one showed me how to do. No one has ever taught me those things. But I accidentally do them anyway. I am confused Momma. I hope you are not upset with me for doing things you did not tell me to do. Don't misunderstand me, Momma. I am not trying to make myself into something I am not. But the others kids seem so grownup at times.”
Ah, the desire to fit in rears its ugly head again. We copy others. (Often, some behavior is best not copied.) We launch out on our own. We make mistakes. We learn. But do we ever really get a grasp on what it is that will give our lives the most meaning and purpose as servants of God?
We all go through certain progressions as we mature. We develop motor skills, routines, and habits (but not yet intellect). We copy others in the next level of growth and our abilities expand (still only a hint of intellect). When you get to an even higher level, a more intellectual level, you can no longer copy (no more mechanical imitation or duplication). You have to explore and locate your own level or plateau – a new dimension of thinking, a new magnitude of living. This becomes ground breaking. Others may influence you to a certain extent, but then you “run with it” on your own.
Maybe others already perform a particular function – but they use their talents, abilities, effort, or brute force to accomplish things. The use of spiritual gifts is not involved. Your added dimension is that your participation is infused and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Someone else who is operating under human traits cannot expect his endeavors to be blessed like yours will be.
Judge for Yourself
When breaking new ground, it is essential for us to be equipped for the kind of decision-making required for unified functioning within the Body of Christ. The kind of decision-making you need in your new dimension of thinking, in your new magnitude of living.
Parents train their children and then gradually give them more room to make their own decisions. Leaders must do the same. They must create an environment conducive to healthy, productive decision-making. And then allow the congregation the freedom to make some mistakes as they grow. If you are afraid of making a mistake, you can’t grow because you will never take chances by “trying on” new things.
A step toward training people to make sound, godly decisions is to present all sides of the issue so they can decide for themselves. However, sometimes the leaders are in a better position to make a decision for them -- and the leaders resume more of a parental role by guiding those less experienced to a certain outcome or decision, in addition to presenting both sides objectively.
How do you learn to make godly decisions? Consider preference versus choice. What’s the difference? Making a decision (or selection) regarding a preference should have no lasting consequences. Perhaps esthetic, cosmetic, or transient consequences. But nothing more than what could be defined as a person’s personal preferences, or his tastes.
Making a decision regarding a choice almost always has consequences. Some may be major and lasting. Some may be minor and may fade away relatively quickly. Yet, an impact is still perceived.
So when learning to make decisions, start by selecting preferences that have no lasting effects. Ask yourself, does it really affect anyone else’s life if you wear blue or green today? What if you eat chicken versus beef for lunch? Where is the impact on another person? Then make some decisions that will provide some impact, but can still be easily corrected if necessary. Thinking about becoming a Sunday School teacher? Ask a teacher if you can be an assistant to help him out. You have made some commitment, yet you are still under the supervision of an experienced teacher.
Continue this pattern and continue to make decisions that will provide more impact with longer lasting consequences. Perhaps eventually you will teach a class of your own, where you will be in a position to directly affect the lives of others in a real and long-lasting way. You have learned to swim by testing the waters, but you were spared the trauma and danger brought on by the crash course known as sink or swim.
When we make decisions, we naturally want others to like us. This poses no problem and is easily handled when we make decisions that nobody has strong opinions about it. But the more important a decision is, and the more likely a decision could cause division, the more important it is to be certain our decisions are based on Biblical principals and the counsel of mature Christians.
Again, if a decision involves merely preferences, more flexibility is reasonable. But the more a decision involves making choices with lasting consequences, the more important it is to be certain the consequences have been carefully considered and accounted for.
Don’t eliminate the decision-making process to avoid confrontation. Confrontation can be an open discussion of an issue. It does not have to involve mud slinging or power plays. If you do not participate in making a decision, you may be stuck with worrying that they and/or you could have done better. Then you fret over whether you should challenge them to reconsider after you told them to make up their own minds.
You must respect the wishes of others, but still express your own views, and remain faithful to the qualities the Holy Spirit has given you that make you unique. Don’t go along with the crowd and then be miserable. If you are too agreeable, you may get stuck with things you don’t want or can’t do.
Often others may not care if you go in another direction that is more to your liking or involve assignments more appropriate for your gifts. And if they do have strong opinions against what you wish, ask them to explain the factors they considered. Then decide whether they are pointing you in the right direction, or if perhaps the Holy Spirit has revealed to you a purpose that is not on their agenda. It is OK to be different and have your own ideas. Be honest and direct upfront, in a considerate and respectful manner.
Eagerly Desire Spiritual Gifts
Younger Christians may look to leaders to provide strength through motivation, knowledge through information, and wisdom through guidance. ( Titus 2 ) And every one of us has direct access to God and all He has to offer through fellowship, prayer, Bible study, etc. Yes, spiritual gifts are even listed in the Bible! Learn about yours! ( 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12, Ephesians 4 )
Here are some suggestions for keeping yourself open to new things in your life. Eagerly desire spiritual gifts. ( 1 Corinthians 12:31, 1 Corinthians 14:1 )
Here Zack writes his mother who lives in another city, because his Momma and Daddy don’t live together any more. After each thought, I will list again the suggestions shown above.
Reach toward something you are drawn to. Just let it happen.
Broaden your point-of-view. Rise above your self-imposed limitations. Change your perspective. Stand up.
Move toward your goal. Don’t waste time. Hitch a ride if necessary. Allow the flow to carry you forward, be caught up in the stream of the Holy Spirit. Laugh. Be committed, but realize no one goal can rule your life. Maintain balance.
Ask for patience. Be courageous. Take a leap of faith. God will catch you.
Don’t let people fight over you or your ministry. Or fight with you. Accept help. Listen to advice, weigh it, but then just do what needs to be done.
If you don’t need something, get rid of it or ignore it. Especially if you might bang your head on it.
Let me bring you up-to-date on what has been going on around here.
First, I was able to roll over all by myself in my crib. I still don't know how I did it, it just happened. I may have been reaching to grab my favorite teddy. Or perhaps my chocolate milkshake bottle. (Reach toward something you are drawn to. Just let it happen.)
Then I was able to sit up. You can't imagine the change in view when you can get up off your back. I mean, how many shades of white can a ceiling be? (Broaden your point-of-view. Rise above your self-imposed limitations. Change your perspective. Stand up.)
Then I started crawling. This was really cool because I could chase the boxer dogs and Misty dog. I would crawl as fast as I can, and they would pretend to let me catch them. But I was never able to grab the boxers' tails to hitch a ride, like I can with Misty. The boxers just have little stubs for tails. I think some other baby pulled their tails too much, and broke their tails off. (Move toward your goal. Don’t waste time. Hitch a ride if necessary. Allow the flow to carry you forward, be caught up in the stream of the Holy Spirit. Laugh. Be committed, but realize no one goal can rule your life. Maintain balance.)
Now here is really something earthshaking, Momma. Sometimes when no one is looking, I can pull myself up at the front of the couch. I can stand there. Sometimes when I am really brave, I let go of the couch for a couple seconds. Momma, I think if Daddy were patient with me, I could take my first precious little baby steps into his wide open arms! (Ask for patience. Be courageous. Take a leap of faith. God will catch you.)
But I probably should not think about that. Grandma might be around and scold us because I might hit my head on the coffee table. Then the boxer dogs might lick my boo boo. They don't mean any harm by it. They just know to lick wounds to make them heal faster. Then Grandma would throw a fit because SHE wanted to heal me, not to have the boxers do it. She would want to try her old-time remedies. Or try to heal me through prayer and fasting. (Don’t let people fight over you or your ministry. Or fight with you. Accept help. Listen to advice, weigh it, but then just do what needs to be done.)
Momma, why don't they just take that stupid ol' coffee table out of the living room? I have never seen anyone sitting on it anyway. (If you don’t need something, get rid of it or ignore it. Especially if you might bang your head on it.)
My Gift, Your Gift
When I was in college, I worked in the computer lab assisting students with their assignments. There was a man named Tom that was in some of my classes for a couple years. I occasionally helped him with his lab assignments. He had done some modeling and I felt intimidated because he seemed so cool and together and “in”. I wished I could be a little more like him so I could be happier. Ironically, the last day I saw Tom, he acknowledged how intelligent I am. He sighed because HE wanted to be like ME! We both wanted to make ourselves into something we were not.
When the little boy Zack tried new things that no one had shown him, he stated, “I am not trying to make myself into something I am not.” When you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, you never need to worry if you are reaching beyond your abilities. That is because it isn’t your ability. It is the Holy Spirit. You can’t make yourself into something. The Holy Spirit molds you into what you need to be so that you can minister to others with the spiritual gifts given you.
And Zack worried, “I hope you are not upset with me for doing things you did not tell me to do.” Leaders, don’t feel threatened or angry if a follower does something that you did not teach him to do, or instruct him to do. This isn’t a corporate business structure. You don’t have to make plans so someone can get a good review for meeting his job requirements. Many things happen in a person’s spiritual life that cannot be planned or predicted or manipulated ahead of time. The Holy Spirit imparts spiritual gifts. The gifts given to God’s workers are not distributed by, allocated by, or directed by other men.
It can be challenging for individuals to accept their own spiritual gifts. However, it also be challenging for individuals to accept other people using THEIR spiritual gifts. ( 1 Corinthians 12:20-25 ) You see someone taking charge. And you think, “Who gave YOU permission to do that?” To which he might reply, “Nobody. I just did it. I didn't wonder if they would let me. I knew it needed to be done and it would honor God. So I just did it.” This is not being a renegade or a troublemaker, this is merely exercising your right, or should I say responsibility, to act as you feel the Holy Spirit is leading you. Again, human guidance should be sought and respected. However…
Here is a hint in learning to cooperate in a loving manner with other Christians. Many times, two people are reacting to past conditioning rather than to each other. So it seems they are making mistakes or there is unwarranted friction. But they just both came into the relationship acting as their pasts had taught them to act. Eventually the old conditioning gives way to the leading of the Holy Spirit. As they grow closer, they start to become more "themselves" and the old notions melt away. Or should I say they become their new selves. Be patient with each other.
You may experiment with different “assignments” within the church. Everyone tries bits and pieces of this and that. But these attempts are usually governed by talent and effort – not by spiritual empowerment. Regretfully, few people actually discover their imparted gifts. Everyone needs to get a handle on his own gifts and concentrate on them.
A minister is not paid to relieve the congregation of ministering to others. We are all called be ministers. ( 2 Corinthians 5:19-20
) Just as a minister trains, members of a congregation must train younger Christians and each other. Members must be open to training others who have the same spiritual gifts they do. And members must be open to training the entire congregation, even those who do NOT have the same gifts.
There should be an awareness throughout the congregation of ALL spiritual gifts present. We are all different, yet we are all the same. ( 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 ) Members should be able to recognize there are spiritual gifts, and have a place to go for information concerning them. They need to know where they can receive help in identifying their gifts, and how to receive guidance for a specific gift. And they need to know how to seek out those who are gifted to minister to their specific needs. Everyone needs a place to start.
Light Your Own Flame
Over the past several months, my articles have had a definite emphasis on people stepping forward into positions of leadership. And for the congregation to follow that lead. All for the purpose of promoting unity within the Body of Christ, so that all may strive to be more Christ-like and true servants of the Lord, and of each other.
At some Christmas services, one candle is already lit on the altar when we enter the sanctuary. The leaders go to the altar, each carrying a candle. One leader lights his candle from the altar candle, then the flame is passed one-by-one to the next leader until all the leaders’ candles are lit. Then the leaders walk down the aisles, stopping at the end of each pew to light the candle of the first person in each pew. Then the members of the congregation pass the flame on down the pews until every candle is lit. This is an example of how leaders can grow, and then pass their growth on to the followers, through training, motivation, and example.
That is one way this scene could play out. Here is an alternate way. I am one of the leaders, walking down the aisle with my candle lit. Now I am standing at the end of the pew where you are sitting. I am bending forward so that my flame can ignite a spark in your candle. And just as my flame is but a split second away from your wick, I YANK my candle back and say, “No you don’t! Get your OWN flame!”
Oh, oh. Have I undone everything I have been preaching about? Needing leaders to assume an active role and for the congregation to accept the responsibility to carry through with what they are being led to do?
Who gives you spiritual gifts? The mortal men of your church or the Holy Spirit? Remember, Christ is the head of the Church. The Church is Christ’s bride. No man or group of men can usurp Christ’s place on His throne. People can work toward being Christ-like and serve the Church as Christ would. However, it is never the role of a leader to hinder a Christian’s growth. The leader must serve the follower as he supports each member, helping those members to become all that God has planned for them. To lead does not mean to make others like yourself. To lead means to help others become more like Christ.
The person who is most likely to be recognized as a Christ-like example is often not one of the prominent figures. Love is the greatest gift. ( 1 Corinthians 13:13 ) More often, the most demonstrative Christian is the one with a true servant’s heart, who is always looking for needs in others to fill.
We are to serve others. But that does not mean losing our own identities as we seek to provide for them. Know thyself. Look in the mirror and don’t forget who you are. Reach out. But don’t be swayed. Be firm. Be strong. Be YOU!
So let your light shine. Make no apologies when you stand out above the rest. But do not be arrogant. Make no excuses and feel no shame when you seem to fall short. Envy no one. Do not compete. ( 2 Timothy 1:7 ) Remember, our human measuring sticks are but feeble gauges of reality… in the physical realm… and especially in the spiritual realm.
Back to me yanking my candle back and telling you to get your own flame. Oh, yes. Now I see. The Holy Spirit places the spiritual gifts within you. It is the Holy Spirit that provides that spark to ignite the flame for your contribution to the Body of Christ. Yes… it is nice to have examples. Yes… it is lovely to have mentors. But… maybe you aren’t going to get everything in one neat package!
But that’s OK. You’ll survive. In fact, you will even strive. The more you look inward for the Holy Spirit to confirm your gifts, and for the Holy Spirit to guide you, the more certain and assured you will be that you are where you should be in God’s will. You will find your place in your congregation. And you WILL find your spiritual identity in the Body of Christ!
There are quite a few spiritual gifts. If you are looking for leaders as examples, it is not uncommon for there to be people in a congregation who have spiritual gifts that are not represented in the leadership. Don’t wait for someone to take you by the hand and lead you, or drag you, or even push you into serving. Take a stand for what you believe in and activate your own spiritual life. Allow the Holy Spirit to quicken your fellowship in the church, and animate your participation and contributions. You will be filled with a new vitality that will energize all those you come into contact with.
Hopefully, someone else can reach out a hand of encouragement and guidance to you as you begin this spiritual journey. However, if no one is filling that role, who will stand in the gap? Jesus will!
No more excuses. Get off your back. Brush yourself off. Reach deep down inside you. Jesus will stand in the gap and He will send the Comforter and Counselor to aid you.
The Holy Spirit will ignite a spark in you that no storm can put out, blow out, or dampen. Your entire being will be consumed with the flame as you become a beacon of hope and love to those around you. Once on fire, remember when you had no one to encourage or guide you. Ah ha! Now is the time for YOU to be an encouragement to others! ( Hebrews 10:25 )
Return to list of articles.