More on the Harp and Bowl issues - Printable Version

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More on the Harp and Bowl issues - DeanZF - 03-22-2010

It's been a wild weekend. I've spent a lot of time resting, reading, praying, IM-ing with Tom (a far-off friend and young worship leader), and writing. I went back to work today with a number of these things buzzing in my head.

Over the past year, I've spent a lot of time wondering and a fair amount of time praying about why some congregations don't grow much numerically, don't grow spiritually, and even fade away. Some, mind you, not all. I have a friend in pastoral ministry who attributes church decline to the current over-emphasis on the all important concept of "self". I don't disagree with that, but I do want to explore how that might look.

I've spent some time this weekend reading and praying through one particular verse in Revelation, chapter 5, verse 8. I've been in love with this scene for a very long time. Using my imagination to see the scene puts me in mind of the psalm verses that talk about longing for the courts of the Lord. Oh the throne, oh the Seven Lamps burning before the throne, oh the emerald rainbow emanating from Him Who sits on the throne. Awe is too mild a word to describe my feelings while reading the verse. Father has highlighted various facets of this gem at different times, helping me view the richness there. This time, I saw something that I've pretty much overlooked for my entire Christian life. Maybe it has something to do with my age. :unsure:

The four and twenty elders of the verse. I've studied their actions and their thrones. I've pondered their identities and the symbolism. It's a rich enterprise. This time, however, I was struck by the simplicity of their title, elder. There is a lot packed into those five letters. As I wrote in my previous entry, one definition of "elder" is a senior member of a tribe who has influence or authority. This is not one who IS an authority. This is not one who somehow PROCURED authority. An elder simply "is", and by being, has authority and is respected. It is an old principle. Remember that Moses appointed select men to help in overseeing or judging the issues among the Hebrews while they were in the wilderness. Their wisdom, insight, and authority made it possible and practical.

A barrage of questions came to mind today, one upon the other so quickly that I really don't know which was first or if there is an order. Hopefully I can sort them out by the time this ramble concludes. What is an elder? What is man's definition of a mature Christian? Most importantly, what is God's definition of a mature Christian? Like the weekend, this might be a ramble and a really wild ride. Smile

So we have the elders, the wise, experienced, influential men with authority, worshiping before the throne along with the four creatures. I was stunned as I realized that I had focused too long on what was not important! This is not about the twenty-four, it's about their activity and their focus. The scene is about Him Who sits on the throne and about those who love Him; peripherally, it is also about how their love expresses itself--in prayer and worship. Because Father has provided this scene for our edification and enlightenment, what can we learn from it? The point is about relationship, elder to God and each of us to God, and how that relationship presents itself. God is showing us what a mature relationship looks like, what a mature love relationship looks like. Doing is involved, yes, but only in response to being. I love Him and I love being with Him. I love hearing from Him and feeling what the Holy Spirit is communicating to me. I simply love it. This is part of longing for His courts. Not just the cool trappings of court-of-the-King life, but rather intimacy with the King of the court.

So, in my mind this little, but power-packed verse tells me a lot about what maturity looks like. There are other images, too, and those may be explored in additions to this topic, but these are the main pieces of the puzzle, I believe. Now what's with the "baby steps" reference in the title?

I mentioned above about how so many congregations don't grow much. Because of the revelation in Revelation, I'm wondering if it is because so many Christians got stuck very early on in their Christian walk. Most Christians have a concept of prayer and a concept of worship. I think for many of us, those concepts are stunted. We are spiritual infants. Paul talked about that several times. Paul's intention--and the Father's, I believe--was that the believers would become mature in their expression of love toward Father. The Greek word is teleios, and the pictures are about a ship with its rigging strong, in good repair, ready to sail; or an army fully clad, sword and shield in hand, trained and awaiting the command to engage in battle. Another analogy would be a bone once broken, now completely healed and again ready to do what the bone was intended to do.

I've talked with many Christians over the years and asked them about why they worship or pray the way they do. I usually ask because I see timid or even indifferent worshipers and pray-ers who pray strangely or awkwardly, or as though they can't wait until the prayer stops. In both cases, prayer and worship don't seem to be a natural part of their existence.

Think about baby humans for a minute. The ones who can't walk yet and who can't talk yet. Imagine a child who finally managed to get "mama" and "dada" out and who finally managed to walk five steps without falling or flailing. Imagine now that the child has figured out that those three points of his being are sufficient and that he really does not want to expend the energy to gain more vocabulary or to travel any further than five steps, that his world is enough. If I say "mama", walk five steps, plop down, and wail, mama comes and picks me up, dries my tears and tries to figure out what I was trying to communicate--hungry, wet, whatever. Baby steps.

Imagine a physically mature human now who confesses Christ as savior, but whose prayers are still "Now I lay me down to sleep" and "God is great, God is good, now we thank Him for this food. Amen" And this same person's idea of worship is, "Well, I sang the words to that song, didn't I? Isn't that enough already??" I'm trying really hard to make this as simplistic and obvious as possible. Most of us can put our own acquaintances (fellow congregation members?) in this story and nod our heads. These are the baby steps that I'm talking about.

But what do we DO about that? Let's explore it!

More on the Harp and Bowl issues - DeanZF - 04-01-2010

Part 2

As a believer, what should my personal goals be for my relationship with Father God? Who do I look to as examples? What traits do I need to cultivate to become ever more mature? How do I work out that part of my salvation?

Most men that I know and a fair number of the women in my life have playfully asked, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With The Wind fame was asking just that when she asked Rhett Butler, "Where shall I go? What shall I do?" Unlike Mr. Butler, God cares and provides us with several examples.

I believe that the greatest example is indeed the twenty four elders before the throne in Revelation 5. They are there as ensamples/examples, as models for us. Yes, it's true, as members of the Church Triumphant, they don't have to earn a living or even eat! They do, however, have lots of lessons for us in the Church Militant. King David also has lots of positive lessons for us. The other psalmists pour out their hearts and share what it means to walk in faith in a faithless world. Jesus as a lad had among the most mature statements in the Word, "I must be about my Father's business." Isn't that really what maturity teaches us?

It is very important for us to recognize that we belong to Father, that we are strongly and vibrantly connected to Him through our constant conversion process. We are made in His image, we are being conformed to the image of Jesus, we are decreasing that He might increase in us. That's part of maturing. As we reach the awareness that Jesus had at twelve years of age, we are aware that Father's business is an important part of our earthly lives and that we need to find ways to let that be an important influence on the rest of our daily activities. How do we bring our love of Father to our workplace or our social encounters? To the soccer or baseball fields when we're encouraging kids or grandkids? To the supermarket when wheeling about, gathering the week's food? How do we bring that love into struggles or tragedies? How can we bring it into the struggles and tragedies of others in our lives, both within the congregation, and outside the walls?

I shared with some folks this past weekend that so often we have tried to whump things up in Jesus' name. I've done that way too often, and I've watched it in too many places. If we whump up the right stuff or the right thing, I think we'll be far more successful in our walk and that we'll see many more prayers answered.

Ready for a trick question? What is the one thing I can do to please my wife? I'll wait while you ponder that one...

Time's up. The one thing that I can do to please my wife is to find out what one thing I can do to please her! And to find that out, I can ASK!!! And when I ask and then do that thing, she beams. How much more so with Father. There is an interesting little snippet of Scripture that I've found fascinating over the years--probably not from the Hebrew, but from English implications. Bear with me while I twist a scripture for a minute. In Psalm 37:4, the psalmist admonishes us to delight ourselves in the Lord; and He will give us the desires of our hearts. Normal interpretation would be that we would have secret hopes, aspirations, or petitions that were closely guarded within our hearts. I like to re-parse the English translation and wonder that if I busy myself with delighting in Him, that perhaps He will cause HIS desires to be place in my heart and become MY desires as well. If I pray for HIS heart's desires, will He not cause them to come to pass? "Thy will be done..."

If it's about "Thy will" that we're praying, is it enough to simply mouth the words, "Thy will be done" or should be be conversing with Him (prayer being a two way conversation, remember, not just a gusher of requests), asking Him to reveal what that will is so that we can pray in agreement with Him? During the 80s, we were at a Charismatic seminar and received teaching on how to minister in prayer at the altar. This was in a non-liturgical situation where the Word preached was most important and where worship and praise were a large portion of every service. When people responded to the sermon or to words of wisdom or knowledge, the people in the pew were trained on how to respond to their response. Novel concept at the time.

What we had to learn for effective prayer was when to pray for what. If there was a word of knowledge for "someONE with a hip problem, there would often be several people who would try to claim that word for themselves, for a loved one, or they would interpret it as an elbow or shoulder instead and still try to appropriate the healing unction and adapt it to their need. We were taught to listen to their prayer request with one ear and listen to Father's heart with the other ear. If Father was saying, "Yes, I desire to heal this one," the prayer was for healing. We were also taught to try to discern Father's timetable. Was this a "right now" healing or maybe by the time they came back next week healing? Pray with intention and with understanding. It was an incredible time of practicing the gifts of the Spirit in that congregation. We regularly saw changes in people's lives and we regularly saw answered prayers. Why? I believe that it was because we were trying hard to tune into Father's will. We were, in effect, praying HIS heart's desires. I remember one in particular. She answered a word of knowledge about pain near the solar plexus, that soft triangle at the lowest front junction of the ribs. She had a hiatal hernia and was actually facing surgery the Tuesday. Prayer was for healing now. She was in church the next Sunday. "It was the oddest thing," she shared. "I heard that word and knew it was for me. I went to the doctor the next day and he said, 'Well, I'm going to take one more picture to see what I have to do tomorrow on the table.' He came back with the xray still dripping, eyes open wide, and said, 'It's not there. There IS no hernia!' No hernia? No surgery! God healed me!"

That was a huge faith builder in the congregation. We came to expect that God was going to work, that prayers would be answered, and that this was a natural part of our now supernatural lives! We had grown and matured significantly. These things were borne out of significant amounts of worship to focus us in on the Throne (and He Who sits thereon, of course), and intentional prayer. Rifle shot prayers, not buck shot. If people came for prayer and we did not sense Father telling us to pray for healing, we often just prayed in tongues and prayed His blessing on them. In my mind, I prayed that it would be their turn soon, and that God would gain glory through both the waiting and the healing.

More on the Harp and Bowl issues - DeanZF - 04-01-2010

Part 3

One thing I've learned about fishing nets and sailboat rigging is that they are ALWAYS undergoing maintenance. When they are brand spanking new, they are indeed perfect, but they are unproven. Gifts unused benefit no one. Prayer unused and worship unused benefit no one! And if they are underused, the resulting benefit is less than Father intends for us to reap. This takes us back to the spiritual toddler human.

How can I grow in these two power-filled areas upon which God has placed such strong emphasis? Paul exhorted Timothy to "stir up" or "kindle afresh" the gift that was in him (2 Tim 1:6). This is important. The very next verse is the one where Paul tells him that we have been given a spirit of POWER. Stir gift, release power. How do we stir the gifts that God has placed in us? We USE them to bring glory to Him, and as a side benefit, to benefit the Body of Christ, the Church Militant. The focus is on the Throne, all the while! It's about HIM! Worship and prayer, focused on Him, and we fill with power that overflows into our surroundings.

Moses understood this very well. He is another fine example of proper focus. It was about what became the Mercy Seat, the Throne of God expressed on earth as it is in heaven. Moses went in and out of God's presence both on the mountain and in the Tabernacle. When he came away from being with God, Moses had to cover his face because he was visibly affected. EVERYone knew when Moses had been in God's presence one way or the other. The glow or the veil gave it away. When Moses spoke God's heart, the people were affected powerfully. The words changed lives, pure and simple. When Moses confronted rebels with challenges from God, it was power-filled. When he spoke healing with a bronze snake on a stick, it was power-filled. Even when he did stupid stuff in anger that was based on God's instruction but poorly obeyed, God was still faithful to accomplish, even though it ended up costing Moses a life in the Land of Promise.

When he was a shepherd, David's music was powerful. He sang songs to the Lord that were powerful enough to abate an evil spirit in Saul and to bring Saul back to a state of shalom or God's kind of peace. And David the young shepherd was a zealot for God's nation and God's army. He heard a pagan disabuse his God and cower God's army and it roiled up in him. I think it was God's wrath that was bubbling, and could bubble because David watched the sheep but worshiped God and sang worship and praise to Him frequently throughout each day. Like Moses, he practiced being in God's presence and as a result, walked in power. Never before had a single, palm sized stone brought down an army. And it was only the beginning of the blessing of God and the travail caused by Saul's envy and paranoia.

Neither of these two men got to the displayed levels of maturity in their relationship with God by divine edict. They practiced until they grew. And they kept on practicing in order to continue growing in wisdom and maturity. What were the words about Jesus? The same words used to describe a young Samuel, that He continued to grow in stature and in favor both with the LORD and with men (Luke 2:52 and I Samuel 2:26). Continued to grow. That's really important. That's my desire for my own life, that I would continue to grow and never rely on yesterday's strength or manna. More Lord!

Translating this to the local congregation, we need to find ways to encourage the people in the pews to rethink their walks with Christ, to become more intentional about prayer, worship, ministry, and congregational life. Like Moses' glow, that will translate into simply walking down the street in our daily activities. When we glow from His presence, with His glory lighting us up for others to see, we become the light on the hill, unveiled, no basket over it to hide that light, that others will see and know that something is special here. They will be drawn to His glory and they will be changed. That is power evangelism at its finest.