Imagine trying to walk on your thumbs all the time. Big sweaty feet dangling above your head. I hope you’re smiling. I know I am. It doesn’t work well to rely on parts of your body for jobs that they were not designed for. We barely think about the design of our bodies when they are working well because God perfectly designed us each with a body containing specialized parts. Some parts are multi-tasking, some are not. The human body is wondrous and we trust its design!
This sounds like an obvious fact to mention, and I wish we didn’t need to hear it, but just as God created our physical bodies, He also perfectly designed the Body of Christ. He knows what He is doing! But do we trust Him? Do we believe that His design for the body of Christ is best? It is so easy for us to be caught up in what is directly in front of us. The latest crisis, those real needs closest to our heart, injustices that we see around us. Does He have a design for us to follow? If we are not careful, we can end up in a huge game of “who is more right” regarding what we should do that does not end up feeling like a game at all. How does God call us as a body of believers to operate together, when we are as diverse in our giftings as we are in God’s plans for us? How do we know what role God is calling us to in the body of Christ?
We start with Him.
We are first called to be in relationship with God:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:14
Then with each other:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
Then the world:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
But how does this apply to us individually?
We are all called to be active members in the body of Christ, each called to contribute towards its edification and growth with Christ at the head; there is no room for passivity!
“When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 1 Corinthians” 14:26
What does that look like practically? Paul refers to many roles in the body of Christ, such as...
"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Ephesians 4:11-12
And this doesn’t even include roles listed in 1 Corinthians:
"And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.” 1 Corinthians 12:28
Now add to this the marketplace, family roles, government and a host of other callings and we can see how we truly need God’s guidance to know what our role is to be. Or we risk being directed by the loudest influence in our lives. Partnering with God’s direction for our lives brings empowerment; partnering with any other voice does not.
“The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way” Ps 37:23
Can you imagine if a Godly woman like Mother Teresa had been asked to work in an office all day? Administration is a wonderful gift (one I do not have by the way), but the poor would have lost a spiritual mother had she been asked to be a secretary. God knows how He made each of us, and designed us to operate out of His plan for us; this revelation comes out of relationship with Him. In a time of great need such as now, can I encourage you to find your place first with God and let Him direct your steps? There may be many needs around you, but you will bear the most fruit if you partner with what God is calling you to do with Him.
""For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
To prosper you, to give you a hope and a future, this is what He says. Trust Him!
What guidelines do you use to determine if things are running successfully? For some it might be a lack of conflict: “No one is mad at me so life is good”. For others it might mean that all your bills are paid. Others might decide that if there are conflicts or difficulties, they must have made a mistake somewhere. Or do we think things are going well based on how much praise we receive?
My point is that we all use some sort of measuring stick to determine how well we are doing. Some of our methods are healthy, some not. Determining how we are doing and keeping abreast of this is very biblical. It's called discernment and we are called to consistently be growing in our ability to discern what is happening around us and in us.
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Heb 5:14
But what guidelines has God given us? Proverbs abounds in wisdom concerning acquiring knowledge and the New Testament gives us some valuable guidelines to test the condition of our hearts and lives by.
First, a caution. Proverbs states clearly
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15
Therefore, do not presume to be flawlessly self-aware, but seek those you trust who are without agenda, to help you gain insight into yourself. You might think you are at peace but if everyone is walking on eggshells around you, you might not be as healthy as you thought.
What are some of the signs that we are doing well, that we are in a good place with God and have not wandered off track? The fruit of the Spirit is a good place to start.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” - Gal 5:22-23
Another sign is our ability to operate out of a place of rest. Jesus promised us that His yoke was light. He hasn’t changed. He promised us rest and a light burden, not a never-ending cycle of burnout and recovery.
So, how are you doing? Have you accepted the lie that there is just too much to do and exhaustion is a fact of life? Or is your ability to walk in love and peace strained? I know, for me, these are good signs that I have strayed away from walking with God and instead picked up my “saviour cape”. I mean, if I don’t step in and help and save people who will? Catch the joke? It’s hubris to think I should be in the position of being the only one that can help, and even if I am, sometimes rushing in can do more damage than good. Sometimes things need to fall apart in order for change to occur. When we take on the responsibility for the growth in God’s Kingdom, we place ourselves in the role of God. For He says very clearly:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Mat 16:18.
God is building His Body, His Church, not us. Our job is to follow Him. And Jesus promised our yoke would be light. How can we hope to acquire the fruit of the Spirit that Galatians talks about out of a place of exhaustion and busyness, prompted by a misplaced belief that we are responsible for more than we actually are?
Personally, I can usually tell if I am off track with God when I get cranky and stressed, when I begin to become judgmental of others’ lack of “help”, or when my family begins to feel neglected. If I start making my commitments to serve outside my family greater than my relationships in my family, I’m in trouble. And so is my family.
Now things like tragedy and crisis can take our toll on us as well. Sometimes a crisis can momentarily swamp us and we need to give ourselves grace. But God’s peace and rest is always available to us, otherwise we would be limiting Him to the role of a fair-weather friend: only useful and faithful in the good times.
If we look just as exhausted and stressed as our neighbour, if our children and families are just as neglected, if our spouses are just as lonely, what does that say about the God we claim is so wonderful? The people we are helping may love us, but do our families see the same person?
Take time at the beginning of this year to read His view on your responsibilities in His word. Have you taken on a bigger burden than He intended? Do the fruit on the Spirit show up easily in your life? Or are they only for the public? Those that know me know that I regularly give God my imaginary day timer and ask Him what I have taken on that I need to stop doing. And if I don’t do that, my family reminds me to. For some, this may be adding to your days instead of removing things. Either way, holding our lives up to God’s word instead of others’ opinions or our own expectations will provide an excellent plumbline to get back to walking in God’s peace and presence if we have drifted away.
Then we will really be living testimonies of His faithfulness.
I thought about calling this “New Year…New Start”, but I really believe that the new start has already begun. It actually began over 2000 years ago, with a radical new mindset that God was a Father available to all, a God who loved us, wanted to be in relationship with us, and whose love was unconditional, free of guilt, shame, demands and abandonment. This is a love that honors our free will; we can accept it or not from a God who will not manipulate or control us to get our acceptance. It is a safe love. No wonder the new church accepted this with an almost fanatical passion! This was a love available to all ethnic groups, genders and economic brackets. You don’t have to agree with God to be loved by Him, but it is impossible to accept His love and follow Jesus without agreeing with who He is. How do you follow someone without agreeing with them? To do that involves denial, domination, deception and a host of other unhealthy dynamics. And that’s just not who Jesus is. He wants us to know who He is, who His Father is, and then decide if we will let Him be Lord of our lives, or to use modern language, “to be in charge” of everything in our lives, thoughts, and hearts. He doesn’t take away our freedom, He just asks for the steering wheel. Then He provides freedom with the knowledge that we cannot lose His love and we are always free to say “no”.
The new church was so passionate about believing who Jesus was, that they jumped in with both feet. They followed Jesus and held nothing back. They sold everything they had to make sure none of them were without what they needed.
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Acts 2:44-45
They met together, corporately, each contributing something when they met.
“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” 1 Cor 14:26
It was not passive; it was dynamic. No wonder they stood out as different! What group that takes care of its own is not attractive? Passionate about the nature of Jesus and their everyday access to the Father, they chose to follow Him.
Fast forward to 2021, and I still see passion, and a fervent call to leave passivity and the familiar behind. The activity of the Body of Christ is not a spectator sport, and it is not limited to a building or event. It is a dynamic growing entity infused by God’s presence, whether in the workplace, the home, over dinner, or where any group of believers meet. Where God’s presence reigns, there is no fear, or domination but there is unconditional love offered independent of agreement, independent of your performance. There is a freedom to say no and to still be loved, and there is a light burden for those who say “yes”.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Mat 11:29-30
For we are not building our church, but He is building His church. And there is a recognition that we are not a building, we are not an event, we are a body of believers making up the Body of Christ.
Is this easy? No, it's actually impossible without God. And since we are far from perfect, we make mistakes, so forgiveness and humility are key. The forgiveness He constantly shows us has to be constantly extended to others, something we cannot do unless we allow Him access to our lives, hearts, and minds.
It’s a dynamic thing really, to grow while fully following God, then fall flat, let Him restore you, then grow again. There is no room for fear or passivity in growth. It is full of creativity, excitement, and change. As we start our new year, I encourage you to return to your Bible, immerse yourself in the culture of the biblical Body of Christ, and risk throwing everything into God. It is radical, it is for everyone, it is creative, and it is without fear because you cannot lose the love offered.