All Hands on Deck

“And the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets, for God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”                         (1 Cor 14:32-33)

 “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Prov 16:9)

The Book of Nehemiah begins with Nehemiah hearing tragic reports about the state of Jerusalem that profoundly affect him. And so he mourns, fasts, and prays. Then, as he is before the king performing his duties, the king asks Nehemiah why his countenance is down. After an explanation (vs. 4), the king asks Nehemiah what he would like him to do to help out. Nehemiah then prayed again to God, indicating he did not have a clue what the Lord wanted of him until that moment. Immediately God grants him revelation, as evidenced by his quick and cogent response to the king. Nehemiah was told to tell the king he must go and rebuild the city. The rest of the story is about Nehemiah moving from that revelation, to an agenda as to how to accomplish it, and finally to action.

A similar phenomenon occurred with Cyrus, king of Persia, in the book of Ezra. First comes revelation as the Lord “stirs up the spirit” of the king (vs. 1), then a proclamation—an agenda—is proposed to get the ball rolling (vs. 2-4), then action begins (chapter 3) as the fine details of the plan are completed and the work is carried out. The Bible is full of such stories: King David’s many exploits, the Battle of Jericho, and many, many others. The Lord gives the revelation to his prophets, an agenda is established from the revelation, and then the action is taken to fulfill it.

We can look at it this way: the revelation exists purely in the realm of the Spirit—the kingdom of heaven. The agenda is the bridge where heaven and earth meet—where the Spirit of God and the spirit of man interact. Lastly, the action exists purely in the kingdom of man, where the workers do the work and the earth reaps the benefit. All of it is necessary, and no part is a lesser one than any of the others if it’s God’s plan and His agenda that is being worked out. As Paul said when speaking of the body of Christ, there are no lesser members. God has composed the body so each part plays a critical role in accomplishing His purposes, and bringing Him glory on earth. Paul goes on to say if we ignore this fact the whole body suffers, because critical members are not doing their part. This is largely why the modern day structure of the church is DOA: a professional pastor and his crew of around 5% of the congregation trying to drag the other 95% down the road.

How does the body suffer when we are focused on revelation alone? Nothing gets done. James asks what good it is if we pray for people, and exhort them on, while refusing them their physical needs, and says he prefers to show his faith by his works (Jas. 2). The old adage: we can be so spiritually minded we’re no earthly good comes to mind. How about focusing on agenda alone? Well, agenda without revelation renders something man’s plan and not God’s. How many times in the Scriptures are we encouraged, and yes admonished, to wait upon God before we act? In 1st Corinthians 4 Paul talks about waiting upon God for conviction, and not judging the truth until He brings to light the hidden things and discloses the motivations of all of our hearts. If the motivation is from man and not God, nothing good will be accomplished. Without revelation we don’t know where God’s agenda even is.

Lastly, what of action without revelation or agenda? Being sewn up for agenda/action myself, my bruises and black-eyes suffered trying to drag God up my hills readily testify to the foolishness of action apart from revelation and a subsequently Spirit-oriented agenda. Solomon said, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). I am the dean of false starts in ministry, and lost count long ago of the number of times I have tried to set an agenda, and then take action, on courses that looked very spiritual and very scriptural only to have doors slammed in my face that I could not explain.

Does this mean I don’t hear from God? In certain ways, yes. But as I look back on my life consistency has certainly been an issue. What I have come to believe is trying to do it all myself will never work. I need to be a part of dreamers, agenda setters who are the leaders of the workers, and the workers themselves if I want to help in moving God’s plans from heaven to the kingdom of heaven on earth.  And so, contrary to my nature, I am having to wait to be a part of something bigger than myself. I am having to wait for a community dreaming, planning, and working in concert to accomplish God’s purpose for my life.

And that is what it’s all about: community. For far too long we have, in the Christian church, relied upon individualism rather than community. The dreamers are too often content to gather and dream, while the agenda setters and workers do their thing without inspiration. Wouldn’t it all be so much more powerful and effective if we all leaned upon one another in community to get the job done? As Paul said, when we leave any part of the body out and go forth to dream, set agendas, and act without it, something precious and critical gets lost. Community is compromised, and community is the way God has always wanted to be known, and glorified, on this earth.

I live for the day the church forsakes its event-driven structure and comes back to true Christian community. We somehow moved from His model to our present-day temple system that reinforces individualism by dividing the body in to the have’s and have-nots. As it was when Jesus came, the Rabbis/Pastors run the show and the rank and file sit and listen. It didn’t work then, and it’s not working now. If we’d get back to Jesus’ model of church—of community—I believe God’s people would witness the power they witnessed so many years ago, when “they were all together and had all things in common.” Dreamers dreamed, planners set agendas, and workers worked in concert, and they all mattered. “And that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2).