There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.
Stories inform us of where we have come from, and for this Benchmark I want to draw on a great story from the history of the Vineyard. John Wimber was a busy, tired and broken man who had become “internally bankrupt" while working long hours as a church growth consultant for Fuller Seminary. One night as he lay exhasperated in a hotel room the Lord drew him to read Psalm 61 and then spoke to him these life-altering words:
This phrase sums up the ground work that the Vineyard movement was started on; a group of tired and weary people who humbly sought the Spirit’s work rather than their own – a group who wanted to see the Lord’s ministry at work before them. This is the right-way-round way to do it and this order has been around for a long time.
In the Prophetic books of the Bible, the prophets are constantly urging the people of Israel to return to Spirit-first living, Jesus heralded this way of doing things, and here in Ephesians 4 Paul echoes it again, laying it out as a benchmark for the new church of Ephesus. He says to them that they should be people who don’t miss putting the work of God up at the front-end of all the proceedings in their lives and their community. It’s a big deal, so he uses a powerful phrase, in a similar way to the prophets: don’t grieve God.
Perhaps a parable might help thread this out a little more.
Now, imagine for a second you are a father or mother, and your teenage kid wants to start playing a new sport – the same one you played and still love as a fan. You have helpful tips ready to give, you have some training in mind to help them build their skills, and most of all you are looking forward to hanging out with them more because of their involvement with this sport. All of this will give you joy.
One day you are waiting in the car for them to finish practice and you get a txt: “I’m making my own way home with so-and-so’s dad. See you later at home."
In the kitchen later that week, when you ask them about how that weak spot of their game is going, you get the reply, “Well, so-and-so’s dad says it doesn’t matter, so I’m just forgetting it for now."
A few weeks later they haven’t even told you where the game is that week. You get a txt late that afternoon asking for you to come pick them up and when you get there they are a little pissy with you that you are so late and left them in the rain.
Your plans of mentoring them and seeing them enjoy the sport you love has now become a new reality: you’ve become the back-up position for when their other plans don’t work out.
To put ourselves first and treat God as a back-up plan is to miss a big point; it’s getting the order wrong. In grieving the Spirit, we are grieving the work God wants to do in us, through us and with us, and that’s a gift we don’t want to neglect.
In this journey of following Jesus and planting this church, we know there's lots of wonderful ministry we could do, but in choosing humility, we want Him to show us His ministry first – and to continue to do so – because the last thing we want is to treat the Lord as our back-up plan.