From the time I was a youngster, I’ve been labeled as a “wheeler-dealer”. I can’t explain it, but I just love to buy and sell stuff. I was apparently too young to remember this transaction, but my Mom tells the story of me selling the ladder that went to my bunk bed to one of the neighbor kids. Why he wanted it I couldn’t say, but apparently I felt I didn’t need it anymore, so out the door it went in exchange for a cash settlement. In the early 70s, you could often find me collecting, trading, and bartering with Wacky Package stickers or beer cans as they were the hot commodity of the day. Even now, I take great joy when I find something at a flea market, or in a garage sale, or on Ebay that I think I can turn a profit on. I don’t really know why, It just makes me happy. In fact, my favorite TV shows are American Pickers, Pawn Stars, the Barrett Jackson auto auctions, and The Antiques Roadshow. Somehow I’ve slowly gravitated toward these kinds of programs because they are all based on the principle of worth. Which simply put is, something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. Over time, I have come to realize that this is especially true in the realm of the Spirit.
As a believer, we must understand that all things of great value come at a price. “But Salvation is free” you might retort. True, salvation is a free gift to you and I, but it came at the highest price ever paid for anything. You see, as a believer we can sometimes unknowingly underestimate the value of some of the “good gifts” (Matt 7:11) given to us by our Heavenly Father. Every parent understands that if we give our children everything they want at no cost to them, eventually they will develop an entitlement mentality. In other words, spoiled kids think they deserve everything and don’t have to work for anything. This is why my Dad tried to teach me and my siblings about what he called “the value of a dollar”. Though he was a very wealthy and generous man, he did not give any of us kids everything we wanted nor was he pressured by when we wanted it. In turn, we learned that some things we had to wait for, to earn, and eventually to pay for ourselves. Maybe you don’t want to hear this, but our Heavenly Father sometimes likes to apply this principle as well.
Let’s take for example the kind of experiences that may be required of us in order to gain a greater level of spiritual authority. At one point, the Apostle Paul’s authority was brought into question by those who were jealous of the impact his ministry was making on the church of Corinth. His defense was both simple and profound. In essence, he claimed that he had earned his authority by consistently being willing to work hard and to suffer for the cause of Christ. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.” (2 Cor 11:23) We must not be deceived about this, there will most certainly be some work and pain involved in the process of attaining genuine spiritual authority. True, some things will come as a free gift, but rest assured, others will have to be paid for. Much like our earthly parents, the Lord understands that we won’t appreciate anything of value that didn’t cost us something.
A friend of mine shared a story recently about attending the 90th birthday of one of his uncles. He said he had never really spent much time with the man, but he was confident that he must surely be wise after living all those years. He knew this might be his only opportunity to glean some of the wisdom gained over the course of a long and eventful life. So he cautiously approached and asked him to share just one “nugget of truth” that he had discovered. Much to his dismay, the old man flippantly replied, “just keep breathing.” At this, my friend walked away quite discouraged and offended at the man’s unwillingness to give up any of the goods. How dare he!
I’ve seen a similar dynamic take place at different church events. It’s not uncommon for a well meaning believer to approach someone who has just delivered a powerful message, or demonstrated some form of anointed public ministry. They will walk right up and ask, “could you please lay your hands on me so I can get what you have?” Unfortunately, that’s not usually the way it works. Most of the people who are walking in true spiritual authority or anointed ministry have paid a great price to be doing so. And if somehow they haven’t yet, believe me, they will. This principle can also apply to the gaining of what Paul called the fruit of the Spirit. Don’t believe me? Is your theology getting tweaked a bit? Just ask the Lord to “give” you patience and see what happens next. I can tell you from experience what will happen. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN… at least not any time in the foreseen future. You will have to wait like you’ve never waited before until you flesh screams out in frustration.
Again, please don’t be confused about what I am saying here. God does give us plenty of great things, spiritual and otherwise, free of charge. He is more gracious and abundantly generous than we will ever comprehend. As a believer we do share in an inheritance that is completely unmerited. But don’t be shocked if you have to pay dearly for some of the kingdom stuff you’ve yet to attain. There is purpose in our difficulty. The Lord will sometimes even allow our enemies to remain in order “to teach warfare” to those of us who don’t have enough “previous battle experience.” (Judges 3:1-2) That’s the principle of worth in action.
“He was despised and forsaken and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and pains… therefore I will divide him a portion with the great kings and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because he poured out his life unto death.” (Isa 53:3, 12)
I know for some it might be hard to believe that the Lord could speak through a classic rock song, but it happens to me all the time. In fact, I believe that there was a very powerful anointing that rested on many of the bands from the 60s and 70s. Even though most of the artists probably had no idea that the Lord was using them to speak truth, He often did just that with or without their intent or acknowledgment. Recently, while driving home after a long day of work, I decided to pick up my cell phone and call my friend about a business start up we were working on together. Knowing that we had both come from a very similar performance oriented background, we were encouraging one another with the truth that many times it’s not about us having to work harder or to strive to make something happen. Instead, the Lord was teaching us that our forward progress is usually more about being willing to trust in his goodness and sovereignty so that we can enter into His rest. The Lord was trying to help us get the revelation that when our soul is at rest, and the peace of Christ is ruling in our heart, then we can just sit back and enjoy the ride. As soon as I hung up the phone, I hit the radio button and the song “Free Ride” by Edgar Winter started up as if perfectly cued. Being the closet rock and roll devote that I am, I cranked it up as loud as it would go. A very powerful encounter with the Lord ensued.
In the formative stages of my spiritual development, I was internally driven by the belief that, “If it’s gonna be, than it’s up to me.” Oh sure I could quote any number of scriptures that were contrary to that mindset, but when it came down to how I was actually living… I was just as self motivated and clueless about the Lord’s leadings as I was before I became a believer. Although lordship starts with making a decision, that is most certainly not where it stops. In fact, learning how to truly depend on the Lord may involve a long and humiliating process. At least it has for me, and I’m fairly confident that I’m not the only one who’s had a little trouble practicing this principle. Most of us, and this is especially true of we American Christians, have been trained from a very early age to be self reliant and self oriented in thought and lifestyle. Think about it, the very formation of our country was due largely to our unwillingness to submit ourselves to a ruler. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a gun toting republican who thoroughly enjoys his freedoms. But learning how to be more lead and less driven has not been easy for me. I don’t know how many times over the course of my Christian journey, my soul has exclaimed, “Stand aside God and watch how much I can DO for you.
It’s taken many years to even begin to comprehend how arrogant that thought pattern must be to the Lord. Whether we admit it or not, we often live as if our Heavenly Father’s interest in us and/or his approval of us is somehow affected by something we might do or not do “for” Him. Granted, we all have things we’re called, gifted, and anointed to do. But believe it or not, he really doesn’t need us to do anything. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Prov 19:21) Regardless of our theology, it is shamefully egocentric to deny the fact that His plans and purposes will prevail with or without our human efforts. This revelation is doubly needful for those of us who’ve committed ourselves to leading and serving in the church. As one who was once the textbook example of a Messiah Complex, I can tell you from experience that much of our need to “serve” may be improperly motivated. Remember, “the poor you will always have with you”. In other words, there’s always more that needs to be done. Our job is to do only what the Lord himself asks us to do. Anything beyond that is a yoke we need not wear. Obedience truly is better than sacrifice, that hasn’t changed. In fact, I’ve come to believe that one of God’s primary intentions for us is that we simply learn how to relax and enjoy the life He’s given us.
If you’re feeling the burden of a heavy yoke, maybe it’s time to inquire of the Lord about what you’re carrying that’s not really your responsibility. If you’re an intercessor, maybe you need to stop watching the news for a while. I’m pretty sure the oil spill in the gulf and that situation in the middle-east that you’re so concerned about will get solved without you losing any sleep over it. No offense, but sometimes we overestimate the significance of the role we play in the grand scheme of things. Go for a walk, enjoy a nap, eat a cheeseburger without feeling guilty for the love of God! It’s gonna be OK. He’ll keep the universe from imploding on itself. Our job is to cease from our striving and enter into his rest. The Lord God Jehovah is on the throne. He loves us and He’s got this whole thing figured out and under control. We need only to listen and obey, listen and obey, listen and obey. Let Him deal with the rest. Come on and take a free ride.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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.” (Matt 11:28-30)
The mountain is high The valley is low
and you’re confused on which way to go
so I’ve come here to give you a hand
and lead you into the promised land so…
come on and take a free ride
come on and sit here by my side
come on and take a free ride
all over the country I’ve seen it the same
nobody’s winning at this kind of game
we’ve got to do better it’s time to begin
you know all the answers must come from within so…
come on and take a free ride
come on and sit here by my side
come on and take a free ride.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Gal 6:1-3)
When the apostle Paul gave these words of instruction, it is very possible that he had been made aware of a specific situation within the church of Galatia. More than likely, someone had been caught in a sin and now it was the responsibility of the church leaders to respond. If you have ever been in need of restoration, or you have helped someone else through the process, than you may know how difficult it often is to navigate through that particular kind of transaction. But as awkward and trying as the process of restoration may prove to be, our willingness to participate in it is essential for the overall well being of the local church. In the verses above, Paul provides some practical wisdom on the “how to” of restoration.
He first gives the scenario, “if someone is caught in a sin.” At the onset, it should be noted that the difficulty and length of an individual’s restoration can be greatly affected by whether they were “caught” or whether they came forward of their own accord. The scriptures are clear that it is always better to “confess” our sin (1 John 1:9) than to be “found out” by it. (Num 32:23) We can humble ourselves, which is never easy. Or we can be humiliated, which is always painful. If we choose to submit ourselves to another as a result of our own conviction, the process has already begun. However, if instead we are caught in our sin, and we begin to blame shift or try some other diversionary tactic, than we are in danger of removing ourselves as a candidate for restoration. Sometimes the person who is caught may prove to be unwilling or disinterested in submitting to restoration. If this is the case, than it is often best to postpone any restorative efforts and simply release them into the Lord’s hands. Like the prodigal son, sometimes our belly has to get filled up with hog slop before we come to our senses. Forced repentance is not likely to produce true repentance.
Nonetheless, Jesus showed us in his encounter with the woman “caught” in adultery that restoration is available for all who will receive it. By pausing to draw in the sand before addressing her accusers, the Lord demonstrated that judgments of this nature are not to be made hastily or without reflection. Supernatural discernment and the wisdom of heaven are essential if we are to take part in helping a fallen brother or sister back up on their feet. Paul goes on to say that it is “those who are spiritual” who should attempt to restore others. Gentle restoration is truly a learned art. If we handle someone too gracefully, we may fall into enablement and thus set them up for future failure. If we deal too harshly, they may go underground with their sin and hope never to be exposed again. This is why we must seek the Lord for His counsel in each individual case rather than relying solely on our experience or personal “know how.” Each of us is a precious commodity to the Lord and our treatment of one another should reflect that truth. By taking time to consider the uniqueness and complexity of our brother’s situation, we communicate that we have at least some sense of his eternal value. Careless judgment will inevitably lead to unrighteous judgment.
“But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” When this verse is taken in context, it would appear that the warning Paul gives here is not about falling into the same sin as the person we are helping to restore. Instead, his concern seems to be that we may be tempted to feel a little too good about the fact that we are “up” when our brother is currently “down.” Paul adds, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” The real temptation is often for the one doing the restoring to feel some sort of pride in the role they are playing. Every believer is capable of thinking that we can somehow be elevated in our spiritual position above another based on our current level of “goodness”. This was the mistake of the older brother who simply could not wrap his mind around the Father’s non-judgmental treatment of the prodigal. Although we have trouble seeing it in ourselves, self righteousness is usually easy for us to spot in one another. If we are truly in need of restoration, we would be wise to try to find a facilitator who has nothing to gain personally from our confession or failure.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Though simple in principle, biblical burden bearing requires a certain skill set and it must be accompanied by a basic level of revelation about the work of the cross. For example, a well meaning believer might attempt to serve as a scapegoat or a “sin eater” for another. Though unintentional and often subconscious, this is a common mistake. Our goal should always be to get another’s burden onto the Lord as quickly as possible. It is also common for the person who is facilitating the restoration to inadvertently minimize the seriousness of someone’s sin rather than magnifying the power of the Lord’s redemption. In our attempts to ward off condemnation, we can sometimes excuse the sin nature instead of emphasizing the need for repentance and renewal. Every believer would do well to learn how to unapologetically speak the truth while maintaining a graceful demeanor. This skill is especially needful when called upon to help others through the process of restoration.
In 1 Cor. 12 Paul explains that the overall health of the body of Christ is dependent on the health of its individual parts, and that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” (vs. 26) It is likely that we are currently aware of someone in need of restoration. If we are that person, it is our responsibility to ask the Lord for the courage to seek out those who we are to submit ourselves to. He truly cares about his children and he wants each of us to have a place of usefulness and favor within the body. Maybe we know someone who has become estranged and now stands in need of an outstretched hand. It might be that the Lord is asking us to leave the ninety nine to go after the one. Either way, it is inevitable that in order for a gentle restoration to take place, some sacrifices will have to be made. Though almost always uncomfortable and time consuming by nature, we can rest assured that if we endure with one another through the process, the benefits will far outweigh the cost.
“My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)