I have found that many Christians, especially those who come from a broadly defined charismatic background (like myself), can easily fall into a very unhealthy view of God. It is almost like He becomes a heavenly magician who exists to work for lazy and undisciplined believers, rather than a loving Father who empowers and trains us. We expect God to do things for us supernaturally and “cathartically.” What He often intends, and designs, is a process of development in which He awakens and trains us to recognize the life-potential of the gift of the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
In an academic setting, a teacher doesn’t take the test for you. He/she will withdraw his/her presence from you at the seemingly most critical moment of your need. The teacher’s absence of active engagement with you is necessary for your own development. You take the test to prove to yourself the ability that is within.
It’s the same in the kingdom. We often are addicted to the “Lord’s presence” in an unhealthy way: expecting exceptional supernatural experiences as a substitute for a disciplined life. They’re not. It’s also not an either/or situation. It’s both. However, our flesh prefers the supernatural because the process of discipline takes embracing His cross. Bells and whistles, pizzazz and ba-zing, are much more attractive than the clanging of nails in the hands/wrists of our carnality and self will.
The Book of Acts covers approximately 30 years. What is recounted there for us is like a sports highlight reel. If you count the number of major miracles in the Book of Acts, over the time span of the book of Acts, it averages out to one major miracle every five years! Counting “lesser signs” such as tongues it is about one “sign” every three years. The notion that you or I are somehow “failing to realize the fullness of God’s kingdom” if we are not pumping out miracles-a-minute every weekend is absurd. Our lives are not a non-stop carnival of thrills and chills. Our lives are characterized by transformative discipline, punctuated or “salted” by supernatural highlights. I am thankful for, have faith for, and have experienced the latter many times. But my life has been built on the former.
The word “discipline” can come across as bit clinical. That’s very unfortunate. If we come from a religious performance background, the very mention of the word can cause some reactionary responses. The word discipline (or disciple) should not cause a believer any strain as it is a thoroughly biblical concept. It simply means the progressive increase of the government of God in our life. More of Him. Less of me.
Because of how the topic can be, and regrettably has been, mishandled in a clumsy, harmful, and abusive ways (unenergized by love, unawakened to the indwelling Christ) many are in strong reaction to anything remotely resembling discipline. They think it is works, self-effort, performance-based religion, or the antithesis of grace. That is as untrue as it is reactionary. There is no tension between “being and doing.” (Contrary to popular opinion). Our doing is the easy overflow of our being. Birds fly because it is consistent with their “being” to do so as their “being” energizes their doing. The indwelling new life of Christ is supposed to be our source, not human will power.
Let’s define discipline a bit differently. Think of it it in terms of life rather than behavior management.
In the natural if we wanted to live (physically exist), we would do certain things to make sure that happened: eat, drink, seek clothing, shelter, take care of our selves, avoid danger, etc. These would not be “disciplines” in the sense of: “Shoot, these things are such a burden. I wish I didn’t have to do them.” Hardly. These natural activities are the overflow of a natural life. We are motivated and empowered from within to do these things. They are the requirement of life as well as the impelling of life. They are not the duty to obtain life. They are life’s overflow.
That is what kingdom disciplines are for a believer. They are the logical and necessary overflow of His life that help maintain and expand His life and kingdom in me. Yes, they involve “behaviors.” But if you think having a nice meal is a “behavioral requirement,” well then I probably am not going to be able to help you in this article. That’s because if you are carrying a reactionary grid of understanding, and view what I am writing with the spiritual equivalent of that perspective, you will most likely misunderstand me.
Here’s a true story from many years ago.
I was once in a role of a traditional pastor in a church that was experiencing catastrophe in marriages throughout the congregation. The previous pastor’s marriage had collapsed and the effect rippled through the congregation in a bad way. I was brought in, more or less, to try to help recover these lives and the church. Every shaky or vulnerable marriage in the place came under assault and started to unravel: “Well if he/she can divorce and get someone else, why can’t I?”
At one time, I was doing 80 hours a week (no exaggeration) of nothing but marriage counseling. After I came to my senses and got over my messianic savior complex, I began to realize something. The couples coming to me were, on the whole, completely uninterested in investing any effort themselves to save the situation that they themselves had created. Rather, they were looking at me like a Christian magician.
They would not say it, but their actions and attitudes revealed that because of my grace-gift, expertise, or alleged prowess in spiritual things, that they could come into my office for “counseling,” and I was going to discover some mystery, and God was going to do magic to make their situation better–without them changing any behaviors or attitudes. It sounds silly as I write this. I only wish it was silly at the time. It was dreadfully serious.
I also began to realize that on the whole, these couples were doing anything remotely close to living the basics of an empowered, new covenant, Christian life as a follower of Jesus. Oh sure, they were coming to services, shouting hallelujah, enjoying the “worship service,” and enjoying the weekly “pot luck” dinner. But in the things that mattered in life, they were spiritually AWOL.
So, I developed a very basic short list of questions (see below) to ask folks when they came into my office. I also went public in the congregation and announced that going forward, anyone coming into my office was going to be asked these questions in the first ten minutes.
Below is the short list of what I would ask folks. See if it resonates with you. This is not deep. This is not “setting the bar too high.” This is “Christianity 101.” It is painfully tragic that it is so rare, and that believers, as a whole are so foreign to these things. However, it does explain quite a bit of the “mess we is in.”
- How are you in the scriptures? Do you spend any time regularly reading them? Why not? He’s the Living Word and bread of Life. Are you not interested in Him?
- How is your prayer/devotional life? Do you have any quality time with Father? Why not? I thought you said He is your Savior and that you love Him? I saw you singing those words last Sunday? Did you not mean them? Why don’t you want to spend any time with Him?
- Are you engaged in serving others? Why not? Jesus said if you lose your life you will find it. Job’s captivity was turned when he focused on others rather than himself. Can you name anything you are doing that is related to anything other than your selves or your family and friends?
- Are you generous with your time and money? Why not? Jesus said how we handle our finances is directly linked to our access to spiritual treasure.
- Are you relationally well-integrated with the family of God, the body of believers? Why not? The family (the church) is the pillar and ground of all truth. Jesus’ life, virtue, and ministry is resident in people. Why are you not regularly with them, receiving from them? Do you have some unresolved relational conflict issues?
- Are you engaged in any way in sharing the gospel with others? I am not talking stereotype evangelism. I am talking revealing Jesus to unbelievers in the way that is uniquely you. How? If not, why not? A body of water that only takes in, and never flows out soon becomes a stagnant pond.
- Are you holding any bitterness or unforgiveness against your spouse or anyone else? Jesus said we would be given over to the tormentor if we harbor unforgiveness.
Then I would finish with:
- Well since you are not doing any of the above, why are you surprised that your life and marriage is in shambles and that you do not enjoy each other or kingdom living? What do you expect?
- Why don’t you try living like a Christian for sixty consecutive days, and then come back again and see me? Then perhaps we can talk about some counseling.
I was normally met with deer-caught-in-the-headlight stares, silence, and the sound of the back door of the church swinging! There was quite a Gideon’s revival in that place!
My counseling load went from 80 hours a week to zero. Literally, zero. This was both heart-breaking and telling. It was painfully clear that these folks were not discipled by my predecessor, and had no interest in being discipled going forward. They wanted “feel-good” magic. Well, I decided I was not their magician for hire. It was plain: people wanted magic, not transformation through an empowered and disciplined life.
I have a strong hunch that my experience is not isolated. We will never accomplish with counseling or signs and wonders for what is absent in transformation resulting in the increase of His government in human beings.
Copyright 2014, Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact email@example.com.
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