As Otis went through various transitions with his own kids, now three and eight years old, he realized that he was already “shutting down” emotionally with them. Nothing bad, mind you, which others would readily notice or at least admit to. Yet, it was enough that the shut down was annoying him. For the past several years, he had played the role of youth pastor in his church, and frankly, he was fantastic. The youth loved him, the pastor was happy with the annual numeric growth rate, and the parents appreciated his insights. Yet, secretly, he carried this nagging nudge of the Holy Spirit that something was amiss in his relationship with his Holy Father. Ministry times for him were typically “others” focused and if something was seen in his life personally, it was usually prayed through with great love and ambiguity. Otis knew what to do for God, His Kingdom, and His church. However, he was feeling a developing tension between feeling intimate with the Lord’s love and other times not feeling it at all.
Annalicia, in her first year at the out of state university, thought maybe all of the Vineyard “signs and wonders” were perhaps losing ground in her heart. She thought that her high school Christian education would help her keep her faith strong. Yet, the place where she had hoped to find a standard for excellence, a place where she thought Truth would be explored, seemed to be the place where it was dismantled instead. Annalicia tried to plug into a Vineyard church, but there just weren’t enough people her age. Worse yet, the campus ministries only seemed interested in either making her a leader or reaching those needing Christ. Why did the “I don’t fit anywhere” message keep crowding out what God was trying to say her? As far back as she could recall, that message seemed to nag her.
Genesis tells us of a how the Spirit of God “hovered” above the waters. Mark reveals Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit was descending on Him like a “dove”. In both revelations, as Eugene Peterson points out, God speaks order, life, meaning, value, and love into His Creation.
Why then do Otis and Annalicia feel like the Kingdom of God and experiencing Him seem to be losing ground? Why do so many, who have had these values passed on to them, seem to be struggling with them?
Perhaps, before turning to counseling to determine where these feelings are pointing back to, an intermediate step might be a reflection of John 15. Results-oriented cultures such as our own can often misinterpret these foundational instructions about God’s Kingdom and intimacy with Him. Truth be told, Jesus’ teaching on the vine may mess with our theories of church, healthy growth, or our “make your church missional” models.
I used to think that in John 15 Jesus was saying that if I did the “right” behaviors and related to the “right” people, my life would result in meaning and godly character. Then I started to think about Galatians 5 and the fruit of the Spirit. The formula was: doing “right” plus being with the “right” people equals a fruitful life. Okay, little confession here for transparency sake. These ministry theories helped me rationalize John 15 and therefore really interpret it to mean the following: Do right plus hang with the right people equals more people (fruit). Such a formula left me as a thirty something longing for the Father’s love and even looking for it in painful relationships. I wanted to do the works of the Kingdom, but the more numb I felt towards God and others, the less motivated I was to do them. Had it not been for the easy part of just running programs and events, I may have dropped out of ministry all together.
What Jesus wants is for us to be so intimate (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) with Him that we are able to hear one voice. The voice that took a chaotic creation and spoke life and order into it. The voice that expressed love and value to His Son. The actual fruit in John 15, when observed in context, is the ability to ask of God and hear His response for my circumstances. This is what happens when I’m intimate with Him. Everything else, character, people, etc. are the whipped cream on my Venti Chai Tea.
Otis and Annalicia, like many of us, struggle with hearing His voice personally. Ultimate conversion of our minds and hearts is when we can allow Christ to move into those places where other voices are so loud. It may require a dark night of the soul. Voices that were too loud or too quiet during key transitional times in our lives in our early development still grip us. When God’s voice is louder than the others, Otis will relate more intimately with his kids rather than pull away like key people did when we was in middle school. Annalisia will hear God’s love and approval when she goes into those dark places of abandonment. Both will participate in the works of the Kingdom freely with those they love when their experientially locked perceptions are broken through. Breakthroughs, like Richard Foster wrote, take place when we learn to discern the voices of power and hear only God’s voice. Such discernment takes place when we are alerted by the Spirit, recognize Christ’s work, face the demons, renounce all, and use the weapons we find in Ephesians 6 rather than the weapons of our world.
The following questions and practices have helped me grow personally and intentionally in my ability to experience God and carry out the works of His Kingdom. They may even help you pass His kingdom on to others, especially those younger than you.
- If I want to pass on the Kingdom of God to others, especially those closest to me, do I love them with affection and discernment?
- When I’m modeling “prayer for healing or freedom” am I really hearing what the Spirit is saying and speaking to the heart of the recipient, or am I projecting?
- Am I taking enough time each year, even with counselors, to pursue God’s love and healing for my own heart? Justice can be swift for past hurts, especially when I give it over to God. But forgiveness is the actual healing agent and seems to work best over the long term.
- Which, in real time, do I use more of to announce His Kingdom through our church? God’s tools or the world’s?
- Am I practicing the presence of God in worship, solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, giving, Sabbath, and service regularly? These practices in particular seem to allow grace to flow most strongly when we the do what the Father is asking.
Perhaps our best way to pass the Kingdom of God on to another is to actually hear God say, in the moment, what purpose He has for them.
Picture used with permission: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1701