processes (4)

Navigating the SUDDENLIES & the SLOWLIES

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year is that God can work either suddenly or slowly. I’m incredibly glad the Bible calls Him “the Lord of Breakthroughs” (1 Chronicles 14:10-11 NLT), because we all need a sudden breakthrough of His miraculous power at one time or another.

But God also presents Himself as “the Lord of the harvest” (Luke 10:2). While some harvests occur more quickly than others, this word picture is quite different than for a breakthrough.

By definition, a breakthrough is something that comes SUDDENLY, while a harvest is something that develops more SLOWLY, in response to seeds that have been sown over a period of time.

Before a harvest comes, there’s a period in which you may think nothing is happening. Although the seed is growing, it’s still in the hidden realm beneath the soil.

I’ll be honest: I’ve always liked God’s breakthroughs more than His harvests, because I like His suddenlies more than His slowlies.

That’s why I love Bible stories like the one where God “suddenly” sent an earthquake to deliver Paul and Silas from prison (Acts 16:25-26). And it’s thrilling to read about the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, when the breakthrough awaited by Jesus’ followers came “suddenly” (Acts 2:1-4).

However, I’ve found that some of God’s greatest miracles happen slowly rather than suddenly. For example, aren’t you glad babies are born after a slow, nine-month process rather than just suddenly appearing on your doorstep? They come as the awaited harvest of a seed implanted months earlier.

A Kingdom Parable

Although Jesus often healed the sick, cast out demons, or raised the dead after proclaiming the nearness of God’s kingdom (Matthew 4:23-24), His parables about the kingdom often presented a much different side of the equation. For example, Jesus began His brief parable in Mark 4:26-29 (NLT) by saying, The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.” 

When I read this recently, it was a LOL (Laugh Out Loud) moment. Think about it: Of all the ways Jesus could have described His mighty kingdom, He said it was like being a FARMER!

Hey, I have great admiration for farmers. But I’m a city boy, and I’ve never really thought of myself as a farmer for the kingdom of God.

Yet Jesus wanted us to know that many of the miracles in His kingdom come as the result of a process rather than an immediate breakthrough of power. Instead of the miracle in this story coming all at once, Jesus said it was progressive:

First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come (vs. 28-29).

The harvest in this story took a while to develop, but that didn’t mean the farmer had any doubts about the outcome. In fact, Jesus said this man was so confident in his seeds that he went to sleep after planting them!

The apostle Paul made a similar statement in Galatians 6:9 (NKJV):

Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

Notice Paul’s unwavering confidence that the harvest would come. “We SHALL reap…” he declared. It was as good as done.

However, he also warned against our tendency to expect the harvest to always come quickly. Yes, we can be confident our harvest will come, but only “in due season.”

You see, farmers always must deal with the GAP between their season of planting and their season of harvest. No wonder patience is one of the earmarks of a good farmer (James 5:7).

And as farmers in God’s kingdom, Paul says we must “not lose heart” while we’re waiting. How sad it is when we give up hope right before our prayer is about to be answered.

Suddenly or Slowly?

So, what does all this mean on a practical level? If you are seeking a breakthrough in some area of your life today, I pray it will come soon and suddenly. And one thing is for sure: The closer you draw to “the Lord of Breakthroughs,” the better positioned you will be to receive the miracle you need.

But while you’re waiting, don’t forget about the lessons of the farmer. Although he had to wait, he was confident in an eventual harvest. He knew he had sown powerful seeds in preparation, and he was trusting the ground to do its work.

In the same way, farmers in God’s kingdom must rest securely in His great faithfulness (Lamentations 3:21-24). Our miracle may come suddenly, or it may come slowly. And in some cases, the breakthrough won’t occur until we pass into eternity.

Let me leave you with a word of advice and encouragement from the psalmist: Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:5 NKJV). This is such good news. When you commit your difficult situation to your Heavenly Father and heed His instructions, you can trust the outcome to Him. The answer may come suddenly or slowly, but He will always be faithful.

Read more…

I noted in last week’s post that Christianity experienced a seismic paradigm shift when Martin Luther and other reformers essentially zero-based the church’s traditional doctrine of salvation and rebuilt it using only God’s Word—“Sola Scriptura.”


Then I stepped back from the details and considered applying that same strategy to discipling ourselves and others. I asked you, “If we zero-base our understanding of what it means to disciple ourselves and others, and then rebuild our understanding Sola Scriptura, how will our strategies—our “discipleship programs”—differ from what it is right now?


Why ask such a question? Because a recent Barna Group survey of discipleship across America (Dec 2015) alerts us to a disturbing situation: Despite our numerous church and parachurch discipling tools, programs, and activities, research reveals “the disconnect between how people think about their spirituality and what’s actually happening in their lives.” Among their conclusions: “Church leaders and congregants need better methods of thinking about and evaluating their discipleship efforts.”


Our key problem is this: People outside the church see woefully little difference between “Christians” and non-Christians. We need to discern that, acknowledge that, and change that. We need to make disciples who make a difference. Further, we must begin with ourselves, and only then influence others as disciples.


If we apply that zero-based strategy, here is what I envision we’ll remember and return to:

  • We’ll honestly and intentionally make love our aim. Agape love is a disciple’s distinctive feature (John 13:35; 1 Corinthians 13).
  • We’ll more clearly discern the relationship of discipline (e.g., solitude, prayer, memorization) and process (e.g., one-on-one, small group) to outcome (agape love, which shows in our Christlike character). Disciplines and processes are many and flexible; the outcome God desires is fixed. God challenges us in His Word to focus more on being than doing; on becoming more purposeful than process-full (Psalm 19:14; Matthew 15:8-9). And knowledge (e.g., theology) plus skill (e.g., Bible study) minus Christlikeness (agape love) leads to collapse.
  • Our testimony—in sharing our faith and in discipling—is more about what others see in you and me than what we say (Matthew 5:14–16). Again, let’s make love our aim. Let’s walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1-2; 5:1-2).


This week, 500 years ago, marked the start of the Protestant Reformation. Could this week in 2017 mark the start of a Discipling Reformation? “Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”

Read more…

Applied Agape

I arrived in the Middle East last weekend to spend 35 class hours serving a group of tomorrow's ministry leaders in this region. It is a periodic privilege and responsibility I've enjoyed for most of the past 20 years. Several past students are present colleagues in ministry. How special is that!

At church, some men asked what this group from six countries will focus on. I replied, "The course is called 'Christlike Character in Leadership & Family.' We'll explore the implications and applications of cultivating lifestyles of Christlikeness as we lead and live. But it is at heart a discipling course focused on 'applied agape.'"

That two-word term seemed to catch their attention.

That term captures my attention, too. Why take this special teaching opportunity and dedicate it to "applied agape"? Here's why: God's Word clearly and repeatedly points to the #1 outcome that He desires in and through our lives, churches, and other ministries: agape love. Ponder such passages as 1 Corinthians 13, Galatians 5, Ephesians 4 & 5, and Revelation 2: "The fruit of the Spirit is love" . . . "If I . . . have not love, I am only a noisy gong" . . . "Walk in a manner worthy of your calling" . . . "Walk in love" . . . "Remember . . . repent . . . and return to your first love."

Prequels to these words permeate the Old Testament. Check out, for example, Deuteronomy 6:5-6.

In stark contrast, if data gathered for the Barna/Navigators study of "The State of Discipleship" are reliable, Christians in general are confused about both the meaning and the bottom line--the output--of "discipleship." They often focus so much on processes--which are manifold--that they lose sight of the outcome God desires: a lifestyle of agape love. How God must grieve at our lack of focus.

I appreciate the many discipling processes that various people and ministries have developed. A variety of flexible, practical discipling process can be useful. But does the program/process that you use make applied agape love the clear and prominent outcome?

Life is short. As we grow personally and help others do likewise, we honor Him most when our focus is less transactional and more transformational. We dare not fall in love with our diligently developed processes instead of God's most-desired outcome. Let's adjust each of those to their appropriately proportionate share of our emphases as appliers of agape who influence others to do likewise.

"The main thing is that the main thing remain the main thing!"


But not easy.

Your thoughts on this?

Read more…

The Power and the Process

I really like the concept of miracles. As a writer for a Christian ministry, I find myself regularly penning articles and books about God’s desire to give “supernatural breakthroughs” to His people in their health, finances, emotions, and relationships.

It’s not entirely hype. I’ve seen breakthroughs like that, and they are awesome. We desperately need to see more of God’s supernatural power manifested in the American church today.

However, like almost any Biblical issue, there’s another side to the story. Yes, God wants to reveal His POWER, but He also wants us to understand that some miracles require a PROCESS.

A simple illustration is the conception, development, and birth of a baby. The whole thing is pretty miraculous, if you ask me. But God doesn’t do it all by Himself. He works through a man and woman through a set process that ultimately leads to a baby being born.

A great quote attributed to St. Augustine says, “Without God, we cannot. But without us, God will not.” In other words, we’re called to be what the apostle Paul described as “God’s partners” (NLT) or “God’s co-workers” (NIV). He will always be faithful to do HIS part, but the outcome of a matter is often dependent on us doing OUR part as well.

Farmers traditionally have had a keen appreciation for this partnership. Perhaps that’s why Jesus told several parables about sowing seeds and trusting God for a fruitful harvest (e.g., see Mark 4). I particularly love the parable about a man who scattered seed on the ground and then went to sleep (vs. 26-29). Isn’t that cool? The man knew he had faithfully done his part, and then he rested in the assurance that God would cause his seeds to “sprout and grow,” even though “he himself does not know how.”  

The farmer in this story didn’t have to understand the entire biology of “how” his seeds would be turned into a crop. He simply knew the process would work, if he worked the process.

It’s fascinating to see that although this man’s harvest could be aptly described as a “miracle breakthrough,” it wasn’t instantaneous but gradual and progressive in nature: “first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.”

If you’re like me, you get frustrated by this. Why can’t the harvest come all at once, fully grown right from the beginning? While I’m sure some harvests DO arrive instantly, that’s surely not the norm. Almost always, we have to wait for our seeds to sprout, and then we have to wait some more until they come to maturity.

I’ve noticed that some people are so in love with the concept of the supernatural that they overlook their responsibility to plant any seeds. They haven’t witnessed to anyone, but they seem puzzled that no one is getting saved. Or they beg God to open the door for a new job, even though they haven’t gotten around to sending out their resume yet.

Other people are painstakingly trying to work life’s processes, but they are in desperate need of a supernatural touch from God to energize and multiply their well-intentioned seeds. They’ve forgotten that even after seeds have been planted and watered, GOD must be the one who makes them grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).

In order to reach maximum fruitfulness, we need both God’s power and His processes. The processes may not be glamorous, but they are a necessary part of receiving the Lord’s provision. Apart from Him we can accomplish nothing of lasting value, but as we abide in Him and apply His prescribed processes, we will surely bear much fruit (John 15:5).


Read more…