Compelling God

A religious idea current in the church is that prayer works much like a pair of scales: each prayer request weighs a certain amount, so that the prayer needed must weigh enough to bring the prayer scale to the tipping point and thereby be answered.

So we work to multiply prayers, either by praying more ourselves or enlisting others to join with us. Or, we densify the prayer; we can either pray more intensely1 or we fast.

There is a certain amount of truth in this way of thinking: for big prayers needing big answers, the unified prayers of many are needed. And we have seen the effectiveness of prayer chains, at many levels.

However, there is an important limit to this idea. And that is, no how matter how much or how intense the prayer, we cannot compel the Lord to do what He has decided He will not do. Here is the fundamental theological truth: He is God, and we are not.

Another example of a desire to compel God is the slogan we hear nowadays, “We’re going to bring Jesus back!” This idea seems to stem from the Matthew 24.14 passage, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ta ethane), and then the end will come.” The assumption here is that immediately after the last people group has heard the gospel, Jesus will immediately return and rapture the Church away.

According to some projections, the gospel will be brought to the last people group around the year 2030, or possibly even earlier. So the strategy is, Let’s pray and work and take the gospel out there to those groups as quickly as possible, and then Jesus will be compelled to return. And we can get outta here, because the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and we’d rather abandon ship than work on long-term strategies to address all the challenges.

But the text does not say that Jesus will return in the instant after the last group receives the gospel; it says only that at some time after that He will return. In other words, the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom to every people group is one necessary precondition to His return; but it may well not be the only one. And since every prediction of the timing of the immediate return of Jesus up to now has been wrong, without exception, we should assume that the Father has other conditions for the return that we do not yet understand.

In any case, we must realize that no action on our part obligates the Lord to do anything. He is God, and we are not.

Finally, another way we think that we can obligate God is to serve Him sincerely and sacrificially over a long time. We construct a contract with God; even though the process may not be articulated or even conscious, it is nevertheless very real.

The assumed contract goes something like this: I have served God well, I have sacrificed much, so nothing bad can ever happen to me, or to my loved ones. Or if it does, God will immediately fix it. One symptom that shows we have constructed such a contract is this all-too-common reaction to a personal disaster: “Why me?”

Mary and Martha assumed they had such a contract with Jesus; and that His love for them obligated Him to come immediately and heal their brother Lazarus (John 11). Jesus did indeed love them, and their prayer was not only reasonable but biblical. There was only one problem with their plan: it was not what Jesus had decided to do. He was in fact not obligated to do anything for them; He is God, and we are not.

There’s good news, and bad news. The bad news: if you think you have a contract with God, He didn’t sign it. He doesn’t do contracts; one reason for that is that a contract is an agreement between two more or less equal parties: you have something I want, and I have something you want. We are not anywhere at all equal with God, and are in NO position to sit down at a table with Him and negotiate terms. He is God, and we are not.

The good news: another reason He doesn’t do contracts is because the blessings He wants to give are bigger and better than anything we could have planned (Matthew 19.27-30). To sum up, we are far better off not trying to obligate God to do what we wish; because first, it doesn’t work, and second, His plans for us are so amazing that we cannot even imagine them (I Cor. 2.9). Glory to God in the highest!

1 Praying more intensely is not wrong – unless it involves us thinking we have to convince God to be loving. For example, we often hear prayers like “Save my family member/friend/government official”, or “Bless my nation”. These prayers betray a false understanding of the character of God: He is already loving our relatives, friends, and nations much more than we are, and is working in their lives to the extent that He can and still remain just.

In other words, in His justice He cannot bless selfishness and idolatry. Our prayers would be much more effective if they were directed to pulling down the idols that people are devoting their lives to. We don’t have to convince God to love the people we love; we need to rather be Elijahs whose intercession is preparing the way of the Lord’s actions.

Advertisements

video links to first part of my Geneva history tour

Here’s the link for the teaser for the DVD of my Geneva visit: http://youtu.be/IFrRxGG_ZZU

Here is the link of the episode 1 of the tour, it’s like an intro to the city of Geneva.  Several more episodes have been filmed, and will be available later.  Watch this space!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUQTHWDW4A8&feature=youtu.be

Dissertation summary

I did this summary to highlight some of the problems of our  mission in 1998-99.

The good news is, we took the right fork in the road in 2002-2003, and
we’re headed in the right direction.

Link to full dissertation available here (PDF).

—————————-

A CRISIS OF LEADERSHIP

This article is a summary of my Ph.D. dissertation:
“Formative Educational Experiences of Experientially-Qualified Leaders”,
copyright 1999 by Thomas A. Bloomer

A crisis of leadership exists in the world. Many agree on the need for
better leaders, and even on what their qualities should be. A recent
development seen in government, the Church, and especially in business,
is that leadership no longer rests on formal qualifications, such as
diplomas or academic degrees. The practitioners have come to agree with
the theorists, that leadership development is not helped by formal
academic study. What counts are results, the bottom line, and people
everywhere want leaders who can produce.

But the question then becomes, how are these leaders developed? If
formal education doesn’t really help, what does? Research has not shown
any direct links in leadership with heredity, social class, or specific
personality traits.

Since YWAM was one of the first missions which has no education
requirement for its leaders, YWAM’s leaders are a good group to study to
answer the question, How do people who are not educated for leadership
come to be leaders? YWAM has been incredibly innovative over its past 40
years, and another question was, do YWAM’s leadership development
practices favor innovation?

All 35 members of YWAM’s Global Leadership Team (GLT) were interviewed
in August-September 1998 using an ethnographic research strategy, and
the answers were systematically analyzed and summarized.

When asked how they themselves because leaders, almost all said that
they became leaders by being put into leadership. They also said that
they were trusted, believed in, encouraged, and released. Other
important factors mentioned were the calling and enabling of God, and
role models.

Then other factors were asked about. When prompted, many agreed that
suffering experiences, family, and YWAM community were important to
their leadership preparation. Surprisingly unimportant to most were
spouses, local church experiences, and mentors. Leadership theory was
confirmed here: formal education had almost nothing to do with YWAM
leaders becoming leaders.

When asked how they work now with younger leaders, a variety of
different strategies were noted, varying with the gifting and
personality of each one. Most of these strategies were nonformal, and
they could have much potential if followed up, written down, and
multiplied throughout the mission. But systematizing and intentionally
multiplying these experientially-based lessons does not seem to be one
of the strengths of this kind of leader.

The answers given lined up well with the factors that favor innovation
in organizations: relationships, trust, freedom of action, strong
leadership that is not authoritarian, and a high tolerance of risk. And
another question revealed that most of the GLT were visionary leaders
focussed on releasing young leaders.

However, less than half said that they consciously looked for ways to
give leadership to young leaders, even though that was how they were
prepared. Most did say that they consciously encouraged young leaders
whenever they could. But overall, YWAM leaders do not seem to have fully
grasped the value of the way they themselves were released.

HARDER?

Although the mission’s values seem to have been impacted by the
experiences of the leadership, and some of its policies as well (such as
the DTS requirement and structure), its practices have not always been
shaped as much by these formational experiences. When asked
specifically, most GLT members said that the kind of leadership
preparation experiences they had had were not always available to others
in the mission, and also that it was harder to become a leader in YWAM
now than it was when they first came in.

This statement by one senior GLT member was chilling: “If you go to some
YWAM bases, you will never become a leader.”

Although a minority of the GLT was positive about trends in YWAM that
still release young leaders, most recognized that every symptom of an
aging organization that stifles creativity can be found in YWAM:
departmentalization, hierarchical structures, unclear or slow decision
processes, turf-conscious leaders, increasing relationship problems
marked by backbiting and suspicion of others, refusal to accept
responsibility, greater divisions between leaders and staff and staff
and students, increasing distance between policies and values and actual
practice, conflict suppression, risk-taking either avoided or
exaggerated, excess personnel in some places and a cruel lack in others,
tolerance of incompetence, unclear goals, overcontrol,
overcentralization, resistance to accountability, low motivation,
personal stagnation, and obsolescence of products and processes.

Paul McKaughan, head of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association in
the USA, had this compliment, and question, for YWAM: “It is probably
the most significant seed bed for leadership in the Christian movement
today… So many people of vision now in pastorates and other leadership
positions have been impacted by and have come out of that ministry. It
is this that makes YWAM one of the most influential movements in our
Christian world today. The question is, can they sustain it in the 21st
century?”

And the answer to that sobering question, from the mouths of YWAM’s
Global Leadership Team, is “No.”
Unless changes are made, the processes already at work in our mission
will lead us irresistibly toward increasing fragmentation, stagnation,
and ineffectiveness.

If radical changes are made, we could still fulfill our potential of
becoming a truly transformational global mission.

-END-