Points to Ponder/Sage Advice on Serving God
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
I recently read about some timeless advice Dr. Billy Graham gave years ago to the students and faculty of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.* These six points are worth pondering. I offer my own reflections on them.
1. “Be sure you maintain a personal encounter with Christ.(the blind can not lead the blind).” Consider the word encounter. Personally keep yourself in the presence of Christ. To encounter someone personally, you always do that face to face. That requires an intentional commitment - daily - on our part to encounter Jesus. The “blind can not lead the blind” reminds us of the Pharisees who knew every letter of their religious tradition, but did not personally know the God for whom they were allegedly practiced it. Without a personal encounter with the Lord, leaders are blind as to where they are going; and blind followers cannot perceive the lostness of their leaders and the destructive path down which they are being led.
2. “Be sure you have had a call from God.” Question your call regularly. Be sure you are going to the work the Spirit is doing and not calling on the Spirit to bless what you are doing. Clergy (or anyone else) who are insulted by the idea of people calling them to account for their call are already out of line; perhaps even off course. The idea that your call is between you and God is prideful nonsense. We are part of a body, a community of faith. As such we are called to exhort, rebuke, admonish, and encourage each other. (Review the pastoral epistles of I & II Timothy, and Titus). In questions of calling I am suspicious if someone says they are called of God but there are no witnesses outside the circle of folks who usually support whatever they’d do. If no one other than yourself is telling you, you have a call from God, you had better stop. Find Spirit-led counselors who walk in integrity with the Lord.
“So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Rom 12:6 NIV)
I could list numerous scriptures on this. As believers we are part of the Body. A call from God must be affirmed and one must be willing and humble enough to submit to an examination of the call. Regularly. Insecure and unsure leaders will avoid this level of accountability. But as Paul told Timothy:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Tim 1:7 NKJV)
3. “Have systematic daily devotions. (You need at least a half-hour alone with God daily.)” Like many sincere believers I have struggled with being consistent and “daily” in my devotions. Finally I worked it out within the last year or so. I literally feel the difference. I also find that in sermon preparation and Bible studies, or even in casual conversations, scripture comes to mind to inform my thinking. I find I’m going deeper and understanding passages which previously either eluded me or I’d dealt with only superficially. Here is what I do: early morning reading from The MacArthur Daily Bible (goal is to read the entire Bible in one year) and the Our Daily Bread devotional; at night, a reading from “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. Marcella and I also use a couples’ devotional nightly after the children are in bed. It seems like a lot, but it actually flows right into my daily routine and enhances my day. It is never time wasted.
4. “Have a consuming love for men. Show compassion by entering into their emotions.” Empathize with others. Compassion means, “to suffer with.” That is a lot deeper and more involved than simply “feeling sorry for.” As Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Be mindful that you could find yourself in a similar situation. Care as much as you would want someone to care for you.
5. “Be sure you have a message to preach. With authority, simplicity, and urgency, preach to a decision.” We are not called to a career, or to entertain people. The opportunity to preach and teach are not to be taken lightly. God did not take it lightly in putting you there. Know that those who “teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1b) If you do not have a message to preach, maybe you have not received it yourself. In this high tech age with its MTV audience, it is easy to put on a show that is entertaining and emotionally uplifting but lacks substance. Are you trying to be a vessel useful to God, receiving and conveying His message (even if it is not popular), or are you hoping everyone “enjoys the service”? (Is it service, or “serve us”?)
6. “Be an example. Back up your witness with your life.” Leaders must not “lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:3) Jesus speaks in Matthew 18 of the seriousness of “causing little ones (young believers) to stumble.” Paul says he would abstain from eating meat if it offended the conscience of those looking to him. In First Timothy he lays down standards for those seeking leadership positions - it is about being an example. Walk your talk.
Jesus summed it up; “You are the light of the world... let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds (your example) and praise your Father in Heaven.” (Matt 5:14,16) To the believer he reminds them, you are a “temple of the Holy Spirit... whom you received from God. You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body,” and in how you conduct your life. (I Cor 6:19b - 20)
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Whitmore serves God at the First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.
*Source: The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing (3/5/04) © 2004 Focus on the Family