In the past few years, we have encouraged lay members to become more involved in ministry, in doing the work God has gifted them for. We have stressed that the role of the pastor and elders is not to be police, but to equip and train members for their works of ministry (Eph. 4:12).
The price tag for the "priesthood of all believers" is a trained laity. I am not talking of university degrees or scholarly accreditation. I am talking about spiritual training.The New Testament qualifications for ministry (as seen in Acts 6:3 and 1 Tim. 3:1-13) focus on spiritual maturity, not on intellect or academic accomplishments.
What is involved in spiritual training, spiritual maturity, spiritual formation? A large part of it is the basics of prayer and Scripture study. We must remain in constant communication with our Lord. This takes time, intentional planning, self-discipline and patience.
We often admire the great works of faith done by Jesus. We are awed by the decisions he made to serve others, most notably his willingness to sacrifice himself to ransom all humanity. And we want to be like Jesus. It has even become popular in some circles to ask, What would Jesus do?
All this is good. But, as Dallas Willard points out in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, it is a mistake to try to imitate the heroic moments of Jesus without also trying to imitate the lifestyle that laid the foundations for those heroic moments — specifically a lifestyle that included much prayer, a willingness to be alone with God.
One strategy of Satan is to keep us so busy with activity that we don't have time to listen to God. Sometimes we are so busy doing stuff, some of it supposedly for God, that we cut ourselves off from God! We are like Martha when we should be like Mary, listening to Jesus.
Jesus trained his disciples not so much through formal activities, but more by osmosis. They were with him as he ministered, and they saw not just what he did, but also the flavor in which he did it — the flavor of compassion, not compulsion. We also need to be trained through spending time with the Lord, in prayer and study. That willlead us to activity, to be sure, but on God's timetable and not based on our impatient desire to "do something."
If our works or lack of them are taking us away from God, we need to realize that we are not working for God, and we need to change our ways. His purpose is to draw us closer to himself, to fulfill the real goal of conforming us to the image of Christ.
Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, often lacking in human nature. We are reluctant to wait upon the Lord. We are frustrated when things don't move as fast as we want them to. We are racing from here to there in a great frenzy, thinking that speed or busyness is a measure of success, but we aren't getting anywhere in particular.
As the saying goes, if we don't know where we are going, we might end up someplace else. Sometimes we need to stop racing around and spend some time getting our bearings. Others have made no motions in any direction. This is true spiritually as well as physically. Every day, we need to spend time with the Lord, and his instruction book, to get our bearings. This takes discipline, patience, and time for osmosis to do its work. We need to let it soak into our lives and habits. There are no short-cuts available.
We often sing the ancient hymn Be Thou My Vision. Indeed, it is God who must be our vision, our all in all, the treasure that we seek. He is the goal, not some project or activity. No matter how good the activity may be, we must ensure that we don't become so preoccupied with it that we have less and less time for God himself.
So I want to emphasize again our need for daily prayer and study. Let us drink deeply of the water of life, Jesus Christ. Let his thoughts fill our thoughts. Let us fellowship with him in prayer and study, not with a focus on what we want, but with a willingness to learn what he wants for us.
If we accept Jesus as Lord, we let him be the Lord of our lives. We let him be the Master of our behavior, the Master of our feelings, the Master of our mind. When we accept him as Lord, we commit ourselves to his purpose, his way of life, his teachings.
We need to be about our Master's business. Let's submit ourselves to him. If we have become lax in prayer, let us turn again toward the Lord. If we have become lax in study, let us revive the habit of daily study — touching base, so to speak, every day. This is where we need to be. We must be attentive to the way the Holy Spirit works in us, transforming us day by day through the renewing of our minds — a process we facilitate by a daily habit of prayer and study.