For several weeks the sermons were personally boring and I was the preacher! People received my ministry with acclamation, but privately my inner man had defected, the passion and confidence in the Word was lost. It has been my observation that often public acclamation and praise may become the seductive object that leads to defection within our inner self.
Although it was over 30 years ago, God used my flesh-fueled ministry to teach me that the preacher/counselor’s personal godliness must be priority number one. Leaders who are knowledgeable, gifted communicators, and successful, from outward appearances, too often defame the message we proclaim through personal failure. Failure always occurs inwardly long before the public manifestation, if indeed there is a public manifestation.
We know the priority of one’s personal relationship with God, but we struggle to practice what we know, thereby deceiving ourselves (James 1:22-24). Why do we neglect what we know? The deception that public acclamation equals divine approval can lead to personal neglect.
When Knowledge Trumps Relationship
A critical foundation of biblical leadership/counseling is a good grasp of biblical knowledge. Yet, biblical and theological study can easily lead to pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). One can become intoxicated with his ability to biblically defend his faith and dissect the errors of others.
We must always be mindful that one can be theologically discerning but relationally distance from God (Revelations 2:1-7). Knowledge alone does not strengthen, refresh, and sustain the soul.
When Communication Trumps Character
Clear, passionate communication that is received enthusiastically by others can easily deceive a leader into equating responsive hearers as affirmation of his own private relationship with God.
We may be aware of serious character flaws but reason, “no one is perfect, and people listen to me. Some are even helped by my counsel.”
Yet the biblical counselor must always remember that God’s qualification for leadership is primarily character (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Neglect of personal character will lead to personal destruction (1 Corinthians 9:27).
When Giftedness Trumps Love
Sometimes our giftedness elevates us, in the eyes of others, far above our peers. Beyond mere communication there is unusual competence. We understand people, connect easily, discern clearly, administrate well, dress well, and in some cases are even physically attractive! If there is a need to get something done well we are the first one called upon.
God must be pleased. We are needed! The temptation is to ignore the selfish motives and pride that often drive much of our service. Our waning love for God and others is overshadowed by our giftedness. Yet God is clear that love should be a higher priority than our giftedness (Matthew 22:36-40; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13).
Prerequisites for Spiritual Health
It is easy to allow the good to trump the best. Can we, as leaders, experience biblical success and overcome the temptations that threaten personal spiritual health? An affirmative answer to this question is found in 1 Timothy 4:16. Timothy is promised that both he and those who follow his doctrine and model would be saved from personal defection. But this promise has prerequisites. We can rest assured that God will keep His promise; failure comes when we fail to meet His prerequisites. What are the prerequisites?
Daily, hourly, and moment by moment thinking on the Word of God and its implications for all of one’s life has promise of sustainability (1 Timothy 4:15a; Psalm 1:1-3).
Meditation upon the Word, like looking into a mirror, reflects who we are. Our sin, need of repentance, and the biblical path toward transformation become apparent. However, looking into the mirror and failing to take corrective actions is unprofitable.
Looking into the mirror of the Word without action is self-deception. Thus, one is tempted to place confidence in successful performance rather than godly character and love motivated service. Therefore, it is imperative that we become doers of the Word, “give thyself wholly to them” (1 Timothy 4:15b; James 1:22-24).
Application—“give yourself entirely to them”—of truth is a process that leads to maturity through the process of discerning good from evil (1 Timothy 4:15c; Hebrews 5:14). It is easy to measure maturity by giftedness rather than godliness. This will deceive both leaders and followers concerning the true state of the leader.
However, when biblical character becomes the primary foundation upon which performance is built true discipleship emerges. Authentic transformation can be seen and measured by both the leader and those he/she counsels/disciples (1 Timothy 4:15c; 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12; Hebrews 13:7). Spiritual maturity is not an end but a state that enables us to continue the lifelong process of growth—visible growth!
Diligent, constant examination of one’s self and doctrine protects us from a slow drift from authentic growth through the perverted perception that God’s approval is manifested primarily through external works rather than internal transformation. We must watch our hearts for signs of drift such as:
- Waning love for God
- Waning love for God’s people
- Waning love for people
- Waning love for God’s Word
- Waning love for righteousness
- Waning love for God’s work
- Lack of thanksgiving
- Lack of perseverance
Spiritual laziness may lead to submission to desires that demand doctrinal distortion (1 John 1:5-10). We must accept the principle that when our desires conflict with God’s Word we must change because He will not.
Therefore, we must keep short accounts through early confession of our sins. This is especially true of inward sins. We must constantly converse with God through meditating on His Word and open authentic prayer that addresses what is really happening in our lives.
Accountability partners can be very helpful. They can assist us in the regular review of our life and doctrine. Honest and transparent conversation with those dedicated to our personal transformation through grace versus merely condoning our sinful state is of extreme value.
So, if you want to make it through this spiritual journey, meditate, activate, demonstrate, and evaluate. By continually practicing these prerequisites in dependence upon the Holy Spirit you can rest in the promise of God that you will save both yourself and those that hear you!
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How can you apply the acrostic “MADE” to your personal and ministry spiritual journey?