Getting Into The Trenches
Guest writer Josie Peters reminds leaders to lead through sanctification offered to us in Christ rather than indulge the temptation to lead out of our own strength and knowledge.
Guest Writer: Josie Peters
My story is one of a Pharisee. A person who had head-knowledge and even a strong desire for Godliness, but who hadn’t been truly transformed by the Holy Spirit. So, you’ll have to believe me when I say I can relate to Paul – granted, I wasn’t a Christian-killer, but certainly a hypocrite and even a hater on occasion. Bitterness stemming from my Pharisaical attitude is deep-rooted, and if I’m being honest, pursuing God and serving Him can all-too-easily swing into becoming mechanical, can’t it? (Please tell me I’m not alone.) I notice right away when things have become academic for me again – relying on my own strength, feeling frustrated or tired with those around me in the church, disappointed with my lack of progress or not seeing fruit tumble out of my service into people’s lives around me.
These symptoms shouldn’t be surprising though. Why? Because they all lack the heart of Christ. When my earthly pursuits become academic or mechanical, I shrivel. My faith weakens. I quench the Spirit. And then I remember it’s not about me or my head-knowledge or what I can accomplish. (And then I have to say along with Job, “for we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow” [Job 8:9].)
Walk with me through 1 Thessalonians, briefly. Paul is anything but academic with these people. He’s in the trenches, loving them, practically guiding them, spurring them on, exhorting them, calling out sin, showering them in the Gospel… you get the idea that he’s working alongside them. In fact, that’s how Paul describes Timothy in this letter: as a “coworker” of God (3:2). Interesting. He’s actually working. He’s part of the team. He’s pulling his weight. He’s alongside the people doing God’s work. Shame on us for being aloof or “above” that task – you know the one I’m talking about. The one that feels soul-sucking and puts the definition of ‘eternal’ into ‘eternity’. Throughout the letter, Paul is oozing with affection for the recipients of this letter with whom he’s working, starting in the opening verses. In 1:2, he describes a scene where he, Silvanus, and Timothy are “constantly mentioning” them in their prayers out of gratefulness for them. We learn the reason for this gratefulness as we keep reading: they’re the real-deal, chosen by God and received the word in “much affliction.”
It's interesting to note Paul and his companion’s motivation here to share the gospel with the believers in Thessalonica during this time of “much affliction” was to please God (2:3-4). Their hearts were in the right place, and they didn’t shy away from the responsibility. This motivation to please God was fueled by being “affectionately desirous” of the people. In 2:8 we learn that Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy didn’t want to just share truth, they wanted to share themselves! These people had become very dear to them. If I’m being honest, I struggle with much of this – it’s far easier for me to hole myself away get lost in studying scripture and only come out to share the gospel when the going’s good. But when I read about Paul’s eagerness to be with the people, I’m spurred on to do the same.
Further reading helps us understand his eagerness as we make our way to the little phrase of 2:20: “for you are our glory and joy.” It’s not Paul’s accolades or knowledge or how big his ministry became that was his “glory and joy” – it was the people. Their steadfastness. Their faithfulness. This is liberating in some senses but also sobering; that we can judge the fruitfulness of our ministries on nothing except if those whom we encounter look more like Christ, depend more on the Spirit, and grow closer to God. Chapter 3 verse 8 tells us that that Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy feel like they’re really living if the people “stand firm in the Lord.” They derive their sense of living from the faithfulness of others!
The faithfulness of others is their primary goal, too, not just their joy. In 3:13 we find that the trio push the Thessalonians into God “so that he may establish [their] hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father.” They don’t want them to be established in morality, knowledge, or even good deeds – they want them to be established in holiness before God. Is that what our ministries are resulting in? Or are we good at making Pharisees who know a lot about a lot? Here’s the thing: the academic study is important, neigh, critical. You need to know the God whose love you’re proclaiming. But here’s the catch: you also need to pour out the love you’re proclaiming – practically. (There’s an alliteration for all you academics out there: practically pour out the love you’re proclaiming.) And ultimately, we pray that that practical outpouring results in their hearts being blameless in holiness before God.
But before we get too carried away in our holy roles, at the end of the letter Paul puts the responsibility and ability to sanctify his recipients squarely on God in 5:23-24. It’s not on him – how freeing! He says that the role is God’s to sanctify; the role is God’s to keep them blameless; the role is God’s to call; and he trusts God’s faithfulness to accomplish these things. Let’s keep the roles straight. We pour out love and get in the trenches with our brothers and sisters, and in doing so point them continually toward the God who is able to sanctify them.
Put that way, it seems so simple. But why do I find myself so often feeling like I can’t or don’t want to get in the dirty, cold trenches? Or why do I seem to struggle with my heart attitude and self-reliance? Although there are likely many reasons, one of the main ones is perhaps because leaders are capable. We can do so many things, and therefore we do. We know so much, so we don’t rely on God. We feel responsible for the souls around us, and yet we serve them out of duty instead of love.
So, what’s the answer to the mechanical, academic rut we sometimes find ourselves in? Perhaps it’s simple: pursuing humility. Pursuing simplicity. Pursuing 1 Thessalonians 4:11: “…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands…” Getting back to the simplicity of loving God and recognizing the normality of our own lives – we’re all brothers and sisters in the trenches together, fighting for the same country in this war. This keeps us humble and hopefully prevents us from becoming aloof or “too good” for the task at hand.
The will of God isn’t that I have a successful ministry, that I serve him perfectly, that I get to enjoy the accolades of the high-life in ministry with Him. The will of God is delightfully simple: your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). And maybe, in God working out my sanctification as I pursue the tasks he has set out for me in this life, I can rest in knowing that “he who calls [me] is faithful; he will surely do it” (5:24). Not me. Not my efforts. Not my academic pursuits. But the Lord.
By Josie Peters
Josie Peters is a business owner, wife, and advocate for the modern woman to help her understand the word of God as she navigates the different seasons of life. Her passion is for women to be equipped to and transformed for Christ. Born in Cape Town and raised in Canada, this global perspective is something she brings in to both work and ministry. She and her husband Josiah both work in the design industry and enjoy the everyday stuff of marriage, travelling, and seeking to grow closer to God as they live life together.
SAVE THE DATE | Leverage is hosting a retreat for women in leadership October 17-19 2018.
In preparation of the upcoming retreat, keep checking in for special blog posts on the trifecta of leading well: PLAN-PRAY-PLAY