Lessons in Growth Meditations: 33. Ground Rules for Sharing
Deut 30:19,20 Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.
Listeners: Listening to God is perhaps one of the fundamental characteristics of the people of God throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve had to listen to God. Cain had to listen to God. Noah had to listen to God. Abram had to listen to God, and so it goes on. If God hadn’t spoken to Israel at Sinai they would never have been constituted as a nation, never led to Canaan and never taken the Promised Land. Years later, it was because they refused to listen that they ended up in Exile. Yet it was because an ungodly king, Cyrus, listened to God, that they were sent back to their own land.
Threefold Purpose: The other facet of God speaking, we said yesterday, was people hearing. Many people deny hearing, I believe, because they are insecure in their faith and fear that if they start hearing they will find themselves being told off. However, let me remind us again of the threefold thing Paul said prophecy should do today within the church: strengthen, encourage, and comfort. (1 Cor 14:3) Those are all good things. So, perhaps to allay fears and show a feasible and secure pathway through, may I suggest some guidelines to help you become available to bring these three things to people as you listen to the Lord.
Stick to the Threefold: First, stick to the three things above. Prophecy, or hearing a word for another, is not an opportunity for you to vent all the feelings you might have for that other person. You are NOT there to correct them or chasten them; God will do that in His own way.
A simple example: Many years ago I was ministering in West Malaysia under the leadership of an apostle with whom I was travelling. We were having a ministry time after the main part of a service in a church in the north, and as I stood there I felt the Lord focus my attention on a young man standing across the room and the Lord said to me, “Go and tell him that I love him.” And that was all. It doesn’t get more simple than that! I went across and shared that with him, to which he broke down in tears and ran out of the room.
Confession flows: He came back a little later, more composed, and said, “How can God love me when I’ve done what I’ve done?” He went on to share how he and a friend had gone across the border into Thailand one night and visited prostitutes and he was now sure he had AIDS. “What’s more,” he confessed, “I am engaged to that girl over there and I don’t know how to tell her.” The girl in question was a beautiful young Malaysian Christian. We talked, and he agreed he would tell her if I would come with him. I did, and he did and, listen to this, she looked at him tenderly and said to me, “I love him, so it doesn’t matter. We’ll get married and trust God for the outcome.” What example of faith and commitment, and possible sacrifice, and all because of the most simple word shared.
Keep it simple: Did you see how simple that was? An illustration I gave yesterday simply involved two words – “Do it.” Even more simple. We are not talking about bringing deep and meaningful and highly theological words here. The first ground rule is keep it simple and keep it love.
Conform to God’s Word: The second ground rule is say nothing that is contrary to God’s word, so you never give permission to someone to sin, say. More often than not, your words of strengthening, encouraging or comforting, are most likely to be words of assurance. I say again, you may know areas of weakness in the person before you, but you are not there to correct, chide or chasten them; God does that. This is different from the correction process that Jesus spoke about when someone has sinned against you (see Mt 18:15-17). We are, in all we are saying, ministering to the imperfect people of the church (that’s a big field; it’s all of us) and as we seek the Lord (and do nothing outside that context) we are making ourselves available to Him to strengthen, encourage or comfort another brother or sister.
Humility: The third ground rule is approach in humility and deference. Where I know people are not used to this sort of thing, I may approach them with, “I hope you will forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, and if I have, please just forget it and put it down to the ravings of a guy having a bad day, but I felt as I looked across at you that the Lord wanted to say to you……” Then, as you share and see tears of appreciation and even wonder running down their face, you know you got it right, especially when they say, “Thank you so much, that was exactly right.”
Avoid Dogmatism: Fourth, and perhaps associated with that, never speak beyond contradiction. As a church leader many years ago, I often used to say in leadership meetings, “The Lord said to me that we….” and it continued until my wife pointed that that shut down every conversation because no one wanted to challenge the assertion that I had God’s will. I may have had but we are all imperfect and we can get it wrong, and if we speak in dogmatic ways, we shut anyone else down who might put forward an alternative – which may be the right path.
Straight forward language: Fifth, as part of this, you don’t need to use Authorised Version, “Thus says the Lord…” In fact these days I never say, “The Lord says….” Which so often raises the defences of our listeners. I simply say, “I believe the Lord says…” which is much less dogmatic and not so confrontational.
Don’t dress it up: Sixth, don’t be defensive and dress it up by explaining how this word came, i.e. you don’t need to justify it. It doesn’t need lots of preamble. Many of us do this, and I still find myself doing it from time to time, perhaps to give time for people to take on board what is coming. Yet it shouldn’t need that. When you are saying good things to people it neither needs dressing up nor justifying.
Checking it out: Seventh, you can say perhaps as you end, “Does that make sense?” but often they will show by their response that it certainly did, so don’t emphasize your rightness by asking. However, if they stand there and you ask, and they say no, then simply apologize that you’ve obviously got it wrong and leave it at that. You might not have done; they might just be feeling insecure still and it will take a little time for them to accept what they’ve heard.
Walk away: Eighth, when it comes to giving deeper or fuller words for the future, leave it with the Lord and don’t worry about it. Walk away and leave it; you’ve been the messenger boy He wanted you to be. The greatest extreme I’ve had of this was someone who didn’t look particularly blessed by what I shared but who ran across me years later and said, “Do you remember that word you shared with me ten years ago? Well the Lord’s just done it as you said.” I try not to look blank at that point because I rarely can remember even a few days later what I’ve been able to share.
And us? Available to bless others? You will be if you concentrate on your relationship with the Lord. These things will just naturally flow when that relationship is alive and well. It’s streams of living water flowing; it’s that simple. Can we grow into that?