Some thoughts about a Core
I wrote the following at the request of a friend in Canada who asked what my experience had taught me in praying for a province or a country.
- That we will begin to see our country as Jesus sees it and we will engage in prayer for the Kingdom to extend in the face of human and spiritual opposition.
- That God will lead the leaders and that they will care for their people with wisdom and compassion – especially the most needy.
- For laborers in every segment of the society who will give themselves to Jesus for the renovation of their hearts. That as Kingdom of God people they will be with people to bring them the presence of Jesus.
- For a few of these laborers in each city and state to meet together in prayerful agreement on behalf of their city, state, province or nation.
- To pray especially for the youth of the nation and for meeting the needs of the poor.
Thinking and praying in this way has been a great help to me and to other companions as we have tried to grasp some small part of what God cares for in our world. Since writing the above I discovered a quote by Thomas Kelly that helps me continue in prayer for these grand things without getting overwhelmed by thinking they are a mandate for me to act.
“The Loving Presence does not burden us equally with all things, but considerately puts upon each of us just a few central tasks, as emphatic responsibilities. For each of these special undertakings is our share in the joyous burden of love. Thus the state of having a concern has a foreground and a background. In the foreground is the special task, uniquely illuminated, toward which we feel a special yearning and care. In the background is a second level, or layer, or universal concern for all the multitude of good things that need doing. Toward them all we feel kindly, but we are dismissed from active service in most of them. A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly
This way of seeing God’s world brings me some clarity on how to put together the needs of the world at large and my specific role as a servant of Jesus.
I have also been reflecting on point four above – the meeting of a few. Some of us have spoken of this as a spiritual core group who by prayer and vision give leadership to the work of the Kingdom in a geographical area. This idea has often helped bring a few people together to love each other and to learn to walk together. However, after working on this strategy for 50 years I have never seen a group that even begins to live up to the dreams and expectations I, and others, have for it. I’m not certain that the idea is wrong, but it seems that we always get tripped up along the way of being/doing it. It seems to me where such groups have come into being who have some semblance of this idea it is as a result rather than an objective. As a few pursue Jesus and love each other, God begins to use them to pray for and to care for others in a fairly significant way.
There are several difficulties that need to be overcome for such a group to begin to be revolutionary:
- Don’t promise much and deliver little. The rhetoric involved with beginning such a group often promises too much. Expectations are raised so high that disappointment with God and with the others in the group is almost inevitable. The paradox is that it is important for us to be challenged to things that are greater than we can ever achieve. Jesus commands us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. The goal is never reached, but the desire to have this be true in our lives helps us on our journey. In the same way, to be challenged to be part of a revolutionary fellowship of people who believe God for impossible things can lift our minds and hearts to embrace the Kingdom in good ways.
- I discovered this quote and I don’t know who wrote it, but it does illustrate one of the problems we face in bringing together “the meeting of the few”. “And how rare to find a group that consistently functions well for the good it envisions. In fact, the group usually exhibits the divided hearts and lives of its members even more strikingly than does the individual alone. That is because of its larger scope and greater complexity.” One aspect of this is that those who are excited and challenged by being part of such a group fall in love with the concept of the group rather than specifically connecting to the individuals in the group. We are commanded to “submit to one another” not to a group – or even worse – a group think.
- Another thing that has tripped me has been thinking that challenging a few to meet together around a vision would produce a group of visionaries. People meeting in a group on a regular basis are most often a great encouragement to each other, but it is no guarantee that a core of visionaries will emerge. More than likely most people are not supposed to be visionaries. My attempt to turn all my friends into visionaries has not worked. Moses, Joshua and Caleb were enough for the nation of Israel. In the Book of Acts the primary visionary is the Holy Spirit who directed the leaders of the churches and inspired Paul and others on their missionary journeys. Paul’s apostolic and visionary gifts were discovered by following the leading of the Spirit. He did not discover them by responding to some strategy. He got there by obeying the promptings of the Spirit and we are to do the same.
- Then another issue is that often some in the group begin to see themselves as the “spiritual board of directors” for what they think God wants to do in their part of the world. This move from a free flowing organic fellowship into an institutional organization squeezes the life of the Spirit from the group. This change comes slowly and so subtly that no one in the group is aware of how arrogant they have become – even when it is obvious to all who are in contact with them. The desire to control is an always present danger for anyone who has even a slight inclination to leadership.
- The Inner Ring, a treatise by C.S. Lewis points out how the desire to be part of the inner circle corrupts people so that they think and do things that they would never do except for this desire to be in the “in group”. Lewis makes the following observations on the appeal and problem of inner circle thinking.
“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods and in many men’s lives at all periods one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside. Your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. Exclusion is no accident: it is the essence.”
- Alongside this danger is the danger of raising “unity” above Jesus. I have often seen “unity” used as a club to control others. Unity is a by-product of each of us having our lives centered in Jesus and responding to him and to each other in humble love. If unity is the highest goal than it opens the door to manipulation, control and capitulation and closes the door to hear Jesus through any dissident voice. “Are we together?” can be a subtle (or not so subtle) way of controlling others to get them to think like us. Paul writes that the Spirit gives unity and we are to safeguard it by the way we love and submit to each other.
Order your behavior in a manner worthy of the divine summons with which you were called, with every lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, doing your best to safeguard the unanimity of the Spirit. Ephesians 4:1-3 Wuest
Another thing that often takes place is that even if we do discover a “God-given vision” when we begin to live out this vision certain activities are spawned. Soon these activities are so consuming that the activities become the focus for the people in the group and are thought of as synonymous with the vision. When most of our efforts are geared towards making the programs and activities flourish we lose sight of why we first began to meet. And we begin to think that only those who are involved in these activities really understand the vision. This move from a godly vision to human plans and objectives becomes stifling to the Spirit and often divisive over time. It is difficult to keep a “Mary” heart as we do the necessary activities of “Martha”.
- At the root of all these difficulties is losing our focus on Jesus as the one who gives meaning to our lives, who gives understanding to our minds, and who directs the works of our hands. When this focus is lost we lack the resources to practice the “one anothers” and fall short in our love for each other. The result is far short of a revolutionary fellowship of joyous followers of Jesus.
Is there a need for people to pray for McMinnville, for Portland, for Oregon, for Kenya, for South Africa, etc. and etc.? Yes! And I pray for all this and more and I encourage others to do the same. But I am less eager to try to get people to meet together around this “vision.”
There is a place for a team of people to be together to work on a God-given project on a short term basis. The love and sense of partnership that grows may also lead to being together on a God-given vision as well. Almost all of my deepest friendships have developed as a few of us have chosen to walk together – often with mixed motives and unclear purpose. Hopefully, with a little more wisdom I am still seeking to be with a few like-minded women and men and I still encourage others to do the same. I want us to be receiving from the Spirit of God the background of things God cares about and I want us to receive the foreground (the agenda of the things we are to do) from the Lord rather than from my agenda or an agenda that anyone else gives them.
In fact, I see my assignment from the Lord as one of discovering people who I can encourage to love God whole-heartedly and who I can encourage to love each other and who I can encourage to seek to know what God wants them to do and to do it. When this begins to happen in a given place it almost looks like a “core” but if it is one, it is one God puts together rather than me.
I believe in having my life, my relationships and my activities submitted to trusted companions – as written about by John Gilman and me in our booklet on the subject. I also encourage others to live a life of submission surrounded by love for I believe this is one of the primary ways God can help us discern what he wants for us and for us to grow in godly character. If we keep encouraging each other to love God and to love the people he brings into our lives; if we obey the Spirit in the specifics he has for each of us – a few will be given a greater vision for what God wants and miraculous things will happen. After all, at points in history, God has used a few people to change the world in which they live.
Kent Hotaling – March 2011