In my last post we began to explore both the Biblical foundation and the great need among leaders for space to focus on their heart- their motives, attitudes, and thoughts. (If you haven’t read my first post, Discipleship from the Inside Out I, you may want to read it now.) We are going to continue along that path by looking at the foundational Scripture for the People Resource Team (PRT) and a metaphor in nature that reinforces the approach of discipleship from the inside out.
The verse that is foundational to the ministry is Isaiah 61:1-3.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
In the Old Testament this came from the voice of the prophet Isaiah. He was speaking to a group of Jews who had experienced the devastating loss of life and home and identity through the conquest and capture of Jerusalem by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. This is the mission that Jesus will claim as his own (Luke 4:18). Both passages acknowledge human suffering that comes from poverty, broken hearts, captivity, mourning and grief. As Jesus speaks the words in the New Testament, he is speaking to Jews who are under Roman occupation. An occupation that Jesus’ life and ministry will not overthrow. Isaiah and Jesus, are declaring that the healing and hope of people will begin in their hearts. The external situation may or may not change. The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord offers an inner heart change regardless.
This is often a reality in ministry contexts. Time and time again, the external situation cannot change easily or isn’t the the starting point for change. The heart of the leader is where the Spirit chooses to begin. As leaders experience God’s presence and emotional healing, they are empowered to be a channel of the Spirit in the lives of others. This may be the first step in what will become an external ministry change or it may mean the leader will remain in the same ministry context with a renewed heart and way of relating with others.
God is longing to meet the leader deep within, so that whatever happens externally finds its source in their life with Him. When a leader genuinely encounters God at this level, growth will happen, fruit will come. It’s inevitable (John 15). Yet, the leader’s attitude about what the fruit looks like, how much there is, and who is responsible for it will change. This heart connection with God shifts the leader’s focus from their own splendor to the splendor of God. This is perhaps most evident in Isaiah’s ultimate goal for the people, “That they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”
Why did God choose an oak tree as a symbol for a mature people? What causes an oak tree to thrive? I did a little research to understand this metaphor better. What I discovered is that “soils are the single most important factor responsible for tree growth.” (Iowa Urban and Community Forestry Council) While sun, oxygen, and water are vital, absolutely nothing will grow if the soil isn’t healthy. All the water and nutrients that nourish a tree, and the root anchorage that protects the tree in a storm, are found in the soil. The soil is not the outer manifestation of the tree. It isn’t the leaves that provide shade when a person is hot. Nor is it the branches that provide a home for a squirrel. It isn’t where you will find the acorns to feed animals. However, none of these outer ways a tree “serves” the world through shade, a home, or food could happen without the health of the soil. It is hidden underground, like the heart is hidden within a person, yet it holds the key to the vitality of the tree.
The soil of the oak is like the heart of a person. The heart is an intimate and personal space within each of us where the Holy Spirit loves us, convicts us, leads us into truth, and empowers us for ministry. If you want to see growth in a person in the form of them offering Christ’s love to people, excitement in knowing and sharing God’s word, a heart for serving the poor, a deep and unconditional love for others, you must find a way for the grace and truth of Christ to get into their heart, the soil of their lives.
So the People Resource Team (PRT) at The Navigators begins by seeking to provide spaces where the Holy Spirit can speak right into the heart of ministry leaders. Below I’ve continued to use the metaphor of healthy soil for growing an oak tree in relation to a few of the ministries the PRT has designed to be a channel for the Holy Spirit to shape the hearts of ministry leaders.
Through a little research, I discovered that in an urban context, one with lots of people, there are numerous challenges for producing healthy soil for trees. They are related to the challenges ministry leaders face in nurturing their hearts in the context of numerous people looking to them for spiritual leadership and guidance. Over the next few months I’ll give a brief and novice description (I know very little about this topic!) about a challenge in producing healthy soil in an urban context and then follow it with a brief description of a specific ministry area in the People Resource Team.
Today, you are invited to read more about the ministry of Listening Prayer.
*Topsoil Removal-This is the richest and most fertile soil that is taken away during construction. As apartment complexes, stores, and sidewalks develop in a city, topsoil is often taken out. Unfortunately, this is an essential element for the growth of an oak tree in the city and why they often do not thrive in an urban context.
“My sheep know my voice; I know them and they follow me.” John 10:27
Listening prayer– Prayer is a dialogue between God and his people. Many growing Christians are given guidance on how to talk to God, yet most believers have no idea on how to listen for His voice. All people, ministry leaders included, have voices from their past and present relationships, as well as our culture, telling them what to think or how to feel, and often pressuring them to lead in a particular way. How will they know where God is in the midst of all of those voices if they don’t learn to discern God’s voice in the midst of all the other voices shouting for their allegiance and attention? The PRT teaches and guides people through learning this vital part of life with God. This process is grounded in the Bible and includes the confirmation of wise Christian community. Just as healthy topsoil is essential for the growth of an oak tree, so a relational dialogue with God is essential in an intimate walk with Jesus that leads to life-giving ministry leadership.
Resources for Learning More and Practicing Listening Prayer:
Listening Prayer by Leanne Payne- Long regarded as the guru on listening prayer this is a thoughtful and in-depth description of Listening Prayer.
A Guide for Listening Prayer & Inner Healing Prayer: Meeting God in the Broken Places by Rusty Rustenbach- This is extremely readable with clear guidelines and stories about God’s work through listening prayer. It is rooted and grounded in Scripture. It will also give you exercises for practicing listening prayer personally or with a small group. Rusty is also a leader on the People Resources Team here at The Navigators and Mark’s personal guide and mentor in the this area.
(Both of these are available at Amazon.com)