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Temptations2The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4: 5, 6 NIV).

Discipleship and Spiritual Conversations

I love spiritual conversations. I don’t get enough of them.

I love to talk about the Lord and hear what He is doing in the lives of the people around me. I want to hear about reality. Sin transformed into life. Losers finding the humility to go to the cross. Pride junkies (like me) who are brought low and are extremely thankful for that severe mercy.

Yes, I love spiritual conversations. It is one of the most important ministries in the church.  Teach your leaders how to have them.  Make sure to have spiritual conversations regularly with your leaders.

It is part of my Life Ministry….an expression of who I am in Christ. It is one of the ways that I please God and give glory to Him or, better said, reveal His glory in me.

Having spiritual conversations is a ministry to both those inside and outside the church. Use your own life and testimony as a powerful witness and tool to bring glory to God. Show the reality of your sin transformed by grace. Justice fulfilled by love. Here are a few suggestions…

1. Your spiritual conversations should always be in the context of the full surrender of your life to God.

When you walk in the Spirit by His grace, He can use your conversation with others powerfully. A warning. God can, and probably will, use your spiritual conversations whether you are fully surrendered to Him or not. He can use the dog next door if he was so inclined ….to borrow a phrase from singer/songwriter Don Francisco (wow, that’s really dating myself)…..but you don’t get the benefit. One of the scariest truths of the Bible is when Jesus said that God can use us to do miracles, cast out demons and the like but he still does not know us…..Lord, Lord….we will say……and He will say……I don’t know you…….yes, we can do ministry in the flesh…..we can even do ministry and not be saved…..such is the deceitful heart of man……our only salvation is in Christ with a heart fully surrendered to Him…..in other words, our own intimate walk with God is even more important than any kind of ministry that we do and our walk in the Spirit is the source of power for the words that we speak. Make sure you keep first things first.

2. Your spiritual conversations should always be in the context of spiritual unity and full reconciliation with the one that you are talking with……all sin confessed and repented of…..all forgiveness given…..full reconciliation present……then your conversation can have spiritual power.

3. Your spiritual conversations should always be focused on the cross and on Christ. Paul said that he preached Christ and him crucified….we should do the same. There is no point in going over all of the details of the sin or the circumstance or giving coaching advice (as good as it may be on a creational level). God went to all that trouble to get that person’s attention and to set up the opportunity for you to speak with them about the cross. This is not the time to give them creation-based advice on how to deal with a particular situation. It is the time to ask them how their walk with God is going…..or to find out if they even have a new relationship with God through the cross empowered by the Holy Spirit. Focus on the cross both for salvation as well as sanctification. The way of the cross includes confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. This brings spiritual unity to every situation. The cross is always the solution, no matter what the problem is. Practical, everyday advice can be given once their lives have been fully surrendered to Christ and they are walking in the Spirit.

4. Your spiritual conversations should always be focused on God. Talk to Him. Do not allow the conversation to end without talking directly to God, together. End in prayer. It is the entire point of the conversation you are having….to bring that person before the throne of God, in the name of Christ and in the power of the Spirit.

I remember one of my first churches where I preached for a whole summer as a student preacher in Canada. My last sermon was called…..Never say Goodbye…..it was a little long, but heartfelt. I was not going to see these people again this side of heaven and I wanted to make the point that we don’t have to say goodbye as if it was forever. Of course, after the sermon I was quite busy saying goodbye to everyone.  Lots of shaking of hands at the door.

I noticed this young man with a pockmarked face standing in line and when I shook his hand, I said something about not having to say goodbye. He spoke a bit harshly and said, “I won’t be seeing you in heaven” or something to that effect. It took me by surprise. I didn’t know what to do. He was new to the church. It was his first Sunday. I had never seen him before. It was a small church and I knew everybody.

Twenty minutes later, I was in the back of the church having coffee and talking with a few people and saying my goodbyes. He stood there beside me and as I mentioned to someone again that we didn’t really have to say goodbye, he said something like….I won’t be seeing you in Heaven, so you may as well say goodbye to me now…..He didn’t sound sarcastic. I had the distinct impression that God was using a 2 x 4, hitting me on the back of the head, trying to get my attention.

Frankly, I didn’t know what to do. I knew a lot about the Bible but I didn’t have a lot of experience with counseling or even evangelism. But everyone was looking at me, so I turned around and faced him and asked, “Would you like to go somewhere and talk about it?” Hoping, just a little bit, that he would say no and leave….but he didn’t and five minutes later we were seated in a dingy basement Sunday School room together.

I was leaving the next day. I had no idea what God expected me to do. I already preached the Gospel in the sermon. What was left? I looked at him and blurted out, “Let’s talk to God…” Smartest move I ever made. It took the pressure off of me and put the problem squarely where it belonged….in God’s lap.

It was what I later called a “Moses move.” Moses often went to God with the complaints of the people and said things like….these are your people…..this is your problem……what are you going to do about it? Well, I wasn’t really thinking it all through at the time. It just sort of came out. I still think to this day that it was the Holy Spirit leading the conversation. He just needed me to act as His conduit…..

So we started praying and I said something like…..God, this is…..and I stopped to ask his name, which he gave me…..and I continued praying…..God, this is Charlie and he needs to talk to you. I’m not sure what the problem is but he needs to talk to you about it……so here he is. And I shut up.

It was quiet for almost a minute and a minute is a long time to be quiet in a situation like that. I was just starting to think that I needed to start praying again when Charlie burst out with a long string of curse words directed towards God……I didn’t know if I should move out of the way of the lightning bolt that was sure to come….or not. Then he began to sob and cry…..I kept my head down and prayed for him as fervently as I knew how…..and he finally stopped crying and started talking to God and finally surrendered and gave his life to God….or recommitted his life to God….whatever it was….it doesn’t matter…..and we stood up and hugged and, of course, I asked him whether or not I would see him again, or should I just say goodbye now…….and you know what answer he gave me. It was a good moment.

God did all the work which is what He wants to do. I learned to get out of the way and keep my mouth shut (usually I talk to much) and I learned that the goal of any spiritual get together was to meet with God….that all of the preaching and all of the teaching was meant to bring us to the foot of the cross and to deal with our sin and receive salvation or fully surrender our lives once again to His care and leave that encounter walking once again in the power of the Spirit.

Three years later, I visited that small town again on my way to Calgary, Alberta. They had put on a corn roast for me and this young man came up to me with clear eyes, a smile on his face and a lovely woman on his arm. He had moved back from the big city and made a new life for himself in that small town. He was walking with the Lord. That is the power of a spiritual conversation.

And now, a final word about prayer.

If you haven’t figured it out yet…..all of the most important things in life, like the transformation of the human heart, is way out of our league…..we are powerless to make it happen. The wind blows where it wills and the Spirit of God decides who and when and where He will touch a life. If we have the opportunity to have a spiritual conversation with someone, it means that the Spirit is at work. Get with the program. Pray. Pray. Pray.  He is willing but we must pray.

True prayer is rooted in the humility of our powerlessness to do the one thing in life that matters most….the transformation of the human heart. But it is also rooted in our desire to be part of the process, to find our holy significance in life in this interdependent work of transformation where God uses our real world testimony and words and conversations together with his power to break through the pride of the human heart and bring it, in humility and shame to the cross, and then transform it through love into new life, loyalty and joy in the Spirit.

And yes, we also share in that joy of being used by God (our significance) and of being a child of God (our identity) and of having a purpose in Christ (our life ministry) …..all three (identity, purpose and significance) make up our meaning in life. And prayer is at the heart of it all.

A conversation with God can change your life. Our job is to help others have that same holy conversation.  It is a key aspect of our life as disciples as Christ.  If our path is the way of the cross, then our conversations will also be about the cross.  And that kind of conversation can change someone’s life.

The Desert Warrior

P.S.  Let’s talk to the Lord….

Lord,  I talk about a lot of things.  Most of them unimportant.  Often I am a bit embarassed to talk about you or what you have done in my life.  I’m sorry.  Give me the boldness of love to find ways to bring the conversation around to you both with believers and unbelievers alike.  Teach me what to say.  Give me the right words.  Help me to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within me.  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.

Read more   (from the Temptations of the Cross)

The disciples had barely returned from their mission, when Jesus suggested that they retreat to a quieter place away from the crowds to talk and be refreshed.  But it was not to be.  Gabriel sighed with concern for his mighty Master, so weak with weariness that he stumbled repeatedly over the rough stones of the path into the mountains.  (Read more….)