A few years ago, I decided I didn’t care about having my own plans anymore. I didn’t care about my 5 or 10 year life plan or future security. I laid down again (and subsequently started losing concern for) my riches, reputation, and renown. I just wanted to know what His plan was for the world and get in on it. What followed, in short, has been a painful and thrilling process of Him digging out of me all of the things that go against that. And as I fought and yielded to God (in a very sporadic obedience for a while), throughout the days and weeks the question rose up in my heart:
Do I really trust God’s leadership? Not just for me personally but for everything?
The deeper I go into trust the more I realize that living this way requires a complete reworking of my mind and a re-prioritization of my whole life. It’s a constant letting go of my agenda and asking to be brought into the agenda of God’s work in the world. Now for the truth. I used to feel more safe when I was in control. I still sometimes tend to go my own way–not just into sin (though that happens sometimes too), but also into my own plans and priorities.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25
Do not be like the horse or the mule,which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Psalm 32:9
YOKED. An oxen would be yoked to a more experienced oxen to learn the pace of work. Not only that, but when a disciple would sit “at the feet” of a rabbi in Jewish traditions, they would ask “Rabbi, what is your yoke?”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
When we start to live under His yoke, which at first feels uncomfortable (not heavy, but just unfamiliar and unsure), we realize that His leadership is perfect and what He is leading us INTO is so much more amazing than what we thought our lives would be! How many times have I tried to lead God into my circumstances to bless my efforts and my plans? Oh wow. When we keep in step with Him we realize His priorities and plans are different from ours and to make matters worse, He does not even give us the full map of where we are going.
It’s all step by step.
We hate this. But it’s also amazing. Because living this way is the only way we learn to listen and obey in complete and utter trust. Step by step in the Spirit–yoked to HIM–doing his work in the world, not ours, is thrilling because we get to break the yoke off others
To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke… Isaiah 58:6
The one who breaks the yoke of sin, heaviness, oppression, fear, and pride in our lives, calls us under His yoke (which is easy and light) so that HE can lead us into breaking the yoke of oppression of sin and pain in the lives of others, and invite them into this same easy and light way of trust. What a privilege! This invitation to be yoked and work the fields of the kingdom of God transcends our own plans for our lives. This is not simply doctrine. This call transcends career choices. This passion is not only a social justice agenda in the political realm, although God is pleased when we plead the cause of the oppressed. This is simply life in step with the Spirit walking with Jesus. What will this look like for us in community?
Being led by the Spirit through hearing/sensing God’s voice and responding in real time obedience is not tied to a denomination or doctrine (John 10:27, 1 Corinthians 2:13). It is meant to be the way of life for every follower of Christ so that we can experience and rely on the demonstration of His power and share His love powerfully with others, not just with wise words, but with real encounter of the Living God.
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. 1 Corinthians 2:4-6
Living expecting that kind of powerful, intimate, constant leadership from Him is the reality He is inviting us into. And those who say yes are in for an amazing ride!
DISTRUST VS TRUST IN SCRIPTURE
When thinking about what God wants from us, we can see His story in the Old and New Testament scripture as an epic story of wanting us to love, obey, and trust Him and let Him lead us, truly believing He has good plans for us. (Jeremiah 29:11-13) The Bible boiled down is a story of distrust versus trust. Our decision to let Him lead us or not is based on our assessment of whether or not He is not a good and capable leader. The leaders that led well in God’s book were the ones that were determined to lead only by insisting on the leadership of God, those leaders who humbly reaffirmed God’s leadership and kingship.
Our confidence is found only in insisting on the leadership of God. We see distrust planted in the mind of Eve in Genesis, when the enemy question the voice and motives of God. We see this struggle of trust versus self-sufficiency when God promised Abraham a son in His old age. He slept with Hagar instead, leading to a tremendous amount of hurt because He did not trust God enough to wait for Him to move. Abraham’s faith in God was restored in the giving of Isaac and confirmed by his willingness to sacrifice him on the altar. God provided a ram for the sacrifice and an angel to stop his hand.
Moses felt ill-equipped to lead, but His confidence in God allowed him to say to the people about to leave Egypt, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.” After God split the sea into walls on either side and the people walked across on dry land. Moses met in the tent of meeting often with God “face to face” as with a friend. So much so that his face shone with the presence of God. When God sent them to the promised land, He said that He would not go with them to the promised land because of the stubbornness of Israel (Exodus 33:3). God was so frustrated He said He would kill them all if He went with them. But Moses refused to go without the Lord. He said,
“If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:15-16
This pleased God and He loved Moses, so He Himself went with them. But all through the desert, we see distrust continue as the idolatry and complaining of the children of Israel. God disciplines them, they rebel. God meets their need, they complain again. When they got to the promised land, the twelve spies went into the land and only Joshua and Caleb trusted the Lord’s leadership and His invitation to go into the land. But Israel was afraid and they would not go in. God’s discipline was that they were sent back for that generation to die in the desert.
God would later remark in Jeremiah 2:2 ‘…I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.’ He loved being followed. But Israel craved meat and the riches and assurances of Egypt and the establishment of their own kingdoms.
When Moses died, God promised to continue His presence to Joshua and His people,
“No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” Joshua 1:5-6
“The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” Joshua 21:44-45
Why was Joshua confident in God? It is because He was in the tent of meeting with Moses. Joshua knew the power of the presence of God and the presence and experience of that led to His confidence in the person of God to lead.
The same is true for us. When we truly know by experience the love, power, and presence of God, then we can lead by following his leadership confidently. It’s when we try to lead out of obligation or personal responsibility instead of love for God that we get totally off track.
Joshua gave the choice again to the people this way as he was about to die, 14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15
They chose Him.
Joshua led like Moses, by trusting God’s leadership and staying in loving obedience to His law. 10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger…16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands. Joshua 2:10-2, 16-19
GOD LOVES TO LEAD US
Have you ever wondered why God has often chosen not to rule over people without their consent? It seems important to Him, somehow, for us to choose Him back–like we were accepting an offer from Him, though He could have mandated our obedience so many times. In the desert, the people of God again forgot to trust and so rejected the authority of God, just as Adam and Eve did in the garden, when their fear won out over their faith. Ironically, it turns out, fear, discontentment, and the desire for security we can see, hear, and touch, leads us into rejecting our only true source of security–Jehovah, the One able to fight for us and give us peace.
Throughout the Old Testament God continually “owned” the battles of His people. He fought alongside them and for them over and over. And the people let Him…for a while. And because He fought for them, God the warrior was, Himself, their peace. (Want proof? Check out this list of battles he fought as their king: Numbers 21:21-35; Deut 3:1-6; Numbers 14:39-45; Exodus 17:8-15; Joshua 6; Josh 10:1-13, 28-43; Judges 6-7; Judges 10-11)
When God fought with them, victory was assured. When the people fought without God’s help, they got slaughtered. You would think this would be amazing for them—the God of the universe, communicating with them and directing them, fighting battles in their favor. How exhilarating! How mind-blowing! So where did the people of God go so wrong? How did their relationship of shalom with God, where He was fighting their battles, get broken to the point that God sent them into exile? Didn’t they rely on Him for their food and water and even guidance into the promised land? Didn’t they watch Him fight for them?
Or maybe they were offended by the discipline of God when He re-payed their disobedience with loss on the battlefield? Maybe they were disappointed in the manna or the water from the rock…why wasn’t it wine?! Maybe God’s provision wasn’t actually enough in their book. Maybe, by their criteria, He was not taking care of them at all the way they thought He should.
When God gave Gideon victory over the Midianites, the people wanted to make him king, but Gideon refused, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” (Judges 8:23). After Gideon died, the people continued asking for a king. Finally, the people asked Samuel for a king.
GOD’S PEOPLE CHOSE A HUMAN KING OVER GOD’S KINGSHIP
This was the final moment of real rejection, the moment of breach between God and His people in the Old Testament was when they asked for a king…a “real” king. This is the communal choice of Israel to choose human power and strength over God’s strength. And it is a full out rejection of His authority in their lives. God knew that they would ask for a king someday (Deuteronomy 17:14-16), but He still felt it as a rejection. In other words, this is the kind of God we serve: He anticipates our rejection of Him and still remains covenanted to us. What wild love!
Here’s the context…Samuel, a prophet, had sons who were not good leaders, so the people took this opportunity to demand a king (1 Samuel 8:2-3). Read what follows and see if you can hear the fear and pride in the people:
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king…
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” –1 Samuel 8:1-21
6 Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. 7 “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8 Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9 Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” 1 Samuel 10:6-9
Their choice led them build their armies, set up their own defenses, and make battle plans to fight their enemies. Can you sense God’s heart breaking as He watches the people choose a human king over a mighty God—choosing a political system for their refuge instead of the hand of the creator and sustainer of the universe?
Choosing to forge our own security leads us away from reliance on God’s ability to manage our lives and tells us to plan, build, and defend ourselves. We are afraid that He won’t follow through the way we need or want, and that fear matures into the resistance of peace and the rejection of God. In other words, we sabotage our peace by trying to create our own, submitting to the enemy’s cyclical attacks of fear, pride, and shame.
Saul ruled well enough at first, but lost the favor of God when he did not wait for God to speak. Saul was a king driven mad by his fear and pride (I Samuel 13:8-13). David, the king/priest after God’s own heart, returned to the leadership of God, declaring in his songs of worship that God was ruler and sovereign over all the earth. He loved the Lord so much that He wanted to build Him a beautiful temple, but God said no! I will establish your house and your peace. David yielded, eventually, to God’s provision and establishment of rest (2 Samuel 7).
Jehoshaphat, a later king trusted God so much that when being attacked, His response not to get his troops ready, but he gathered all the families and they STOOD BEFORE THE LORD. And he said, “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 13 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord…[Then a Levite prophet named Jahaziel said] “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 2:12-13, 20) Even in the Babylonian captivity, God proves Himself to be king of all kings and God above all gods to Nebuchadnezzar. (Daniel 4:34-37)
JESUS AND HIS RE-ASSERTION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
We see from the way that Jesus lived that He walked in complete dependence on His Father. This is countercultural for us. Our culture teaches us to be self-sufficient and independent, but Jesus shows us how to be dependent on the Father in unity and love. But because Jesus was the sinless seed of the Holy Spirit, He relied on God in a way we have never experienced.
49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”
10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. John 14:10-11
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. John 5:19,
What was the response of the Father to Jesus humbling Himself to take on a servant nature and demonstrate reliance on Him? Read Philippians 2:9-11
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The Father was pleased to exalt Christ as King because Christ took on servanthood and acknowledged His Father’s leadership.
LEAD BY SEEKING HIS FACE
So what does that mean for church leadership? We model the example of Christ by radically trusting and rely on the leadership of God through His Word and through His Holy Spirit who is alive in us. If Jesus, being God, found it necessary to listen and follow His Father as his mode of operation, how much more will we need to follow the Father’s leadership and “stay in step” with the Holy Spirit in the same way! For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Romans 8:14.
We insist on His leadership step by step, because that way we are able to respond in real time to what God is doing in the room. This is not a method, it is simple reliance and it has yielded the result that when we “meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues [or prophecy], and another will interpret what is said. And everything that is done strengthens all of us as it says in 1 Corinthians 14:26.
Leaders must lead by seeking the face, presence, and leadership of God (Psalm 27:8-9; Exodus 33:11-23; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18; John 14:7), What this has been for us is relying on the active live-time leadership of the Holy Spirit in the moment, resisting the urge to produce and pre-plan our times of gathering. So whether we are gathered together for worship or just walking out our daily lives, we simply follow Jesus, listening for the voice and guidance of the Father, walking as Jesus walked, keeping in step with His Spirit of Truth, which is His Word (Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 6:17).
HOW IT’S WORKED FOR US
We believe God will direct you in how to navigate leadership. Currently, we have no formal elder system currently because we have not had need of it yet . We are small enough to make decisions and discuss together. We do have a few people who pray before we gather to see if there is a specific direction the Lord wants us to move in that day. We resist the urge to strategize or plan unless he tells us to do so. We don’t move until He moves. When we gather to worship Him in our house, we do not usually plan who gives the teaching or what songs we would sing. We just gathered ahead and asked God what He had for us. Then we waited on Him to bring it. That’s it. God, what are you doing today and how can we be a part of it? Then we listen. We hear His voice for our community and ourselves.
Sometimes someone will mention throughout the week that God has given them something to share. They share with us and we respond and weigh it out and pray and correct one another as needed. It’s encouraging to see new or reignited believers shared stories of what God is teaching them and it is really profound stuff! We are not drinking milk. God is raising up His teachers, prophets, and shepherds for our gatherings. We have made every effort to maintain the bond of peace in the Spirit and God has brought us to unity over almost every issue, sometimes over the course of weeks or months, but most issues have been resolved.
If that sounds radical, we know it is, but it actually lines up with scripture. We are forced to rely on and listen for the voice of God every time we gather. And as we practice listening, we hear Him better. We ask Him our questions. He answers through the Holy Spirit confirming the same thing in several peoples’ spirits (especially those with strong prayer lives) and in scripture. We are finding that this model of leadership (God as leader), allows room for Him to be seen and experienced. We find that His presence is the whole point of our gathering. It is amazing to see the Holy Spirit serve and strengthen us as we simply pray and wait for Him, insisting on His leadership of our time.
We also learned that we were not the first group of believers led into this. The Quakers for example also practiced this kind of listening or waiting worship as they called it. And it’s been a really joyful thing for us and very restful to just rely on the leadership of God for our gatherings and our lives. Think you can’t do it? It’s actually really easy once you get past the initial awkwardness of silence. But as we learn to wait on the Lord together, we find that He is actually very, very faithful to speak and move in power, even in our home. Which is amazing and humbling to me.
People often ask me about the structure we have established for discipline or resolving disputes. We just pray and follow Paul’s advice to love and try to keep the unity of bond of peace in Spirit (Ephesians 4:3) according to the truth of scripture. We go to scripture and prayer to resolve disputes. We are honest with one another and we have weekly times of public and personal confession before we take communion together, which I’ll talk about later. All of these things have meant that God has been really faithful to be all we need in terms of leadership. The “elders” of the church are actually pretty young and are the first people that God led us to when we were forming the church. So they are not the oldest people, but the ones who have been in the community the longest. Wisdom is actually found in people who listen and know the voice of God and His Word, regardless of age. Paul saw this in Timothy. We see eldership as people who are mature in their faith and solid in their commitment to this group of believers and who trust the leadership of God together.
When insist on the leadership of God, He is pleased to lead us. When we insist on human leadership, He is hurt. So we choose Him. We prefer Him. We wait for Him. We don’t move until He moves. We can do this because He is a good leader and we remember His miracles and victories on our behalf.
UPDATE: May 2021, we established elders after about a year and a half of waiting for the Lord to teach us about this. As soon as we felt the Lord tell us to do so, we prayed about who God was calling to be elders and confirmed them as those tasked with navigating how human leadership can support the leadership of God. Some people have been lost and some issues have not been resolved. Living in real Christian community is messy but really good because we know one another.