October 31, 2019

Living With the Gift

It’s a sign of spiritual adulthood to say “yes” to God’s gifts.

Bill Knott

During the last 25 years, I’ve had the privilege—and sometimes the pain—of serving on many search committees. I’ve worked with groups searching for qualified pastors, teachers, conference administrators, university presidents, and editors. Despite the great differences in those groups and the amazing variety among the hundreds of talented personalities we’ve considered, there’s one question that arises about every finalist.

It’s not a question about their age, since we can’t legally ask that. It’s certainly not about their politics, because we don’t want to know that. It’s not about their salary expectations: working for God’s church will never be about financial gain.

It’s a question about attitude in the end. At some point, a member of the committee will raise a hand and ask that most important question: “Can this person take direction?” “Can this person accept counsel?” “Can this man or woman get past their own views and opinions long enough to actually listen to the voice of God speaking to them through another Christian?”

I’ve watched search committees turn on the proverbial dime when that question was asked—and answered with a negative. Committees on the verge of choosing a talented, sophisticated candidate have turned around and moved in an entirely different direction.

In the end, the most significant question that will likely ever be asked of us isn’t a question about our education or experience, or even a question about our competence.  Our culture knows, and, unfortunately, the church also knows how easy it is to lie about educational achievements, or fudge the record on a resume, or line up references who say only good things. But the unmistakable sign that we will take up our work with humility and care and wisdom and gentleness is whether or not we can accept direction, and thrive with the help of counsel.

What I’ve found true on search committees I’ve also found true in the life of the Church. The men and women intent on growing up into what the apostle Paul calls “the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13) are the ones who can accept direction. These are they who don’t fight counsel. They have grown past their original opinions and the arrogance with which we’re all born to learn that Jesus grows His church through the gifts He gives His people.

Jesus blessed His first-century church with teachers and pastors and evangelists and prophets, and Jesus has blessed His end-time church with teachers and pastors and evangelists—and at least one prophet. Let’s be clear about it: it’s a sign of maturity to figure that out. It’s a sign of spiritual adulthood to say “yes” to His gifts—to acknowledge, “I could use inspired counsel. There’s more I need to know.”

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).*

It hasn’t been fashionable of late to raise your hand and say, “I believe in the gift of prophecy.” You’ve likely heard someone say it’s a sign of dependence or childishness to continue to believe in the Spirit of Prophecy.

A dozen websites flush with feverish prose will inform you that you must be independent of all outside influences—except theirs. Critics have dismissed the ministry of Ellen White as irrelevant to the modern world, as a relic of the Victorian era, or described her as an author to be read only devotionally and only occasionally.

I don’t doubt that some reading these words have experienced this gift more as a weapon than a blessing. Some have known the Spirit of Prophecy as the unrelenting judge of everything in your life that seemed fun or free or fresh. Let me apologize for those who misinformed you.

That painful past may have tempted you to pay less attention to what Jesus wants you to understand through this gift. Your difficult experience with those who unkindly crowded this gift into your life may have caused you to become a person who won’t welcome direction, a person who finds it hard to accept counsel, and thus a person slowed on the road to Christian maturity.

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15).

If there are people in your past who caused you to distrust or ignore the gift of prophecy, now is the time to deal with them the way mature Christians always deal with those who have hurt them: it’s time to forgive them.

It’s time in the history of the Adventist Church, and in the story of our own lives as disciples of Jesus, that we find the grace and wisdom to acknowledge we could all use a little more divine direction. We would all do well to accept inspired counsel. It’s time to “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”

The church I want to belong to believes in the prophetic gift.

*All Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright  1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.