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Sometimes the Spirit Leads Us Where We Don’t Want to Go

For many of us who have been around the church world for a long time, the phrase “led by the Spirit” conjures up all kinds of strange and bizarre behavior, and maybe a lot of bad memories. That’s why we need to look at the Bible, rather than YouTube, to learn what led and empowered by the Spirit actually looks like.

Matthew says that after Jesus was baptized by John, he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” where He was tempted by the devil.  Mark’s account says, “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.”

Being led usually implies the one leading is in front of us and we are following, maybe holding the hand of the leader. Being driven usually implies someone is behind us pushing and directing us.

Matthew says the Spirit led Jesus. Mark says the Spirit drove Jesus. Which is it? I think it is both. At times I have certainly sensed the Spirit in front of me leading me where I should go, and at the same time I have felt Him behind me driving and directing me from behind, and occasionally giving me a bit of a push.

Mark and Matthew both mention that Jesus ended up in the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil. This was not a fun and joyful experience for Jesus. Rather, it was quite stressful and painful.

Sometimes in the tough seasons of life, we wrongly conclude that we must have wandered out of God’s will. This mistaken idea is rooted in the faulty teaching that God’s ultimate will is for us to be happy. We reason, “the wilderness is not a happy place, so it must not be God’s will. We must have missed God or we would be in a place of perpetual happiness.”

Jesus was in the center of God’s will, He was led by the Spirit, He did not take a detour, yet he ended up in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. He ended up in an uncomfortable place.

Lest we wrongly conclude that tough places are signs that God is not pleased with us, take a look at the previous verse, just before Mark says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12)

Jesus was baptized by John, then, “a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son;with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11)

A voice from heaven said, I AM PLEASED! Then the Spirit immediately leads him into the wilderness to get tempted by the devil. The fact that God is pleased with us does not mean that life will not take some difficult turns.

We should never look at our painful circumstances and conclude that God is not pleased. Instead, we should look at His word and His sacrifice on the cross and conclude that He is pleased.

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NOTE: Our Every Nation Nashville office is doing a sixteen week discipleship journey through the book of Mark. Every Tuesday in our weekly staff devotion, we will look at one discipleship lesson from each chapter in Mark.

Our discipleship lesson from Mark 1 is: Following Jesus means being led by the Spirit (even if He sometimes leads us where we don’t want to go.)

 

7 Questions about the Value of Modern Discipleship

MANILA, PHILIPPINES. I received the following seven questions from someone who is writing a paper for a class about whether discipleship “has value in today’s context.”

Here are my quick answers to his important questions:

Q1: What is a disciple?
A1: A disciple is someone who follows Jesus, “fishes” for people and does this in fellowship with other disciples, while carrying a cross. Discipleship is not complicated. Difficult, yes. Complicated, no. It is so simple that a carpenter described it to uneducated fishermen 2000 years ago in one sentence. (See Matthew 4:19 for that sentence.)

Q2: Do you have to be saved to be a disciple?
A2: Yes. But since evangelism is the starting point of making disciples, the discipleship journey starts long before one is saved.

Q3: Are all Christians disciples? If not, what are the differences?
A3: All should be, but unfortunately not all are following Jesus, fishing for people, or fellowshipping with others. And not all are carrying a cross and living a life of self-denial.

Q4: Does church membership make one a disciple?
A4: No. Most churches spend a lot of time, energy, and money developing a membership process, but no time developing a discipleship process. Therefore they are successful at making members, but failing miserably at making disciples.

Q5: What does a disciple’s life look like?
A5: Following Jesus (devotion). Fishing for people (evangelism). Fellowshipping with other believers (community). Carrying a cross (self-denial).

Q6: Is being a disciple important in today’s culture or to one’s life?
A6: If the Bible is important, then discipleship is important. Of course, if the Bible is no longer valid, then discipleship is an outdated concept and a waste of time – so we might as well do whatever it takes to attract a big crowd and call it a church.

Q7: Who is responsible for making disciples?
A7: Every person who is a follower of Jesus – no matter how old, no matter how long they have been saved, no matter where they work. Every believer should be a disciple and every believer should make disciples – EVERY believer.

Those are my quick, off-the-cuff answers. If I had time to edit, I might change some of these answers, but I’m out of time.

Are you a disciple of Christ? Are you making disciples?

When God Seems Far Away

Sometimes the brutal honesty of prayers recorded in the Bible make my prayers seem shallow and sanitized.

Exhibit A: Psalm 22.

Verse 1. “My God, my God, why have you FORSAKEN me? Why are you so FAR
from saving me?”

There is more raw emotion than religious pretense in this prayer. Since God already knows everything, I don’t think He is particularly bothered by the psalmist’s blunt and honest prayer. And He probably won’t be bothered if we pray with a little  honesty either.

The psalmist used two intense words and two semi-accusations to describe how he felt about his relationship with God.

Why have you FORSAKEN?
Why are you so FAR?

Do you ever feel forsaken? Do you ever admit it to God? Does He ever feel far? Do you ever ask Him why?

Sometimes our temptations, failures, and circumstances are screaming that God has FORSAKEN us. Sometimes our sin, shame, and guilt make Him feel FAR far away.

If verse one describes your reality, keep reading.

Verse 2. “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

That didn’t help. Keep reading…

Verse 3. “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”

When we feel FORSAKEN and when God seems FAR away, in reality he is still HOLY and He is still ENTHRONED. My feelings and my experiences do not change who He is.

If your circumstances are such that you feel forsaken and God feels far away, remind yourself that He is still HOLY and He is still on the THRONE.

And remind yourself that on the cross, Jesus was forsaken so we can be forgiven.

 

How to Win Your Prodigal Children

NASHVILLE. A “Not Now!” sign is on my door all this week, a sign that everyone in the Every Nation office is ignoring. Try as I may, I obviously don’t intimidate anyone around here.

I am in writing mode, working against a speeding deadline, trying to finish a book that does not have a title yet. Two possible titles: “The Heart of Parenting” or “My First, Second, and Third Attempts at Parenting.”

I am taking a break from chapter seven to post this blog. Chapter seven is titled “Pilgrim’s Progress: God’s Heart for Your Prodigal.” (The other chapter titles are at the bottom of this blog. As you can see, they are all borrowed from classic books.)

After applying the principles of the Parable of the Prodigal Son to parenting, the chapter I’m working on finishes with three tips called, How to Win Your Prodigal.

Here are those three tips.

1. Be a parent, not a pastor. In the course of their lives, my sons have had many pastors. But they have only had one mother and one father. We can outsource the pastoring, but not the parenting. If I don’t fulfill the role of pastor to my sons, there are plenty of other pastors ready and willing to step into that void. But if Deborah and I don’t fulfill the role of parents, no one else can.

2. More praying, less preaching. I am not sure, but my guess is that the father of the prodigal in the parable did a lot more praying for his son than preaching to his son. In the end, after much pain and shame, it turned out better than ok for the famous prodigal family. If you have tried preaching to your prodigal, and he is still far away, I suggest muting the sermons and replacing them with prayer.

3. Look for progress, not perfection. As soon as the prodigal turned toward home, when he was still far off, his father ran to him. He was far from home and far from perfect, but he was finally pointed in the right direction. As soon as your prodigal makes a turn and takes a step in the right direction, rather than criticizing how far away he still is, why not try running to him and throwing a party?

Please pray for me as I attempt to finish this book in the next few weeks. I am just over half way finished. As you pray for this book, I am praying that prodigals will turn toward home and toward God.

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Here’s the book. Bold chapters are finished, and getting shredded by my copy editors. Non-bold are scattered noted in my iPad and stories in my head that are trying to find form.

FORWARD by William Murrell, Jr,  The Three Musketeers: What My Parents Did Right

PART 1: HISTORY

CH1: Gone with the Wind: Seize the Moment Before the Moment is Gone

CH2: The Old Man and the Boy: Lessons from My Father

PART 2: HEART

CH3: The Godfather: God’s Heart for His Children

CH4: The Heart of Darkness: Every Child’s Heart

CH5: War and Peace: Every Parent’s Heart

CH6: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Seven Deadly Heart Issues

CH7: Pilgrim’s Progress: God’s Heart for Your Prodigal

PART 3: HOME

CH8: Where Wild Things Are: Discipleship Starts at Home

CH9: Great Expectations: Leadership Development Starts at Home

CH10: A Tale of Two Cities: At Home in Manila and Nashville

CH11: All’s Well that Ends Well: What I Would Do Differently at Home

 

 

 

The Greatest Accomplishment of the World’s Greatest Explorer

In 1984 the Guinness Book of World Records named Sir Ranulph Fiennes the “World’s Greatest Living Explorer.” That was at the beginning of his amazing career as an adventurer and explorer. Thirty years later, in his 70′s, Fiennes hasn’t slowed down one bit.

Fiennes’ accomplishments include being the first person to cross Antarctica on foot, the first person to visit both Poles by surface means, the oldest Brit to climb Mt Everest, the only person to circle the world along the polar axis by land and sea, and this is just the beginning of his death-defying adventures.

My favorite Fiennes story followed his failed solo unsupported walk to the North Pole. After suffering severe frostbite on all the fingers on his left hand, Fiennes had to abandon the adventure. The surgeon recommended he wait several months before amputation, to allow possible regrowth of nerves. Tired of the pain, Fiennes amputated his own fingertips. With a saw!

Perhaps his craziest adventure was running seven marathons, on seven continents, on seven consecutive days, just four months after suffering a heart attack and undergoing double bypass surgery. Here’s his post-surgery marathon schedule:

26 October – Race 1: Patagonia – South America
27 October – Race 2: Falkland Islands – “Antarctica”
28 October – Race 3: Sydney – Australia
29 October – Race 4: Singapore – Asia
30 October – Race 5: London – Europe
31 October – Race 6: Cairo – Africa
1 November – Race 7: New York – North America

Reflecting on these marathons, Fiennes said, “In retrospect I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t do it again.” Wimp.

When asked about what he considers to be his greatest accomplishment, Fiennes responded in his classic upper-class British accent, “Actually, it was being happily married for thirty-four years (to childhood sweetheart, Lady Virginia Pepper Fiennes). I was incredibly lucky.”

Conclusion: A happy marriage is an exciting adventure and a worthy accomplishment to pursue.

Question: What are you trying to accomplish with your life?

 

 

 

Wise Leaders Listen to Old Men

It seems like every time I get around leaders my age the conversation eventually meanders to the topic of multi-generational ministry and succession planning. Some already have a succession plan. Some are working on a succession plan. Others have no interest in succession plans because dying is not in their plan.

I’ve been thinking about my Manila succession plan for about thirty years. That does not prove that I am good or even marginally adequate at advanced strategic planning. I am not. Because I was only planning to stay in Manila a few months, I figured I better find some next generation leaders to equip and empower. In those days the next generation was two to five years younger than me. Now they are twenty to thirty years younger.

King Solomon got off to a great start because he understood multi-generational leadership and the importance of continuity. Consider his prayer in 2 Chronicles 1:9.

“O LORD God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth.”

Unlike so many young insecure leaders today, Solomon was not looking for a “new word” from God. He believed that the old word that God gave his father was still valid for his generation.

Solomon prayed, not for his own mission/vision/word to replace the mission/vision/word of his father. Rather he saw himself as a continuation of God’s purpose. He did not need his own unique mission/vision/word. He embraced a multi-generational mission/vision/word.

Solomon’s multi-generational mission did not start with his father’s generation. In his prayer, Solomon recognizes that it started long before David. Being king over “people as numerous as the dust of the earth” harkens back to God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Unlike his father Solomon, Rehoboam “abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him” (2 Chronicles 10:8). Rejecting the wisdom of old people who represent previous generations is always a bad idea for a young leader.

Solomon recognized the importance of multi-generational continuity. He remembered the wisdom of his father David. He even acknowledged he was in some way building on the foundation of God’s promises to Abraham. Because he “listened to the old men” Solomon had a strong foundation to build on and a clear mission to accomplish.

Lesson for young leaders: Patiently listen to the “old men” who repeat the same stories over and over and over.

Lesson for old leaders: Never grow tired of reminding young leaders of God’s promises and purpose so they can build on ancient foundations rather than starting over and building on nothing.

Summary: “Listening to the old men” means we don’t have to start over from scratch and make it up as we go.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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