All day, every day, God is busily at work spreading the word of what happened at the cross throughout His universe, a word that many either haven’t heard, don’t understand or actively resist. The word of the cross is this: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Many of us, and I use the plural advisedly and without hesitation, have literally worn ourselves out trying our best to take this Gospel to the world for God. After all, God commanded us to go into all the world and preach this gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) and then disciple all the nations in learning to obey His word (Matthew 28:19), did He not? Yes, He emphatically did.
However, in the process of attempting this herculean task, many of these faithful warriors, including many pastors and missionaries, experience what has been called “burn-out,” a euphemistic term for what happens when much effort is expended with no tangible, visible or laudable results. Consequently, many of these warriors have left the task they so enthusiastically began, in essence, “retiring.”
In addition to burn-out, other factors leading to retirement from active, aggressive, inquisitive Christianity are frustration, discouragement and disappointment with the church and other Christians. The in-fighting, politics and the besetting sins of church leaders bring many formerly eager disciples to “retire,” thoroughly disenchanted with the brand of Christianity they have been a part of.
They have given up on the church, and no longer want to learn more about God and His ways. They meet with the Lord each week by either communing with Him on Sunday hikes in the woods or meeting with other like-minded, worn-out Christians to simply “hold hands and share precious verses.” They have withdrawn from the battle, content to wait in peaceful, comfortable retirement for the Lord’s return.
But how can we “retire” from the purpose for our very existence—the Dominion Mandate to rule over the earth as His vice-regents, as He Himself stated in Genesis 1:26? Is the Great Commission in Matthew 26:19, and Mark 16:15 to evangelize and disciple the nations not still on the table for all of us who follow Him?
I am convinced that the reason for seeking early retirement is not the obvious litany of symptoms mentioned above that are present wherever “two or three gathered together in My (His) name.” No, our defeated enemy Satan has caused us to surrender by using the only weapon he has left at his disposal—deception. The real power he held as the “god of this world” was the power of death over Adam’s descendents, and that was stripped from him at the resurrection. Now he can only lie, and try to get us to believe him.
Jesus warned us that we would be in a battle, and we are told how to defend ourselves from Satan’s lies in Ephesians 6:10-18, but we haven’t understood and often stand defenseless when he attacks.
My experience dramatically illustrated for me where I had failed to put on my spiritual armor.
Years ago, I discovered that when I first heard about God’s purpose for me, I got the job description all wrong. I first met the Lord through an organization whose motto was “Come help fulfill the Great Commission in this generation,” and, as a brand new, born again college student at the time, upon graduation I eagerly set out to do so.
However, I learned over the years what all eager, young Christians eventually learn: being obedient to Jesus’ imperatives, when we are honest with ourselves, is impossible. We are hopelessly mired in sin that we cannot lick by our obedience, but as we have discussed week after week, God is doing for us what He commanded of us, by His Holy Spirit in us.
For me, that has proved to be a slow, painful lesson to learn. A few years ago, Jill and I were planting a church in Seattle and were meeting with six or eight couples. We were there two weeks and three Sundays each month, and I would meet with more than 20 different men each trip. We would discuss, over coffee, the gospel, the church and our purpose as God’s people.
I remember having one man say to me, “Wow, I love this. Why don’t I hear this in my church?”
I replied, “I don’t know, but we meet every Sunday morning at 10:00 to talk about this from the Bible. We would love to have you join us.”
This happened several times and some of those who expressed the most interest and enthusiasm didn’t ever come to meet with us. I didn’t realize that I was not content to just share the gospel with these men; I also wanted to get them to our church, where they would eventually tithe, and Jill and I would eat!
One day, after one of these meetings, I was sitting alone in the mall where we had met, knowing full well that this man would not uproot his family and come to a little, fly-by-night church (although we had great worship—a professional musician for a worship leader!) when the Lord spoke to me very clearly. This is what I heard Him distinctly say in my heart:
“Robert, you are a hireling. You want to be paid for preaching the gospel because you don’t trust that I will meet your needs. And furthermore, I really appreciate all your efforts over these many years to work so diligently at building my church according to the biblical pattern, but I never asked you to do that. I have told you very clearly in Matthew 16:18 that I will build my own church, and I do not need your help. I want you to simply preach what I have given you to say, and let me do the church building.”
I was set free that day in a new way—free from doing what God didn’t ask me to do (build His church). But, Hallelujah, God tells me that I am also free from having to do what He has asked me to do as well: “Faithful is the One calling you, who also will perform it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
When God wants the work He has given you to do done, you will not be able not to do it! When the Jewish Sanhedrin threatened Peter and John and told them to quit preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection their answer is almost the previous sentence, verbatim! “Whether it is right before God to listen to you rather than God, you judge. For we are not able not to speak what we saw and heard” (Acts 4:19, 20).
Peter and John “retired” from their jobs as Jesus’ disciples immediately after His crucifixion. Jesus’ death put them all out of work. But now, because of a new, experiential understanding of their Lord, the word “retirement” has no meaning. It has been exposed as only a state of mind
Giving up and repenting for trying to do what God has given you to do when you can still choose not do it, sitting down, shutting up, and learning about the fullness of what happened at the cross, until you can’t keep quiet, is the only path to seeing His kingdom come on the earth as it is in Heaven.