It seems I’m always learning new things about myself. Or perhaps, more accurately, I’m gaining more understanding about what I’ve known for years. In school I couldn’t just listen to lectures; I had to take notes. I may never look at them again, but they made all the difference between getting nearly nothing from the lecture and getting…well, maybe not everything, but certainly a whole lot more. Taking the notes, handwritten notes, helped my sometimes overactive brain focus on what I was hearing rather than running off in a hundred different directions.
So let’s head to church. Like most, I used to sit in a pew with my Bible in hand. I had to take notes, of course, but I eventually realized that I also had a secondary problem. Way too often, my eye would be caught by a verse near the one the minister had us reading and my self-propelled brain would dash off into thoughts about that verse, sometimes never to return to the ministry going on in front of me.
I tried all sorts of things through the years, eventually settling on restricting myself to a Bible app on my phone, thus limiting the rabbit trail options, but that only helped with part of the problem. Hand writing the notes wasn’t helping as much anymore, so I switched to taking notes on my phone. Switching between apps slowed me down and helped, but I still had trouble concentrating and retaining.
And then I had some fascinating conversations with a friend who has dealt with similar issues. She explained that she needed to be doodling or sketching while listening if she wanted to retain, that it helped her stay focused. I don’t sketch, but I do have a color-by-number app on my phone, so I dared to disobey tradition and open it during a sermon.
It made all the difference! Being color by number, it’s a virtually mindless activity. It’s not enough to distract me from the message, but is enough to keep my eyes and hands occupied so that THEY don’t distract me from the message. It gives my antsy brain that one little bit of extra work required to make it settle down and actually concentrate on what’s being said.
Since I started doing this, I am more connected with Pastor’s messages than ever, take better sermon notes now than I have in a very long time, and leave service without the frustration that used to stalk me when I knew I’d missed too much. It is an absolutely amazing solution that works for me, and I’m so glad my friend helped me head in the right direction.
So if you see me coloring in church, don’t freak out; it’s a good thing.
In 1 Chronicles 6 we are reminded of the tribes Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. They were responsible for carrying the various parts of the Tabernacle from place to place.
Then Solomon built the Temple. So was God done with them, these faithful men who had carried the house of God through the desert and into Canaan? No. Absolutely not.
The change began in 1 Chronicles 6:31 when David assigned men from these three tribes to lead the music at the Tabernacle. Far from being finished with them, God was drawing them closer to Him and truly giving them even more responsibility-that of leading worshippers into His presence.
We could learn from these tribes. Sometimes we go through seasons when we think God is done with us, that there is nothing left in us that He can use. When we think that, we’re wrong.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Christ’s body, like our bodies, consists of many parts, and God created each part to serve a purpose; I Corinthians discusses this at length. A friend once told me that she had discovered what part she was – Christ’s nose hair. She said it laughingly, but a brief anatomy study reveals that, in a way, she was right. Nose hair acts as a filter, preventing that which is unacceptable from entering the body. This woman has tremendous discernment and walks in spiritual authority at a level beyond that to which most Christians would aspire. When demons have been known to tremble in your presence, you do help to protect the body from unwanted entry.
Each of us is called by God to serve a unique purpose, to fill a position in His body – in the local church. I Corinthians 12:18-20 says, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” There are many parts – many of us, the individuals who make up the body of Christ – and each part is both uniquely necessary and necessarily unique. Just as God did not create the human body with nothing but eyes, tongues and hands, He did not create the body of Christ with only pastors, choir members and ushers. No, the body of Christ (and each local church body) is made up of many parts, many people. Us.
But it is not enough to acknowledge that we are each a part of the body. No, we must also discover which part of the body we are. Note, I do not say we must decide which part we are. No indeed, for I Cor 12:18 states clearly that, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (emphasis mine) God has a unique plan for each one of us and it is our responsibility to seek Him and find out what that plan is. If we presume to decide for ourselves what function we will fill in the body of Christ, we make a gross mistake. Just as an elbow does not have the option of deciding it would rather be a hand, we do not have the option of changing our God-given assignments.
Over the years, I have repeatedly witnessed the results of this very thing, people attempting to choose their own assignments rather than seeking God’s direction. The music ministry is typical; many people join the choir not because God has called them to that position, but because it is where they want to be. Fortunately, most of these misplaced members eventually realize they have put themselves into the wrong position and, hopefully, move on to the place of God’s calling. How much easier would church life have been on them if they had gone straight to God for their assignments instead of telling Him where they had chosen to place themselves? Indeed, how much better would it have been on the choir and music ministry if they had not put themselves where they were not called to be…and how much easier on the ministry that had anxiously awaited their arrival? An elbow that tried to be a hand would create a multitude of problems; one who is called to be an usher, yet tries to be a nursery worker, can do the same.
Yes, it is imperative that each of us, as members of the body of Christ in general and our local church bodies in particular, find out where God has called us to fit in and GET THERE. My place, for 28 years, was in the music ministry. I served wherever the head of my ministry asked me to serve, from choir loft to church office, and I will dare say that I filled my spot well. I have, in the past, likened myself to a ball bearing, the part that makes everything run smoothly while remaining, itself, unseen. Looking at my reference verse, I suppose I would say that I fell into the, “held together by every supporting ligament” category because ligaments are absolutely necessary for the proper running of the body, supporting everything from their unseen position. Interestingly enough, it occurs to me that they are also nurtured and sheltered there, protected by all the visible things that cover them.
Had I ever wanted to be one of those visible parts? Of course! I have an ego and fight pride like everyone else. Like many who love to sing and end up joining a church choir, I had my moments of wanting to be a front line member (one of those few who are on the main stage), but the main platform was not my called position. Understanding this, I chose to put down the flesh whenever it would raise this topic. Interestingly enough, long after I conquered my flesh in this area, God arranged for me to fill in as a front line member for one service. Had I cherished any lingering thoughts of the main platform they would have been squashed flat that night. Everyone said I did well enough, but like an elbow trying to be a hand I felt grossly out of place. Dear God, never again…please.
Today I am on staff at the church, so my position has changed dramatically. No longer in the music ministry, I run our coffee shop and Info Table instead, but I am still a supporting ligament, still just doing my best to keep things moving smoothly and with excellence. I love being where God has called me to be!
…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:14 begins, “Then we will no longer be infants…” and verse 15 says, “…we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” This whole passage, Eph 4:14-16, talks about us maturing, growing up and refusing to remain babies. Any pastor will tell you sadly that there are too many spiritual babies in the body of Christ, too many spiritual babies in his church. Verse 16 reveals one of the great evidences, an obvious indicator of whether one is a mature or immature (baby) Christian.
…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The emphasis, of course, is mine.
According to this Scripture, the growth, the maturity, the building up in love comes as each part does its work. Not only must each part of the body of Christ and, obviously, the local church body, work (which is a rare enough thing in most churches), but each must do its work – not that of another part (someone else’s work). Each of us is a part of the whole body and every one of us has God-given work assignments. Only when we walk in submission to Him and do the works that He assigns do we really grow and build ourselves up in love. Furthermore, only when we each do our own work does the body grow and build itself up in love. When we fail, the body fails; if I, as a supporting ligament, choose not to do my assigned work, all that I support is hindered, handicapped and slowed in its growth.
Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Under his direction
These first three words are the key. We must submit to Him as part of His body, completely under His direction. If we won’t be under HIS direction, totally submitted to HIM, why do we call ourselves Christians? To be called a Christian is to be called Christ Like, and Jesus Christ was so completely submitted to His heavenly father that He willingly took the unimaginably horrendous path to the cross.
So, as we are under His direction…
the whole body
The whole body, every part of it, is “fitted together perfectly.”
is fitted together
This phrase is in the passive voice, which shows that it isn’t the body that is doing the fitting together. The “fitting together” is being done to the body by God. (I Corinthians 12:18, KJV But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him.)
When we are under His direction, allowing Him to fit us together—letting Him put us where He wants us instead of insisting on putting ourselves where we want to be—we will be fitted together perfectly.
as each part does
Every part of the body has work to do. If a part of the human body refuses to work, the whole body suffers. The same is true of Christ’s body. We are not just here to be. We are here to do. (Ephesians 2:10, KJV, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.)
its own special work
God gives each of us work to do and we can either do that work or not do it. If we choose to do our work, we are free to choose whether to do it well or poorly. If we choose not to do our work, we are free to choose whether to do nothing or to do someone else’s work instead.
We’ve a world of choices and only one is acceptable—to do that special work that God has set aside specifically for us. To do anything else is to fail Him, the body, and ourselves.
This even holds true when we decide to do ‘extra’ work. While being faithful to our own special work, we might still have enough time that we choose to go help another part of the body as well. This can be a wonderful thing, but if we move against His direction, stepping out on our own accord, the whole body will suffer.
This is not to say a man cannot be active in more than one ministry. If God directs him to serve in multiple areas, God will also orchestrate his service. If, however, he chooses to serve in multiple ministries against God’s direction, he is asking for trouble to visit not only him, but every ministry he touches.
We each have our own special work to do and He expects us to do it and do it with excellence!
it helps the other parts grow
What a gift! Can anything greater be said of a man than that he helps others grow? No. Here is a promise, a result, worth working toward!
And, to consider this from the other side, if this member of Christ’s body chooses not to be under His direction, not to fit in his assigned spot perfectly, not to do the special work God has assigned specifically to him, then he will inevitably hinder the other parts in their growth.
How much better it is to do what we know to do and do it in the way God intends!
so that the whole body is healthy
This is one third of what should be our goal, and is God’s goal, for the body of Christ—that we as the body be healthy and growing and full of love.
Unfortunately, though many individual churches are healthy, this cannot be said of the church as a whole, at least not here in the United States. Many churches have experienced splits and too often church members are not surprised when they learn of other members’ immorality. One can also find church buildings for sale in this nation that are available for purchase not because the churches have grown too large for them, but rather because they’ve died.
Obviously, if the church as a whole is not healthy, it is also not growing. I was somewhat surprised at one point, though I wasn’t too very shocked, to hear my pastor say in a sermon that the church in the U.S. has not grown since the 1970s. If this is true, something is obviously wrong.
and full of love
This, perhaps, is the saddest thing of all. God is love; you would think that His church would necessarily be full of love, but in how many churches will you find no gossip, no murmuring, no backbiting, no complaining… If a church is truly full of love, there is no room for these things.
So we, the body, fail the test. We are not fitted together perfectly, with each part doing its own special work. Why?
Because too many of us have never learned the difference between being a volunteer and being a called out, chosen one—the difference between one who casually offers, “I’ll do it,” knowing he has the option of quitting later, and the one who answers the call of his Lord, fully prepared to do anything and everything he is told to do. If the church is to be healthy, to grow and to be full of love, we as individuals must grow up first, moving beyond “I’m only a volunteer!” and into “I am a called out child of God who will fulfill my destiny!”
I recently had occasion to remember a discussion I heard years ago between two friends. We were all in the same ministry and one told the other, in reference to that ministry, something along the lines of, “But we’re different. We have a call on our lives and this is just a stepping stone to something bigger.” I was appalled. I didn’t respond, because I was so much in shock at her audacity, but even though I was fairly young at the time I knew enough about God to know He doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t deal in stepping stones.
I’m still stymied when I consider that any Christian would think that way. I mean… When using a stepping stone, what is your mindset? It’s to get OFF. If you think of any ministry as being nothing more than a stepping stone, you’re going in at least somewhat with the attitude that the ministry itself doesn’t matter other than in its service to you, and you don’t plan to be there long. That attitude is so completely unscriptural that I can’t even fathom a Christian having it. I know many do; it’s just beyond me.
I don’t choose the ministries in which I serve; I let God choose for me. He knows exactly what I am now and what He wants me to become. He plants me where I need to be to grow into that person, and He plants me where I can prove most effective for His Kingdom – all of which may or may not have anything to do with what I want to do. Someone once expressed to me the idea that he had a specific call on his life and it didn’t make sense to serve in any area that wouldn’t further that call – yes, I did speak up that time, because I’ve learned through experience just how erroneous that thinking is…and how dangerous.
The person who made the original “stepping stone” reference? If she ever did move on to the bigger and better things she was anticipating, I don’t know about it. I can’t help but wonder if her attitude was part of the reason why.