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What is Prayer and Why Do We Pray?

A mini-study on Prayer

by John Oakes -- San Diego, California, USA 

Let us start with two questions:

1. What is prayer to you?

2. Why do you pray?

Either write down your answers to these questions or at least take the time to voice your answers to yourself.

 

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I. What is prayer?

Think about your prayer life.   Is your prayer talking to God or is it talking with God?

Also, what is the purpose of you praying?

For myself, as I grew up as a Christian, the model for prayer was what I saw in a public prayer.  When people are praying in public, obviously they talk.  If they stop talking, then the prayer is over.  So, to me, prayer is talking to God, or at least that is how I viewed it for many years.

But there are two problems with this. 

1. Communication is a lot more than words, and

2. Communication, by its very definition, is two-way.

Romans 8:26-27 reads,   "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will." (NIV)

Think about that moment when you communicated your deepest desires and feelings to someone whom you deeply love.  If you are a married person, it might be that look you exchanged with your spouse when the two of you first realized you were in love with each other.  That look said it all.  Words simply do not express our most profound feelings.  Prayer is not just talking.  Prayer is feeling.  Prayer is receiving a message.  The Holy Spirit helps us to express those deepest feelings to God.  And this is a two-way street. He also communicates God’s deep desire for us.  Sometimes in our prayer we need to stop talking.  We need to “be still and know that I Am God.” (Psalms 46:10).

There is a spiritual discipline that most of us have not developed, and I will add myself to the list of novices in this area.  It is meditation.  Prayer may be talking, but it is also meditation.  Meditation is not just for our Hindu friends. We need to take it back for use in Christian prayer.  David meditated, not by saying a mantra, but by contemplating God’s glory.  In Psalm 119:27 he tells us that “I will meditate on your wonders.” In Psalm 77:9, Asaph tells us, “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”  This cannot be done while talking.  In Psalm 48:9 the Sons of Korah tell us that, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”  Prayer that God seeks from us includes meditation.

What is prayer?  It is a lot of things.  To break it down to just one of them is a mistake, but one of those things prayer involves is communicating on the deepest possible level our feelings and desires to God and God doing the same with us.  Let us consider prayer, not just as talking, but as feeling and meditating.  Let us consider the role the Holy Spirit plays in this and let us consider being trained to be still—to stop talking and to meditate on God—on his wonders, on his works and on his unfailing love.

 

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II. Why do we pray?

If we have a more complete understanding of what prayer is, then we will have a greater understanding of why we (hopefully) pray.  Of course, one reason we pray is that we are commanded to pray.  But consider your most valued relationships.  If these relationships are truly valued, then surely you do not communicate with those you love because you “have” to. In fact, if you have to, then that is not love.

Here are three much better reasons for you to consider as to why we pray. Our purposes in prayer include:

1. To give glory to God.

2. To align our heart with God’s will.

3. To influence God and be influenced by him through relationship.

Probably the best go-to place, both for how to pray and why to pray is found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13. Here the disciples, who have been praying their whole lives, realize that Jesus is the master prayer. Therefore, in humility, they ask him how to pray.  In his response to them, we can see all three of the points above.

First, Jesus begins his model prayer by giving glory to God.  All honor and praise belong to God and to God alone. My personal favorite example of this in the Scripture comes, not surprisingly, from the mouth of the second greatest prayer of all time—David. It is in 1 Chronicles 29:10-20.  “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor.” By this time, David is consulting his thesaurus, as he is running out of words. But he is not running out of reasons to give Glory to God.  First and foremost, the reason we pray is to give glory to the God who created us—to the God of all comfort, love, power and dominion, who deserves our eternal praise and who sits in glory in heaven, amen!

Second, we pray so that our hearts and desires can become aligned with God’s will for our own lives  and for the world as a whole.  Jesus says in his model prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Does this mean that God’s will is not always done?  I thought that God was totally sovereign.  In fact, God’s will is not always done because there are creatures who have free will, whose wills very often do not align with the will of Him who created them. In prayer, we seek to align our desires with those of our Father in heaven. We offer ourselves in submission.  We pray for things, but we expect God to give us those things only if it is according to his will, right? In 1 John 5:14-15 we are told that anything we ask that is in accord with his will we will receive. For this reason, as we pray, we are trying to align our will with his will.

The third reason we pray goes back to the first part of this lesson. The greatest purpose of prayer is to give glory to God.  In prayer we align our free wills with God’s will. Both true, but in the end, prayer is two-way communication. In prayer, God presents his deepest desire for us—his will for our lives and for the whole world.  But in prayer, we also lay bare our deepest desires to God.  It is surely one of the greatest mysteries that the Creator of the Universe wants to be influenced by puny little us. In prayer, we move the universe.  Well, it is not exactly we, moving the universe, but it is we moving God, who then moves the universe.  In his model prayer, in Matthew 6:11, Jesus prayed that God would “give us our daily bread.”  In prayer, we present our requests before the most powerful person in the universe, knowing that if it is according to his will, that he will make it happen.  “By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,” we “present our requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)  Our prayer moves the universe, and this is one reason we pray, because when we ask, we receive.  But let us remember a few things about this.

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1. First, let us give glory to God.

2. Second, let us first do our very best to align our desires with God’s will.

3. Third, let us remember that our presentation to God of our desires will be greatly helped by the Holy Spirit, who speaks for us in groans that words cannot express. Let us sometimes stop talking, meditate, communicate and let us “be still and know that I am God.”

 

12/6/17

Published January 9, 2018 on www.disciplestoday.org

A Reflection on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

John Oakes

 

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There is much interest in the Christian world on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation Movement.  Even in mostly-atheist Germany, awareness of the history of this world-changing set of events is high.   October 31, 1517, is the day when Martin Luther posted his famous 95 theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg—the starting gun for the Reformation.

What exactly is the Protestant Reformation? What is its legacy, both positive and negative?  Are we, as Bible-believing and Bible-obeying Christians, Protestants? Perhaps most importantly, what practical lessons can we learn from the momentous events which in many ways led to the modern world?

First of all, we should introduce ourselves to the great heroes of the Reformation. The big three are Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. And of course, there are many lesser heroes as well. Luther, Zwingli and Calvin are all complicated men, with incredible strengths, but also with fatal flaws in their character. Are they heroes of Christianity? By almost any measure the answer is yes. All three showed remarkable physical courage and gave up nearly everything in order to pave the way so that we can worship God according to our conscience, with the Bible as our only standard of faith and truth.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Luther was a man of miraculous resolve. His zeal was for Jesus and for his church. In the face of almost certain death at the hands of the Catholic Church and the Catholic princes, he began a reform in Wittenberg which overturned centuries of dominance over Christendom by Rome and the pope. He created the first translation of the entire Bible into his native German, returning the scriptures to the people. He abolished the most egregious Catholic practices such as indulgences, the system of penances, Roman sacramentalism and reliance on works-based salvation. His discovery from the Book of Romans that salvation is by faith marked one of the greatest turning points in the history of the faith. Yet, his reform did not return Christianity to its biblical roots. His faith-alone doctrine caused him to reject the book of James, which teaches that faith without deeds is dead. His theology was that of the fifth-century theologian Augustine. He maintained a strict church-state structure. Ironically, Luther continued the practice of infant baptism, despite the obvious fact that infants cannot have faith. The Catholic Church, under the influence of 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas, taught a fairly healthy balance between the sovereignty of God and free will on our part. Luther reversed this to a strict predestination, as taught by Augustine. One can argue that although Luther made fantastic strides in restoring Christian practice, he moved theology in the wrong direction. 

Ulrich Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli

Most of those whom we would call Protestants actually trace their theology and practice to the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli  and the French theologian John Calvin. The two brought about a more radical and thorough reformation than that of Luther. Theirs is known as reformed theology. Most evangelicals are of a Reformed rather than a Lutheran faith. Zwingli headed a church/state in Zurich, Switzerland. He went beyond Luther in removing vestiges of unbiblical practice. Zwinglian worship services have been called, “four walls and a sermon.” Like Luther, he restored the Bible to the common people. Yet his Augustinian predestination was even more thorough than that of Luther. He declared that those who are predestined by God to hell give glory to God equally with those predestined to heaven. Wanting to maintain infant baptism as a means to establish citizenship in a Christian state, he created the idea that baptism is a kind of Christian circumcision—a symbol of membership in God’s kingdom. We can see where this unfortunate choice led. Zwingli was a head of state and a soldier as well. He died in battle defending the Swiss Reformation against a Catholic army.

John Calvin

John Calvin

The greatest theologian and Bible scholar of the Reformation was John Calvin. He reluctantly headed a theocracy in Geneva, Switzerland. It was his Christian Institutes that solidified normative Reformed theology, doctrine and practice. His theological system, Calvinism, made Augustinian predestination standard in almost all of Protestantism. Even if they are not aware, most of our Christian friends are Calvinist, which explains their embracing the once-saved-always-saved doctrine.

Less well known is another Reformation which burst out, beginning from within Zwingli’s movement in Zurich. This “Radical Reformation” featured a rejection of church and state. Zwingli himself initially recognized that the only correct form of baptism is by immersion of adults, but he was unable to accept the implication of rejecting infant baptism on citizenship in his Christian state. Instead, he began to violently persecute these rebaptizers who thus became known as Anabaptists. Catholic, Zwinglian and Lutheran could not agree on much, but one thing they agreed on was that this rebellious Christ-like group must be suppressed. Catholics burned them at the stake, while Lutherans and Zwinglians drowned them. For a time, preparation for baptism of brothers and sisters was really preparation for martyrdom. Literally every one of the early leaders of this movement was martyred for their faith. Christian Europe was not yet ready to accept true Christianity with Jesus as the only head of the Church.

An Anabaptist Execution

An Anabaptist Execution

Are we as New Testament Christians Protestants? The simple answer is no. In the International Churches of Christ, our historical roots go back to the Restoration Movement in the United States in the 1820s and 1830s. This was a back-to-the-Bible movement which rejected denominationalism, and specifically Protestant denominationalism in order to embrace Christian unity based on the essentials of the Bible alone. Leaders such as Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone recognized their debt to the great reformers, but did not accept their unbiblical creeds.

How, then, should we think about this, arguably the most important turning point in Christian history? First of all, despite their faults, and they were many, we need to honor and appreciate what Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and many lesser-known reformers did to restore Christian faith and practice. Their courage and zeal for God’s people is an inspiration. Even if we do not wholeheartedly accept their doctrines, we can give honor where honor is due and recognize that, without them, our Christian faith today would not be what it is. Their willingness to lose everything, including their very lives for the sake of the gospel is an upward call to all of us. Yet, although they did wonderful things to restore Christian practice and to restore the scripture to believers, the Protestant Reformation fell far short of reestablishing correct biblical doctrine and theology. These men restored orthopraxy (correct practice) but not orthodoxy (correct teaching). Rather than restoring New Testament teaching, they only went back to Augustine. To embrace a Calvinist/Augustinian predestination is to reject the truth that God loves all and that he “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Their rejection of biblical freedom and their relegation of Christian baptism to a mere symbol are teachings that we must reject as unbiblical and as a stumbling block to salvation.

Menno Simmons, founder of the Mennonites

Menno Simmons, founder of the Mennonites

Of course, there is a part of the Reformation that we can enthusiastically embrace. We can be inspired by the supernatural courage of our Anabaptist brothers and sisters. The Anabaptists were not without their faults, but neither are we. Perhaps you can get into a conversation with a Hutterite, Mennonite, Brethren or Amish friend. You would perhaps be surprised how much you have in common. However, there is one weakness of this movement that we should not embrace. Under the most extreme pressure of persecution, understandably, most of the Anabaptists chose to remove themselves from the world. They rightly rejected worldliness, but took this too far, choosing instead to isolate themselves from those who hated them. Within two or three generations, these disciples virtually stopped evangelizing the lost. As we celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, let us embrace the zeal, vision, and passion of all the reformers, not just the Radical Reformation, but let us take on a renewed zeal to establish the Church that Jesus died for and let us not withdraw from the world, but rather let us make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and surely, Jesus will be with us always, to the very end of the age.


REFERENCES

Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1978)

John M. Oakes The Christian Story: Finding the Church in Church History  Vol I and II (Spring, Texas, Illumination Publishers)  Volume III, covering the Reformation, will be available late 2018.

John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III, Church History, Vol. II (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2015

Jean Henri Merle d’Abuigne, For God and His People: Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation, trans. by Henry White (Greenville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 2000)

Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, ed. George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1957)

William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s, 1996)

T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (London; John Knox Press, 2006

[1] Stephen J. Lawson, John Knox: Fearless Faith (Fearn, Ross-Shire, Scotland; Christian Focus Publications, 2014)

What Should I Do To Become a Christian Teacher?

by John Oakes 

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I have been serving as a teacher in one way or another for more than thirty years.  It is my career, as a professor of chemistry and physics, and my avocation as well, as a teacher for churches. I have taught the hard sciences as several universities and colleges, as well as teaching for more than 150 churches in more than 70 countries.  One of my passions is to help to raise up teachers who can take on the unending task of helping both the saved and the lost to come to understand the Christian gospel.  In my travels and in my efforts to mentor teachers around the world, I have made a number of observations, both positive and negative, of what makes for an academically and spiritually well-qualified teacher which I would like to share.  I will make these comments, more or less in order as to relative importance as I see it.

1. Humility.

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I cannot count the number of times I have come across young believers who have passion to be Christian teachers but who have flamed out because of pride. I believe humility is the most important quality for anyone who aspires to be a teacher for God’s Church.  Generally, those who aspire to teaching in a Christian setting see themselves as smarter than the average person.  Hopefully, this is true about the expectant teacher, at least to some extent, as the gift of teaching certainly includes above-average intellectual skills!  However, the tragedy which I have seen repeatedly is that those who see themselves as smarter than others allow themselves to be know-it-alls.  Confidence becomes pride.  They wish that everyone were as smart as they and they cannot understand how the other believers could be so unwise and so uneducated in the basics of Christianity.  They cannot wait to enlighten everyone around them with regard to their ignorance.  How could anyone not realize that the teaching ministry is the most important aspect of the work of the Church?  Because I have such deep knowledge, what can these less-informed Christians teach me about anything?  I will hear what they have to say, but pass it through the filter of my superior wisdom.

The amazing thing is that these prideful prospective teachers do not realize that others can see these symptoms of pride from a mile away.  One reason I can list these examples of prideful teacher-thinking is that I have been sorely tempted with all of these many times.  I confess that one of the comments I have received in my student evaluations as a professor are statements such as, “he is a good teacher but arrogant when I talk to him in my office.  He makes me feel stupid.”  Ouch!  Double Ouch!!  I made a decision many years ago that I will go after defeating this kind of pride with unrelenting vigor. I will leave judgment about how successful I have been in this area to those who know me.

This prideful attitude will have two devastating results.  First of all, no one likes a know-it-all.  Certainly no one wants to be taught by a know-it-all.  More importantly, no church leader will give the “stage” to such a person.  And they should not.  The prideful teacher will cause more damage to the church than any help they can offer.  For a teacher, to not have the opportunity to use his or her gift is a great frustration.  It is also a sad waste of potential good for the Church.  Mark it down; if you have a prideful attitude about your wonderful knowledge, you will never be a respected and fruitful teacher.  You are like Nebuchadnezzar, who stood over his beloved Babylon and said to himself, “Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30)  You have forgotten the admonition of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive, and if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?”

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the candidate for teaching who is prideful will inevitably have a hard fall.  I have seen this pattern many times.  We all know that “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)  We tell ourselves that no one appreciates our gift.  We are not respected.  This church does not deserve me.  I am going to find a place where my gift will be appreciated and used.  As a result the gift is either used toward non-Christian ends or the person will end up joining a church which does not hold to genuine Christianity.

 2. Having the spiritual gift of teaching.

Some are teachers, but do not have the gift of teaching.  As a stop-gap measure, in a church without gifted teachers or in a small ministry or new church, this expedient may be a necessity, and that is fine in such a case.  However, ideally, the evangelist will have the gift of evangelism, the elder will have the gift of shepherding, the church board member will have the gift of dealing wisely with money and the teacher will have the gift of teaching.  This principle can be found in 1 Peter 4:10-11, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms."

Of course, this raises the question.  Do I have the gift of teaching?  How would one know?  This is a really important question.  I do not have “the” answer to this question, but will suggest a few things to look for.  First of all, is this what you love to do?  Is this your passion (see below)?  In your attempts thus far to delve more deeply into the truths of Christianity, do you find yourself making greater strides than many others (not as a point of pride, but simply asking a realistic question)?  Is there reason to think that your intellectual gifts are well above average?  Do others agree with this assessment?

Certain skills are necessary; otherwise the gift cannot be used effectively. If it cannot be used effectively, then it is probably not a spiritual gift.  Intelligence alone is not sufficient.  Ideally, a teacher will be a strong public speaker.  If you cannot get across what you have learned, what good is it? There are other avenues of expressing this gift.  Not having skill as a public speaker is a deficit, but is not necessarily a sine qua non.  For example, perhaps you are a really good writer or a person who can reason effectively in a one-on-one encounter.  Bottom line, in order for a supposed gift of teaching to be genuine, the person holding this gift must have the ability to pass along knowledge in a persuasive way.  If not, then this is not your gift.

3. Having passion to teach.

I have taught on spiritual gifts dozens of times, and have published a book on this topic (Golden Rule Membership, Illumination Publishers).  My first advice on discovering one’s gifts is to ask what you love to do.  Your gift is the thing you will do even if no one appreciates it and even if you receive no encouragement for doing it.  Passion for teaching is an absolute essential for the one who wants to teach in God’s church.  There are at least two reasons this is true.  First of all, to become a well-trained and effective teacher will require a LOT of training.  I would argue that this role in the Church may require more training than any other.  Many hours of reading, studying and preparing, well above the call of duty, are absolutely required.  Without passion, few will be able to maintain this effort over time. Unlike the first two qualities mentioned above, this quality is relatively easy to “measure.”  By our twenties we know what we love to do.  You should ask yourself a simple question.  Am I truly passionate about teaching the gospel to both believers and non-believers?

4. Having the will and the opportunity to get the training.

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We cannot teach what we do not ourselves know.  Knowledge does not leap into our brains while we sleep.  The Holy Spirit will at times give us the words to speak when we are before rulers (Luke 12:12), but this cannot be counted on in every case. Desire alone is not enough.  Jesus did not have any degrees and he was the greatest Christian teacher who ever lived.  But we are not Jesus and almost certainly, advanced training, very likely including a post-graduate degree, will be required for the effective teacher in the twenty-first century.  It is unfortunate, but nevertheless true today, that the Christian teacher will need skill in English, because the great majority of useful resources are in English.  Knowledge of additional languages is not an absolute requirement, but it is very helpful.  Some training in history, philosophy, and the natural sciences is very helpful.  Some do not have these skills and will find difficulty acquiring them for various reasons.  Perhaps they come into the game at too advanced an age.  Perhaps they did not have access to education for cultural or other reasons.  If this is the case, then it is not likely that this person will become an effective teacher.

5. Being willing to work in a serving position.

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This point takes us back to the first on our list—the requirement of humility.  Here is the bottom line.  To teach is to serve.  Of course, this is true of all Christian ministry, as Jesus told us (Matthew 20:26, John 13:13-17).  But this is fundamentally true of teaching in the Church.  My experience tells me that teachers often do not see it this way.  I teach in a chemistry department.  In academia, chemistry is known as a service discipline.  What this means is that most taking my courses are there, not to be chemists but to be something else, such as a biologist or a pharmacist or a nurse or doctor.  I need to accept that nearly all of my students do not share my passion for chemistry.  I am there to serve other disciplines.

In Ephesians 4:11-12 we are told that the evangelists, shepherds and teachers are to prepare God’s people for works of service.  The way I like to put it, teaching is not the most important thing.  It is not the second most important thing in the church.  It is not even the third most important thing.  However, it certainly is in the top ten and might just possibly be in the top five.  If you want to do the “most important thing” then you need to recognize that teaching is not that thing.  Your role as a teacher is to provide something to others.  Yours is one of the parts in putting together the whole. Teaching actuates other abilities, but it is not that most essential ability and it will not normally be the thing which will be noticed first.  The purpose of the Christian life is to know God and to be known by him.  The Christian mission is to win as many as possible to Christ.  The teaching ministry does not take an up-front role in these things, although it is important to these things.  In fact it is essential to these things in the long run, but the teacher’s role is not the most essential one in helping people to have a relationship with God and to conversion of the lost.

Because one of my particular skills is in the area of Christian apologetics, I am blessed to have many experiences which are an exception to the rule I am stating above, but I still need to stress this fact about the teaching ministry.  Yours is a service role.  You will be tempted to think that it is the top priority, but it is not!  A church built out of people, all of whose skill is intellectual, will not be an effective church (effectiveness being defined as achieving the purpose and ministry of Christianity).  Evangelism and shepherding and taking care of the physical and spiritual needs of the lost and the saved are more essential.  They are higher up on the list.  If this is not okay with you, then perhaps you should pursue something other than teaching.

6. Able to take the long view and to hold our tongue—not having an agenda or an axe to grind.

The fifth quality I want to mention is a practical aspect of the humility which is the chief quality needed to be a fruit-bearing Christian teacher.  This quality can be encapsulated in one word—patience.  Anyone who is a teacher will have deeper than average insight into those qualities required for churches and individual members of churches to grow and be effective in their faith.  We notice the mistakes our preachers make.  We often cringe when we hear outlandish interpretation of the scripture, especially in public forums.  We know some church history and notice immediately why a decision is a bad one.  What will we do with this knowledge?

Here is the bad news for the teacher.  More than ninety percent of the time, we need to hold our tongue and keep our opinion to ourselves.  This is true, both because as I already stated, no one likes a know-it-all, and also because teaching is a serving role.  I made a decision many years ago and I must remind myself on a regular basis, that I must bide my time.  There are convictions I have that I must keep under my hat for a time.  When I am invited by a Christian group to teach them, I need to remember that my role is to do what was asked, not to come with a hidden personal agenda.  I do not visit churches in order to correct all their errors.  My role is to support what the leaders are doing, even when I do not completely agree with what they are doing.

I have seen other teachers forget this basic aspect of the teacher’s role.  They tend not to be invited back.  Their skill and their passion therefore find a reduced opportunity to be expressed.  My personal ministry as a Christian teacher is somewhat unique, as I do so much traveling and have taught for many different churches.  It makes this principle even more necessary to the effective use of my gift.  Whenever I am invited to teach for a ministry other than my own, I remind myself that I do not want to leave having created more problems than I have solved.  In almost every lesson I teach, I find myself asking whether I should make this or that point, no matter how valid.  If it will not help what the leaders in the local church are trying to do, whether or not what I am saying might be true, I must hold my tongue.  James tells us that the tongue is a fire and a world of evil that corrupts the whole body.  In the context, James is speaking this truth about teachers!

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One could use the excuse that the Holy Spirit put it on one’s heart to say such and such.  Maybe so, but would the Holy Spirit have you creating havoc in the local church or in the ministry to which you are speaking?  Perhaps one time in one hundred it is true that the Holy Spirit will influence us to create a big stir.  God’s prophets certainly did this at times.  There is a role sometimes for a teacher to stir the pot and upset the apple cart, but this is rare and should be done with extreme caution and only after purposeful thought.

One last thought on this point.  As teachers, one of the things we love is when others learn through us and grow in Christ.  Their life is changed forever. What a thrill.  This is a good thing and it is not, by itself, a sign of pride.  However, we need to take the long view here.  If you will pursue your teaching over time, you will gradually acquire a stronger voice.  What you cannot say and what cannot be heard by your audience now because you are a novice, you will be able to say in ten years.  I have been teaching for decades.  I have gained a significant amount of respect over time.  People can hear difficult teaching from me that they may not have received when I was a relatively new Christian.  Because I was willing to bide my time many years ago, I am now able to help people understand and learn from my conviction.

The next few qualities on my list are important ones, but perhaps not absolutely essential.  These qualities can be acquired over time.

7. Willingness to think broadly and cross-culturally.

One of the growing problems of our world culture is that, more and more, we tend to live in an ideological bubble.  The teacher needs to be able to break out of that bubble.  He or she will be teaching singles, marrieds, campus and teens.  The teacher will most likely be crossing church cultures and likely even human culture.  It is my experience that in order to use their gift, teachers will do some traveling and will eat strange food.  A greater than average ability to think outside of the box within which one was raised will be necessary.

8. Broad knowledge combined with one or more areas of specialized knowledge.

As a teacher, I generally must wait to be invited to teach.  Why would I be chosen for the task rather than another?  My advice to any prospective teacher is that you must acquire two kinds of knowledge.  First, you must make yourself the expert in one or two areas.  You should choose a topic you are particularly passionate about and dig as deeply into that topic as you can to make it your own.  You should nail this topic down so that anyone who needs a lesson on the topic, whether it is a biblical book you have mastered, or a character trait you have studied out or whatever it is, you will be the one they will call on.  Maybe you will even write a book on this topic.

The other kind of knowledge you must be prepared with is broad based.  You must have one or eventually two or three specialties, but you will also need a little knowledge in a vast array of topics.  You must be the Rennaisance man or woman who knows a little about everything.  For example, you must know the Book of Colossians backward and forward, but you must have a deeper than average knowledge of all sixty-six books in the Bible.  You must know a little history, a little Church history and a little theology.  The reason is that you will become the answer person to many and you need to be prepared to give that answer as often as possible.  Recently I was asked to do a lesson for a church in Bangladesh on the question of marriage and divorce.  I told them that this is not my expertise.  They asked me to do it anyway.  The fact is that I have studied this topic out quite a bit, actually, and it was a simple matter of taking a few hours to put my material together.  It went fairly well.  This kind of broad preparation is one thing you must move toward if you want to be a Christian teacher.

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I hope that those who have read their way all the way through this essay will find it useful.  Presumably, it is because you yourself are interested in teaching.  I want to encourage you to pursue this gift.  You will find it infinitely rewarding over time as you are able to contribute greatly to the maturing of the saints and to the winning of many more to shine like stars in the universe (Daniel 12:3).  If I can be of service to you, do not hesitate to contact me.

John Oakes

john.oakes@gcccd.edu

Reprinted with permission from Evidenceforchristianity.org

 

 

Photo Credits:

Jesus washes the disciples' feet. http://aathmeekaunnavu.blogspot.com/2012_09_14_archive.html

Chemist examining a beaker at a crude oil processing lab in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo Credit: Mitchell Maher / International Food Policy Research Institute

Graduation Hat Cartoon 

Holy Spirit Paraklete Dove, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHoly_Paraclete_Dove.jpg

ESA/Hubble [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons