My Living Waters small group co-leader debriefed with me about the session he had led the night before in my absence: ‘It went great: the guys opened up and Jim received deeply from the Lord as we prayed for him. The Holy Spirit was very present…’ Our group is not uncomplicated and I felt just a trace of unbelief—‘Really, that good without me?’
My arrogance aside, I recalled Jesus’ astounding promise to the disciples on the eve of His leaving them and sending His Spirit: ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father’ (JN 14: 12).
Jesus had to leave the disciples in order for them to take the next step in their journey of faith. He knew what they needed to grow: to step out in faith on the leading of the unseen ‘Spirit of truth’ (JN 14:17) whom Jesus promised would ‘teach them everything and remind them of everything He had said’ (JN 14:26). ‘Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you’ (JN 16:7)…
Jesus had to decrease in order for the saints to increase in faithful allegiance to Him. Perhaps we need the challenge. It is hard to sort out who He is and how to represent Him when He’s not around. Yes, the Scripture guides us, yes the apostles and church tradition guide us too, and yes, it is still really hard to figure out ‘what would Jesus do.’ So He gives us His Spirit. Becoming a person of the Spirit–called by Jesus to do greater works than He did in the power of that Spirit–requires His absence. No other way to grow: to step out into the void knowing deeper still that He goes before us and makes a way for miracles, miracles that we accomplish in His Spirit’s power.
If the entire Church is built on such a premise, how much more does it apply to our equipping and releasing the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4: 12)? How often do we as ministers limit what another can do without us? Of course wisdom and training and timing come to play in releasing people to certain tasks, especially tasks involving the delicate care of souls. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the Church often fails to ‘do the greater works’ because elders (like me) find a comfortable niche which does not include making a way for others to do what the Spirit can only do through them, without us!
If Jesus must decrease in order for the Spirit to increase in the people of God, how much more must we decrease and make room for younger ones to take their places in the Church? God showed me this clearly about 15 years ago in New Zealand. I was with my teen son Nick who joined me in my daily runs throughout Auckland. At first I easily beat him yet by the trip’s end he trounced me. Tempted by the same trace of unbelief I felt toward my small group co-leader’s successful solo ‘run’, I straightened up and the Spirit reminded me: ‘Prepare to pass many batons to younger ones who will outrun you in the power of my Spirit…’ Amen