Seeing the back of God in the jungle of life.
Gabor Gresz — NLT Stage 2 Conference
Our life is a story. A story that is full of moments. Moments of joy, moments of disappointments, moments of victories, moments of pain, moments of tragedies, moments of happiness, moments of glory and moments of despair. In that story we have different responsibilities, different roles we have to play in that story. We start our story by playing the role of a child, a student, a young adult. Then as we grow we play the role of the husband or wife, father or mother.
And at the most important moment in our life a dramatic change happened. We discovered that there is an Author of our story. From that moment on we try to follow what He writes, try to understand what He reveals about himself, try to play the roles He has decided for us. In the big drama we call history we try to live out the story the Author has for us. Sometimes He writes for us a leadership role that we need to play, sometimes a student role, sometimes a follower role.
Our role is to faithfully trying to discover and play the scenes he has designed. But it’s even more complicated than that. There are parts in the story where he has invited us to write our story. Sometimes He gives blank pages and gives us authority to write. Write with responsibility and wisdom. Write with your best understanding of who the Author is, what He has revealed about His will, who He made you to be, what roles He assigned you to play. When He gave the talents to the servants — as we see in the parable in Mt 25 — He has not told them how to invest, what to do with it, just requires return. Live your life, write your story in a way that would bring a return. How? A lot of it is up to you. Take risk, work hard, overcome fears.
That’s why we are talking about spiritual dependency. How do you live out spiritual dependency while you are exercising your authority, freedom and responsibility? How do you make sure you walk in the will of God when there is nothing in the Bible about your next problem you face with?
You have all heard and gave great talks on spiritual dependency. So I’m not going to give the well-known principles, but rather I’ll share several stories how I’ve lived out and experienced during my close to 13 years of being an NTL spiritual dependency.
Spiritual dependency could be as simple as going back to our calling and remembering what Jesus called us to. In Mk 3:14 when Jesus calls the disciples 3 simple thing is recorded that comes with calling: the PRESENCE of Jesus (they were called to be with him), the WORD of Jesus (they would preach) and the POWER of Jesus (to cast out demons). If we could just keep focusing on those 3 things: being with Him, living by His Word and by His power we would have spiritual dependency.
But we all know that although this seems very simple, sometimes it’s very hard to live this out.
Our journey sometimes takes us to wide-spread elevations where you can see clearly, you can breath, you can sit down and relax, you can see God’s face. But sometimes your journey is taking you through a horrible, terrifying jungle. When you are in the jungle, you don’t see anything, everything is dangerous, fearful, scary, new. But when you are in the jungle, you want to see one thing clearly: the back of God.
Before I share some stories from my own journey, let me share what helps me to focus on God in the jungle.
How can I see the back of God in the jungle of life?
- Know and remember who God is. Knowing the Author of our story is the most important thing. We can’t use the authority given to us to write the blank pages we have without knowing who the Author is, what is He like, what pleases Him, what displeases Him, what He loves, what He hates, what He wants to do and what He doesn’t want to do. God clearly reveals Himself through His Word, through His Son, through His Holy Spirit, through the created world, through the wisdom He gave to mankind, through the learning process. Spiritual dependency reflects dependency on who He is. You can’t be spiritually dependent on the mission, only on the One who gave the mission. Focus on Him, not on the mission.
- Know His Word, live daily from it, be led by it. The best leadership book is the Bible. It has everything you need to live, to lead, to make decisions. The greatest leader of the Old Testament is Moses — without question. The greatest king in the Bible is David. None of them had any other guidance to lead well then the Word of God. The first thing a king was required to do by the law of Moses is when he was installed as a king to write down a copy of God’s Word for himself. (Deut 17:18) It doesn’t mean we can’t use modern day leadership tools, books, discoveries as those reveal wisdoms discovered. Yet, we do underuse the Bible to discover the same leadership principles. Spiritual dependency is being dependent on the Word of God, being fed and led by it.
- Know and remember who you are in Christ, who He made you to be and what your role is.
- We are busy, way too busy. We are occupied with our todos. But the calling we have is not to do something, but to be someone: “follow me — says Jesus — and I will make you a fishers of men.” As we become someone, God is going to do the something.
- Your role and responsibility is not your identity. Leadership is a responsibility and not an identity. Leadership is not who you are, but what you are responsible for. Too many leader identify themselves with their title, role, responsibility. When that happens you are not a leader anymore. Spiritual dependency is constantly knowing who God is and who you are in Him.
- You are responsible, but not in control. Leadership is too complex. Complexity comes with multiple challenges and attacks us at our most fundamental needs: at our security. We want to feel secure. We don’t feel secure when we don’t control things, when we don’t know the answers. So, naturally we will always try to take control and solve problems. The only way to be able to survive the many issues and challenges that comes to you is to see yourself as a follower. The bottom line of spiritual dependency is who is in control. A leader thinks he needs to control. A follower knows he is not in control.
- You are not needed, but wanted. You are not that important as you think you are. God was doing really well without you before you were born, and He will be doing really well without you after you are gone. The world is gonna be okay without you. How many of you can recall the name of all of your 8 great-grandparents? I can’t. That means we are only 2 generations away from being completely forgotten. The cemetery is full of people who thought there were irreplaceable. Keep things with open hands.
The fundamental, greatest revelation in my leadership journey was when I understood what God wants in this world. What he wants flows out from who He is. As I discover more and more of this, I can become less and less controlling and more and more dependent. Here it is:
My world, and every leader’s world has goals to reach and problems to solve. We think the world has problems that we can solve. God doesn’t see the world as a place that has problems which could be solved by us somehow. The world has tragedies which requires compassion.
The very first story I’ll share with you reflects that truth.
Story #1: God’s Word at the verge of death.
Between 2000 and 2002 our ministry went through the valley of death. Under the first Hungarian NTL in a short 3 years we’ve lost 75% of our staff, we’ve accumulated close to half a million dollar deficit, we had to close down almost every single ministry, there was not one staff who had been funded, there were legal crises, morale crises and financial crises. The joke was that the last person should hand the key of our office to the Area Office. All my peers left. It was a shame to still be on staff. Daily Laci, Roland and I have faced with people who have asked: when will you leave.
So when in 2004 I had been asked to step into be the NTL I was not prepared. I had never been a campus director, I had small and sick kids. There was more problems than I could list. I’ve made a list of the problems and it took 28 pages. I saw problems that needed to be solved.
Then one day I was reading Mk 8:2: “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.”… “You give them something to eat.”
God’s Word speaking to me, becoming alive convinced me to do something I had no desire or imagination to do. While every advice I got was about “it’s crazy, don’t do it, this is not fair to you, leave, etc..” Only one person told me: have faith. Always avoid people who install fear in you, always seek people who inspire faith.
We are never ready for what God is calling us to do. But when we see Jesus’s heart, His compassion and we react to it, then Jesus’ capacity will be revealed to us.
In Mark 12:44 we see the same heart, the same love and compassion. An old widow waisting her last pennies, everything she own and had in the temple. She risked all she had. She waisted those 2 copper coins and put it where there was abundance already.
Her love led her to make irrational sacrifices and a life-threatening risks. Love makes you to give up your most fundamental needs. “…she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Where love occupies our hearts fear will not have space.
Story #2: God’s Word at the legal challenges.
In 2008, after being 30 years old, our ministry finally could find a legal entity that best fit us and was financially survivable. But in 2011 the government rewrote the whole church law and we’ve, along with 300 other religious orders, lost our religious order status. That meant a huge challenge. It came with the threat that we might loose a lot of staff again. There were tons of international protest against this law. We had been reinstalled into our status twice by the Hungarian Constitutional Court. But regardless, the government was not willing to reinstall our status.
We had a dilemma. Some Christian churches and groups decided to sue the government in the EU court. Many groups deceased. I had a dilemma shell we join those who sue the government or shell we just remain silent and try to find other solutions. The Christian community was divided what should we do. Either way could we go.
I had been praying a lot. One morning I was reading Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” That was the decision right there. Another example of how God used His word to make a very important decision for the ministry.
Story #3: God’s Word at difficult personnel decisions.
In every leader’s life there are moments when he has to release people. That’s normal part of leadership. I never fired people, they fired themselves. This meaning that I only pulled that card when it was absolutely necessary because of moral conduct or calling issue.
But there were 3 occasions when it was very tricky and hard. One of those could easily led to the fall of the ministry. And advice and the word of God again helped me to make the right decision quickly and brought unity in the team. Let me tell you how.
One of our senior staff leader, who happened to be a team leader did something that was morally wrong and was deeply hurting another leader couple. It was sexual in nature, but was not physical fornication or adultery. It was very unusual, very out of the frame of reference for us. Something I’ve never heard of or experienced before. It was very disturbing. But as we’ve discovered I’ve confronted him. There were tears and seemingly genuine confession. I quickly had a trilemma to solve: 1. How do I protect the hurting couple who had been so badly attacked by this person? 2. How do I protect the ministry? 3. How do I help this staff who sinned to recover? First, it didn’t seem something to fire the person.
Next day I’ve decided to call an outside help, Dr. Evan Parks to give me advice on that. This was the best thing I could do. He has advised me to fire this staff and focus on protecting the ministry and protecting the other leader couple. Yet, I still had a dilemma: what do I do with someone who seemingly is showing remorse and true repentance? Do we not show grace? Do we release family and 3 children, one is handicapped?
Again, I was reading on that morning Proverbs 1:25ff: “because you have ignored my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm… Because they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord… therefor they shell eat the fruit of their way…”
I’ve realized from this that this staff had 12 years of opportunity to hear great teachings, listen to great wisdom. I can’t protect him from not listening to it. Also, I’ve deeply studied what repentance means in the Bible. 2Cor 7:10–11 talks about the true repentance, and I’ve discovered that tears doesn’t equal repentance. The tears I saw was not the tears of repentance, but the tears of shame. I’ve shared the whole story with the staff very openly, too.
Again, the Word of God along with the advice of others gave me wisdom to lead through this difficult situation. Understanding where to channel compassion to (toward the victim and toward the staff) saved our ministry.
Story #4: God’s Person at difficult relationships.
My final story for today is a story of a painful relationship and how understanding God’s compassion and love helped me.
There was a staff who my wife and I personally became close friend with. We’ve helped her to make her first steps in her faith. She came through YTL. We have helped her growth. We’ve helped her to come on staff. She became a friend of our kids. She spent many evenings and dinners at our house. For 9 years we’ve poured love and care into her.
She was a single girl. Desperate to find a husband. Finally she met with an American guy. Seemed like her dream will come true. Everything clicked well. But we had been deeply disturbed as I got to know the guy. More and more questions and concerned was raised. He seemed to be a phony, not genuine. But she was in love. I have expressed my concern to her. Then she started to lie. She lied about her job, her responsibilities. Then we had to put her on SOP. Then another SOP. It went on for time. Finally she wrote a very bad letter accusing the whole NLT that we live in sin. After that I told her that if she thinks we live in sin, than she shouldn’t follow us. We’ve released her.
Her fiancé and her didn’t like the decision and went to Orlando complaining that I’m abusive. I’ve heard back that we were invasive and shouldn’t fire her. I disagreed.
4 years after I released her she wanted to meet with me. She still didn’t understand why we have fired her. She has accused me that the reason she can’t conceive and have a baby it’s because the trauma I caused. I felt really sorry for her. I still thought that I was right. It was the right decision. But I really felt sorry for her. She married to a guy who was not treating her well. I was thinking how could I help her to get well, to get healed. I decided that I’ll show my love for her by apologizing to her. I said to her that if I hurt her in any way, I’m very sorry.
Does this mean I was wrong when I tried to keep her out of that marriage? I don’t think so. Unfortunately, she is now divorced and raising twin babies alone.
All of us at a different stage of our journey. And God has individual plans for us. There are no cookie cutters in God’s Kingdom. As leaders at various capacities and stages of your life, you’ll feel many times tired by all day serving people.
In Mk 4:35–40 we read the story of a great idea which led to a great storm after a great day. Our life is service all day, just as the disciples did. It was evening and they were ready to go to bed. But instead they had to go to a boat. When they’ve deserved rest the most, they faced a huge stress. It was His idea to take them through the storm when they were the most desperate for rest.
Why? Because He wanted to show himself as they’ve never saw Him before. They had to be led through the most terrifying experience so they could face the most reality of Jesus.
Everything God wants you to be, have, see or experience is on the other side of your fear.
Jesus purposefully wants to take us to the end of our ropes to reveal our real fears and lack of faith and to show who he really is. God is only visible where we become effortless.
God shows up where our show ends.