The Year of the Breakthrough! We’ve heard that’s what some leaders are calling 2011, now popularly termed ‘twenty-eleven.’
Breakthrough! Sounds good, charismatic, encouraging and just what many a church needs to take on board. Interestingly, over a number of years we’ve heard numerous churches use this catchphrase for a new year, especially if they’ve had a bad previous year. And, admittedly, with good planning, strong prayer, meaningful preaching and God’s blessings, the vision came about. Is 2011 going to be a breakthrough time?
What do we think God is trying to say to leaders and churches? As well as hearing the above we hear others say, as they consider the incredible flood damage in Australia, Chile, Pakistan, other natural disasters and bombings around the world, that God is seriously challenging nations to repent, and especially within his church as many Christians have lost direction. Yes, we too feel that God wants breakthroughs and repentance but also – to those who will hear – he’s especially saying: ‘This is a year of risk-taking!’
Now of course we must always believe for breakthroughs in both church life and our own life experience, and yes, pastors must regularly warn their congregations against that almost forgotten work of Satan, the world and the flesh – sin. Just recently we heard a pastor wisely remind his church that we must always keep our eyes on Jesus because Christianity is not a religion of convenience but of commitment. We believe that such commitment means moving on from last year, whether it was a disaster or a great success, and taking new and higher ground in 2011. But to achieve this we must be prepared to take what some people, shaky or uncertain in their faith, would call risks.
The truth is that we never take what the world calls risks. Rather the risks that Christians – especially leaders – are meant to take are in reality steps of faith! For decades, especially when teaching on ministering in the Spirit’s supernatural gifts such as prophecy and words of knowledge when one has to speak out in faith, we’ve asked, ‘How do you spell faith?’ Naturally we get the expected response: ‘F-A-I-T-H.’ Then we really jolt listeners with ‘No! You spell faith…R-I-S-K!’
Faith is that Greek word pistis which means to be persuaded, convinced. It is an act! Hebrews 11 is the great chapter of examples of heroes of the faith who acted when prompted or led by God and took what seemed to be risks. Verse 2 makes it clear that action was always required: ‘The act of faith is what distinguished (them), set them above the crowd.’
In 2011, don’t you also want to be distinguished, set above the crowd? Oh not from any self-centred ‘Look at me, see who I am’ attitude but rather as a Jesus style example to others as to what can be accomplished by taking God-organised ‘risks’ that take us out of the comfort zone and produce great results both in our ministry and in our lives in general.
That Hebrews scripture reminds us of some who took risks in God as they heard his voice, received his direction, or simply knew in their heart what to do… Abel, making a better sacrifice (What a key in verse 4… ‘It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed…’). Enoch, skipping death completely because he dared to walk on with God. Noah, building a ship (unheard-of!) in the middle of dry land! And what about Abraham, who boldly offered his only son as a sacrifice, Hannah, returning her cherished firstborn to the Lord for temple service, Esther, daring to approach her husband king interceding for her people. Moses, taking on the might of Pharaoh and Egypt, Joshua, David, Elijah and many other ‘risk takers’ who trusted their God and his word.
But the greatest of all risk takers was Jesus Christ! He left the glorious safe surroundings of heaven and became a man subject to human ways and conditions, ridicule, misunderstanding, suffering and death. What’s called the kenosis of Christ. As 2 Corinthians 8:9 Message puts it… ‘out of his generosity, in one stroke, he gave it all away, becoming poor that we could become rich.’
Think about that! To follow God’s command, Jesus risked everything…he, the eternal God, would now also become fully human as well. As such he would experience human limitations, anxiety, Satan’s tempting, disappointment, weeping, thirst, hunger and tiredness. Worse, he would know mockery, betrayal and disloyalty. He would suffer physical and mental pain and have to succumb to a cruel trial, torment and a shocking, painful death on a cross.
Php 2:6-8 Message puts Jesus’ risk-taking as: ‘He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion.’
And what was the result of Jesus’ response-to-God risk-taking? Php 2:9 names it, ‘Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything, ever…’ Add to that his great gift of grace to us – our incredible salvation and new relationship with God.
But note! Jesus relied completely on the Holy Spirit for enabling power to break through in his newfound demanding lifestyle. We can too in 2011 if we fearlessly accept God’s challenges for us this year in life matters, church and ministry. Life matters may include choosing a new car, home, location or job. Church and ministry will always mean taking on something new.
However, in taking so-called risks – those godly steps of faith –we can accomplish much and discover that we’re not really taking risks, but rather declaring that our faith and trust in God is strong and secure. In doing so we’ll have breakthroughs and find God so pleased with us that we’ll be honoured too – whatever way that works out here on earth let alone in eternity.
Yes every nation needs to repent in order to receive God’s blessings and protection. And all Christians need to keep clean slates repenting of any unrighteousness that has crept in. But we also need to move ahead in 2011 in trusting God. We must hear what he is saying to our hearts and respond with steps of faith. Let’s all have an adventurous year with Jesus!