Ends and Means

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:18–25 NASB)

When I became the pastor of Renewal Church, I took on the spiritual leadership of a church that was on the brink of closing. I became the shepherd of a church in need of a new vision and a rejuvenated sense of mission, two things I believe God gave to me and our team so that we might be a church in which the healing, equipping, and empowerment of God would be experienced by all who became part of our community. I had a vision of how God was going to work among us, and I was excited to be part of that happening. And yet as the years went on, I continued to wrestle with the gap between what I wanted to happen – steady growth high and to the right – and what was actually happening – spurts of growth followed by people leaving, moving, or passing away. I respected the decisions people made when they left, and at the same time I needed them to stay if we were to grow. In my hopes for the kind of vision I wanted to happen, people sometimes became means rather than ends.

I had a vision of how God was going to move, but God had his own ideas.

These are the days of high technology, self-actualization, and manifesting, a culture focused on the execution of individual human desire, human will based on human wisdom. Even in the church, we can take what we believe to be Godly ends but domesticate them to become our purposes done our way. I could see that in me. I still see it in me.

But the peace that comes from God does not come from us straining to make our plans happen. This doesn’t mean we don’t plan or dream, but we do so open-handedly, trusting the Father the way small children trust their parents.

Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter’s response – “the Christ of God” – means the Messiah, the Lord, the one whose life we are to emulate in his submission to the will of God. The one who shows us the path of self-denial as the path to peace and the pleasure of God. This is what it means to come after Jesus. And as we do so, we release our plans into the hands of God and let his purposes work themselves out, in, and through our lives. There is peace in Christ’s Lordship and our self-denial, because one thing that hinders our peace is our self-centeredness, our desire for our way and our wants. When our vision must take place, we strive, and people become obstacles. Our relationships become transactional.

Living out of the peace of Christ requires us to let Christ and his purposes rule us, something I sought to work on through prayer and in community as I pastored Renewal. And this is something I still work on now.

When we choose this path, our trust in him, his will, his timing, and his purposes are enhanced. When we live this way, we can relax; we don’t need to strive. And people before us become ends, not means. And we get to see others – and ourselves – the way Jesus does.

Wayne Stapleton is the NAB VP of Cross-Cultural Engagement and Emerging Leader Engagement.