Have you ever had, or wanted a spiritual mentor?
When I came to faith at age 31 I knew I needed a spiritual mentor – someone to disciple me. I had attended a good church all my life, went to Christian schools, and had great parents, so I knew a lot about God and the Bible. But up to that point, I’d managed to compartmentalize my life. There was the biblical information I learned in church on Sunday, and the other life I actually lived Monday through Saturday.
I was clueless about how people who were serious about following Jesus went about doing that in real life. What did they talk about on the golf course, when they went to lunch, or on the job? How did they share the good news of Jesus with others in a way that was natural and winsome? How did they treat their wives, make business and personal decisions? How did they pray, when did they pray, and for how long? I had a million questions.
I was going to a Bible study weekly and it was incredibly helpful, but I knew I needed something more – a coach, a teacher – a mentor. It’s like this; when I decided to take up golf, I got a golf pro to teach me. He not only demonstrated how to properly hold a club, hit a ball out of the sand, but how to keep from getting into the sand in the first place – and a hundred other things I needed to enjoy the game. I learned because he played along with me. I watched him and he watched me and gave me the confidence I needed to play the game better. I knew I needed similar lessons about living out the Christian life.
But how do you even go about finding a spiritual mentor?
There were two men I knew in my town who, for different reasons, I admired spiritually. I called them up, met for lunch, told each where I was spiritually, and that I’d like to meet with them regularly to ask questions about everything Christian. I really didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I needed them to guide me.
The first man, Norm, has as the goal of his life to introduce as many people to Jesus as he can, and to walk alongside them until they can introduce others to Jesus. He was an evangelism machine.
The second guy, Gene, was a successful insurance executive who loved life and loved God. He devoted about half his working week to ministry and the rest making a living. Gene was a true Christian businessman.
Those two men helped shape my Christian life and I’ll be forever grateful for their investment in me. I’ve learned a lot about spiritual mentoring since then, having mentored well over fifty men myself. With each one I learned to ask better questions, give better assignments, and have realized that following Jesus is as much caught as taught.
The pattern of human history has always been that each generation passes on to the next the worldview and values of the community, plus the life skills needed to live successfully. Previously, the vast majority of this teaching was done in the field, at the city gates, and around the table – in the natural activities of life, face to face, from father to son and mother to daughter. Grandparents in their roles as the patriarchs of the family also passed on wisdom that only comes from experience.
However, all that has changed. Many children who used to live and work in the same town as their parents have moved and now no longer have the benefit of this tribal, communal wisdom. Mentoring is all about getting back to hands-on teaching and modeling, once done naturally and in community.
Although the term “mentoring” does not appear in the Bible, the concept of one generation teaching the next is both explicit and implicit throughout the Bible. Eli taught Samuel, Elijah instructed Elisha. Parents were commanded by God to teach their children.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
In the New Testament, Jesus mentored his disciples for three years, then commanded them, “Go…teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28) In other words, imitate me as I’ve taught you, and teach others to do the same. Peter says, “Be examples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:4) Paul tells Timothy, “And these things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (II Timothy 2:20)
What is spiritual mentoring?
Spiritual mentoring is the process of passing on from one person to the next their love for God and biblical truth, and the life skills and experiences needed to prepare them to be fully devoted followers of Jesus in every area of their lives.
• Mentoring is a relationship, not a program. While the process may involve some systematic teaching and study, most learning occurs naturally in response to real life experiences.
• Mentoring is a relationship with someone you like, enjoy, believe in, and want to see lead a life of significance, fruitfulness, and contentment.
What does a mentor do?
• Mentors provide feedback. The mentor has a broader base of experiences, ideas, and insights to draw from which might be helpful to the one being mentored.
• They build self-confidence through encouragement. We all need someone who believes in us and will cheer us on, especially if we didn’t have parents like that.
• They encourage the spiritual disciplines of regular Bible study and personal prayer, and share ideas for doing that.
• They are ready to answer spiritual, moral, or ethical questions using Scripture, or are committed to searching out the answer.
• Mentors honestly share their life experiences, tell appropriate stories of mistakes they’ve made or others have made, and reveal how God used those mistakes to shape them.
The information you’ve been reading was excerpted from A Guide for Finding and Being a Spiritual Mentor, which I’ve written. The complete, eight page guide is available on this website on the RESOURCES page as a download for $2.95, or you can order full color copies.
Next Week: Spiritual Mentoring, Part II
Question: If you’ve been in a Christian mentoring relationship, how did you find your mentor/protégé?
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Why do you have the friends you do?
Have you ever analyzed that question? Most of us don’t plan our friends or friendships – they just happen. For me, a number of my friends I’ve had since high school or college. When Susan and I got married we looked for married friends with whom we had something in common. Then kids came along and we drifted toward friends with children. And, of course, we met some of our friends at our church and so we ended up with a mix of friends that reflected our spiritual values, our interests, our stage in life – people like us with whom we felt comfortable.
And that was part of the problem.
We were both spiritually immature back then and we tended to believe and behave like the friends we chose. And, let’s face it – many of us see very few Christians, perhaps our own friends, who are actually living radically transformed lives. They may be average Christians, but have they grown in their love for God and devotion to others over the years. If not, it’s easy for us to assume, “If they’re saved, why should I deny myself – take up my cross and really follow Jesus? If that level of commitment to Christ is good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.”
Obedience, like water, generally seeks its lowest level. We tend to behave like the friends we choose because we all want to fit in – to be accepted. And, above all, we don’t want friends that make us feel guilty.
So, for better or worse, our faith – how we live, tends to mimic that of the friends we have. That can be an incredible blessing, if you have deeply spiritual friends who are cheering you on to godliness. But, the reverse is also true.
It’s scary to think that for better or worse, our friends are learning about God from watching us. Your friends aren’t just people you enjoy hanging out with. Jesus put them in your life to care for and inspire to be lovers of God also. Think about the last time you gathered with them. How did it go? Do you think you made loving God above all else look good to them? It’s been my experience when I lower my standards; everyone around me breathes a sigh of relief, because the bar just got lowered.
I remember sitting in my car decades ago as a new Christian, before playing golf and begging God to help me get through the next four hours without saying anything foul or telling a single dirty joke. And I was playing golf with guys I went to church with!
For the first time in my life it made sense to me that if I claimed to love Jesus I had to act that way, in and out of church. It saddens me to think how many Christians I made more comfortable in their sin or people I may have discouraged from loving God by my indifference to my own personal holiness.
“But set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” I Timothy 4:12b
Are you the problem or solution?
Are you the spiritual and moral influencer among your group of friends? Do you think the last time you were together with your friends, any of them thought this about you on the drive home; “That John (or Julie) is amazing! I wish I had his love for God, his trust in God, his love for hurting people, his…”? Do you think your life inspires your friends to be better followers of Jesus?
Do your friends inspire you? Are you the one wishing you were more like them?
The worst of all worlds is that no one in your circle of friends, even Christian friends, is seriously inspiring anyone else to follow Jesus more seriously. If that’s the case, it seems to me you have three good options:
1. If you’ve not yet established a regular, daily, personal time of prayer and Bible study, please make that a priority. I’ve never met a serious follower of Jesus yet who didn’t have daily time with God, and I doubt you’ll be the exception. The School of Jesus chapter in The 10 Second Rule, outlines some basic Bible study ideas, including a challenge to start reading the Book of Luke over the next 30 days. In it, I’ve also recommended some great study guides to help you.
2. You might need to temporarily distance yourself from your friends if they’re a temptation for you and get a spiritual mentor. The right mentor can help you think through some of these issues and teach you how to be a godly man or woman until you have the wisdom and courage to intentionally be “salt and light” to your friends.
3. A final recommendation is that you could just step up to the plate, meet with your friends and come clean to them that you’ve not been the follower of Jesus you know you should be, but you want to change that. Invite them to meet together regularly with you, to study the Bible, and grow together. This can be done as couples, but most of the ideas I’ll be giving you over the next month are best done in groups of all men or all women. If none of you are particularly spiritually mature, why not invite someone who is, to meet with you for a few months to get you started?
If you sense God convicting you to do any, or perhaps all of the above, don’t let procrastination rob you of good intentions. Ask your spouse or a good friend, right now, to ask you in a week what your plan is to get more intentional about being a more serious follower of Jesus. That will keep you accountable for making some of these important, first step decisions.
I’m starting a two week series on spiritual mentoring, including some very practical guidelines on how to be and how to find a spiritual mentor. Two weeks after that we’ll talk about accountability groups, finding men and women who will cheer you on to being the man or woman God has called you to be.
Two questions for you: Are you the spiritual influencer in your group of friends? And if so, how have you done that effectively without being overbearing?Send This Post to a Friend
“I’m thinking of doing something different vocationally. I’ve been in a job that’s been OK, but I’m bored and there’s not much room for advancement. But, I just don’t know what the will of God is for my next job. I just don’t want to make the wrong move.”
I’ll bet you, yourself have sought an answer from God for any number of issues, from what college to attend, who to marry, serving in ministry – the list is probably endless. Here’s what we really want to know: Is it possible to know the sovereign will of God for our specific lives, before we make a decision? Is it possible to get a “peek at the script” for our lives with enough certainty to act on it?
Here’s my short answer: If God has a specific will for these areas of your life, and he may – I’m not certain you can know it ahead of time, with enough absolute certainty to act on it.
You don’t like that do you? We want direction for our lives and want to believe God gives it and now you think I’m telling you he doesn’t. I’m not actually saying that. Please allow me to explain. When thinking about the will of God, it’s helpful to think of his will in three separate, but related spheres.
God’s sovereign will
God has what theologians have called, his sovereign will. God has a specific plan for his world, humans, and the future. What he wants done, will happen and nobody can keep that from happening. In the Bible, he’s let us in on many of the most significant parts of that plan. However, he hasn’t made clear in the Bible exactly how he’s working out his sovereign will in the lives of each individual, family, or church, day by day, or year by year. The good news is that God will never hold us responsible for obeying or disobeying anything he’s not made clear to us.
God’s moral will
However, God has another kind of will, or desire for humans. Theologians have called this, God’s moral will. God, primarily through scripture, but also in our consciences clearly instructs humans how he wants us to live in relationship to him, each other and with his created world.
So, he’s given us the Ten Commandments, the wisdom of Proverbs, the teachings of Jesus and Paul, just to name a few. For the most part, God’s moral will is very clear and unambiguous and that’s why we are morally responsible to obey it. When we do, we are “in God’s will”.
God’s permissive will
God permits Christians the freedom to make many significant decisions in life – who we can marry, what job to take, etc. He loves us and trusts us that much! My wife and I truly didn’t care if our children became teachers, sales people or carpenters, if it made them happy and as long as they used the spiritual and natural gifts God had given them, and their occupation didn’t violate any teachings of scripture. Some jobs are off limits to Christians. I can say with absolute certainty it’s not the will of God for them to be thieves, prostitutes or swindlers or take jobs primarily for the money or the power it offers. So, we don’t have complete freedom. God’s moral laws both limit and inform our “freewill” in these areas.
EIGHT CRITICAL QUESTIONS
The following are important questions I ask myself and others who are seeking wisdom regarding permissive will decisions.
1. What are my true motives for this decision and do they align with what I know about God, as best as I can determine?
2. Will my decision violate any clear biblical teaching or are they inconsistent with any teaching of the Bible?
3. Will my decision affect others negatively?
4. Will this decision encourage me to be a more serious follower of Jesus?
5. What has been the counsel of the three people I most respect spiritually?
6. Does it make good use of my spiritual and natural gifts?
7. Have I prayed and fasted for wisdom over this decision?
8. In the area of marriage, does my future spouse truly love God and me more than they love themselves?
Who should I marry?
So, if you’re a Christian woman contemplating who you should marry and you really like two guys, and if they’re both born again, they both love God deeply, treat you and others with kindness and generosity and your parents approve – marry the guy you love the most. You’ll be in the will of God.
“But, I’ve always heard that God has exactly the right man (or woman) chosen for me to marry. Are you telling me he doesn’t?” No, I’m not. He may have a specific person planned for you. But, unless it says in Hezekiah 12:14, “Thou shalt marry Chad and him only shalt thou marry”, I’m not certain that you can ever know that with certainty, so use the criteria that God has revealed to you already (his moral will) and leave the rest to him. If he does actually have a person appointed for you, he’ll make it happen (his sovereign will). But, you don’t have to worry about that. You’re only responsible for making sure that person meets God’s revealed will.
Likewise, what job should you take? If your motives are reasonably pure and it’s not just about the money or power and you’ve asked these questions and your conscience is clear – take the job you want. I’m not sure God cares whether you sell cars or insurance, grow wheat or corn, have two children or three, and if he does, then trust him to make that happen, but you don’t have to fear about being out of the will of God – lighten up and enjoy God’s freedom.
Using new language
When I make significant decisions, I rarely say anymore, “I believe it’s the will of God for me to…”, unless it is clearly the will of God is scripture. I now say, “It seems wise to me that…”, or “I think I’ve sensed God leading me to do…” That way I don’t try to sanctify my decision by invoking the “will of God” declaration, in areas, I can’t be absolutely certain, is the will of God.
I’ve met too many people, who have married someone, or gone off to the mission field, or taken a job, who had declared it was God’s will and it turned out badly. Now, they’re confused and disillusioned with God and like a rabbit in the road, are afraid to make any decisions, since in their mind, they “misread the will of God”.
But you say, “I’ve seen God’s hand in decisions I’ve made in the past and therefore I know that it was the will of God for me.” Sometimes what appears to be the will of God is easier to see in the rear view mirror, but even that’s not certain. If you’ll live this way, you’ll never have to be afraid of being out of the will of God again!
My questions for you: Agree or disagree? What other questions would you ask to make more wise decisions?Send This Post to a Friend
I was sitting at Starbucks a month ago, on a fine fall day with a young man about to graduate from college in the spring. He and I had met a number of times before when he was going through a crisis’ of faith over the death of a friend, but today he had a completely different dilemma.
“I want to know what God’s will is for my life. Is there any way I can know that with certainty?”
“Yes, there is I said.” But, what I was about to tell him, wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
American Christians are obsessed with trying to determine the future. Not just about when Jesus will return, but specifically what we really want to know is whether or not God has a script for my life and is it possible for me to get a peek at it ahead of time so I can make better decisions that align with his will? What job does God want me to take, college to attend, house to live in – big things like that. What Christian wouldn’t want to know the will of God?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books written on the subject of finding God’s will for your life in those areas. This week and next I’m going to give you the Cliff Notes of my best explanation of the will of God and how you can find it. But, here’s a hint at where I’m going with this.
The heroes of the faith I read about in scripture, Old and New Testament, were characterized almost exclusively as men and women who did the will of God and didn’t seem to spend all that much time looking for it.
Obviously, in order to do the will of God, we’ll need to pray for wisdom and seriously study scripture to discover exactly what he expects of us. But, we do so for God’s sake to find out what he wants of us, not to satisfy our own personal curiosity about our future direction.
May thy will be done
When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray, “May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it wasn’t just wishful thinking on Jesus’ part about his future kingdom. He actually expects his followers, his brothers and sisters, to bring the wisdom of God and the will of God to bear in this life, in their world – your world. And the primary way God’s will gets done on earth in our life, is by obeying the clear commands of scripture – all day, every day – whether we like them or not.
I once met with a Christian guy who divorced his wife, who is also a believer, because in his words “they had grown apart and were fighting all the time.” No unfaithfulness, no abuse, just boredom and frustration. He decided to move on. “It wasn’t good for the kids.” So, he called me to ask my advice on how to determine the will of God for who he should marry next so he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
“Has the wife you divorced, remarried yet, or has she died?” “No, neither one,” he replied. “Well, that makes it a lot easier for you to figure out the will of God. The Bible says, you can’t get remarried, at least until one of those things happen.” (Matt. 19:1-12; Ro. 7:1-13) He was incredulous! “You mean it’s the will of God that I’m supposed to remain single until then?” “And celibate also”, I said. “Actually, it’s the will of God that you go back to your wife and be a godly husband to her.” He looked at me like I was Amish.
Now, I don’t want to get into a debate over all the issues surrounding divorce and remarriage. The point of the story is that this guy first violated a clear teaching of scripture by divorcing his wife, without biblical grounds and then was contemplating a second decision, to get remarried, which also was a clear violation of scripture, and then was looking to me to help him find the will of God for his next wife. He really didn’t want God’s will to be done. He wanted his own will to be done.
To be sure, that’s an extreme example, but in far more subtitle ways, Christians do this all the time. I guarantee you that some Christian somewhere, is praying whether or not she should marry Sam, while she’s sleeping with him. I’m sure a pastor right now is praying about accepting a position at a new church, primarily because money or climate is better. It’s amazing how often I meet young guys who say want God’s will for a future wife, but they end up choosing the one with great legs. God’s will is supposed to come first!
Finding the will of God by doing it
So when someone says to me, “I just don’t know what the will of God is for my life,” I tell them that “I do”. He wants the singular goal of your life to be loving him, obeying all Jesus commands and introducing others to him. He wants you constantly looking for ways to make life better for others. Don’t lust, lie, or gossip. Forgive everyone who’s hurt you. He’s made you to worship, pray, be kind and generous and I could go on and on. Do that and you’ll be in the will of God for all your days on earth.
That’s not the answer they wanted, but it’s one we all need to hear. Doing what God wants done first is a pre-condition for getting further direction from God. Ironically, if we let intentional, habitual obedience to that will of God, be our faith practice, it will shape our lives, often giving us the very direction we started out looking for when we began asking the “What’s God’s will for my life?” question.
The men and women I’ve known whose lives are characterized by child-like obedience, end up making career, college, ministry and marriage choices with far less angst, precisely because they’ve trained themselves to seek God’s will first, then the rest comes surprisingly naturally.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33
Back to the original question: “Is it possible to know the will of God for marriage, career, college and other decisions?”
Next week we’ll talk about that and eight critical questions we ought to ask ourselves which will guide us to making better decisions.Send This Post to a Friend