Author Archives: Jon Hirst

Retreating to “activity in unimportant things”

Bonhoeffer was sitting in New York during the summer of 1939 while Germany burned . . . and it was killing him.

There were things of great significance that he knew God wanted him to say and do but because of the situation in Germany he had retreated to Union Seminary in New York. The retreat was well intentioned and in a spirit of protecting those around him, but it was a retreat all the same.

But as Bonhoeffer began his time in New York, he knew he had to return. In his diary he said, “This inactivity, or rather activity in unimportant things, is quite intolerable when one thinks of the brethren and of how precious time is. The whole burden of self-reproach because of a wrong decision comes back again and almost overwhelms one. I was in utter despair.” (Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas, pg. 330)

Many of us routinely suffer the “activity in unimportant things” that Bonhoeffer describes. We have retreated from the things God cares about and are fully engaged with small things that we can control and that God has no interest in being a part of.

Sometimes we retreat because we lack the courage for the Kingdom work. Other times it is a retreat after years of work with little fruit. Still other times we retreat for good reasons but not Godly ones. Whatever the reason, retreat always leads to the unimportant.

As you begin this week, ask yourself whether your decisions are leading you forward into God’s Kingdom or whether they are beating a path of retreat for you into a world of your own making. If you are walking towards the Kingdom, your time may be hard but it will be meaningful.

If you have retreated into your world, don’t despair. Recognize the unimportant around you and ask yourself where you turned around. Just like Bonhoeffer got back on that ship and returned to Germany in the face of war, persecution and ultimate death, God will give you the courage to get back on the path towards Kingdom significance.

Are You Serving in a Cause or Trapped in an Agenda?

Cause: a charitable undertaking <for a good cause>*

Agenda: an underlying often ideological plan or program <a political agenda>*

Most Christian workers want to participate in causes but end up pushing agendas. This has to do with how we approach the work God gives us to do. In Galatians 5:25 Paul says that, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Engaging in one of the causes that God cares about and allowing that work to grow as the Spirit leads is far different than identifying a need in the Kingdom and then building our own solution in order to solve the need. In one we allow the Spirit to remain in control and in the other we take the reins and drive the process.

There is a fundamental difference between a cause and an agenda. Sadly today they are almost seen as synonyms. A cause is an area of God’s work in the world that has room for many actors and many approaches. Examples of Biblical causes can be seen in Eric Foley’s book The Whole Life Offering. Click here to see his chart describing the various causes at work in God’s Church. An agenda is a personal tool and is designed to benefit others only as they come in line with the one who holds the agenda. We see examples of agendas everywhere. Whether it is a politician who is pushing a certain approach to government reform or a ministry pushing a specific strategy for Church planting, both are agendas that the entities have designed around specific needs that their political parties or organizations have.

But even though agendas don’t leave much room for God’s Spirit or work, agendas are popular because:

1) they are personality driven and we like to align with people we agree with
2) they are programmatic and easy to get our hands around
3) they reduce ambiguity and affirm a certain solution to a known problem.

Causes, on the other hand, are based on value systems and perceived needs. They don’t prescribe a solution to the problem but instead create a context and define values by which the problem can be addressed. These are much more powerful than agendas because many people can join a cause and tackle the issues at hand from a variety of angles. They are free to respond to the Spirit in the context of the ministry challenge.

The sad truth is that many people start out joining a cause and then quickly get trapped in an agenda. This happens because our consumer society demands that we package, design, distinguish and brand our particular contribution in order to be a valid and affirmed solution to any given problem. This is what we involved in Kingdom work must resist.

As we actively join in and engage with the causes that God cares about, we must keep our hands open as to how they will be addressed. God can use anyone from any part of His Kingdom to bring His love to this troubled world. We must be prepared to embrace those who are in step with the Spirit and encourage anyone who is obediently responding to His call.

*From The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Discerning Together

Most decisions take more than one perspective. They come from a rich flow of input pouring out of people with very different backgrounds and approaches to the problem at hand. I think that is one of the reasons that God gave us the Church. He knew that participating in the forward march of the Kingdom would require us to take bold action in ways that were not understood by those outside of The Way. We would lack the confidence to make the decisions we needed to all on our own.

So the Church brings together people from all different personalities, walks of life and perspectives. God is at work in each person and is helping them to grow closer to Himself as they respond in obedience to their Savior.

It is in this rich environment that we Christians find ourselves placed. God calls us to discern what is right as we look to Him, study His word and work it out in community. We cannot discern His will completely without this holy input from those He has put in our midst.

Just today I found myself experiencing this very thing. One person in our community had been confronted with a decision. She wisely realized that it was not hers to make alone and brought it to a group of people who were part of the narrative. As we prayed, discussed and questioned together, an answer formulated. We left our time together feeling much more confident in what had to be done and I truely felt God’s direction in our decision.

I worry that this part of discernment is often being ignored today. We value the decision that comes from a mountain-top experience or a gut-level intuitive response much more than a decision that comes out of community. The individuality of most decisions almost ensures that they will be lopsided and out of balance.

Do you value making decisions with others? Do you see their input as part of God’s communication to you in the process?

If you have looked to a group to seek discernment, I would love to hear the story of how God used the experience.

The Evidence of Insight

How do you know when someone has made a brilliant guess or a well-thought out decision? They might look just the same from the outside but underneath, the process of achieving each would have been very different. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with making well-placed guesses based on intuition. In fact, many times that is what must be done. But I would like to look for a moment at some of the evidences of a decision thoughtfully considered.

1. Witnesses: People will know about your thinking before the decision is public. Why is that? Simply put, a thoughtful decision usually involves getting input from friends, experts, mentors and the like.

2. Options: In most decisions that have been considered in depth, there will have been several options that were tested and prayed through before the final choice was made.

3. Situations: Insight draws heavily from the real-life situations going on around the area of decision.

4. Passion: If the decision is important then there will be passionate opinions working their way into the process. These passions represent vision, ambition, excitement and desire to make a difference.

5. Information: When a well-thought out decision is being made, the actors will have quality information to guide their thinking.

Now that I have laid out these seemingly obvious evidences of good decision-making, consider a decision you are wrestling through. Are these things present? If so, list them out so you can see them at work. If not, ask yourself why and what you are going to do about it!

A Busy Week and a New Phase of Ministry Launched

“In today’s world, we seem more fractured and divided than ever with agendas and spin permeating everything as people jockey to get the corner on people’s perception of truth. And as the world fights over perception, what is the responsibility of the Global Church? I believe one of the main roles of the Global Church is to humbly discover truth together and bring it to light. As a research organization, GMI’s priority is not to accumulate more and more isolated data that can be used by various groups to win hearts and minds. While we must always be keeping the data current,
the pressing need of the day is decision-making!”
Jon Hirst, GMI Installation Service January 22, 2013

The audience at the GMI Decision Support Initiative Last week was a big one for the GMI team on three fronts. We released some findings from our research on ministry worker decision-making at our Decision Support Briefing and tested some new product/service ideas with those that attended. If you want to find out more from this event, please visit the web page for the event. This event represents significant thinking and momentum for GMI and will be key to the tools and services we focus on in the next year or so.

 

Secondly, we held the installation service for my role. This was a time to celebrate Mike O’Rear’s Kingdom legacy, talk about the transtion and then give a vision for the future of GMI. I was so blessed by all those who came to listen, sing, pray and dream with our team. We focused our vision-casting on the new phrase that is describing GMI’s ministry: GMI helps Kingdom workers make Spirit-led decisions that advance the Global Church. 

The Installation of Jon Hirst as GMI President

We would love for you to get a sense for the evening. The best way is to go to the page we set up for the event. There you can download my remarks, see the memorial we did for Mike O’Rear and see a map of where attendees prayed for decision-makers around the world. Click here to view these resources.

Finally, with all our staff from around the country in town, we spent some wonderful time strategizing about what God has for us this year. It was a good time of thinking and I came away excited about what God is going to do.

It seems like an eternity since the administrative team of the International Orality Network prayed over me days before I assumed this new role. So much has happened to strengthen my faith and humble my heart. While we still face many challenges in crafting a way forward to serve the Global Church, I am confident that God is working through our efforts.

I look forward to serving each of you who spend some time reading this post. Ple

A Kingdom Life - Remembering Mike O’Rear

“And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory’s side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!”

Untitled Hymn sung by Chris Rice

Where is real life found? Does it come from positional influence, personal accomplishments or inherent skill? We as Christians know that these things do not bring life. Instead life comes from Jesus. As John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (NIV)

Mike O’Rear knew where to find real life. And on this, the first anniversary of his passing (January 14), I want to highlight this key feature of his legacy. Mike is a Kingdom soul. One of the things that drew me to him was the fact that he strived not to look to the world for affirmation of what he should do in his personal or professional life. Although I know he was far from perfect, I am certain that he was focused on the Kingdom.

That came out in several key things:

  1. His Kingdom orientation was obvious by how he treated others. He did not give preference to the important and in many ways he worked to elevate those who were important in the Kingdom but ignored in this world.
  2. He strived to view the world as God sees it. I saw this in the way he pursued projects that would bring light to things that God cared about around the world.
  3. He was not afraid of the future. He embraced innovation and the ambiguity that it brought with it. While he was an engineer who liked to organize his life, I was always amazed by his ability to approach the next thing with faith and courage.

As I now strive to continue Mike’s legacy and serve the Global Church through the ministry of GMI, his Kingdom focus is a great encouragement to me. My prayer is that I personally and GMI as a community will continue to advance the Kingdom through humble service.

I would love to hear your stories from Mike’s life and any thoughts you have as we remember him on this Monday. Please take a moment to share them here or go to GMI’s facebook page and leave a note of rememberance there.

I took a moment to pull out some quotes from others about Mike. Take a moment to read through these as you remember him today:

  • Mike had a passion to support decision-makers in world missions with appropriate technology.” Dr. Jay Gary
  • “He was one of the early ones who encouraged me to pursue the intersection between technology and missions.” Justing Long
  • “He was a gentlemen and had a servant’s heart.” James Stephens
  • “The global mission enterprise has lost a champion. But Heaven gained a great citizen — and one day we’ll see Mike again… and he’ll have maps drawn of the entire place… and he’ll distribute them on the latest medium when we arrive, whatever that medium is — he’ll be ready.” Doug Lucas
  • Reflections on Mike O’Rear from the GMI Staff.

Decision-making is Fundamental

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” - Genesis 2:16-17

As I have been researching the process of decision-making and the role it has in our Spiritual life, I have come to a simple but profound conclusion. Decision-making is fundamental to our humanity.

That sounds like a very grand statement to make, but think about this with me. What makes us different from the animals and the angels? God gave us a free will and asked us to turn around and surrender that will to Him of our own accord. That means that our ability to make a decision is at the core of what makes us human and is the very thing that God wants us to give back to Him in an act of obedience.

This means that as we strive to understand Spirit-led decision-making, we need to see it as a cornerstone of our offering to our Savior. Every decision in front of us gives us the opportunity to surrender more to Christ as we die to self or to elevate our selves as we push Jesus further away.

On that day in the Garden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they made a decision focused on themselves and pushed God away in the process. It seemed like such a small thing, but when it comes to this most fundamental of activities there is no such thing. Each decision we make either leads us closer to Christ or further from Him.

How will you approach the decisions you have to make tomorrow with this in mind?

Celebrating Christmas with Each of You

Last night after our Christmas Eve Service, our family sat around our table and lit the advent candles as we have done most every night in December. As we reflected on Christ’s birth amid the sugar buzz from the cookies, we talked about how millions and millions of people in every corner of the world were celebrating with us this very evening!

It’s an amazing thought. As I celebrate Christmas with my family today, I will actually be remembering our Savior with each of you and millions of others on every continent and in every country. The Good News of Jesus’ birth has spread that far!

That takes our Christmas celebrations to a whole new level. As we more clearly understand that God’s words throughout the Bible are being realized in front of us, the only response is stop all the activity of the holidays and worship Him.

In Isaiah 25:8 God’s Word says, “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.” Each Christmas is a step closer to this promise. As we celebrate with those we love today, let us ask God to allow us to be part of bringing in His Kingdom as we get ready to begin a new year.

I pray that each of you will have a Spirit-led, intentional role in God’s Kingdom this year.

Listening to Who God Brings Your Way

There are many disciplines related to listening. That is something that our team at GMI is always processing as listening is such an important part of what we do. Listening is so multifaceted because it is an exercise focused on the needs and opportunities in the lives of others.

One area of discipline for us in listening is to those who God brings. We like to listen to people we choose, but many times God has the most to say through people we would never have asked or paid attention to.

Think of the word of wisdom that comes from your child, the idea that arises from someone in another department or the insight that comes to you from a news article. Those might not be the sources you expect to learn from, but God can use those voices in powerful ways.

Throughout the Bible people were constantly being surprised by the sources God used to provide insight. Think of Moses and the burning bush, Balaam and the donkey, Elijah and the wind, and finally Israel and a tiny baby boy born in Bethlehem.

In the first few months of 2013 GMI will be challenging our partners and friends in the global mission community to do some listening about the effectiveness of their Websites in engaging with potential missionaries. We are launching our 2013 Agency Web Review to help Great Commission organizations listen to potential missionaries and hear what they have to say. We hope that as these organizations listen to those who are being called into missionary service, that they will be able to make Spirit-led decisions about how to best engage them online.

So many times Web strategy is driven by the latest technology, the blogs of Internet gurus or the internal politics of an organization. Wouldn’t it be better to be driven by listening to those we strive to serve.

If you are an agency serving missionaries, I challenge you to connect with us and take this opportunity to listen to those who are engaging with you through your site. I also pray that God will show each person reading this blog the people in your life He wants you to be listening to today.

Settling for Worry instead of Wisdom

“Worry is undisciplined foresight.” E. Stanley Jones, The Way

You are probably worrying right now! You might be concerned about some decision you have to make at work or a situation you are wrestling through with a family member. Whatever it might be, our brains are wired to plan and process all of the time. Since we are constantly processing, our sin nature takes over and focuses our planning on speculation and consternation.

When Jesus warns us against worry in Matthew chapter six, he is trying to reorient our minds and our efforts to plan. He knew that his disciples (like everyone else) naturally fixated on things that most directly impacted their quality of life. So Jesus mentions clothes, food and drink as examples of those immediate and all-consuming things. But this passage isn’t about clothes or food. It is all about reorienting us around the Kingdom instead of the concerns in this world. In verse 33, Jesus challenges the Disciples to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness”.

So why is this reorientation so important? We are wired to process our future, seek insight, and make decisions. God made us that way! But unless we are seeking Kingdom insight, we are squandering the gift of foresight God gave us. On most days we use God’s gift poorly and we miss the chance to engage with what God is doing in His Kingdom. We focus our desire to seek insight on worrying about how this or that might turn out and how it might affect us. This makes it almost impossible for us to make wise decisions for Him. We settle for worry instead of wisdom. This is a tragedy and a victory for the Evil One.

But it doesn’t have to be. If we will seek God each day and ask Him to reorient our thoughts in order to seek His Kingdom, then our thoughts would lead to the discernment we desperately need. Are you settling for worry instead of wisdom? Ask God today to transform your self-focused foresight into God-focused discernment.