Going deep, staying deep
The Apostle Paul wrote many warnings about the temptations of yielding to shallow influences. His letters reference---
1. The temptation to please men and not God (Galatians 1:10; Ephesians 6:6;
1 Thessalonians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:4).
2. The temptation to abandon the Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:9).
3. The temptation to be allured by inconsequential talk (1 Timothy 1:3-4;
1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-18; Titus 3:9, and more).
4. The temptation of losing passion for mission (2 Timothy 1:6; Philippians 3:12;
and many others).
5. The temptation to cave in under opposition (Romans 16:17; 2 Timothy
2:25-26; 2 Timothy:8-9; and others).
There were, of course, many other distractions to on-point mission and an array of easier paths that Paul himself could have taken. Each route could have been justification for those under his leadership to take a less stressful approach to mission. Time after time, however, he instructed the leaders under his mentor-ship to go deep and stay deep. He taught them the value of operating from the zone of spiritual leadership, that is, personal depth, and being disciplined enough to remain there throughout their ministry. One especially provocative example is in his First Epistle to Timothy. He wrote---
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set
the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I
come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to
teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy
when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse
yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on
yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both
yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:12-16, ESV
The pressure to deliver in this world is intense. While many church stats are in decline the need to engage a growing national secularism pushes many spiritual leaders to shallow expectations, church membership with little meaning, and spiritual pablum that just doesn't make or grow disciples. Evidently Paul saw these same tendencies in his younger apprentice, partner, and friend Timothy. So, his first letter is punctuated with action words meant to challenge Timothy about going deep and staying deep. Command, teach, set an example, devote yourself, and do not neglect the gift are power phrases written to ignite resolve in Timothy. But, there are four more with special significance regarding spiritual depth----
Practice: an emphatic command for Timothy to do what he had been taught. It is
the central core of spiritual depth, the union of hearing and doing.
Immerse yourself: this is a simple emphatic construction of the verb "to be" and
is often translated to "absorb", "give yourself wholly", "throw yourself into", or "be
committed". I love the "immerse" translation of the ESV because it so identifies
with the depth theme. It is to make these things the single objective of his
Keep a close watch on yourself: as a guard against pleasing the wrong men Paul
expected Timothy to maintain a close personal accountability to what he had
been taught (see 2 Timothy 3:10).
Persist in this: Paul understood more than most people the seasons of leadership
effectiveness, the temptations always present in the rigors of mission, the
"anxiety for the churches" (1 Corinthians 11:28), and the need for persistence,
endurance, steadfastness, discipline, and the whole armor of God.
The outcome? "...for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers" (v.16). it is once again the important link between a spiritual leader and those entrusted to his or her care.
Are our times more critical than any other era in Christian history? Who knows. The drift that so characterizes the Western church just now seems strategic to those of us called to provide spiritual leadership in it. And, the trend is for shallowness! It's what feels good, resonates most readily, and draws crowds when presented in a way favorable to a secular world.
The challenge today is about going deep, and staying deep. It is about depth, the zone of spiritual leadership.
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