Imagine you were one of Jesus’ disciples following him around, trying to work out, say, how to heal blind people like he did.
The first time Jesus met a blind man who asked to be healed, he takes the blind man by the hand and leads him outside the village. He spits on the man’s eyes and puts his hands on him and asks, ‘Do you see anything?’ The man replies, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’ Jesus puts his hands on the man’s eyes again and his eyes are opened he can see everything clearly. Jesus then sends him home, saying, ‘Don’t even go into the village.’
Another time Jesus spat on the ground, making some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he tells the man, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’. The man washes, and came back seeing.
Then another time Jesus starts with a question: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’. This third blind man says, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ Jesus says, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Do you see the problem? Jesus seems to do it differently each time, he doesn’t really have much of a method. Most of us would struggle to do healing in more than a couple of ways. Smith Wigglesworth healed three deaf people in three different ways: to the first he commanded physical healing, to the second he rebuked the spirit of deafness and to the third he told him to forgive his sister!
So where did Jesus get his ideas from? It wasn’t all guesswork, his secret was his relationship with his Father, it was listening in the moment:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.
If Jesus had a method it was simply to listen and obey. We need to follow the Holy Spirit by actively listening for each step, rather than simply following old patterns.
This applies to everything in the kingdom of God. Jesus uses an amazingly rich variety of metaphors to describe the kingdom:
Sometimes the kingdom looks like this, but in another situation it looks like that. Here it’s a woman who finds a long lost coin, but there it’s a massive banquet everyone’s invited to but only some accept. God’s kingdom has a great variety of expressions, it’s not simply a blueprint we can force blindly onto every situation. It takes discernment, it takes having an active listening relationship with God, just like Jesus.
When Jesus was asked why his disciples didn’t follow some old traditions, he described what was going on in the tension between the old and the new:
…Then John’s disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. ‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.’
God is changing things around us, but we also need to allow him to change us inside. God wants to increase our light, but we also need a light to come on inside us.
God is dismantling some of our systems and structures that are not fit for purpose, in order to get them ready for where He’s taking us. Not that we’re crystal clear where He’s taking us, we’d dearly love to have a 12-step plan, but quite frankly, we haven’t a clue.
That’s kind of the point, though: God is teaching us to listen to Him again, to lean in to hear Him. We’re no longer mainly looking to hear big orders from the front but we’re starting to discuss, to exchange what we’re hearing and to grapple with new vision together.
Old, inflexible wineskin structures won’t need much help to make them disappear, but when they do, we need to be ready and prepared for the future God’s leading us into because we’ve sought, prayed and listened together. We need to have the beginnings of the shape of things to come growing in our hearts.
God makes life, and life involves change, by design. Seasons are natural and in creation, only dead things don’t change. However, when God births new life, new initiatives and movement among us He also raises up structures and administrations to support and nurture them. New wine still needs a wineskin, but it must be a new wineskin. As we make decisions about the way ahead it’s important we understand the need for new organisation to be fitted well to new movement. We need to get our priorities the right way round: seeking the new wine of the Spirit more than we worry about systems and admin.
This isn’t a comfortable concept for us in the Jesus Fellowship as our past approach has been to claim the ground we take forever; often before we’ve really understood the ground we’ve taken. Stopping things has been seen as failure so we’ve not always been able to move on to the new things God has for us. This view of change as failure can also mean people needlessly live under a cloud of failure when God moves on.
‘Skunkworks’ is a term given to a group within an organisation given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on a particular project. They’re a crack team, creative thinkers, builders and innovators with a vision who are given freedom to push the boundaries without having to get everyone on board from the word “go”.
This is already happening in a number of ways among us, from healing festivals to youth clubs to youth camps. May we inspire more.
As we listen and follow what we see God doing, new initiatives that spring up may or may not seem successful in the moment, but through the process we’ll be learning to hear, learning to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead. After all, following Jesus is what it’s all about.