At some point in fathering relationships, the father will wonder if he is wasting his time and the spiritual child will wonder if he will ever be “released.” Every relationship we have in life is tested by surprises: sometimes both people are surprised, as each of them is surprised by their own behaviors and feelings. The ebb and flow of life and the relationship itself in terms of time and association will test the commitments of those involved, and the stresses of how trustworthy the fathers are and how teachable the children are will add layers of distraction. Fathering relationships sometimes require a lot of work.
Certainly fathering relationships will be tested in ultimate ways. To expect less given the vital, kingdom dynamic this relationship represents is naive. Recall that God’s fundamental strategy to prepare His people for kingdom visitation is a restoration and reset of the fathers-children relationships. With this strategy in mind, hell will work to stop that restoration or limit its fulfillment. Fathering relationships sometimes require warfare.
Fathers can be lazy, misguided, distracted, and selfish just like anyone else. They can be prejudicial about their children, tend toward favoritism or the appearance of it, and demonstrate their humanity and imperfections. Fathers need to be teachable and transformable as much as children. They will be assigned new children who will test their mettle and motivations at strategic times in their own pursuit of destiny. Fathering relationships sometimes require deeper surrender.
Children will be—well, childish. Expect this. Even though they are adults chronologically, they may be children spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. They are, in fact, immature in the sense that the discipling is designed to mature them. The teachable ones will delight your soul. The transformable ones will bring wonder back to your eyes. Most of them will challenge you in both ways, challenge you about being teachable and challenge you about being transformable. In each case, children will need discipline to breakthrough their tendency to rebel and demand. Fathering relationships sometimes require confrontational correction.
Discipling is by definition a teaching relationship with a strong flavor of training dominating the recipe. Discipling success can only be measured by the disciple’s ability to live what they have been taught, not by their ability to repeat rehearsed propaganda. Note the phrasing of Luke in Acts that his Gospel story of Jesus was a written about “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.” Take note that God never separates teaching and doing: in God’s design, anyone with the authority and assignment to teach also has the accompanying authority and assignment to see that what is taught is practiced.
Here the “seeker-friendly” definitions of following Jesus around in a crowd meet the Bible’s definition of “disciple.” A follower experiences presence. A disciple experiences preparation. I’m not knocking seeker friendly ministry strategy here as much as I am pointing out that it falls far short of Jesus’ definition of discipling. It is an effort to build a following, not an effort to produce disciples. Perhaps the following can lead to discipling but to substitute following for discipling is tragic to the kingdom.
Teachable, by definition, is an attitude that volunteers submission in addition to obedience. (Obedience and submission are not the same.) Teaching as an aspect of discipling involves learning by assignment. What is learned by assignment is practiced by assignment. If a disciple cannot learn by assignment, it is certain he or she will fail at fulfilling assignment even after they’ve learned what they need to accomplish it.
It is obvious that many people know how to do things they are not doing because they ignore, refuse, or rebel from their assignments. Many people don’t like to be told what to do or when to do it even though they are capable of doing it. Discipling works on more than the ability to do something; it works on the heart motivation to do the right thing for the right reason at the right time.
If a discipling relationship exists to prepare people to accomplish God’s will for their lives, it has to prepare them to obey and submit to a purpose. Jesus wasn’t just training guys to “do stuff.” He was training them to “do stuff” that would fulfill His purposes. Discipling teaches people how to obey God in His assignments by teaching them how to obey leaders in their assignments
God doesn’t directly disciple people. Leaders disciple. Discipling should bring people into deeper obedience and submission to God by training them how to do stuff that fulfills His purpose. Some of the training we are doing just teaches people to “do stuff,” and they may face a “Lord, Lord, haven’t we done great stuff for You” moment someday because they failed to learn to do what God wanted done.
“Many people say, ‘Lord, Lord.’ People who aren’t part of the kingdom. To be kingdom people, they must obey My Father in heaven. Someday many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied, cast out demons, and performed many miracles in Your Name (using Your authority).’ To that claim I will reply, ‘I never knew you. You don’t belong here. The things you did were never assigned or authorized.’ [See Matthew 7:21-23]
It is possible to learn how to do spiritual things, exercise spiritual gifts, even build spiritual ministries, and be in rebellion or deception about kingdom. The authority to deal with revelation, demons, and power isn’t the same as the assignment of God for your life. Spiritual children can waste their inheritance accomplishing things that simply do not matter in the end. Great spiritual accomplishments may be swept away in the storms because they were not fulfilling kingdom assignments.
We must be transformable as well as teachable. We must be changed as much as we must be trained. This never changes, no matter how long we have been active in the kingdom. Fathers can be as stubborn as children about changing and learning. Transformable is a condition of restoration, a process of fulfilling personal destiny to fulfill kingdom purpose. Losing this pliability short-circuits our preparedness for what is coming next in God’s plan
By “transformable” I mean inner personal identity and motivation. Transformation is a Bible word, and I am coining the term “transformable” to speak of the resistance that arises within us to the remaking of our identities.
Identity speaks to the faulty self-image spiritual children bring with them into the fathering relationship. The Bible speaks about self-image limitations. The world around us shapes the way we see ourselves feeding into a mental picture of who we are. This identity functions in a deep place and is contrary to what God wants because it is nearly empty of a revelation of what God wants. In other words, until we get a spiritual revelation of what God wants, we are filled with a deceiving concept of self that comes from the world; the world cannot give us a true sense of what God sees of our identity.
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul says, “So brothers by God’s mercies, let me urge you to make your bodies a living, holy, sacrificial offering that pleasing to God because is the worship it is right for you to give him. And do allow the environment to shape you in its mold; instead, be transformed with renewed (spiritual) mind, so that you may know by experience the good, pleasing, and complete purpose of God.”
Self-image is limiting for two reasons: self and image. With ourselves as the source of information, we cannot know what God knows. As an identity, image limits us a picture of ourselves framed by the natural world and what the world system, or the spirit of this world, forms in your mind. Self-image is deceptive and inaccurate, but many people cling to it tenaciously because they are afraid of letting go of their identity. They are afraid they won’t know who they are, or lose themselves. This is, of course, exactly what God wants them to do!
Fathers can assist their spiritual children as they walk through this identity crisis better than any other kind of leader. They can secure them in this process of surrender, this confusing fracture of self that is necessary to their personal transformation. They will feel as if their have been torn apart and put back together again, and this process may occur in stages of increasing deeper restoration. It can be very challenging.
I must be honest with you: many children run away from this work of God! A great deal of the Christians I know have stopped allowing God to put His hands on their identity, failed to understand the concept of being crucified with Christ in this sense. Some of them speak words about loving Jesus but are reticent about anyone touching their self-image. They will fight with God like Jacob did the angel about transformation because God comes to change their nature and their name.
Children who are not transformable will tell you their destinies, attempt to turn their fantasies into their dreams, and turn on you as their enemy when you bring them to the place of identity change. Children should not face this issue when they are babies, and Jesus will not force this issue upon the young. However, every maturing son and daughter will walk into this season of identity crisis if they are going to walk into the fullest of destiny, and many of them will balk and fight and fuss with you and God about it! Many of them will simply walk away and look for a “better daddy.”
Jesus walked with Peter through a series of personal identity issues, and all of His disciples were shocked at what was in their hearts when it came time for the Cross. I think Jesus with a bowl and towel was a great lesson in identity transformation that did as much to reveal their self-image deceptions as anything He did.
Notice how Paul weaves together words like “sacrifice” and “present as an offering” with the issue of who we think we are by our conditioning and experience in this world’s system. Notice the picture is one of full submission, submitting in the ultimate sense of becoming a sacrificial offering, placing our lives fully at the disposal of God, and allowing Him to determine what is the best use and destiny of what is on His altar.
Surrender means, “giving up the right to ourselves.” Submission means, “placing at the disposal.” Do this with God is a sure way to experience His will because He will fully appropriate us for what He had in mind when He created us in the first place. Here, the fathering heart meets and beats alongside God’s.
Fathers want their children to experience everything God had in mind for them when He created them. However, it is very hard as a father to watch your children go through these soul-wrenching times. If a father steps in to shield a child from this process, he interferes with God and distracts his child for their highest and best. A spiritual father learns quickly that he must lean on God as much as his spiritual children; he soon learns that he must experience transformation and remain transformable as much as they.
Discipling that is not transformation isn’t Biblical. Discipling that looks more like propagandizing will not help people fulfill their destinies. Having a following is not the goal of the discipling leader. People follow in order to be there for the discipling process; and when they run away to avoid the spiritual crucible of transformation, they short-circuit they fulfillment of personal destiny.
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