Individual Initiative

The early church was vibrant and alive. Individual Christians were gladly taking the initiative to accomplish any good work. One example of this is a disciple from Joppa named Tabitha, who returned to life when the Apostle Peter visited her and prayed for her. Luke reports that she “was always doing good and helping the poor.”

This is supported by the fact that the widows who mourned her passing showed him the “robes and clothing that Tabitha had made while she was still with them.” Among other things, this story reflects an enterprising spirit on the part of an individual who was willing to take the initiative to do what needed to be done in order to serve and bless others. (See: Acts 9:36-43)

Do we have the same heart for service that the early Christians had? How often do we encourage individual initiative in service to Christ? Or, has the effectiveness of the body of Christ been limited because we have not grasped, much less put into practice, this principle? Jim Martin shares some practical advise on how to do this in a recent post in which he discusses intentional living. It is definitely worth reading. If you want to take a look at it, just click here.

The Bible is full of stories about people who lived intentionally, who took the initiative in serving God. There is the Samaritan we call “good”, because he showed individual initiative. A man named Joseph took the initiative in preparing Jesus’ body for burial. There are the untold numbers of believers who were scattered from Jerusalem as a result of persecution, who told the story of the Messiah wherever they went. No doubt, Apollos is grateful that Priscilla and Aquila took the initiative and explained the way of God more adequately to him.

Our narcissistic culture has given rise to a form of egocentric individualism that should not be embraced. This, however, is not anything new. In fact, Jesus warned us to avoid this attitude in The Parable of the Rich Fool. In this story Jesus tells of a man who considers what should be done with a harvest too abundant for his barns. He contemplates his options as though he were the only person to be considered. Personal pronouns are as plentiful in this story as his abundant crops—twelve of them in three verses. Clearly, this man has an “I” problem. Such is always the case when individual initiative is inwardly focused.

For an individual to take the initiative does not, however, preclude the possibility of acting in conformity with the will of God. It is only through such actions that we will be able to fulfill God’s will for our lives as members of the body of Christ. That is a bold declaration, to be sure. But, it is clearly in harmony with what the Spirit reveals through Paul in Ephesians 4:16. Here Christians are told:

From [Jesus] the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (NASB)

“We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:5, NASB) This does not mean, however, that individuals cease to be significant. In fact, it is by functioning as a part of Christ’s kingdom that we realize one of our greatest potentials as individuals. As functioning members of Christ’s body we become an integral part of what God is doing in the world today, because everybody is somebody in Christ’s body!

Any body of believers can fashion a multidimensional ministry portfolio, which thoroughly correlates with God’s kingdom call on our lives. This may even look good on paper. However, only those bodies of Christians composed of members who are willing to take the initiative will ever realize the blessings of God, seeing their collective dreams become realities. The work of God is done by saints in service, not committees in meetings! No single believer can do everything; but, every single saint can do something with respect to extending a kingdom-presence in the world. When we intentionally live into this vision for our lives, we will be blessed. Indeed, God blesses individuals who take the initiative by embracing Christ’s sovereignty and living into His kingdom-calling on our lives.

© Bill Williams

July 10, 2006

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Bible Study, Blogroll, Christian Living, Christianity, Church, Discipleship Training, Leadership, Life. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Individual Initiative

  1. For David Lipscomb and James A. Harding “fellowship” was not defined as having a pic nic or going bowling (anachronistic I know). Rather “fellowship” was defined literally “sharing” our abundance with another who lacks. Indeed both men called such “fellowship” with the poor, get this, a “MEANS OF GRACE.” This is certainly not the kind of lingo we often have encountered in the Churches of Christ. But it was a “means of grace” because through fellowship with the poor the presence of Jesus is mediated to the believer. Christ is “identified” with the poor and we fellowship him as we fellowship them. I think this is sort of radical . . . before there was rad! In my book with John Mark Hicks, Kingdom Come, we explore this dimension in some detail and move to make application of it to the contemporary church. In light of your post I think you would enjoy reading that work.

    I think this is a very good post.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine
    Stoned-Campbell Disciple

  2. I recently did a post, too, on the Good Samaritan about a two or three days ago. I wonder what you think of it.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  3. Bobby:

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I’m very much looking forward to reading “Kingdom Come”. In looking at the information about it at http://johnmarkhicks.faithsite.com/content.asp?CID=88997, I was especially interested in your observation about the views of Lipscomb and Harding:

    Their kingdom theology and spirituality, we believe, provides the contemporary church with a way forward into the future. If Churches of Christ—and other parts of the Stone-Campbell Movement as well—would re-appropriate their kingdom themes and practices, we believe the church would more fully participate in the emerging kingdom of God which will one day fill the earth with divine righteousness.

    This is so true! It is my sense that it applies both to the theology of the emerging kingdom but, also, to the liminal space being we are currently passing through culturally.

    BTW, I did really appreciated your post “LOVING When It isn’t Easy: Reflections on a Parable”. It was excellent!

    Thanks for stopping by.
    God bless,
    -bill

  4. Jennifer says:

    Hi Bill. I am glad you posted on this subject.

    My mom is a widow, and because I now live with her (since my husband left) I see her day to day needs. The needs can be overwhelming at times: financial, car help, electrical help, changing light bulbs, moving heavy furniture, plumbing problems, air conditioning problems, etc. These are just the needs she/we have RIGHT NOW. The thing is none of the problems are serious enough for a professional; rather, they just need someone who has a basic knowledge and willingness to spend an extra hour or of their day helping her.

    This is NOT a complaint urging for those around us to jump in and help, although that would be great. Instead, I am hoping to shed light on a REAL live mission field that is present in every church on every corner. I believe widows and the fatherless have a speical place in God’s heart, and so should they in the heart of their community.

    And, for those of you reading…please don’t wait until someone in need asks you for help! Ask them! Even if they turn your help down, at least they know you care enough to ask.

    His,
    Jennifer

  5. Bill says:

    Jennifer,

    Thank you for this excellent comment and appropriate exhortation! As I read it, the following passage came to mind.

    19-21Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.
    22-24Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.
    25But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.
    26-27Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

    –James 1:19-27, “The Message”

    Not only is your exhortation right, you are right to bring this up.

    Grace and peace to you,
    -bill

  6. Greg England says:

    Living intentional. Good post by you and Jim. I think the intentionality of life in the early church was because of the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit … which we threw out in the 50’s.

  7. Cecil says:

    Perhaps our lack of folks living “intentionally” for Jesus is partly due to our focus as church leaders to build churches that “meet the needs of prospective members.” That is, we focus most of our energy towards upgrading what goes on inside the building instead of giving visitors the chance to see our energy directed towards reaching beyond the walls of the church. Just a thought.

  8. Dee Andrews says:

    You know I agree with this post, Bill, as I’ve long been actively engaged in “intentional” Christian living on every level. I don’t really know now exactly when I made that my number one goal in life, but I’d say that it is.

    Interestingly enough, a couple of weeks ago when Tom and I were at the Miss. Press Association summer convention I had my handwriting analyzed for fun by a professional graphoanalyist (they supposedly can tell you who you “really are” rather than who you think you are or others think you are by analyzing your handwriting) who was said my most pronounced characteristic as a person was that I had lots of “iniatitive” about life. She was really taken by the quality and trait and kept talking with me about it over and over at how strong that is in me – to take the iniatitive in things.

    I never had really thought of it that way before, but I guess it’s true. The older I get the more I’m like that, too, I think. I’m a big believer in getting things done and not sitting around waiting for someone else to motivate me. I’d rather be trying to motivate other people to come join me, if anything.

    As for what Jennifer says above in her post – that, along with what all you said fits right in with what I consider to be some of the most compelling – if not THE most compelling – things Jesus said there in Matt. 25 about the judgment, the “sheep” and the “goats” and who will be redeemed into heaven and why.

    Each and every thing Jesus addresses has to do with one on one, quiet, unnoticed by others service ministry. Even those who were engaged in doing them did not, according to Jesus, realize or recognize the significance of their actions, asking “when Lord, did we do all of these things?”

    I could say a lot more about all of that, but won’t here and now. I will say, though, that I firmly believe that it is in our quiet, humble service to others and the sharing of compassion and agape love that we most fulfill what God would have us do with our lives.

  9. Greg,

    I think you have a point… What you say reminds me of what God said through Zechariah to Zerubbabel concerning his task: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” We attempt to do so many things by human might (individual strength) and power (collective strength) that we forget God’s power working within. This is precisely what Paul pointed out in Ephesians 3:20-21. God is able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine according to His power at work within us. A reading of the preceding section causes me to conclude that God’s working within us is through the Holy Spirit, whose priority seems to work inwardly to cause us to look, act, think and be like Jesus! Great thoughts! Thanks!!

  10. Bill says:

    Cecil and Dee,

    I’m inclined to agree with you. Perhaps we should learn what Jesus meant when He said, “…I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Dee’s comment above about being sheep-like-people rather than goat-like-people seems to draw a bold line of distinction with respect to this topic. And, of course, this sort of attitude towards others flows naturally from those who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength…AND…love their neighbors as themselves.

    Jesus said that He wanted His disciples to make disciples, didn’t He? To hear some people talk about the role of the church in the world you would think Jesus said something like: Go put on a really big show, attract a lot of people and build mega-churches. That way, people will think I’m really cool. Then they will want to come to my party instead of the devil’s sin-dig, I mean shindig.

    On the other hand, if we were to follow Jesus’ line of thought and simply go make disciples the results would exceed our wildest imaginings, even for those who are enamored with the mega-church-mentality. If each disciple would make one new disciple each year it would not take very long for Christ’s followers to reach all whose hearts are teachable. (If we knew someone who was a math whiz, perhaps even a math teacher, he could probably even tell us how many years it would take to reach six or seven billion souls.)

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

    Let us pray: Lord, lead me to some soul today…

    Blessings to you and yours,
    -bill

  11. Kathy says:

    It often seems that Christians live with their eyes and ears closed. When we open our eyes, look around us, listen to the subliminal messages our neighbors and acquaintences send our way, there would be NO time to worry about whether we are reaching those in need or not. As Jennifer said, there should be NO need for one to let us know their needs. We should see them happening in front of us and moving to alleviate those needs.

    The small complex I live in, for instance, has about 150 elderly &/or disabled residents. Surrounding this complex are upper middle class homes, and several members of my own church. IMHO, if the eyes and ears of the neigborhood were open, there would never be one of our residents that feels alone, that needs a flower bed weeded, or a window washed. There would never be public transportation vehicles coming to take the ill to doctor appointments, the neighbors would be here doing it. But we are a quiet bunch and somehow manage to get these things taken care of somehow or other.

    Ours is but one of several such apartment complexes. There are dozens of areas that are called “run down” or ‘blighted” or just plain scarey that need Christian eyes and ears open, putting hands and hearts to work.

    James was very clear in his writing, that you referenced, Bill. He didn’t mince words – that pure belief and religion before God is attending to the widows, the single parented families [orphans], to the needy and unloved. What is our excuse? Why don’t we do it???? Why is there one person around us that is needy?

    The elderly disabled in this complex are constantly watching out for each other as much as possible for them to do so. I wonder why our neighbors don’t cross the street to help us do so?

    Forgive my bluntness, but can’t help myself. LOL

  12. Kathy,

    Your bluntness is what we need. No need to express a desire for forgiveness. May God help us to be the kingdom, rather than talk about it!

    My home congregation is in the process of becoming much more intentional about this, believing if we model community service more people will become involved in it. Not that we aren’t doing anything, we are involved with a number of community ministries. But, we have become more-and-more convicted that our words are meaningless if they are not accompanied by heart-felt service.

    God bless you, dear sister. Thank you for writing from your heart. My prayer is that God will use your words to help us all become more like the Master.

    Grace and peace to you,

    -bill

  13. dojo says:

    I need this. I am bemoaning a church that is not service oriented when I should be living up to my potential as an individual leading a life of service.

    My toes hurt, but I appreciate it!

  14. Kathy says:

    dojo, maybe it’s your ears rather than your toes. 😉

    The Holy Spirit has a habit of tugging at them, doesn’t He!! lol

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