Spiritual Fathers: Dead and Alive

Spiritual Fathers: Dead and Alive

I am writing to you, fathers,because you know him who is from the beginning. 1 John 2:13,14 ESV

Since the month of June is Fathers Day month,  I'm thinking about spiritual fathers.   I've been blessed to have some.  My life has been forever enriched by being "spiritually fathered" by these people of God.

So this month, I would like to share a few of them with you. But first, let's think together about "spiritual fathering."

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Mentoring Gone Awry

He must increase, but I must decrease.John 3:30 ESV

Have you had a mentor, a spiritual father or mother? Do you have one now?

spiritual fathers
spiritual fathers

I have had a few.  For the most part, they were godly, sincere, vulnerable believers who shared the Lord freely and in a spiritually healthy way.  But recently, I have been shocked by one of my long term "fathers."

Because of our differences in interpretation of several passages of Scripture, he totally cut off fellowship with me, wanting no further contact.  This aging saint had said that he was "shocked, disappointed, and somewhat traumatized" by my "rejection" of his interpretation.

To say the least, I was shocked that a mature believer would handle differences in minor points this way.  But I've found that I am not alone. In fact, two of my friends have experienced the exact same kind of thing for the same reason.

So how does spiritual fathering/mentoring go awry?  Is it control? Insecurity? Pride?

As one of my friends aptly said of his own rift with his mentor,

The main issue [was] no freedom to disagree. My journey with Jesus couldn't progress without absolute freedom to follow wherever He led.  My dear mentor required uniformity of thought/belief which is unhealthy. --Rennes Bowers

Since I am at the stage of maturity where I have the honor of coming alongside other believers, I want to learn from all of this. And maybe you do too, whether you are a mentor or being mentored!

Well, there is good news! There is a gem of a spiritual father tucked away in the gospels, one of my heroes of the faith, John the Baptist!  He shows us what a true "spiritual father" is like.

Take a few moments and read through chapters 1 and 3 of the gospel of John to see...

john the baptist pointing
john the baptist pointing

Spiritual Fathering at its best

I have observed three things about John:

1. John knew who Jesus was.

John was Jesus' cousin, yet John didn't really know who Jesus was until the Holy Spirit revealed directly to John,

Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God. John 1:32-34

Once John knew Jesus as the Messiah, he was totally "all in."  Even though a prophet is without honor in his own country, John's cousin Jesus had the priority and honor due Him.  Look at some of what John knew through divine revelation about the Lord Jesus:

Jesus is the Light ...the One who is coming, who ranks ahead of him, because He was before him ...the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world ...the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit ...Christ the Messiah, ...the Bridegroom who has the bride ...the One who comes from heaven and is above all ...the One who speaks God's words ...The One who has the Spirit without measure

The Lord Jesus Christ and all he knew about Him was what John focused on and proclaimed. John heard from the Father about Jesus the Promised One, and then John spoke from that continuous revelation.

2. John knew who he was.

John had no delusions of grandeur. When asked by the priests and Levites sent from the Pharisees who he was, John right away responded,

I am not the Christ!

Who then?

I love John's response,

I am the voice of one crying out:  'Make a straight road in the desert for the Lord.'

John knew he was a voice, unworthy to untie the sandal of the One coming after him.  His job was to testify to the Light that was coming into the world. John was a witness. That was his role, and he knew it and embraced it.

3. John never confused the two.

I am amazed at how John never deviated from his focus, despite the fact that his disciples were leaving him to follow Jesus.  He had no "Messiah complex," so to speak.  He freely released his followers, pointing them toward the Christ.

I love the imagery John used when he described himself as the "friend of the bridegroom who rejoiced at the bridegroom's voice."  He knew Jesus to be the Bridegroom who has the bride.  So John's joy was complete to point the way to Him!

As John so beautifully stated,

He must increase, I must decrease!

walking with jesus
walking with jesus

What can we learn?

Whether we are the mentors or the ones being mentored (even by messages we read and hear), we need to keep these truths in the forefront of our minds:

1. The Lord Jesus Christ is All!

As John knew, Jesus Christ is the Light, the Promised One, the Savior of the world.  He is the Bridegroom who has the bride (the "church," believers, the body of  Christ). He is the Sum of all Spiritual Things, as our brother Watchman Nee so aptly put!

2. We are all His!

All of us believers have the indwelling Christ through the Holy Spirit...from the youngest believer in the Lord to the most mature saint of God.

And like John, we each have a role to play.  God opens the way so that we can serve others in a unique way and be served by others in the body of Christ in Jesus' name.

And so, as the Lord spoke to my heart many years ago,

Respect the Holy Spirit in yourself and other believers...even young ones!

3. A healthy detachment characterizes healthy believers, young and old!

Each of us individually can learn to hear and follow the Lord day by day. Jesus Himself said,

My sheep hear [keep on hearing] my voice and I know them and they follow [and keep on following] ME! John 10:27

We can encourage each other to do that very thing, releasing our brothers and sisters to follow HIM even when their path may be different from our own.  John the Baptist did this well, didn't he?

Our own freedom to follow and our giving that freedom to others is at the heart of spiritual growth. As Andrew Murray said of abiding in Christ,

...independent of all else, because dependent on Jesus. Abide in Christ

Lord, Thank you for the brothers and sisters you have placed strategically in my life. They have loved me and taught me about you and your ways. Teach me to release others to You in Your name. You are our All and in all! Amen.

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. Hebrews 13:7 NLT

Spiritual Fathers: Dead and Alive

I am writing to you, fathers,because you know him who is from the beginning. 1 John 2:13,14 ESV

Since the month of June is Fathers Day month,  I'm thinking about spiritual fathers.   I've been blessed to have some.  My life has been forever enriched by being "spiritually fathered" by these people of God.

So this month, I would like to share a few of them with you. But first, let's think together about "spiritual fathering."

In his first letter, the fatherly aged apostle John penned a tenderhearted passage on the growth stages in a believer's life.  He describes for us spiritual childhood, then young adulthood, and finally fatherhood:

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.I write to you, children, because you know the Father.I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.I write to you, young men, because you are strong,and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.1 John 2:12-14 ESV

Did you notice that he repeats two times the exact same description of the "father stage" of spiritual growth?

"...you know Him who has been from the beginning."

"You know GOD in His pure Person...the great I AM, the Burning Bush God, Jehovah!"  Nothing else is needed...nothing else distracts.  There's a total focus on the Ever-Present God and what HE is doing...especially in the lives of people.

return of the prodigal
return of the prodigal

Henri Nouwen, in his wonderful book The Return of the Prodigal Son talks about how we are each ultimately called to be the "father (or mother)" in others' lives.

...my final vocation is indeed to become like the Father and to live out His divine compassion in my daily life...every son and daughter has to choose to step beyond their childhood and become father and mother for others.  It is a hard and lonely step to take...Return of the Prodigal, p121.

Nouwen talks about three ways to truly compassionate fatherhood:  grief, forgiveness, and generosity.  All three of these characteristics require a heart completely empty of self-seeking, a heart that steps over our own stuff  and pours itself out for others.  This is where the Father seeks to take His children as they "grow up" in Him.

I love the image of "stepping over our own stuff."  It has helped me many a time in conversation or in situations to remember that as I mature in God I must be willing to step over this conflict, that slight, the other hurt, etc.  That's the way of the Father...and the way of fathers and mothers who walk in His way on behalf of His children:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

Do you have any spiritual fathers (or mothers, for that matter) in your life?  If so, thank God and imitate their faith!  If not, ask God for some...they are treasures!  And then grow to become one!

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7 ESV

*More in the coming posts about some spiritual fathers, both dead and alive :)