Did you ever get a simple little “paper cut”? Isn’t is unbelievable that you can be so careful, eat right, exercise, maybe even go off to the gym and really try to get in shape, and a simple piece of paper can wound you in such a way as to distract you all day long? Not long ago, I was trying to organize some notes for a rather detailed speech I had to give to a group up north. One of the last things I do before I am going to make any kind of presentation is to check to see that I have all the pages in the stack, and that they are in the right order. In the process of checking the pages, the stack began to slip away from me, and as I grabbed the falling papers, one cut into my skin in two places between my first two fingers. It wasn’t any big deal, and I barely noticed it until after the presentation. A group of us decided we would go out for a bite to eat, and the place we went had a special on their renown “corn of the cob.” I wanted to give it a try, and used my normal method of dousing the cob in butter, followed by an unhealthy dose of salt. You know where this is going… the salt found its way into both of my paper cuts and suddenly I felt like my fingers were undergoing surgery. I could barely enjoy the meal…obviously I was experiencing a “first world” problem. At this point, some of you may be recognizing me for the true wimp that I am.
It occurs to me that if rocks can be sculpted and cut through by the long term and constant drip of water, if a fully grown adult man can be dislodged by a swarm of tiny bees, if a vast oak tree can be felled by the work of small termites… paper cuts can do significant damage to even the most strong and efficient office workers. Seriously, sometimes it isn’t the BIG ISSUES that tear us down – but the steady wear of small ones. It is clear that method of attack was used against the Savior, and it may be used against you as well – so it is worth exploring as we follow the early part of the ministry of Jesus.
Let’s remember first that the Savior came to serve His Father and to develop a ministry to people that was both effective and sustainable. He took care to model for us how to care for people, and how to prioritize the work of God as we represent Him before a lost world. At the same time, the Gospel writer included for us something more – the enemy’s attack on Jesus’ ministry. He attacked every forward move of that ministry – as is his method. Some of the attacks were profound and pronounced. For those, we have been taught to pray fervently, armor up and stick together, huddled around the Word. They come, and in those dramatic moments people are tuned to pray. Yet other attacks are more like the steady wear of “paper cuts” designed to annoy and draw spiritual blood and energy from the work. It is now as it was then…
Key Principle: Ministry is not only tested by the more profound struggles, but energy can be significantly drained by steady harassment of the enemy.
There are a number of weights on your walk with God and your service to Him that are common among people who want to be used of God to care for and reach others. Since every believer is to be intentional about ministry, it is important that we identify the points fo attack that are used to cause that strain and look for the pattern to overcome their influence:
First, let’s recognize the call to make disciples puts a strain on those who do it (Mark 1:16-20; 2:14-22). We’ll call it a “drain”.
The beginning of Mark’s Gospel offers some snapshots of Jesus choosing the disciples near the Sea of Galilee. Let’s look at two of them so that we can identify the kinds of pressures disciple making can place on those who follow Jesus by doing it:
Mark 1:16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.
Before you keep reading, notice a few things about the disciples that Jesus chose in this little picture.
First, Jesus called the men from the work they were already doing (Mark 1:16). The men were busy, not idle. Some were casting their nets to fish as in Mark 1:16, while others were mending the nets from the night’s work they just completed (1:19).
Second, Jesus told them that He had a task that was in some ways not wholly unfamiliar, but required they change from what they were doing and follow His lead (Mark 1:17).
Third, they immediately obeyed and left what they were accomplishing to simply follow the Master.
This is not the only record of the call of the disciples, for they were called more than once. By this time, Jesus was well known to them. They heard His speaking, and some had even traveled with Him on a journey. It is easy to read this like they were new to Jesus, but they weren’t, and we know this by cross-checking the other Gospel accounts. In the end, they chose to do what He said and follow Him – that is obvious in the narrative. What is far less recognized is the reverse – that Jesus’ life changed by calling them to His side.
To deliberately make disciples is to sign up to be constantly observed, to become intentional about the slightest things. It is a decision to become conscious that people are watching your work and your responses to the normal stresses of life. Your diet becomes their license. Your favorite song comes under the morally sensitive scrutiny of the follower – are those words really “God honoring?” Discipleship has its own drain…it places a tiny discomfort, like a “paper cut” that heightens your sensitivity…but the observation of your life by the disciple isn’t the only factor that places a strain on your life. Drop down to Mark 2…
Mark 2:14 As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. 15 And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” 18 John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. 22 “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Here, the passage reveals other stresses that were placed on Jesus as He chose disciples that we should make note of as well.
First, the people chose by the Master quickly focused scrutiny on Him. Some with religious titles were acutely aware that Jesus’ choices were not what they would have chosen – and that became the subject of criticism. All this, and the disciples hadn’t done yet anything but eat dinner! Jesus found Himself answering criticism concerning His choices (Mark 2:17), and acknowledging that the men were not the healthiest lot – but those with great spiritual need. Here is the point: disciples are needy, and they will require something of your life – and that is the reason we would rather offer classes as a church than personally make disciples. All of us are under the pressures of daily life, and we can easily excuse our distance from others as a necessity in our busy world. Yet, discipleship – deliberate patterning and encouragement is our call – and we know it. We keep hoping that classes will do the trick, even when it seems obvious that we offer so little time compared to the number of hours the world offers to press young believers into its mold.
A second factor involved in the criticism was not simply the choice of disciples, but the methodology and practices taught to the learners (Mark 2:18-19). Jesus chose the men and not everyone like who He chose – but they also “weighed in” on what He trained them to practice. “Why not fasting like John’s disciples?” they asked. Discipleship raised the scrutiny of other “experts” and Jesus didn’t get a passing grade in their evaluation. The truth is that discipleship and training draws the trainer under the scrutiny of those who are not even engaged in the process. Everyone has an opinion about how to do it, even if they aren’t doing it.
The objective of making disciples is one that will put a strain on your life. When people are watching, you must be even more careful. When people are learning, you must be intentional. When people are following, you must act as a leader. It isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t an easy thing either. Ask a parent!
Imagine you take your child into a market to pick up a few things, and they are not feeling well. Teeth are causing pain and a slight fever. The otherwise pleasant child is fussy and uncomfortable. You know what is wrong, and you are letting them fuss a bit to get things selected and get home where you can administer a little gum soother and get them to sleep. It will all be fine in a few minutes. As you pass people and they look in the cart at your little bundle of fussiness, each offers advice. “If you just pick him up and rock him, he’ll settle right down!” the woman behind you says. “Thanks!” you mutter, as if you hadn’t thought of that. Everyone feels the right to give instructions, but they aren’t going home with you, and don’t know the whole picture of what you are doing with the child. Discipleship draws criticism… and it often comes from people who are not engaged in the process a whit. Criticism can sting like a little enduring paper cut.
I am not complaining about the call to make disciples – it is a fantastic and rewarding part of our call! I am, however, making the observation that with obedience to that call you will add strain to your life. Everything valuable in life comes at a price, and obedience in making disciples is no different. We cannot engage the process without recognizing the drain it will put on us, or we miss part of the lesson of the verses God included to instruct us.
Second, the enemy offers resistance to any forward movement that will cost him (Mark 1:21-28). We’ll call this “disruption”.
Beyond the strain of criticism and inspection is another very important truth that we need to reckon with – there is an enemy at work to defeat us. Go back to Mark 1…
Mark 1:21 They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-the Holy One of God!” 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.
We usually anticipate the opposition when it concerns evangelism, but that isn’t the only place planned snares of the enemy will trip us. When we help disciples move out of bondage and into a fuller walk with God, the enemy is still losing ground – and that will come with stiff resistance – because he doesn’t like losing ground! In fact, a deceived and ensnared believer is often a more powerful a weapon in the hand of the enemy as one who is still spiritually dead. Go back to the story…
Jesus took the disciples to the synagogue because it was Sabbath, and He taught the crowd that gathered in Capernaum to listen. He spoke directly, and made clear sense. As the people began to respond to TRUTH, the voice of the enemy DISTRACTED people from the “life-filled words” of the Master. There are a number of truths that are important in this passage:
Note first that the enemy was lurking in the synagogue… because the enemy does some of his best work in religious places.
Second, note that nothing they said was UNTRUE, it was simply distracting Jesus from the forward progress of teaching. The demonic presence simply raised questions and made distractions that pulled the class off track. Have you ever seen something like this? I don’t mean that you sat next to someone who murmured like they were possessed… I mean someone who drew the class off track, week after week, only to confound, confuse and disrupt. They didn’t learn, and they didn’t let others learn. The veteran teachers know what I am referring to in this… the enemy works both in deception and in distraction – and we must recognize the difference between real questions and disruptions.
Recently I engaged a young man who asked many questions about God, about belief and generally about my faith. His questions were complex, and they took time to answer in detail to be sure that I was saying things that were both Biblical and clear. I spent a number of hours on each question. Weeks wore on, he wrote question after question and I answered diligently. I prayed over each answer and asked God to make clear how I should proceed. I felt a real strain on the load this added to the week, but I didn’t want to drop the ball on a sacred trust – God may have brought this man into my life to draw him to God – and I didn’t want to be slack on my responsibility in this area. After a few more questions, I made the point that I had done my best with every question, so I wanted to ask him a question of my own… “Was he serious in the questions he raised?” I asked. He replied, and I admit I was floored by his response. “Not at all!” he said. “I just wanted to tie up your time and keep you from teaching other people about your God fantasies.” I was shocked, but I was thankful that God answered my prayer, and I learned a lesson. Everything you and I are offered is either an opportunity or a distraction – and it will take maturity to know the difference.
Jesus took control of the message, and cast out the demon – causing others to recognize His power. God’s Word isn’t open to sharing the stage with anyone else’s word – and Jesus took care of the problem. Yet, it came at a cost. We look at FAME as a GOOD thing, but that is not always the case. Some of the most effective ministries I know of are not well known around the world – but they are incredibly effective. In our modern “Madison Avenue” view of ministry, we cannot easily understand why Jesus may not have wanted to be too well known at this point in the ministry – but the enemy knew that POPULARITY can swamp the boat – and that can become the most effective way to pull a ministry down.
Distraction is something that can happen to any work of God – large or small. Believers need to be able to measure God at work by many standards – not simply “popularity” or parking lot sizes. When we use modern business metrics to measure ministry effectiveness, we lose sight that God works in different ways in different places. The measure of a ministry should be how well it accomplishes sustainable work within its consistent and Biblically infused vision.
The point is that Jesus didn’t need to be that well known yet, and the enemy couldn’t wait to make Him the hottest thing on the block. What looked like a great acknowledgement of Jesus’ power was actually a pressure hold applied by the enemy who wanted to get Jesus’ popularity rating boosted to the point of ministry hindrance. Even viral popularity can become a problem to sustainable ministry. It can become a “paper cut” that hinders growing people because the program takes over… and it is something mature believers need to be careful about.
It is true that discipleship is a call of God that puts a drain on your life. It is easier to navigate life without pulling along someone else. It is also true that we face an enemy who wants to find ways to distract us from focusing on the growth and development of people – in favor of other notions of popularity and success that fill our hearts but are not from our Father above. Yet, there are other “paper cuts” that can distract us…
Third, we should consider that a drain of physical limitations can distract progress (Mark 1:29-31). We’ll call this “distraction”.
Jesus and the boys were just beginning to get the work in Capernaum going, and one of the people who provided meals and care for the men was taken ill…
Mark 1:29 And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. 31 And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.
What is clear is the fact that Peter’s mother in law was an asset to the ministry, as she took care of the men again as soon as she was well. Her “down time” slowed the ministry, because a servant was knocked off her feet. Don’t miss that detail…
I am not being “spooky” when I admit the enemy can get permission from our Father to attack the ministry and add extra “drag” by attacking our health. He can attack our feelings, our digestion, our sleepiness – an array of symptomatic attacks. He did it in a pronounced way with Job in the Bible, but that isn’t the only time he did it. In Mark 1 he wanted to slow down the work at home and keep the men busy and strained to do the little “normal” things of life, he wanted to Simon to worry about his mother-in-law and be distracted from the growing ministry. Don’t miss that Satan was at work on both public popularity and private distraction – that is one of the combinations that often lands in the life of God’s servant. While the pressure mounted in the public eye for Jesus to do more and more, private pressures at home made the rising popularity seem even harder to navigate – and that was the point of the two-pronged attack. Jesus healed the women, but while He did, He surely recognized the play the enemy was making.
Fourth, even misdirected followers can easily disrupt ministry and help the enemy (Mark 1:32-32, 39-45). We’ll call this what it is: “disobedience”.
One of the common attacks of the enemy that I have profoundly noticed over the years is the aid they inadvertently offer the deceiver by being blatantly disobedient to the Word of God – all the while thinking they are aiding God’s cause. Let’s look at the case offered in Mark 1…
Mark 1:32 When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. 33 And the whole city had gathered at the door. 34 And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was… 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. 40 And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. 43 And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.
The enemy was already at work trying to get the public ministry of Jesus to rise in popularity so fast that He would be unable to focus on the development of the men, and be inundated with public fame. Demons didn’t want clear teaching, so they disrupted at the synagogue. Now they used a needy man that came to Jesus, but then didn’t follow His words obediently… the man had a plan to “help God” without the need to be weighed down by obedience to God. He came needing healing, as we all do. He came ready to receive from Jesus.
Note verse 42, Jesus completely healed him and he was clean. Now look at the words of the next verse very carefully. In all of the Gospels, have you read of any time when Jesus spoke and “sternly warned” anyone? It seems the demeanor of the Savior was serious and sober as he looked at the now healed man. “Say NOTHING to ANYONE except the priest.” Those were Jesus’ words. They sound straight and to the point. They were neither complicated, nor confusing. Yet, the man disobeyed in short order, all the while thinking he was doing something GOOD for God.
We need to rehearse, again and again in our lives, there is no substitute for obedience to God’s commands. We do not know what God knows, nor do we see what He sees. Our stubborn need to control must not be allowed to drive us from our knees and back onto the throne of our life while under the delusion we are helping God. We are NOT. The tragic end of King Saul came from that very decision – to do what he thought would help God MORE than to accept the instruction from God and follow it precisely.
The man was disobedient to the word of Jesus, and it caused a mess for Jesus. How often I have observed this attack of the enemy, facilitated by a believer who blissfully thinks careful knowledge of and obedience to the Word is less important than the “clear fame” they brought to Jesus. Reach a nation in disobedience and you have accomplished a great victory for the enemy – because God desires obedience more than anything else… period. Believers carving their own path cause constant and irritating “paper cut” wounds on believers and ministry workers who are trying to follow the Word – it is both distracting and hurtful.
Fifth, there is a constant weight placed by those who misunderstand God’s method of direction that can confuse ministry workers (Mark 1:35-38). We’ll call this “delusion.”
Jesus got alone, but the disciples didn’t understand the essential nature of His time with the Father – because many people think ministry is a physical pursuit – with a little “nod” to the spiritual realm. They don’t get how the world really works, let alone how ministry works…
Mark 1:35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for Him; 37 they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” 38 He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.“
The disciples pressed for more and more ministry without breaking away and recognizing the need to seek the Father in Heaven. Jesus got alone because He needed to commune and exemplify the need to seek the direction from above. The disciples were living the “rat race of ministry” while Jesus was getting alone. His alone time re-energized the Lord.
People caught in a “rat race” – even of ministry events – cannot lead like Jesus. There is a difference between being full in your schedule and being driven by it. Jesus understood the need for solitude and searching out the Father’s heart for ministry before taking on the next task. The men were ready for the “next big thing” while Jesus was communing with His Father, and getting re-energized.
Jesus knew how to get alone with His Father. It is worth noting that the devil miscalculated the strength of that alone time at the temptation. Jesus was physically hungry, but His time away left Him spiritually full. His denial of the physical helped Him to stay focused on His walk before the Father and not get sidetracked by lesser things. His responses to the devil showed that Jesus valued the study of the Scriptures in the “good times” – for Jesus knew the Word and was able to recall it when needed.
This is a common mistake: people see ministry as primarily a physical pursuit, and measure its growth in buildings, budgets and bodies in the pew – but those metrics don’t tell the story. Eleven disciples transformed in heart would eventually yield much more than five thousand spectators deeply moved at their full bellies. The DELUSION is a common one, and it creeps into ministry all the time: the focus on the physical as the point of ministry. Look at the little story in Mark 2…
Mark 2:1 When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. 5 And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven ‘; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk ‘? 10 “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins “-He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” 12 And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” 13 And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them.
Jesus healed the man’s heart, and the work was essentially DONE. His sin forgiven, Jesus did the part that only He can do. That didn’t satisfy the scribes. They thought it was a hoax, because they measured ministry by externals – by physical markers. The man needed life inside, not simply working legs.
There is an old story I have used before, but it illustrates well the problem of looking at externals when the internals are the real issue:
I heard about a man who saw his dog walking across his lawn with his neighbors dead cat in his mouth. The man was horrified to see that the dog had apparently killed the neighbor’s beloved cat. He was determined to hide this embarrassing and heart-wrenching situation from the neighbor. He took the cat from the dog’s mouth and proceeded to wash the animal gingerly, to brush the fur and make the animal look well kept. That night he slipped over to the neighbor’s porch and placed the cat quietly beside the door. He left undetected. The next morning before work his neighbor was in the driveway visibly shaken. “What’s wrong?” he asked, feigning concern. The neighbor replied, “It is the strangest thing I ever seen. Fluffy got hit by a car yesterday. We had a funeral service for her in the backyard. But, when we got up this morning we found the hole empty and the body of our now clean cat clean on the back porch.” (adapted from sermon central illustrations).
Here is the problem: The man tried to clean the cat outwardly, but he couldn’t change the fact that the cat was dead. A lot of people think that is what ministry is really all about. They try to change the outward appearance, or deal with the outward need. They feed the hungry, house the homeless and try to act kindly – and that is good – but it isn’t the primary need. It is part of the DELUSION that spiritual things can be seen clearly through the physical eye. When ministry is measured that way, it discourages and weighs down those who are working in the spiritual realm.
• Discipleship is wonderful, but it drains your energy.
• Forward moving ministry is exciting, but it draws the attention of an enemy that disrupts.
• Servant hood is essential, but the needs of the body can be a distraction.
• Jesus is delivering men, but disobedience unsettles the ministry.
• Ministry needs press God’s workers, but we must be directed and measured by spiritual metrics.
I recall years ago in Elkhart, Indiana, finding out that a neighbor was tapping off my friend’s electricity, and she was being charged for power usage that she didn’t ever get. She went away on vacation during the heat of the summer, and turned off most all of her electrical appliances. When she came home, she noticed the meter spinning wildly on the pole, and couldn’t figure out what where the power was going. We traced the lines, and found the neighbor was using a line strung from her house to theirs. Knowing where your power is going is important. God is at work through many, and some of them are tired, but haven’t figured out where their energy is being tapped. The model of Jesus can help us spot some of the ways power is pulled from its rightful place.