I have no idea what 2023 holds for you. But whether it’s a year where you reach your goals or not has nothing to do with your circumstances. It’s all about your perspective.
The economy might tank. Our church might struggle. Your family may face challenges.
Yet the most important question you’ll face in 2023 is, will you look at the year with faith rather than fear? The choice is in your hands.
The Israelites had the same choice in Numbers 13, a story most of us are familiar with. Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt, where they had been slaves for 400 years. They had already spent two years in the desert. Moses then sent 12 spies, one from each of the tribes, into the Promised Land to see what was in store for the Israelites when they arrived.
Ten of the spies came back with reports of fear. They told the Israelites the land was full of enemies the Israelites couldn’t beat, whereas, in reality, the Promised Land was as incredible as God had promised, truly a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
Only Joshua and Caleb returned with reports of faith. The Israelites chose to believe the majority of the spies rather than the two who looked at their future in faith. Because of those responses, Joshua and Caleb were the only ones of their generation who were able to enter the Promised Land. The rest of Israel would die in the wilderness.
Just like the Israelites, you are heading into the unknown. None of us know what to expect in 2023. We can either look at the future in faith or in fear.
Maybe our church seems to be stalling. You’re wondering if we’ll ever grow again.
Maybe you have people in your life you love dearly who are constantly making bad choices and walking further and further away from God. You’ve been praying for them for years, and you’re afraid they’ll never turn to God.
Maybe your marriage is falling apart. You don’t dare let anyone know, but you’re afraid divorce could be around the corner. You’ve got the same choice as the Israelites in 2023—look at your future in faith or fear.
When we look at our future through the eyes of fear, we will experience the following outcomes:
1. We’ll get stressed by conflicting information.
When the ten fearful spies shared their report, their story was mixed. “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey . . . But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified” (Numbers 13:27-28). The Promised Land had all the food the Israelites could want, but it was also full of large, fortified cities. Fear puts the “but” in the middle of the report. If God is going to use you, you need to get rid of the excuses.
2. We develop a scarcity mindset.
A scarcity mindset happens when we focus on what we don’t have. In verse 27, the ten fearful spies note that the Promised Land has no room for them. The Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites all had places to live in the Promised Land. There was nothing left for the Israelites.
When you look at the world through eyes of fear, that’s what the future looks like.
3. We fulfill our own self-defeating prophecies.
When the fear-filled spies returned, saying Israel couldn’t overcome the people already in the land (Numbers 13:31), they were right. If they didn’t believe in what God could do through them, they were already beat. The same is true for us. When we don’t believe we’ll stand a chance against all the problems we’ll face in the future, we guarantee that outcome.
4. We spread our negativity to everyone else.
Your fear impacts more than just you, particularly when you’re a church leader. The Israelites believed in the fearful report of the first spies. Your family, your congregation, and your community will do the same. When you focus on your fear, you’ll lead others to move away from the perspective of faith.
5. We see ourselves as inadequate.
Notice the overwhelming ways the Israelites described the people who lived in the Promised Land. “There we saw the giants. . . . we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:32-33). When we’re afraid, we tend to act as the Israelites did. We project our fears upon others. Israelites didn’t know how they looked to the Canaanites. They felt inadequate and small, so they expected the Canaanites felt the same way.
6. We make ourselves miserable.
The Israelites threw a pity party. They cried, complained, and second-guessed everything. There is nothing enjoyable about living in fear. When you throw a pity party, you miss out on everything God wants to give you in the Promised Land.
None of that needs to be your story in 2023. Instead, you can choose to be like Joshua and Caleb. You can look at your future in faith and not fear. Fear is always worse than the actual object of the fear.
How do you get started? One step at a time.
We defeat our fear with movement MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER).
You can’t argue away your fears.
You can’t discuss them away.
But you can take a step against your fears.
Make a faith commitment today to face your fears.
Remember - if God is for us - who can be against us?
Summary: The greatness of a church is not measured in how many come into the church but in how many go out in ministry. The church gathers: then the church scatters. The church must go outside its walls to reach people who need the Lord.
Scripture: Romans 12:1-8
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. 3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
FOUR LESSONS FROM GEESE
It's really interesting how we as a church can learn so much from the instinctual behavior of one of God's creations - Geese.
We will never become a church that effectively reaches out to those who are missing out if we shoot our wounded and major on the minuses. Instead of being fishers of men, as Christ has called us, we will be keepers of an ever-shrinking aquarium. Next fall when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in V formation, you might be interested in knowing what science has discovered about why they fly that way. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. (Christians who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier, because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.)
Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. (If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are going.) When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing and another goose flies’ point. (It pays to take turns doing hard jobs—with people at church or with geese flying south.) The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. (What do we say when we honk from behind?) Finally, when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by a shot and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow him down to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is either able to fly, or until he is dead, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their original group. (If people knew we would stand by them like that in church, they would push down these walls to get in.) You see, all we have to do in order to attract those who are missing back to church is to demonstrate to the world that we have as much sense as geese here at church. That seems little enough price to pay to win the lost and minister to one another. Even geese have sense enough to know it works every time.
I. LIFT PEOPLE UP (Encouragement)
Our people need inspiration. We need to see people as God sees them. Booker T. Washington said, “You cannot hold a man down without staying down with him.” We don’t want to hold people down. We want to see them prepared and released for ministry. God has given every Christian at least one spiritual gift (Ephesians 4:11) “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,”
Our ultimate purpose is to glorify and exalt Christ and to lift up his people (Ephesians 4:12-13): 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
II. LOOK PEOPLE OVER (Enlistment)
This is about recruiting. Identify people’s gifts and abilities. We’re not just looking to fill slots. People need three things to be recruited:
1. A challenge (New Testament concept of servant hood)
2. A change within (surrendering your rights)
3. A choice (God’s will as your will)
We need to seek to enlist people scripturally (Ephesians 4:4-6): 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
III. LET PEOPLE IN (Enrollment)
This is about commitment. Commitment is not an automatic process. You must show it to others and seek it in others. A good motto is: “Give up your rights; pick up your ministry.” Two of our most precious commodities are time and ability. Those who are being enlisted need to know three things:
1. Philosophy (what they are) 2. Purpose (where they are going) 3. Process (how they will get there)
IV. LINE PEOPLE UP (Equipping)
This is about training. Provide people practical opportunities for training. Give them accountability. Preparing “God’s people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12, NIV - to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up - is not about just assigning warm bodies to fill vacant positions. It’s about enabling people to grow in their spiritual gifts and to become more effective servants of Christ. Equipping is not to be done haphazardly. It is to be done through a process.
The process for equipping is:
1. I do it (demonstrating); 2. I do it and you’re with me (mentoring); 3. You do it and I am with you (monitoring); 4. You do it (multiplying).
V. LET PEOPLE OUT (Implementation)
This is about real ministry. The greatness of a church is not measured in how many come into the church but in how many go out in ministry. The church gathers; then the church scatters. The church must go outside its walls to reach people who need the Lord.
The effectiveness of our churches depends on the number of people who are involved in meaningful ministry.
Several years ago, in England, Sir John Barbirolli was conducting a great symphony orchestra before a “standing room only” audience. The concert hall was unusual in that it was used for cultural events on weekdays and for religious services on Sundays.
On this particular Saturday evening, one of the patrons of the orchestra noticed that the clergyman who was to preach there the next day was in the audience. He leaned over and said to him, cynically, “When are you going to fill this hall on Sunday the way Sir John Barbirolli has tonight?” The clergyman looked his antagonist straight in the eye and said with a steady voice, “I will fill this hall on Sunday morning when you give to me, as you gave to Sir John tonight, eighty-five disciplined men and women to be with him and to work with him.”
If you are with me and work with me we can fill this place not only one time on Sunday but 2 or 3 times, would that thrill your soul? Think about it as it all starts with you, then you and me, and then you me and every one else!
Together we can do all things through Christ!