For the last 11 years every major decision in my life has actually been made by someone else and not myself.
In 2008 I had a powerful and tangible life changing encounter with the living God. Since then He has guided, me directed me and led me. Jesus has been the Master and I have been the slave.
“Leave your job as a teacher”
“Get rid of your house and things and go to Mozambique”
“Go to Thailand on outreach”.
(I might add that most of these decisions were actually quite joy filled and life giving in the moment - and not reluctant and pain filled as some might envision the usual definition of slavery to be!)
“Move to Cambodia”,
“Move to Sihanoukville”
“Live in a slum for a month”
“Move to Phnom Penh again to help there”.
The list goes on, and it leads us up to this point and America. Following His lead.
The apostles when writing their epistles often introduced themselves as slaves, for example in Romans 1:1. (They used the word δοῦλος doulos “...this means 1- a “slave,” who completely belongs to his owner and has no freedom to leave, or 2- a “servant,” who willingly chooses to serve his master”. - NIV study Bible).
In nearly all modern English translations of the Bible they either use the word “servant” or “bondservant” and barely use the word “slave” even though that is exactly what it means in the Greek. Maybe that is because of the negative connotations of the word “slave” but I think slavery is not always negative, it depends on what or who you are a slave to.
If you are a slave to one who is evil, who destroys and steals from you (like being a slave to sin) then slavery is a terrible concept. But what if you are a slave to a Master who is perfect Love, perfect kindness, overwhelming generosity and endless wisdom? A slave to someone who is a better leader for your life than you are? One who has all foresight and perfect insight. Then I believe that kind of slavery is good. We are all a slave of something! We just need to choose the right master!
I write this to give a bit of a context for the things we have been wrestling with in the last few months. In every major decision since fully trusting Jesus we have habitually (and rightly so) waited for a command and then obeyed.
So when a major decision (about what’s next for us as a family) is to be made and you wait on the Lord for a specific command and you get something different to the “usual” it is really unsettling. It certainly was for me anyway.
After praying lots and waiting for a specific direction; all we kept hearing back through trusted prophetic voices we know, mentors and leaders was; “What do you want? You are free to choose”.
I (Steve) am going to be quite honest and vulnerable when writing this. When I first heard Mollie coming back home from Ministry School with these kinds of prophetic words (“I feel like the Lord Is saying “What do you want, You choose”) some not so very gracious judgments popped up in my heart.
“That’s not real Christianity, this is some twisted Westernized version”. I thought.
Or “Maybe this is “Bethel culture” and not Kingdom Culture”?
As Mollie kept getting these words and we started praying more into what the Lord has for us for after her BSSM first year. We sent out a prayer request and update asking friends and family to join us in praying as we try and make a decision. We also had a really wonderful nearly 3 hour conversation with our Iris Cambodia directors to hear their hearts, needs and honour them by asking their thoughts. The same theme kept coming back to us.
Then one Sunday I was in church and I went to the front to receive prayer from the ministry team (responding to the specific preach that day about something completely different, not requesting any guidance for decisions or the future). The kind elderly gentleman who prayed for me stopped mid way through praying and He said; “I hear this phrase; “What do you want? You are free to choose””. I was taken aback, I didn’t ask for prayer on decision making, nor did he know a thing about me or my situation.
As I (slowly) started to listen to the constant and clear prophetic words and not dismiss what God was consistently saying. You mean You want me to choose?? All sorts of insecurities that were in me started to raise their ugly heads.
In a way it’s sometimes easier having all the big decisions made for you (being a slave). You receive specific guidance and you do it. You are not responsible for the consequences of your actions because you were just doing as you were told. But with this new level of input and responsibility I was entering a whole new realm insecurity and doubt.
-What if I make the wrong decision?
-What if I mess up?
-What if people don’t understand the decision I make?
-Can’t you just decide God? Then if the decision upsets people I can just blame you.... “well sorry guys but God said so, so you know, I have to be obedient.”
I started to share my journey with some friends and mentors, and they all said the same thing. “It looks like God is moving you into a deeper level of relationship with Him, where you are not just a slave but a friend also", "He trusts you to be more involved in the decisions”. Others said it was a part of deeper maturity in knowing Him and Mollie shared her journey with her revival group pastor and he encouraged her in some similar things.
After the long Skype chat with our Iris Cambodia directors and receiving some other prophetic words Mollie and I chatted together and for the first time, instead of listening to a command from the Lord and following, we sat down and dreamed with God.
It may sound strange but sitting and “dreaming” was a very weird and very new experience for us. We had just spent many years on the missions field purposefully “dying to self”, “dying to our dreams” and now God was gently and lovingly encouraging us to dream again! But this time WITH Him and according to His purposes! You can see how much of an uncomfortable shift in thinking this was for us compared to what we had gotten used to; just listening and then doing.
As we dreamed we thought through some things. Ok, what would things look like if we had an extra year in Redding? Or what would things look like if we went straight back to Cambodia now? What equipping could we receive and benefit from if we stayed? What further training do we need for the things God has called us to do in ministry? Ministry School planting training? (Only available In BSSM second year). Further leadership training (also in second year). What mentors could we connect with and go deeper with if we stayed in this environment a little longer? And there was so much more we thought about and processed.
No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. John 15:15 (NASB)
I am very much at the beginning of this friendship journey with Jesus so there is still so much that I have left to learn. But I do know this; Friendship with God does not take away from obedience, servanthood and Jesus being our Master. It just adds another dimension of relationship with Him on top of that..
When the apostles Peter and Paul used the term “a slave of God” to describe themselves when introducing themselves in their letters it was often even towards the end of their ministry (as in Romans 1:1 and 2 Peter 1:1). To me this shows that there is no growing out of slavery to Jesus!!
So I intend to still see myself as a slave (to a wonderful and perfect Master) just as the early church did. BUT we have been asking to know God more and we are not going to pass up an opportunity to experience another dimension of relationship with Him in friendship (even if this has exposed some insecurities in me, but even that is good because they now they can start to be dealt with!)
Below Mollie writes about what we are dreaming of ahead…..
I have been so blessed and impacted this year at BSSM. It has been full of life changing moments ; incredible highs encountering Jesus and realising the vastness of the inheritance we have been given ; as well as dealing with hurts and pains I didn’t realise I had and allowing Holy Spirit to do whatever He wanted in my heart.
For me the biggest change I have encountered is really truly knowing the goodness of God ! 100% knowing in every fibre of my being that He is so good, so faithful , so trustworthy , so kind and that He is for me and loves me. I “knew” this before coming but I had some lies I believed which caused me to sometimes doubt the nature of God. I had so much focus on being “dead to sin” and dying to myself but I have been learning so much about the vast inheritance we have in the resurrection life. The supernatural is a huge part of that; the Kingdom of Heaven that we are seated in and have access to. The abounding hope and joy that Paul writes about us a reality we CAN live in !
It’s been a year of recognising the cracks in my foundations, the subtle deceptions I had partnered with and then relearning the truth. I feel more alive than ever before and yet I still feel there is some building work to be done. I dearly miss Cambodia and the people there ; but I don’t want to return there whilst this specific process is “half finished”. It’s a huge cost and a huge sacrifice to us but we believe that staying another year is a better decision for a more sustainable and effective long term future in ministry on missions. We are currently in the UK for two months for visa reasons. We are so excited to be reconnecting with our families, friends and our church family. We hope to come back to Redding early August and I aim to do the second year of BSSM!
(If you would like to donate towards Mollie's tuition for the coming school year please click here https://my.bssm.net/donations/transactions/new?student_binder=511281)