Slow Down in the School Zone!

Some people might look at my life and say, “Lee has preached in a lot of places and he has a fruitful ministry.” But you should know that I waited a long time to see that fruit. Nothing came quickly. My first job lasted eight difficult years, and the pay wasn’t adequate. After that I went through lengthy seasons of dryness, and I often wanted to quit. I didn’t start preaching until I was 43, and I didn’t enter full-time ministry until I was 52. Everything in my life has been slow.

The apostle Peter wrote: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Pet. 5:6). Don’t be in a hurry as you go through life. God’s blessings rarely happen overnight. The Lord’s timing is different from yours. We want Him to answer our prayers instantly, but He may lead us into a wilderness of testing to shape our character. Just as there are speed limits on the road, God imposes speed limits—especially when we are in His “school zone.” If you rush through life, anxiously pursuing your own goals, you could miss His best. Be patient and you will see a harvest in the end!

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Jesus Wants You to Work Yourself Out of a Job

More than 10 years ago I began mentoring a Slavic guy named Alex. He introduced me to another Russian-speaking guy, also named Alex. They’ve become like sons. This week we are ministering together in Central Asia. It’s a great joy for me to preach in Russian-speaking countries with Alex #1 and #2 and their friends!

My mentor, Barry, taught me years ago that Jesus had a four-step process for discipleship. 1) “I DO IT.” Jesus taught and worked miracles. 2) “I DO IT AND THEY ARE WITH ME.” Jesus ministered while His disciples watched and learned. 3) “THEY DO IT AND I AM WITH THEM.” Jesus pushed His disciples to preach, heal and cast out demons while He coached them. 4) “THEY DO IT AND I ENCOURAGE FROM THE BACKGROUND.” Jesus handed over His work to us. Now we minister as His Spirit empowers us. Your job as a mentor is to work yourself out of a job!

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Discipleship Requires a Financial Investment

When I was preaching in Florida last month I invited eight guys I’ve mentored to a special dinner. I encouraged them and listened to their prayer requests, and then we prayed for each other. Afterwards I paid the $100 bill for our meal. Then last week a friend handed me a check for $100. I thanked him, and then I asked the Lord what it was for. God said: “That’s your discipleship money.”

Since I started mentoring young men, I’ve always insisted on paying for their coffee or meals when we meet. And the Lord has always supplied the funds needed—because He blesses discipleship! Paul told the Corinthians: “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15). Discipleship will require lots of time, energy, love and money—but you cannot put a price tag on the reward of seeing your disciples growing spiritually!

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Five Effective Ways to Mentor Others

When Jesus made disciples, He rarely did it with a lecture. He invested personal time. Mark 3:14 says Jesus “appointed twelve, so that they WOULD BE WITH HIM and that He could send them out to preach.” Relationships come first, then ministry. But how do you structure time with your disciples? I do it in several ways:

** Small groups. A regular gathering of 2 to 12 people is an effective format.

** One-on-one meetings. Face-to-face is best, but sometimes I do a “coffee break” with someone overseas on FaceTime. I also do lots of phone calls and texting.

** Ministry trips. I love to take disciples with me when I preach. They have full access to me on the trip and they grow remarkably as they watch God move.

** Group retreats. Jesus often pulled His disciples away from the busyness of life to invest in them (see Mark 6:31-2). ** Just doing life. The most powerful moments of impartation happen spontaneously—especially over a meal! Time with your disciples is a priceless gift!

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How to Respond When a Disciple Pulls Away

Your disciples will go through hard times. They will face tests, trials and temptations. They will have freak-out moments. They may even pull away from you because they are discouraged. How do you respond to them in tough times?

**GIVE THEM SPACE. You aren’t God, and you can’t fix their problems. Don’t hover or smother. Step back, knowing that the Holy Spirit will step in.

** STAY CALM. Don’t overreact, scold or get upset because of their problems. Gently remind them you are available to chat.

** PRAY FOR THEM. Jesus knew His disciples would scatter after He went to the cross. He prayed: “Holy Father, keep them in Your name” (17:11). Pray protective prayers. Engage the enemy and fight for them!

** SHARE A WORD. Isaiah 50:4 says: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.” One word from God can break heaviness. Let God use you to bring hope and comfort.

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Learn the Secret of Consistency in Discipleship

Last week we talked about the importance of study in your spiritual growth. But you don’t have to read 3 books a week and pray for 2 hours a day to make progress. The Christian life is compared to a “walk” (Romans 6:4) as well as a “race” (Hebrews 12:1). Isaiah said strong believers both “walk” and “run” (Isa. 40:31). The key is to move forward!

Any fitness instructor will tell you that 15 minutes of exercise is better than no exercise. Yet many people assume if they can’t lift weights in a gym for an hour they won’t make any progress. The same principle applies to spiritual fitness. If you can’t study for an hour, read the Bible for 20 minutes. If you can’t pray for an hour, pray for 15 minutes. Baby steps are better than no steps. Start moving! Then be consistent. You will see progress, and it will motivate you to run faster and grow stronger in Christ!

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You Can Dig for Gold in God’s Word

If you want to find precious wisdom when you study the Bible, you must dig for it. Proverbs 2:4-5 says if you search for wisdom “as for hidden treasures” you will “discover the knowledge of God.” But you don’t mine for gold by digging with your hands. You need the right tools!

One tool I use for serious Bible study is Strong’s Concordance. This reference book shows what every word in the Bible means in the original language. Here’s an example: 1 Timothy 3:2 says a church leader should be “hospitable.” Does that mean he should invite people to his house? “Hospitable” is the Greek word “philoxenos,” which means “love of foreigners.” This means a leader should love people of all cultures, because this reflects God’s big heart! You will find deeper revelation when you become a passionate digger. (Strong’s is available free on the Blue Letter Bible online app.)

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Don’t Be a Lazy Disciple—Learn to Study

Paul was a master teacher of God’s Word, and he was always reading. Toward the end of his life he told Timothy: “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). He wanted his books! He never stopped learning.

As a disciple-maker you must be serious about your spiritual development. You need to study. British preacher Charles Spurgeon read six books a week! He told young preachers: “The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted.” If you never read books or Bible commentaries, you are trusting your own limited knowledge. Don’t be lazy. Study hard. Don’t just read the Bible—dig deep and mine its treasure. And read spiritual classics as well as current books. Reading will sharpen your blade and make you a wiser and more effective mentor.

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Every Leader Spends Time in the War Zone

God trains leaders, and the process can be painful. During David’s long journey to become king, he ended up in a town called Ziklag. Scholars aren’t sure where this place was, only that it was in the remote Judean wilderness. Ziklag means “pressure,” and it refers to the process of shaping molten metal. Sound familiar?

You may be in a wilderness right now. You may feel dry and far from God. But you can rejoice! You are in training in God’s war zone. David wrote, “My soul thirsts for you…in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). David didn’t lose faith. He stayed thirsty for God. He prayed constantly—knowing that he was in the forge. God was applying heat and pressure to shape him for the throne. You can’t reach your maximum impact as a disciple-maker and leader without spending time in Ziklag!

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Do Your Want the Disciple John’s Closeness With God?

The apostle John is considered Jesus’ closest disciple. He was in Jesus’ inner circle with Peter and James. During the Last Supper, John sat next to Jesus and leaned His head on His chest (John 13:24-25). John enjoyed a close and affectionate relationship with the Savior. And John referred to himself five times as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Jesus didn’t love John more than the other disciples. John simply had a deeper revelation of Christ’s love. He pressed in. He was the only one of the 12 disciples who risked watching the crucifixion. And in the end, John wrote the last “Amen” at the end of the Bible! I want to remind you that intimacy with Jesus is available to you. Don’t let sin, shame or failure keep you at a distance. Jesus invites you to lean on His chest, listen to His heartbeat and hear His life-changing words. You too can be “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

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