“When we are at the end of our wits with suffering, or when we feel entirely useless in shame, depression, and insecurity, or when we fight the hoards of Satan’s army in temptation, let us be comforted that the Spirit intercedes for us in the theater of our hearts, and Christ intercedes for us in the theater of Heaven.” — Joey Shaw, All Authority: How the Authority of Christ Upholds the Great Commission
CHELSEA VAUGHN: Being a mission pastor, you have to be strategic, yet in your book you don’t hide your dependence on the Holy Spirit. When did you begin to see the connection between dependence and strategy?
Joey Shaw: At the intersection between strategy in human decision making and dependence on the supernatural God is the person of the Holy Spirit. In my view, dependence on the Holy Spirit empowers careful planning and effective execution of a strategy. Some people think that dependence on the Holy Spirit somehow works against, side steps, or intervenes on strategic thinking.
But the Bible teaches otherwise. The Bible calls the kinds of decision making that pleases God “wisdom”. “Wisdom” means being both strategic and dependent on God. “Wisdom” sums up strategic, insightful, and maturity in perspective. Consider Eph. 5:15-16: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” “Look carefully” means diligently, accurately, precisely, thoroughly. Further, think about the phrase “making the best use of the time”. The greek term implies buying things when there is scarcity. No one believes that we should go to the supermarket and buy our food without some kind of a “plan”, or some “strategic” frame of mind.
I’ve learned from the Scripture and from experience that dependence on the Holy Spirit is demonstrated through hard work, not in the absence of it. The Holy Spirit empowers our hard work. Consider the apostle Paul’s testimony of working hard: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10) Paul worked hard according to the grace of God worked out in his life and ministry by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit works in both spontaneity and intentionality. He comes both when planned (e.g., when you share the gospel, do you not plan on the Holy Spirit empowering the Word?) and when unplanned. Just because an action is spontaneous does not make it more or less spiritual. Intentionality and spirituality do not work against each other. Rather, intentionality is a characteristic of mature spirituality, as it displays wisdom.
Consider the apostle Paul’s use of “skilled master builder” in 1 Cor. 3:10: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” Paul is thoughtful about how he works. He knows his role. He knows his goals. And to accomplish his goals he aims to be a “skilled master builder”. He calls on others who build on his foundation to “take care how he builds upon it.” Every builder knows that they must employ strategy to properly and effectively use their resources in order to achieve their goals.
Of course, we need to be ever aware of the deception that the better our strategy alone the better the product. Strategic decisions may lead to productivity, but it is the Holy Spirit of God alone who can produce God-magnifying fruitfulness.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. – Psalms 127:1-2
CV: You must have a fervent prayer life if you can live believing in Christ’s authority with freedom. Tell us the story of how and when your prayer life changed.
JS: Years ago, I preached a short sermon from Jn. 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” As I studied for the sermon, I was profoundly impacted by the truth that it is God alone who produces fruit and that our “strategy” for obtaining that fruit is abiding in Christ. After working through the text, I had to repent for aiming at being productive in my own power, rather than aiming at being fruitful in Christ’s power. That fundamental change in me instantly matured my prayer life. I realized that my prayer life is the proof of the extent of my dependency on God. I saw that I could only bear fruit while abiding in the one who has all authority and power: the Lord Jesus.
CV: I love your use of poetry, what do you hope readers will gain from this unique addition to a book on the great commission?
JS: I hope that the poetry in my book complements the narrative like a musical soundtrack complements a movie. A musical soundtrack elevates our senses and affections while we watch the movie play out; so I hope my poetry elevates your senses and affections while you work through the book. I say in my book, “Poetry is, for me, a way to express the inexpressible and lead others to do the same. It gives me a taste of the food that only the saints at the feast of heaven eat.” (Pg. 6)
CV: The poem in “Go Therefore” (p. 66) was stunning. What lead you to write this?
JS: I wrote this poem specifically for a missionary family serving in the inner regions of China. Most of their ministry is unseen by their family, their global Christian fellowship, and even their local church. In this kind of context, it can be tempting to feel forgotten, isolated, and alone. So I wrote a poem to remind them that they are never forgotten, never isolated, and never alone. Not only that, they will see the fruit of their labor one day. One day, King Jesus will welcome them alongside His ransomed people from their host people group—all who are Christ’s among them!—and they will live forever in fullness of joy with Christ in God.
CV: The concept you’ve implemented within The Stone’s mission structure is unlike anything I have seen. How do you suggest people discern which position they’re called to (i.e., Goer, Sender, Mobilizer)? Do you think these positions often interchange?
JS: I suggest people discern if they are called to be a “Goer,” “Sender,” or “Mobilizer” the same way that they discern God’s will for all their particular decisions not specifically spoken to in the Bible. That is, they should discern this through listening to their “spiritual gut”, through the counsel of their biblical community, through analysis of their circumstances, and ultimately and supremely, through submissive study of God’s Word, the Bible. I’ve written extensively on these variables in a series on “how to discern God’s will”, which you can find here.
People can learn more about how we at The Austin Stone Community Church engage in God’s mission among unreached peoples here.
Chelsea Vaughn (@chelsea725) has served a ministry she helped start in the DFW Metroplex since she graduated from college. She received her undergraduate degree at Dallas Baptist University in Communication Theory. She does freelance writing, editing, and speaking for various organizations…