The Closed Door
Gateway to Spiritual Fullness
The Honing of a Messenger
There is something very intriguing about words; when thoughtfully
strung together, they convey meaningful messages. They are a means
of transmitting ideas, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and a host of things
that the human mind is capable of conjuring.
In I Cor. 14, Paul charges us to build each other up by prophesying, but
prophesying is not about foretelling of future events or articulating
biblically sound teachings as much as speaking forth words that have
been impregnated with Christ. Lance Lambert once observed, “Two
people can play the same piano: one plays, his talent comes out; the
other one plays and Christ comes out.” The difference underlines the
important work of the cross, for it is the experience of the cross that
increases the stature of Christ in us. The former piano player plays by
the best of his natural ability, the latter learned to let go of his natural
ability having yielded to the work of the cross thus allows Christ to
“come out” instead of his talent.
It’s the same with speaking. One person speaks, his skills and
knowledge hold a captive audience. The other one who has been dealt
with by the cross speaks, and Christ is amplified.
Many of today’s preachers minister by their giftedness and eloquence
far more than by the Christ that has been formed within them.
Eloquent preachers can put together words that convey wonderful
truths, convict the vilest sinners, and construct impressionable
believers, yet there may still be a deficiency of Christ.
Paul tells the Corinthian believers, “I did not come among you with
superiority of speech or of wisdom…I was with you in weakness and in
fear and in much trembling” (I Cor. 2:1-3). Without a doubt, Paul did
not use his natural ability to serve God. His power came from fully
thrusting himself upon God, and I dare say that this is a fact not many
preachers can claim these days.
What we have today on the one hand are preachers who hone their
craft through clever manipulation of words coupled with zeal and
knowledge. On the other hand we have passive Christians who delight
in being entertained by gifted ministers. The outcome is a culture that
shaped the clergy-laity structure of Christian churches.
It is now unimaginable to have a church without a pastor or a full-time
worker to lead the flock. It is equally inconceivable to have a pastor
without a flock in tow.
One thing that escapes attention, to the detriment of the church, is
the condition of the inner constitution of the ministers. By that I mean
our ministry should always be the outcome of the Christ that has been
wrought deep with in. Deeper constitution, greater ministry; little
constitution, shallow ministry. Real ministry has everything to do with
this inner constitution and little to do with outward equipping, training
A brother in Christ once commented that we should never prepare to
give a Sunday message, rather we should let the message prepare us.
The difference between the two cannot be more profound. To prepare
for a Sunday message, all one needs is some religious zeal, biblical
knowledge, and eloquence. To allow the message to prepare us, one
must learn to die to his religious zeal, yield to the chastening of the
Holy Spirit, and allow the Lord to reconstitute us by forging the Lamb’s
character in us. And over the course of time, something interesting
takes place: a true minister of the Lord emerges without even craving
to be a minister anymore. The Christ that is being formed within him
starts to convey messages without effort, sometimes without the aid
of words or sound – it is the formation of a testimony that cannot be
taught or acquired. It is not dependent upon eloquence or biblical
knowledge. It is not even dependent upon words – whether he says
anything or not, the true testimony of Jesus transmits Christ to
Once a vessel has been properly prepared by the hand of the loving
Father, He will see to it to fill it with His Beloved Son. With each
degree of filling comes further emptying by the Holy Spirit so as to
enlarge the vessel for additional filling. Make no mistake, this is not a
cakewalk. It is a process that involves the cross. Yet at the same
time, the cross is not gloom and doom as some teachers make it out
to be. The cross is the Master’s tool to hone and make better His
messengers. It is not a tool to be dreaded, rather to be welcomed.
The altar of the Old Testament usually symbolizes the cross of the
New Testament. In fact, there are many references where the altar
and the house of God are mentioned together. The remnants who
returned from the Babylonian captivity had one thing on their mind –
the rebuilding of the house of God in Jerusalem. An interesting thing
was recorded in Ezra chapter 3. The returned remnants were ready to
rebuild the house of God, but the first thing they built was the altar!
There is a reason that the altar of the Old Testament stands in front of
the house of God, and the two are frequently mentioned together. All
the students of the Bible agree that the house of God in the Old
Testament symbolizes the church of the New Testament. From
typology, it is not difficult to conclude that the way to enter into the
reality of the church life is through the cross. There is simply no
shortcut or back door entrance. I have a one word exhortation for
believers encountering some who claim to have a secret way for
entering the church life experience other than through the cross: RUN –
in the opposite direction!
Many ministers preach a cross that strikes fear in the listener’s heart.
It shall not be so because the cross is not a composition of words to
be preached from a pulpit. A true minister must allow the cross to
travail in him first. Then the Christ that is birthed within becomes the
message that transmits life to the hearers. Paul said it best, “Death
works in us, but life in you” (II Cor. 4:12). It is the operation of the
cross that imparts life, not sermons on cross.
A man’s words should be a spontaneous outflow of his inner core – an
unadorned expression of what he has become through the Lord’s
meticulous dealings in his life.
This leads to a broader consideration: Since the honing of a messenger
involves the afore-mentioned process of the cross, does it necessarily
exempt the mass of Christians who claim no calling for service? Are
they meant to settle for their so-called role of laity?
I was sent a link to Steve Saint’s web site the other day. Steve is the
son of Nate Saint, one of five missionaries (led by Jim Elliott) who
attempted to befriend the Waodoni tribe in the Ecuadorian jungles in
1956. It was well documented through historical accounts, books and
movies how they perished in the hands of the savages. But the Lord
moved some of the spouses and relatives of the missionaries to go
back to live with the Waodoni tribesmen, and they eventually gained
the whole tribe for Christ.
What these women went through was nothing short of experiencing the
travail of the cross, and through it they became a fragrant aroma of
Christ. Just imagine the incredible struggle these women must have
experienced when they sensed the Lord’s will to send them back to the
primitive jungle natives who murdered their husbands!
It was their experiencing the depths of the cross that produced Christ
in them that made them living messages. It was this living testimony
of Jesus that flowed out of their inner cores that won over the savage
A few years later, young Steve Saint was also invited to live with the
Waodonis, and he later became involved with the missionary work
himself. Here’s an excerpt from the web site:
“Saint wrote about his life with the Waodani in the book ‘The End of
The Spear’ which was also made into a motion picture.
The Maverick is produced by Saint's Indigenous People's Technology
and Education Center, or I-TEC, which focuses on enabling indigenous
churches to overcome the technological and educational hurdles that
stand in the way of independent ministry.
‘One of the great barriers that has prevented indigenous churches from
growing to maturity is their continuing dependence on the welfare of
outsiders,’ the organization states on its website. ‘A native church that
relies on the leadership, technology and financial support of foreign
missionaries rarely can stand on its own when that support is
withdrawn. We are convinced from the Scriptures, however, that the
goal of the Great Commission is to establish churches that are self-
supporting, self-governing and self-propagating.’”
It’s quite sobering to me to think that the “native church” that relied
on the leadership, technology and financial support of the foreign
missionaries can rarely stand on its own…. Isn’t it exactly the same
way with the passive Christians in today’s churches who rely on the
pastor’s leadership and spoon-feeding of Sunday sermons? No wonder
Christians remain spiritual infants even after decades of spoon-feeding
on predigested revelations and insights from the Word!
When will Christians wake up to pursue and experience Christ and mine
the riches of Christ for themselves? And when will church leaders learn
to forgo of their positions, titles and pulpits to become simple
With all due respect, there are some prophets who exemplify the life of
Christ, and their preaching does match their inner cores. I for one,
hold them in profound respect and have benefited greatly from their
Shortly after Mary’s illness and surgery, we adjusted our lifestyle by
not going out for several months in order to protect her weakened
immune system from possible infections. Needless to say, we missed
the saints in our fellowship and wondered how they fared in the Lord.
One day, Mark and Kim dropped by for a visit. They eagerly listened to
what we shared about Mary’s treatments. Then it was our turn to soak
up everything they shared about the wellbeing of the saints and the
gatherings. With great excitement, Mark assured me that the saints
were doing well, and that the gatherings were going on wonderfully
with the Lord’s presence and His speaking in the fellowship. “It’s like
we didn’t even miss you,” he added.
At that very moment, I was filled with ecstasy and exclaimed, “Praise
the Lord, praise the Lord!” In fact, I remember being a bit surprised by
my own reaction of such rapturous joy. Normally, like any sane person,
when told about not being missed in a Christian gathering would feel
like a dagger through the heart. How would anyone like to be told,
“Brother, your absence made no difference in the gatherings”?
I could just hear the sneers from some former associates, “Poor thing,
he’s not even missed by his own group….”
But I remember the Lord lifting His countenance upon me that day,
“Son, you did well. You are nothing because I am everything. You are
not the head because I am the Head of My church.” It was one of the
most memorable days of my life because it was confirmed to me that
simple believers gathering under the headship of Christ need not worry
whether they will make it without a leader. No one could convince me
otherwise because a fellowship which is truly under the headship of
Christ is birthed through travails and honed through the cross where
Christ, not the church, remains her single focus and only Leader.
Graciously, Mark did add, “Of course we missed you! But you
understand what I am getting at, right?” I assured him that I did.
Indeed, when the headship of Christ is honored and upheld not in
words but in reality, the Lord is well able to lead and guide His church.
The trouble with today’s churches is the leaders preach the headship of
Christ, but give no predisposition about actually yielding the headship
to Him. If they did, there wouldn’t be any more platformic pulpit
ministries, nor would there be offices and positions – all will be just
brothers and sisters in the Lord, period.
But I don’t foresee this happening any time soon. Why? Because
although many remnants have returned from Babylon with a single
intent to rebuild the church after the New Testament pattern, very few
have erected an altar. And although some do preach the cross, it is
only used as a pretense to further their private agenda. Where the
altar’s fire has not consumed and produced fragrant aroma, there is no
reality of the cross in operation - and no chance of entering into
authentic church life experience.
Although Steve Saint got it right about the problem of the missionary-
led and supported indigenous church, his idea for cure, namely, “self-
support, self-govern, and self propagate” is merely human-contrived
solution that bears no resemblance to the divine thought.
In the same way, we must say that the myriad of solutions offered
today for the cure of traditional and institutional church also missed
Getting rid of the pulpit is not the solution to the clergy-laity
syndrome. Likewise house church is not the answer to the problems of
the institutional church. Christ, and only Christ, is the answer.
It’s a simple answer because every Christian agrees with it and claims
to have it. But it’s by no means an easy answer because not many
Christians are willing to allow the cross to hone and conform them to
Christ. Once they (we) learned to fully embrace Christ, pulpits and
institutions will spontaneously fade away. Neither will “self-support,”
“self-govern”, and “self-propagate” be an issue any more; Christ will
have gained His headship in all things. His church will simply be Christ-
supported, Christ-governed, and Christ-propagated.