The School of the Spirit
A New Life of Spirit Led Ministry to Others
There are lessons of the Lord which can be described in a classroom, but can only be imparted by the Spirit in the school of daily life. Being trained for ministry includes character development and spiritual growth, so expect on the job training to continue no matter what you are doing. That means leaning to survive trials and eventually thrive in the midst of them. Fortunately for all of us, our Teacher is also our Comforter and Best Friend!
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." John 15:1-2 ESV
Without a doubt the Holy Spirit is the best Teacher on earth. Nothing escapes His attention. He is always working to help us do our best and be our best. If you have ever watched the Olympics, then you have probably seen athletes huddle up with their coaches after events. Even if they did spectacularly well, the coach will whisper words to them about how to improve for the next set. Similarly, the Holy Spirit will frequently bring to your mind ways in which you can improve your game as a servant of others. He has a lot to teach us!
Fortunately, the Lord is pleased with any step we take in the right direction and He never reproaches us for missteps, but He loves us too much to let us get the big head. Helping others leaves us open to temptation by pride because, after all, our good works are on public display. Naturally we want to do well—and He desires that for us too—but there is a hidden danger in success: taking credit to ourselves, or thinking that we have arrived at a pinnacle of achievement. So, expect it that your greatest encourager is also your most devoted critic.
Not only is the Lord keenly interested in cultivating our abilities, He also wants to preserve our humility, so that we will remain teachable. If we are open to it, we are now learners for life in the great, never-ending School of the Spirit. This can keep everything that we do fresh and exciting for we who enroll in this course of instruction are always seeking to grow better at loving people and more effective at serving them. It can also open doors (if you let it) for the enemy to harass or oppress you with self-condemning thoughts. Learning to separate out conviction by the Spirit from condemnation by the enemy is part of the on the job training we need.
Nine Necessary Lessons
This list is not all-inclusive. It’s simply an overview of certain basic lessons that the Lord will likely be working on with you as you work with Him.
Just as batteries don’t last long without a re-charge, none of us can stay “in the Spirit” and advance the kingdom without staying closely connected to the One who desires to work through us. Jesus has given us five main ways of connecting to Him. Service is one of those ways, but staying refreshed and ready for anything means that we will need to learn how to keep the other four in good working condition: Bible, prayer, worship and fellowship. You will learn, if you are open to the lessons, that no matter how much you have to do for the Lord, the most important thing is staying well-connected to Him. It's our #1 assignment.
Just because we are stepping out of our complacency or our comfort zones to do something noble for the Lord, doesn’t mean critics, naysayers and busybodies will leave us alone. If they bother you, don’t waste time trying to change them (or worse, becoming a complainer yourself). You could sooner bail out the ocean than change the sea of humanity around you. Let the barrage of negativity from others (when it happens) turn you away from seeking to please people and re-focus on Jesus and how He sees you. Are you here to please others or God? Criticism can help you see things about yourself you need to work on, even if the only thing that needs changing is your reaction to it.
Entering into the Lord’s work usually means discovering how little we have to bring to the table, like the disciples must have felt when asked by Jesus to feed the multitude. Seen from the outside we almost never seem to have enough: more money is needed for the work, or more resources, or more people. Seen from the inside, we can’t help but notice our weaknesses and inadequacies. This is likely an uncomfortable position for many of us in the beginning, but it is teaching the life-long lesson of depending upon the Lord to be our faithful Source and supply.
We may be perfectly willing to say with Jesus, “Behold, I come to do your will” and yet not have a clue how to place ourselves under His leadership. If we are willing to begin at the lowest level, serving the Lord’s will is easy: just place yourself under the leaders He has already placed over the work. Eventually, though, you will start seeing needs that you would like to reach out to directly. This naturally causes us to pray and seek the Lord for guidance. Learn to watch for the opportunities His Hands provide and listen for the ideas He brings you. Guidance is an art best learned on the job, not in the arm chair. See Walking in the Spirit for more on this essential lesson.
No one likes waiting these days. There is so much hurry up and impatience all around. Yet, waiting on God is a huge theme in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. Waiting is akin to hope and is infused with faith that the things we had to commit to the Lord (because they aren’t happening now!) will come in due time, if we persevere while we are waiting. Christian ministry teaches us to be patient a) because without patience we will inevitably become unkind and that will never do, and b) so many things have to be prayed for in order for the Lord to bring them about. There's no point in holding your breath or drumming your fingers when what needs doing requires the Spirit’s wooing in someone else's life. God’s timing cannot be forced, especially since His priority is working on hearts. As you learn to wait, be sure to learn how to “enter into His rest” and “possess your soul” with patience.
Don’t we love leading with our strengths? Don’t we wish we didn’t have any weaknesses getting in the way? Strengths are a joy. We can get things done with them! Weaknesses are a bother all the way around. Nevertheless, the call of the Lord brings us face to face with our weakness, time and time again. Why? Wouldn’t we be better off without them? In fact we would do well to learn to see weaknesses as friends in disguise, not enemies to be feared. Our weaknesses lead us to Christ, reminding us to pray, to cast our hope on Him, and to cling to Him. Strengths usually throw us back into total reliance upon ourselves. Weaknesses teach us the high and holy way of dependence upon the Lord.
Jesus said He needed to be about His Father’s “business.” He never said He needed to be busy. Busyness is a modern plague. For those who have caught the bad infection it feels good—most of the time. It really feels like one is making progress at getting things done. But what happened to the peace of Christ? What happened to the leadership of the Holy Spirit? What about the people who were steam-rolled as you pressed your agenda forward? The one who has learned the ways of the Lord gets more done with less effort, because the Holy Spirit is supplying strength and synchronizing events. Busyness is like an overfilled cup of coffee, sure to scorch someone when it’s spilled, most frequently the holder. Let the Lord teach you when enough is enough.
There is only room for One Rescuer on the team. That position is already filled! Jesus cares for each individual we are trying to serve infinitely more than we ever will, but He has His own way of working with them and His own timing about it. We can easily get in His way if we seize things to ourselves, trying to fix people in our own strength. Learn to let your hand rest lightly on your plans and your desires. God often rules by over-ruling us. This is frustrating, but necessary. He knows what He’s doing; we don’t. At the same time the enemy loves to obstruct and oppose the work. When do we submit to God; when do we resist the devil? This calls for real discernment. Patient perseverance usually wins the day, though the victory may come days later than you originally expected.
We are to “submit to one another” keeping the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Here is where the rubber of gospel truth meets the hard road of daily life. There are so many bumps in the road when it comes to working with others! Yet, the most important thing about the work is the relationships: with the people being served, with fellow workers and with our leaders in the field. The Holy Spirit is watching carefully over all of this. Of course He hates it when we are mistreated, abused or oppressed, but neither is there any place in Christian ministry for us to adopt an attitude of self-pity, wounded pride, or resentment. Learn to be far less concerned about how you are treated, than how you treat others.
Tests and Trials
There is a difference between tests and trials. Without drawing too fine a distinction, let’s just say that tests represent the kinds of situations we face most days. Seeking to be of service will test us in the various ways listed above, among others. Be ready for “pop quizzes.” Life hands them out all the time! Staying connected to the Lord and talking things over with experienced friends takes care of most things. You will find yourself learning all kinds of lessons through the ordinary cycle of trouble and resolution. These are usually felt as minor disturbances in the flow of work and as fairly normal emotional reactions. Above it all we usually have a sense of passing the tests and growing in faith and grace.
Trials, however, are more difficult and disturbing. We usually have a feeling of being caught in them, of regressing to previous levels of weakness, and of being too piercingly aware of our moral shortcomings. We don’t feel like we are passing at all. In fact it is the Lord who “passes” the test of any trial worthy of being called a trial. He proves His strength of heart to us: His faithfulness and His mercy triumph over our dilemma and lead us out. This takes time. If (or when) you get caught in a trial, try to remember that He only disciplines in love. Once you recover your trust and confidence in God—at a new level---the trial has done its work.
Relax, He Loves You!
Neither tests, nor trials, are a sign of His displeasure. He is genuinely pleased that you are seeking to serve Him. He loves you and He is really, really easy to please. Trials and tests are His “strange” way of working with us to liberate us in areas of our life where words alone could never have accomplished the work. He takes us through experiences that we might have shunned before we decided to follow Him, or overlooked by primarily being focused on ourselves, rather than the needs of others. He is delighted to have us on his team. He wishes to reward us for our service with greater freedom and with a closer walk with Him. Therefore, He disciplines or trains us through tests and trials. It is actually a profound sign of His favor, though a hard one (at times) to interpret.
My child, don't reject the Lord's discipline, and don't be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT
More to Explore
Talents, Fruit and Gifts The Lord gives talents and natural abilities to everyone as a way of getting us started in life. You don’t have to be a believer to be a receiver of these—just develop what you notice. As believers, though, it helps to know the limits of these natural abilities in the spiritual life. Wiser still would be to shift our attention towards cultivating those gifts and fruit which are unique to we now are in Christ as His new creations.
Doing Ministry There’s nothing like doing the thing, especially when what we are doing is something we can be sure that Jesus is doing right along with us! The real Minister, the true Servant, is there on the inside wanting to get out into that hurting, lost world through us His chosen vessels. The secret to kingdom success is letting Him do ministry through you. It is also the secret to never becoming burned out.
Scriptures on Training
My son, do not despise or shrink from the chastening of the Lord [His correction by punishment or by subjection to suffering or trial]; neither be weary of or impatient about or loathe or abhor His reproof, [Psalms 94:12; Hebrews 12:5,6; Revelation 3:19.] For whom the Lord loves He corrects, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:11-12 AMP
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:14 ESV
Scriptures and Foot Notes
 Holy Spirit’s task is to lead us into nothing less than all truth: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." John 16:12-13 ESV; Much of what He has to teach us is beyond our unaided ability to understand: For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9 ESV
 In saying the Lord is “our most devoted critic” I am NOT saying that He is critical of us, or faults us, or blames us, or condemns us. Only that He does have a steady and at times disturbing way of pointing out what we are doing wrong.
 All condemnation comes from the enemy, also known as the “Accuser”: And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. Revelation 12:10 ESV
 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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. John 15:4-5 ESV
 The writer of Hebrews is quoting Psalms, but describing Jesus: Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.' Hebrews 10:7 ESV
 Just one tantalizing example: But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 ESV
 Weaknesses are not sins. Being easily tired is a weakness. Having a debilitating injury is a weakness. God can easily work around these. Even weakness in the face of temptation is not a sin, giving in to the temptation is sin.
 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? Luke 2:49 KJV
 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
 "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:22 ESV
 We do not have the power to redeem anyone’s life, not even our own: Those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. Psalm 49:6-9 ESV
 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." James 4:13-15 ESV
 Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21 ESV; I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV
 Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:2-5 ESV
 Peter calls them “fiery” trials. What makes a trial fiery may be the actual suffering in it, or the fear it arouses in us that we may lose our salvation (and “burn”) because of it—something that will never happen if we persevere through the trial: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 ESV
 It is a “strange” work, because it makes it seem that God is upset with us and because the One who is saving us, is actually allowing pain to come into our lives—just the opposite of what we would expect: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 ESV