Saturday, 26 December 2009


Advancement! What a great word this is. Synonyms for it abound. Words like progress, improvement, furtherance, gain, promotion and headway. I’ve never liked the word retreat; especially when it comes to Christian leaders taking time out for a “retreat”. Why not call it an advance. After all, if we are taking time for God, to seek Him and hear from Him – like Jesus did, isn’t that the beginning of all progress and advancement?

The Christian life is about progress; it’s about growing and learning; it’s about inner transformation, thinking differently and therefore living differently. Jesus could challenge people to follow Him because He was going somewhere – He was advancing. Out of His personal advancement came the opportunity to advance God’s Kingdom. This is ultimately why we are here. To push back satan’s kingdom by advancing God’s Kingdom.

The whole of history is in a sense the story of how God has been advancing His purposes. He looks for those who are willing to take a step forward; a step into the unknown, into uncertainty, into territory that is unfamiliar to most, so that His Kingdom can come on earth.

Joshua understood advancement. It meant fighting. Being given the inheritance wasn’t enough; enemies had to be driven out, land had to be taken. And each step of faith caused them to inherit more of what was already theirs. It took time. It often meant being open to divine strategy, like in the taking of Jericho. It meant moving forward, even when they made a covenant with the Gibeionites against God’s express command. They refused to be held back by guilt and self-condemnation. It meant dealing with sin, like that of Achan, so they could advance.

The American President Harry S Truman once said, “Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

The book of Judges is testament to this truth. Israel found herself on a cycle of rebellion and apostasy that lead to some form of oppression or enslavement. Sometimes this lasted for a few years, like the seven year oppression of the Midianites during Gideon's day, Judges 6.1. Often it extended to forty year bondage, like that of the Philistines during Sampson’s time, Judges 13.1. What is crucial to see is that God raised up Judges – deliverers to save the people of God. They led them back to Him and freed them from the oppression of their enemies. Under these judges they advanced. Without them, Israel quickly fell back into their old idolatrous habits that led back to bondage and oppression

Paul was passionate about advancement. He longed for the church to mature and grow up into Christ, Eph 4.12-16. at a personal level he too said 'I press toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’, Phil 3.14. Earlier in the same letter he specifically addressed the issue. Things had not gone well for Paul. He had been arrested and the letter to the Philippian church is one of those prison letters. Yet it is full of hope and joyful rejoicing. Here is how Paul began to see his situation:

But I want you to know brethren, that the things which have happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard and to all the rest that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are more bold to speak the word without fear, Phil 1.12-14.

Here was a situation that looked bad; Paul in prison. No more preaching, no more evangelising, no more church planting. Not by him anyway. But the gospel still advanced because other people became inspired to overcome their fear through Paul’s attitude. And he rejoiced. He would gladly pay that price of sacrificing personal freedom if it meant the advancing of God’s Kingdom and people coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

Not only that, Paul does not allow himself to be discouraged but gets on with writing letters to encourage churches like that at Philippi and young leaders like Timothy and Titus. And we have that legacy today preserved as scripture – a significant part of our New Testament. Time and distance from his first arrest had given Paul a new take on his circumstances. Now he could rejoice. God knows what He is doing. There is no need to be discouraged even by what may appear as a setback. That might be God’s way of advancing you. Who knows?

Joseph discovered this. God used all of the rejection and injustice in his life to form a character that could handle the advancement He had prepared for Joseph. And when it came, he was ready. He did not allow himself to become bitter or resentful but put his hope in God – and God was faithful. Perhaps you are facing what looks like a setback; a hindrance to your progress, as you see it. But maybe God sees it differently. Perhaps this is God’s way of preparing you for advancement. Perhaps this is a test of faith that requires you to stay the course. Hold on. Stand firm.

Later in life Paul wrote to Timothy. He gives him some helpful instruction on pursuing success in ministry. 1Tim 4.12-16. He deals with self concept – let no man despise your youth. He deals with his relationship with other believers – be an example. He deals with his focus in ministry – give attention to reading to exhortation to teaching and finally he deals with his call, remembering when and how it was activated in his life – do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. To crown it all he says: Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all, 1Tim 4.15.

This word progress is the same Greek word he used earlier in Philippians for furtherance or advancement. Paul wants the whole church to see Timothy’s progress. As he advances it will inspire the church to do the same. But notice that it will require all his energy – ‘give yourself entirely to them’. It is not outside his reach, everything he needs for success has been deposited within him, but he must stir it up, he must activate it, 2Tim 1.6.

What have you received from God that needs to be re-activated, stirred up so that you can advance? What do you need to give yourself ‘entirely’ to at this season in your life? What readjustment in perspective has to be made so that you can be joyful about where you are in life? What are meditating on that is allowing you to progress? And is your progress evident to all?

The American actor, lawyer and writer Ben Stein once said, “Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows”. I agree. Timothy advanced because a man like Paul saw his potential and made room for him. Jesus did the same with the twelve. Churches advance under good leadership. Nations are blessed under the influence of Godly men – even when they have ungodly kings. Think of Daniel’s influence in Babylon and Esther’s influence in Persia. They were secondary figures in power, but major players in influence. And that’s what really counts.

If you want to progress in life, in ministry, in relationships then become intentional about whom you allow to be influencing you. Paul said, ‘meditate on these things, give yourself entirely to them’. Don’t give in to the aggressive influence of our modern culture through the relentless messages of the media. Be discerning. Fill your mind with something that will help you advance. And as you do others will see your progress and be inspired to live life loud.

David advanced through the friendship and encouragement of Jonathan. In time he took a group of men who were described as ‘in debt, discouraged or discontented’ and led many of them to become mighty men; great warriors who performed unusual acts of bravery. They were transformed by following a transformational leader. God is faithful to give us people who can help us advance. In time, we too become those who influence others to advance and so God’s Kingdom expands and moves forward. Let's be all we can, so that God can do all He can - through us. That's advancement.