How Humility Helps Defuse Adversity
By C. Peter Wagner
Humility, like other Christian virtues, has not been given to us by God as a chain around our necks to make life miserable. Just the opposite is true. If we live life as God deigns it to be lived, we will be the happiest people on Earth. Humility will boost us, not burden us.
A practical example of this is how humility can help defuse the adversity that inevitably comes our way. I am excited about this chapter because it will show just how beneficial humility can be in our daily lives.
For a good part of my life I have had to deal with adversity. I am not referring to falling off a ladder, the computer crashing after a day’s work, suffering from diabetes, the car needing a new engine or the death of a family member. Those are bona fide adversities but of a different type. In this chapter, I am focusing on the kind of adversity that emerges from personal relationships. I want to concentrate on criticism from other people. I want to show how humility can help us deal with problems produced in our lives by those around us.
Not everyone experiences the same degree of adversity that is brought on by others. It depends somewhat on how each of us relates to history. There are some people who love to read history; others analyze and teach history; some write about history, and others have learned to make good use of the lessons of history. But members of another group literally make history. I suspect that you want to be part of this latter group. You want to be a history maker. You want your life to make a difference.
If that is the case, I have a warning for you. Those who make history tend to run into more adversity in their lives than those who are content with the status quo.
Think for a moment about those individuals who have their names in Church history books. They were rarely regarded as “balanced” men or women by their contemporaries. Why? Because they dared to color outside the lines. Invariably, anyone who chooses this road is criticized. Consider John Wesley, William Carey, Martin Luther and Aimee Semple McPherson. Look at the apostle Paul and Jesus Himself. Each one of them suffered adversity from those around them because they kept pulling people out of their comfort zones.
My name will not likely get into a Church history book; nonetheless I have lived my life as a risk taker. Consequently, I have received large quantities of criticism. A friend once referred to me as a “lightning rod.” If I allowed criticism to damage me emotionally, I would be a basket case by now. Instead, I have grown in discovering how to make humility a part of my lifestyle, and that helps me to develop a tough skin. That is why I want to recommend humility to you as a major self-defense against adversity.
Follow Jesus’ example. The Bible tells us to identify with Christ in His death (see Phil. 3:10). What does this mean? Before Jesus died, “He was reviled, [but] did not revile in return” (1 Pet. 2:23). Jesus was humble, and we are told to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).
Four Lifestyle Qualities
Adversity will certainly come if your life is making a difference. But before it does, there are four personal resolutions you should make that will keep you from throwing gasoline on those fires of adversity. Build these four qualities into your lifestyle so that they will always be there when the need arises. I promise that life will be better if you do.
- Do not harden your heart.
Always keep a soft heart that is ready to forgive others. Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us” (Matt. 6:12, NLT). In fact, if we ever harden our hearts and refuse to forgive others for what they have done to us, we run the risk of not having our own sins forgiven (see Matt. 6:14-15).
- Watch the nuances of your language.
Not only do we need to watch what we say, but we also need to watch how we say it. Just a twist of a word, a tone of voice, a cynical phrase or even the silent treatment can further provoke those who are inclined to be our adversaries. Every morning I pray specifically against the temptation of using a sharp tongue.
- Do not dredge up past failures.
The person you are dealing with may have made serious mistakes that you happen to know about. Do not yield to the temptation to make that person look bad and put that person on the defensive by dredging up dirt. Deal only with present issues. If God forgets about past sins, so should we.
- Never say “I told you so!”
I constantly have to keep my guard up against this one because I often see future implications related to a current action before others may see them. Actually, saying “I told you so!” boils down to a manifestation of pride. Humility says to let another praise you, and if nobody happens to think of doing that, just stand back and let someone else get credit, even though you may think you deserve it.
Think of these four qualities as a lifestyle bank account that is always in the black and that you can draw on in whatever quantity as frequently as you wish. They may not prevent adversity from coming, but they will definitely keep it from getting out of hand.
Ways to Turn Adversity into Advantage
Adversity does not have to be negative. In fact, adversity has the potential of ending up as an advantage in our lives. I have already explained how, if we have decided to follow Jesus’ desire that we humble ourselves, we will then be on the road to being exalted. That means that God will work in us, helping us to make the right choices every time that adversity comes around. There are nine key choices that are easy to make if we choose to be humble.
At this point, I want to be clear that I am not referring to drawing close to God, using our spiritual gifts or living a holy life, even though every one of these will also help when adversity comes. Rather, these nine suggestions are matters of the mind – how we think. Use them and you will find that adversity can make you a winner.
- Keep the Long-Range View
Always be sure that you know where you are aiming to come out of a given situation when it is all over. When adversity shows up, it is all too easy to allow it to dominate your life and make you think that dealing with an immediate problem is all that matters. No. Keep the details of adversity in their proper perspective: they are only a small part of the big picture. Think of a football team. The long-range view is to score enough touchdowns to win the game, but the process will inevitably involve many plays that will result in lost yardage. Losing on a given play is not losing the game!It will be a great help if you decide to major on the majors and minor on the minors. Knowing the difference between the two is part of smart workmanship. Working hard is important but not as important as working smart. Rather than invest too much in the glitches of adversity that certainly will come your way, use the limited amount of time and energy that you have at your disposal to contribute toward your long-range goals.
- Admit That Your Critics May Be Right
Do not assume. Critics are not necessarily your enemies, although at times they may turn out to be. In most cases your critics are neither all right or all wrong. Your best starting point is to assume that they have something positive to contribute that will improve your conclusions. Try to get past the surface details of the criticism and find out the deeper motivation of your critics. Knowing their hearts will help you understand many nuances of what they say, and the criticism may turn out to be not as bad as it first sounded.If we are humble, we will always be ready to change our minds, even though it may not be easy. I remember when I was trying to come up with a name for what I now call the New Apostolic Reformation. My first choice was postdenominationalism. It had taken me two years to come up with that term, and I had accumulated many solid arguments to justify it. But adversity soon came my way. Several of my friends who were denominational executive began criticizing me severely. I was trying to ignore them until on one occasion, in a small gathering of leaders, none other than Jack Hayford actually got angry at me—he told me what a terrible choice I had made. I made the mistake of arguing with him in that meeting; but later, after thinking about it, I realized that he was right. I wrote him a letter of apology and began looking for another name.
That particular adversity became an advantage, because I now am much happier with “New Apostolic Reformation” than I ever would have been with “postdenominationalism.” Thank you, critics!
- Love the Bride
I write Bride with a capital letter because I want it to refer to the Church, the Bride of Christ. To the degree that we have the mind of Christ, we will love the true Church, in all of its different forms, just as Christ loves His whole Bride.If we keep this perspective, we can move ourselves beyond numerous issues that may cause adversarial attitudes in those who feel that their form of Church represents the only legitimate Bride of Christ. I think of the several snake-handling services that I have attended. Although I would not want to join in, I still see those rather unusual churches as part of the Bride. I prefer adult baptism to infant baptism. I prefer prophecy and healing to cessationism. I prefer the openness of God to classical theism. I prefer Wesleyan holiness to Reformed sanctification. I prefer contemporary worship to traditional worship. I prefer apostolic leadership to congregational government. I could go on to list many personal preferences. But having noted all of this—so what? Those who have preferences that differ from mine are as much a part of the Bride as those who agree with me.
- Carefully Choose Your Battles
There is no good, compelling reason for you to fight every battle that comes your way. In fact, you would do well to decide ahead of time not only to choose carefully which battles you will fight but also to keep the number of battles as low as possible. You will be a much happier person if you know when to fight and when to fold.Without a long-range view, I could easily get embroiled in details, including terminology. For example, I do not particularly like some commonly-used terms such as “water baptism,” “fivefold ministry,” “Spirit-filled” or “end-time” as adjectives, or “clergy” as compared to “laity.” I could use considerable energy in defending my point of view on each one of these terms, but these are battles that I have chosen not to fight.
I am constantly faced with pressure to take a public stand on certain issues, but to tackle them all would be, at least to me, an unfruitful diversion. Such endeavors would keep me from fulfilling the assignments that God has given me in this season. For example, I have chosen not to formulate strong opinions on topics such as animal noises in the Toronto blessing, the politics of Israel, seeker-sensitive churches, details of the great tribulation, stem cell research or the National Council of Churches. By making these choices, I am not trivializing the importance of the issues or demeaning those who give time and energy to them. Neither am I necessarily agreeing with one point of view or another. I am just saying that I have other battles to fight.
The battles that I have chosen to fight would include things such as pragmatic church growth, issues of cessationism, demonization of Christians, strategic-level spiritual warfare, contemporary offices of apostle and prophet, idolatry, power ministries, women in leadership and others. Every one of the areas has made me a target of criticism and adversity, but I am willing to pay whatever price is necessary to persuade others that my conclusions on these matters are correct. I can handle these battles because I have previously eliminated many others.
- Always Think the Best of Others
Long ago I decided that when people come to me with criticism of others, I will not follow that trail unless the accusation deals with sex or money. If I feel any kind of a responsible relationship with the person who has been accused of misbehavior relating to sex or money, I will deal with it immediately and privately. If it is something else, I will give the accused person the benefit of the doubt and move ahead with other things.What about heresy? In my mind the nonnegotiables are issues attached to the authority of Scripture and the person and work of Jesus Christ. Beyond that I have a large range of tolerance for divergent points of view. I like the way Ted Haggard diagrams this in the concentric circles. The inner circle contains “absolutes,” the next circle contains “interpretations,” and the outer circle contains “deductions.” If we agree on the absolutes, let’s recognize that the interpretations and deduction of others have been formed by a combination of family, friends, church traditions, temperaments, schooling, life experiences, culture and numbers of other influences. So have ours! These are areas for thinking the best of others and humbly admitting that they may be right!
*Due to space limitations, we have included only five of the nine ways to turn adversity into advantage.
(Excerpt taken from Humilty by C. Peter Wagner, 2002. Used by permission of Regal Books, a division of Gospel Light Publishing; 1957 Eastman Ave.; Ventura, CA 93003)
C. Peter Wagner is the founding president of Global Harvest Ministries, a ministry that brings together prayer networks for the purpose of focusing prayer power on world evangelism. He is also one of the co-founders of the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs. In addition, he is chancellor of Wagner Leadership Institute. Peter and Doris Wagner were missionaries to Bolivia from 1956 to 1971, and Dr. Wagner has served as Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission since 1971. He is the author and/or editor of over 60 published books. He and his wife, Doris, have three children and eight grandchildren and make their home in Colorado Springs.
Momentum of the Spirit
By Dan Siemens
I vividly remember the first downhill ski lesson I gave to my wife, Denise, now many years ago. After giving some brief instructions about snowplowing to help her steer and stop, she, being the lovely self-assured person that she is, confidently caught the lift and up we went. Unfortunately, it was late in the year and the only open slope was of medium difficulty, not to mention very icy conditions.
Once off the lift, I turned to remind her to “plow, plow, plow” and to steer back and forth across the icy face of the slope. But before I could utter a word, Denise, sporting a sly grin that said, “No sweat,” shot off down the hill—straight down.
For a brief second, I was almost envious of her form. Feet together and taking a line that I had only previously seen attempted by the most seasoned skiers, down she gracefully went. That is, until she reached the bottom.
A line of people snaked across the bottom of the hill waiting for the ski lift saw her coming amid shouts of “Look out! Look out! I can’t stop!” The line quickly unhinged like a door to let her through. She flew past them at a rapid pace now heading toward the full parking lot just on the other side of a tall drift of packed snow about 5 feet high. For a brief second, it suddenly dawned on me that my dear wife was going to learn about downhill skiing and ski jumping all in one day.
Amazingly, she skied haphazardly up the peak of the drift, almost certain to fly over and onto the first parked car. But at that precise moment she ran out of momentum, and after teetering forward and back precariously at the top, she slid backwards down the drift and landed, unceremoniously, in a heap in the direction from whence she came.
Of course, momentum is good, even desirable, but when left undirected or improperly harnessed, it can prove fatal. The same is true with our life in the Spirit and especially in the areas of revival and renewal.
Steve Nicholson, a leader in the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, once said that even the devil can use uncontrolled spiritual momentum against us. In seasons of strong renewal and revival, Satan soon realizes that he cannot contain or stop it. So, he changes tactics. He then becomes a revival promoter and gets behind the natural momentum present and seeks to discredit the new movement by pushing it over the edge into imbalance and ultimately into deception. The ground from which the enemy often uses to ‘push’ us into uncontrolled momentum is that of the old nature within us.
This principle can be applied to any new area that the Spirit is currently restoring to the Body of Christ. These would include the apostolic movement, intercessory movement, spiritual warfare, angelic visitation, open heaven, intimacy with God, 24-hour worship, open visions, prophetic ministry, physical manifestations, etc. All of these truths being restored to the church are good and right and are to be welcomed as valuable gifts from the Lord. However, they always must endeavor to flow within the natural safety banks that can only be established within the living Body of Christ.
God takes a calculated “risk” when He releases new emphases in the Spirit. He knows that there will always be some vessels who become inadvertently caught up in the uncontrolled momentum that renewal and revival often bring. In the end they will be the ones who taint, or even tarnish, God’s good work in the eyes of the church and in the watching world. We all have this potential, though none of us wants to go there.
Those who hunger to live near the cutting edge of Spirit-initiated renewal activity must also learn how to keep in step with the cadence of the Spirit. While we certainly don’t desire to lag behind, neither should we zoom downhill, out of control, ahead of Him.
Dan Siemens, along with his wife Denise, is on the staff of Lutheran Renewal. They have since taken up cross-country skiing.
Q & A – Prophets
by Jack Deere
Q. We’re not sure if there are prophets in the biblical sense that we understand as prophets. If a prophet in the Old Testament spoke a prophetic word and it didn’t come true, you would stone that person to death as a false prophet. Can you speak to that a little bit?
A. I’m going to take a little bit different view. I used to hold that very view right there, that if a prophet misstepped or misspoke himself he got stoned and, of course, it’s based on Deuteronomy 18: 15-21. But a really careful reading of that passage doesn’t indicate that that prophet is going to be stoned, or that any prophet is going to be stoned for a misstep. Maybe it would be good just to turn there and look at this because I think what this passage is used for sometimes is to disqualify everyone from prophetic ministry. I mean, if that’s what this passage meant, it would be the only ministry, the only gift in all the Bible and all of history where you’re not allowed a single mistake. And who wants to sign up for that? Not anybody with just a modicum of sanity left would want to sign up for a ministry like that. I can’t think of any analogy where any of us could grow or progress in anything if we weren’t permitted to make a mistake.
Deuteronomy 18:15 reads, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me.” And here’s the key to the passage: He’s not speaking about an unbroken line of prophets, some of whom will just be anonymous in the school of prophets in the Old Testament. He’s not talking about every prophet that’s to come. This is a major prophecy: a prophet like me. Moses was not just someone who was prophetically gifted. Moses was a theocratic mediator; he was a figure of Christ. He stood between God and the people when the mountain was smoking that day and the people said, “We can’t approach Him. You go hear what He says and say His words to us.” And the Lord says, “That’s good; what they said is good.” So when we’re talking about a prophet like Moses, we’re talking about a theocratic mediator, the lawgiver. In secular terms, if you’re a historian, you’d say he’s the founder of Israel’s religion. At the end of Deuteronomy, when it comes time to write his obituary in Deuteronomy 34, the author of that obituary is careful to say, “There has no prophet arisen since like Moses.” It was still unfulfilled.
They’re thinking this was a prophet about someone of Moses’ stature. And that’s serious because when Miriam gets ticked off at Moses and says, “Who are you? Does the Lord only speak through you?” all of a sudden the Lord comes down and He says, “Miriam, that’s not just your little brother anymore. He is the one guy on the face of the earth I speak with face to face.” And Miriam gets leprosy. You don’t get to challenge Moses. Maybe his opinion about the ballgame or something, but you don’t get to challenge him about what God says, or the core of the earth opens up. So when he says, “a prophet like me,” he’s talking about that kind of prophet. Deut. 18: 15 goes on: “From among your own brothers, you must listen to him.” You don’t get an option. You have to listen to him.
Continuing in Deuteronomy: “For this is what you ask of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said ‘Let us not hear the voice of the Lord, our God, or see this great fire any more or we will die’. Then the Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; I will put my words in his mouth and he will tell them everything I command.’ ” We’re not talking about an anonymous prophet in the school of prophets or one of the minor prophets. We’re talking about a national leader of God’s people. Verse 19: “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I Myself will call him to account.” That’s what happened with Moses. “But a prophet who presumes to speak in My name anything I’ve not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” I don’t think in this context He’s talking about somebody making a mistake. He’s talking about someone who presumes to this office—the office of theocratic mediator. Verse 21: “You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet has spoken in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Don’t be afraid of him.” So he’s kind of giving a general rule about prophets. There is no other text in the Old Testament that says you kill a prophet when he makes a mistake. This is the only candidate for that kind of text. Secondly, there is no example in all of Old Testament history of them ever killing a prophet because he made a mistake. That shows us they didn’t understand the text that way.
Now, we do have an example of a prophet making a mistake. This is in II Samuel 7 where David says to Nathan, “I’m going to build a house for the Lord.” And what does Nathan say? “Go and do all that is in your heart for Yahweh will bless you.” So Nathan starts walking out of the house and the Lord speaks to Nathan. It’s like the Lord says, “Nathan, what did you just say? He can’t build a house. He’s got blood on his hands! You get back in there and tell him he can’t build a house.” So Nathan has to go back and say, “Oops, sorry boss. The Lord says you can’t build a house after all.” Now, he spoke in the name of the Lord and gave a wrong word. He said, “The Lord Yahweh will bless you.” So somebody says, “That was just Nathan’s advice.” Yeah, like David went to Nathan asking him for advice. That’s what you do, right? You go to prophets and ask them for their opinion. No! You go to prophets and ask them for the word of the Lord, right? And he’s speaking in the name of the Lord and telling David to do something that was totally wrong, that the Lord didn’t say. So, what happens? The Lord corrects Nathan. David does not say, “Nathan, it’s been a good ride, but sorry. You know, you’re going to have to go before the stoning squad.” He doesn’t say that. Why? Because Deuteronomy 18 was not written about a prophet who makes a mistake, especially a prophet who’s following the Lord.
Another thing that we ought to learn, or know for sure, a false prophet is not someone who makes a mistake. A false prophet, and this comes out of Jude, II Peter 2, as well as looking at Old Testament prophets: false prophets are unbelievers who use a gift, a real revelatory gift, to lead people after other gods. And in the New Testament, especially, to lead them into sexual immorality. And false prophets always deny cardinal doctrines of the faith. But they have power and they’re so winsome and charming initially at the onset that it is hard to see that denial. They’re very tricky. And that’s why the New Testament says you will discover them by discernment more than by doing a doctrinal questionnaire.
Then when you come to the New Testament, I Corinthians 14:29 says when the prophet gets up and speaks in the church, let the others judge. Let the others discern. And this is a word that doesn’t mean let the others interpret. It means, “Is this from the Lord? How much of this is from the Lord? Is this a mixture, or is this incorrect?” Now, if prophets couldn’t make a mistake, you’d never have anyone saying, “Let others judge the prophetic word.”
The last point to make about this is that in Acts 3 and Acts 7 and John 1 the classic interpretation of this passage in Deuteronomy was that “the prophet” referred to the Messiah. That’s what the Jews say when they come to John the Baptist. They say, “Are you the Prophet?” He says, “No, I’m not.” And when you come to Acts 3 and Acts 7, they all, including Peter and Steven, interpret this as referring to the Messiah. It was a prophecy of the ultimate theocratic mediator. Not a statement about how God is going to treat an unbroken line of prophets until they’re all over.