A Prayer for a New Course

Everything we do as human beings can yield to the forces of mere transactional interactions. In the case of ministry, we can shepherd—pray, study, preach, counsel, administer the sacraments—without the slightest regard for the Christ-ordained model of incarnation. In such instances, people become commodities. Ministry becomes transactional. The power and “I and Thou” is lost in the more pragmatic concerns for the transaction. The response to this wild beast, “Transaction,” is to resist with prayer. In transactional ministry, the carnivorous creature is fed by the spiritless strands of flesh that are skinned from the human soul. Pray, and seek the good of others before God, and the transactional metamorphosis is aborted. Moreover, human beings within the vortex of some thoughtless transaction are not only protected against dehumanization but are strengthened in spirit and, thus, in body and soul.

In teaching and preaching, we who bear the imprint of ordination hands upon our heads fail to truly teach or minister God’s Word by transaction without reflection and prayer. Since it is our responsibility to encourage and build up the lives of others, we must not only become aware of this sinful propensity. We must be proactive in cultivating a ministry that:

  • Acknowledges the intrinsic value and worth of all people as those who bear God’s image;
  • Recognizes the marred face of the divine in fallen humankind and the redemption offered to all in Jesus Christ;
  • Ministers—preach, teach, conduct worship, counsel, supervise, and administer—with the mind of Christ.

How so? Consider the discourse of the rich young man with Jesus. The young man desired a transaction: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17)? The young recited a litany of reasons related to his accomplishments in keeping the Law. That was the half-opened door to the worst of all transactions. “Do this and do that, and we are cool, right?” Not at all. Jesus responds with a fully human sequence: He looked at him, loved him, and spoke to him.

Mark 10:21-22, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Note that divine love preceded rejection. Speaking to Him, Jesus employed a method of pastoral care that transcended a potentially transactional moment. He offered the young man freedom he could never imagine. However, the terms of the offer were altogether spiritual.

Jesus did not dismiss the man’s attempted piety. He exposed the man’s undeniable pretense. There was a manipulative, sociopathic mind of sin and self-interest: I do this. You must, therefore, do that. Behind the mask of proud respectability lay the insecure nakedness of fear. “I want eternal life. I am willing to trade for it. I am unwilling to open my life to a loss of control, even if my submission is to the Lord Jesus.”

Mark 10:21, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

He offered Jesus a transactional relationship. Jesus refused and offered the young man a life of freedom. The young man could not get past the deal. He went away sad.

We cannot approach GOD with “deals.” We must not come to Him with transactional terms. We will always go away sad.

Jesus enacted a covenant of grace that was entirely personal, sacrificial, and arising from love. To enter this covenant of grace, we must come likewise. To teach the Gospel to others requires a similar heart that crosses the no-man’s land of mere transaction to arrive at a new way of relating: a gift.

So, look, love, and, then, speak. Others will more likely hear you and the Spirit reveal to them the preeminence of grace over transaction.

For this teaching in Scripture, I am dedicated to prayer for our students. The gift of intercession is more powerful in context than the transmission of data.

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