Sit down sometime and talk to someone who is involved in a ministry upon which God has poured out blessing. Whether it’s a woman who rallied a town to open a pregnancy support center, or a pastor whose church helped restore the core of an urban center, or a missionary family who has risked their lives to take the name of Jesus to unreached people, you’ll soon discover that the spiritual fruit of their ministries began with a holy ambition that gripped their hearts.
The common thread in these stories is a deep impression from the Holy Spirit on the hearts of individuals open to God’s guidance and willing to obey. As we are seeking the Lord through prayer, Bible study, and among other believers, we shouldn’t be surprised that the burdens that are on God’s heart come to rest on our hearts as well. We can see this phenomenon in Scripture. Take Nehemiah, for example: “Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode” (Neh. 2:12).
Nehemiah wept when he heard of his countrymen and the ruined state of their beloved city. He sensed the call of God to assist in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, and he believed God had put it into his heart. God didn’t write His plan in the clouds in the sky; He meshed His own passion for Jerusalem with Nehemiah’s spirit.
In the New Testament, we never see God telling Paul to go to Rome to preach the gospel. Yet, Acts 19:21 tells us that Paul “resolved in the spirit” to go to Rome. Apparently, Paul had a yearning to go to Rome that he perceived to be the impulse of the Spirit. Paul called it his “ambition” (Rom. 15:20). Later, God directly affirms it through a vision (Acts 23:11), but it seems to have begun as a yearning in Paul. Paul redirected his whole life around it, calling it his life’s “race” (Acts 20:24, NIV).
Provocations in our own spirit are often provocations from God’s Spirit. Because our spirit has been united to God’s, unscrambling where ours stops and His begins can be difficult, if not impossible! When we let the Holy Spirit have His way in us, our emotions become melded to His.
We must not let what we feel in our spirit trump what Scripture says or the counsel we receive from other believers. We can easily mistake our own ambition for the leadership of the Spirit. But we should still be open to the Spirit’s leadership in giving us a “holy discontent” about something, and His pointing to ways we can be involved in bringing about change.
Excerpted from Jesus, Continued © 2015 J.D. Greear. Published by Lifeway Press®. Used by permission.
J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). Two main things characterize The Summit Church: its gospel focus and sending culture. J.D. has also led The Summit to further the kingdom of God by pursuing a bold vision to plant one thousand new churches by the year 2050. In the last ten years, the church has sent out more than 300 people to serve on church planting teams, both domestically and internationally. J.D. completed his Ph.D. in Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is also a faculty member, writing on the correlations between early church presentations of the gospel and Islamic theology. Having lived serving among Muslims, he has a burden to see them, as well as every nation on earth, come to know and love the salvation of God in Christ. He and his beautiful wife Veronica live in Raleigh, NC, and are raising four ridiculously cute kids: Kharis, Alethia, Ryah, and Adon.