By Frank Michael McCormack
NEW ORLEANS — David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., and an alumnus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, led a seminar for current students at his alma mater May 1 that examined the spiritual life of the minister.
Platt offered six characteristics of leaders in the kingdom of God, gleaned from the story of Elijah from 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2. The afternoon seminar, which followed Platt preaching in New Orleans Seminary’s morning chapel service, was held in the school’s Martin Chapel with a capacity crowd in attendance.
Platt broached the subject of personal holiness with a frank admission.
“I know myself really well, and I know I’m not certainly always a model of strength in this issue we’re about to talk about,” Platt said. “So I’m just sharing this as one fellow struggler in the battle alongside you.”
At the same time, he underscored the importance of personal holiness for leaders in the church, quoting Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who said, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”
Leaders find strength in God’s presence
Platt said, first of all, that ministry leaders find strength “in the solitude of God’s presence.” In 1 Kings 17, with so much turmoil in the nation of Israel demanding Elijah’s attention, God tells him to “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.”
“I think this is cluing us in to a reality that we need not forget: The most important part of our lives and our ministries is the part no one else sees,” Platt said.
Platt then shared with the group an acrostic his church uses to guide daily praying – P.R.A.Y.
P stands for praising God. Platt said he keeps a computer nearby during his quiet time. As he prays, he types out his thoughts and prayers. He will often listen to music, which he said helps guide his thoughts and shapes his praise. He said he also will pray through scripture, like Psalm 63, which reads in part, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
R is for repentance. Platt urged those present to be specific in their confessing and repenting and encouraged them to write them down.
“Repentance leads to rest in Christ,” he said.
A stands for asking.
“Ask for God’s glory. Ask for God’s gifts. Ask God for his grace, forgiveness of sins. Ask God for his guidance,” Platt said.
Platt said he seeks to balance planned and spontaneous petitions in his prayer life. Platt said he schedules topics of prayer for his family, his church and himself because there are specific issues he wants to make a subject of regular prayer. He also visits OperationWorld.org each day, which offers a prayer guide for a different country in the world each day.
“I think it’s wise to be intentional about intercession,” he said. “There is a stewardship in prayer that’s involved in my kids’ lives.”
Y, finally, stands for yielding — yielding to God’s plan and purpose.
Platt added that people should not forget to pair praying with fasting. Platt described what fasting communicates in the life of Christ followers.
“More than I want food, I want God. More than I need lunch, I need his Word, I need his power. More than I want my hunger to cease, I want his kingdom to come,” Platt said.
Leaders are abandoned to the word of God
Secondly, Platt said the will of ministry leaders is “completely abandoned to the Word of God.” He read through portions of 1 Kings 17 and 18, emphasizing every time “word” is used in reference to the word of God.
“It’s the word of God that’s guiding, directing, leading everything that Elijah is doing,” Platt said. “So just a simple reminder: This word is all we’ve got when it comes to leading the church.”
Platt urged the ministry students in attendance to be sure to have a daily patter of reading the Bible. Once again, he offered an acrostic — R.E.A.P. — that his church uses to guide scripture reading. Read, Examine (asking deeper questions about a text), Apply (extract principles from the text and apply them in the present), Pray.
Platt specifically mentioned scripture memorization as an element of personal Bible study. He said a common reason people give for not memorizing scripture is difficulty committing things to memory.
“I think about that Frozen soundtrack,” Platt said, evoking a roar of laughs. “People can memorize in our culture just fine.”
Focusing on God’s glory and grace
Third, leaders “take risks for God’s great glory.” Platt pointed to both the scene in 1 Kings 18 where Elijah opposes the prophets of Baal and the battle of Jericho in Joshua 6. Both events unfolded in such a way that only God could receive glory.
“When the people of Israel take the city of Jericho in Joshua 6, what you don’t see is all the Israelites going up to the trumpet players and telling them what an incredible job they did. ‘Ralph, I never heard you play that well. Harry, you hit the high C and it was awesome,’” Platt said. “No, you see people on their faces saying ‘Only God could’ve done this.’”
Fourth, though leaders in ministry face fierce spiritual battles, God’s grace is always greater. In 1 Kings 19, following the defeat of the prophets of Baal, Jezebel vows to have Elijah killed. In fear and discouragement, Elijah runs for his life. How, after such a great victory, could Elijah so quickly be so discouraged? Again, Platt offered a personal testimony.
“Some of the greatest victories I’ve experienced in ministry have often been followed right on their heals with some of my greatest struggles in ministry. There’s something about ministry in the kingdom that you can go from high to low just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.
Elijah had his own vision and expectations of revival for the nation of Israel, Platt said. Elijah fleeing to the wilderness and experiencing God’s provision there, Platt said, was him “learning to treasure God over and above his plans to glorify God.”
“Will you and I be satisfied in simply knowing God and doing what he has told us to do?” Platt asked.
Leaving a legacy, knowing where home is
Platt fast-forwarded to 2 Kings 2 for the fifth characteristic of the ministry leader’s spiritual life: leaving a legacy for God’s glory among people they will never meet in this life. As Elijah’s earthly departure approaches, he spends time visiting other spiritual leaders of the day who will remain after he’s gone.
“This is the essence of what disciple making is all about, right? The fruit of your life of ministry doesn’t stop with those who are right around you,” he said.
Likewise, the last characteristic — knowing this world is not their home — parallels the 2 Kings 2 story. Platt saw a challenge for living in how Elijah approached his departure to heaven.
“Knowing this world is not our home, let’s live so we will be found faithful on that day,” he said.