In a recent hangout on the call to pioneer, Colin Baron picked out some prominent Biblical pioneers and drew lessons from their lives. In this article, we continue the theme and look at the qualities of ten more Biblical pioneers.
Ruth: Fierce Loyalty
Ruth was a woman who left her home and went to a place where she knew no-one – a classic pioneer. But what motivated Ruth was not a longing for adventure, or even a call from God, but unshakable loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who had lost her husband and both of her sons. Naomi wanted to return from Moab, where she had been living, to Bethlehem and freed her two daughters-in-law of any obligation to her, yet Ruth chose to go with her anyway. Through her fierce loyalty, she set up a life in Bethlehem, found new family and was even part of Jesus’ family line. At times it seems as though it is only the person who initiates a pioneering venture that gets the credit, but there is a great need for many people who will say with Ruth, “where you go, and where you lodge I will lodge.”
Nehemiah: Reached Breaking Point With the Status Quo
Nehemiah was a Jewish exile in Babylon who worked as a cupbearer for the king. One day, there were some visitors from Jerusalem, and Nehemiah’s curiosity led him to ask questions about the state of affairs. What Nehemiah found out pushed his soul to breaking point. The people of God were vulnerable to attack and open to ridicule. The city needed a wall! Nehemiah knew in the core of his being that he would need to do something about it! This is what Bill Hybels calls ‘Holy Discontent’. It is the point when you notice something. Maybe it’s the first time you have encountered this thing, or maybe you have know about it for years and previously been unmoved – but all of a sudden something inside you snaps. You break. You become a broken-down, spirit-filled, fire-fuelled, world-changing wreck, and you know deep in your bones that things just cannot remain as they are, and that someone is going to have to do something about it, and that someone is probably going to have to be you, and it’s probably going to cost you everything. But it’s okay. The price is worth paying because things just cannot remain as they are.
Jonathan: The Spirit of Adventure
Like Nehemiah, Jonathan was frustrated with the status quo. God’s people were at war with the Philistines – and they were losing! The army was on the run, the king was disobeying God, and the people lacked proper equipment (Jonathan and his dad Saul were the only people in the kingdom to possess swords). Jonathan didn’t know whether or not doing something would help, but he did know that it was not good enough for things to stay as they were, so his adventurous spirit kicked in and he tried something. He said to his armour bearer, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” Jonathan didn’t know whether God would bless this particular endeavour, but he did know in general what God’s mission was and that the adventure he was embarking on fitted within it. So he had a go. And his armour bearer went with him, echoing the kind of loyalty that Ruth had shown to Naomi. “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” Through these two adventurous pioneers, God saved Israel that day.
Mary Magdalene: Put In the Hard Hours
Mary Magdalene is sometimes referred to as the ‘apostle to the apostles’. She was the very first witness of the resurrection, and the one who was able to take this message to the rest of the disciples. At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason that Mary Magdalene had this particular pioneering honour is that she got there first. As John recounts Jesus’ resurrection, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” Mary was the one who went while it was still dark. She was the one who put in the hard hours. Many pioneers need to do the work in the unfashionable hours. Early in the morning and late at night frequently belong to those who break new ground. Jesus often rose before dawn to pray. Paul would make tents into the night to fund his ministry. Many pioneer church planters do so alongside full-time day jobs, giving the hours to ministry that other spend crashed in front of the television. If pioneering was easy, then everybody would be doing it.
Joshua & Caleb: A Vision That’s Bigger Than the Challenges
As the people of Israel stood on the border of the Promised Land, they sent twelve spies to scout out the land and gave them a very specific list of questions to answer. What kind of land is it? Are the people who live there strong or weak? Were there many of them or few? Is is good or bad land? Do they live in cities or strongholds? Is the land rich or poor? Are there trees? They were also instructed to bring back some fruit from the land. The striking thing about the response of the spies is that they all complete the mission to the letter. They bring the fruit and they answer the questions – the land is good, but the people are big and intimidating. Ten of the spies leave it at this point and conclude that they felt like grasshoppers in the land. The challenges before them have overwhelmed their thinking and so they give a bad report. Only two of the spies – Joshua and Caleb – bring God into the conversation. They know that God has promised them the land, so however intimidating the opposition may appear, they will be victorious because God is with them. All pioneers face obstacles along the way, but can we respond to those obstacles with the faith of these two spies and have a vision for what God can do that weighs heavier on our minds than the challenges that we face?
Timothy: Took the Torch
The letter of 2 Timothy is one of the most personal letters in the Bible. It was the last letter written by Paul, and was probably written only weeks before the apostle was killed for his testimony to Jesus. Paul knew that his end was coming, and so in his letter, he is commissioning Timothy to continue the ministry that Paul started. Paul urged Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me”, to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you”, to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved… rightly handling the word of truth”, to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it” and to “fulfil your ministry”. In short, Timothy was to pick up the torch that Paul was handing on to him. There are many in our generation who want to build their own thing, and this is admirable. But it would be foolish to ignore those that have run the race before us, and young leaders would be well-served to come alongside those who are more experienced, to learn from them, and to be ready to take the torch and continue the race that has been started and run so well. “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Philip was one of the seven members of the early Jerusalem church who were recognised as full of the Spirit and wisdom and were appointed as deacons in that church. When persecution arose, many members of that church were scattered, including Philip. He was forced out of Jerusalem and headed to Samaria, and whilst he was there he shared the good news about Jesus and performed miraculous signs in that place. The work of God took root and the apostles came down from Jerusalem, prayed and the Samaritan believers received the Spirit. A little while later, an angel of the Lord led Philip to head down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and as he did so, Philip encountered an Ethiopian in a chariot who was reading from Isaiah but did not understand it. Philip came alongside him and used this as a launchpad to explain to him about Jesus, and the man was baptised on the spot. In both of these instances, Philip took advantage of unexpected opportunities that presented themselves. As a pioneer, having a strategic gameplan is a good idea, but this plan mustn’t blind us to opportunities that arise in the moment. Great pioneers are both great planners, and ready to lay aside that plan (temporarily or permanently) as God opens up new and better possibilities for them.
I was debating whether or not to include this one in the list because it cannot be denied that Peter’s impulsive nature got him into a lot of trouble during his life. And yet, it was this same impulsive nature that caused some of his greatest moments. When Jesus walked on water, it was Peter who impulsively clambered out of the boat. When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, it was Peter who spoke out his faith that Jesus is the Christ. With maturity, impulsiveness can be well-managed, but it should not be abandoned. It is often the impulsive who are the first to do something, and it is not an altogether undesirable quality for a pioneer.
Joshua, Son of Jehozadak: Symbolic of Something to Come
In Zechariah chapter 3, the prophet is shown a vision of the High Priest, Joshua the Son of Jehozadak. In this vision, Joshua was standing before the Lord and before Satan, and was wearing filthy clothing. The angel instructed him to remove his dirty garments, and promised that he would instead be clothed with pure vestments. In describing what has happened, the angel refers to Joshua as ‘a sign’ (Zech. 3:8), which is sometimes translated as “symbolic of something to come”. I am sure we can see how Joshua was symbolic of what Jesus was to do for his people, but the idea of being symbolic of something to come is actually a trait of pioneers more generally. Whether through creative innovation or through prophecy or both, pioneers bring something of the future normality to bear on the present situation. They do things that seem unusual in their own generation, but will be the expected experience of generations to come.
David: Leaving a Legacy
David is a perfect example of a pioneer who did something that was unheard of in his own time, but later became normal. When the Israelites were faced with the giant Goliath issuing his challenge to one-on-one combat, there wasn’t a single Israelite who thought it could be done until David stepped forward. Once David had slain Goliath, however, all of a sudden there was faith for taking down giants, and before long everybody was doing it. “And after this there arose war with the Philistines at Gezer. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Sippai, who was one of the descendants of the giants, and the Philistines were subdued. And there was again war with the Philistines, and Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he was also descended from the giants. And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, struck him down. These were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.” (1 Chron. 20:4-8) When a pioneer does something that had previously been thought of as impossible, it leaves a legacy of faith by which others can begin to follow the lead of that pioneer.
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