"But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you." (Luke 14:10)
We all want to sit in the best seats. At a baseball game that’s right behind the batters box. At a White House dinner it’s at the table with the President and First Lady. These are not seats you merely stumble upon. You’d better not show up and plan on plopping yourself down without credentials because you will no doubt be asked to leave.
In the case of the White House, those who sit at the highest table are the most important guests. How did they get to be the most important? They rose to that level because they have so much clout – usually political. And it’s clout that they probably paid dearly for in hard work over time.
The spiritual world works similarly. People don’t slide into the highest spiritual seats without paying a heavy price. Remember when the brothers James and John asked our Lord: “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left.” (Mark 10:37) Jesus replied, “’You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’” (Verse 38)
Jesus was telling them that those who want to come up higher do not do so without cost. So do YOU want spiritual promotion? Do you want to travel in the highest spiritual circles and operate in the highest anointing? Yes? Are you really sure you know what you are asking for?
Can’t Bypass Character
I remember a man I knew very well who had such ambitions but foolishly thought he could bypass character. His story always serves to remind me about trying to sit down in a seat you haven’t paid for. Let’s call him Allen.
Allen and his wife were in the same church as me and in fact, both had positions of authority. He was an ordained Elder. Allen had a strong acknowledged prophetic gift and he often ministered it accurately within the church body and at prophetic conferences. He was rough around the edges but it seemed his heart desired the things of God.
An extremely godly man with enormous anointing who was associate pastor had mentored Allen. Pastor Bob was a humble man who had the real goods though he never recognized how high his calling really was. When he died an untimely death Allen experienced particularly deep grief and loss. It was certainly understandable but something else began to immerge alongside that.
Pastor Bob’s death left a hole in the ministry of the church and Allen somehow felt that he deserved to fill it. He expected to be recognized to “move up higher.” Unfortunately, Allen was no Bob. Yes, he had some of the same spiritual gifts but we were soon to realize he didn’t have even a thimbleful of the same character. Without Bob there to keep him on track and give him spiritual covering, Allen spiraled down quickly and his unsightly underbelly was exposed.
The end result was so unfortunate. Allen’s self pity in not being recognized to fill Bob’s shoes gave way to bitterness. He comforted himself by idling away his time playing Internet euchre. (Did I mention that his wife was the main breadwinner of the family as he was too busy “ministering” to hold a regular job?) You can easily guess where this is going. One early morning Allen awoke his wife of 37 years and demanded she take him to the bus because he was leaving her, the family and the church for a woman he met on-line in another state. The enemy of his soul picked him off easily. As far as I know he’s never repented. Is he still out there somewhere trying to get the honor he feels he deserves?
I believe under the right circumstances this man had the potential to fulfill Pastor’s Bob shoes. He had many needed gifts and he had a fine church with an environment willing to prepare him. Bob’s death might have sparked openness for character training rather than a platform for self-promotion. Allen was at a crossroad and God wanted him to succeed but knew that success depended on Allen’s willingness to first take the lowest seat at table.
Many of Allen’s character flaws were under wraps until a crisis revealed them. Discipline, trust in God’s timing, and a humble, teachable spirit were all missing. A pool of self-pity needed to be drained. Faithfulness floundered. The Lord cared too much about Allen and the church body to let Bob’s seat be taken by someone unprepared. God offered Allen a seat at the table but that seat was not to his liking.
Jesus ended the parable of the wedding guests with this: “’For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.’” (Luke 14:11) Those are the words that provide a blueprint to spiritual promotion.
Remember what was said in the beginning. The best seats of spiritual power and authority go to those willing to pay the price for the clout worthy of the seat. But an entrance fee must first be paid to get into Character School. That fee is humility.
Humility is the starting point and makes everything else possible. Humility submits character to God for his scrutiny and refining. Humility doesn’t turn away when a blind spot is exposed or a branch has to be pruned down to the nub. Once a flaw is revealed, humility cooperates with God by repentance and an appeal for grace. Humility knows better than to protest that what’s happening “isn’t fair”.
Spiritual promotion is a worthy goal but it is a far greater responsibility. To whom much is given, much is required. (See Luke 12:38) To each one who aspires to the higher place, ask yourself: how much are you really willing to pay in exchange for the BEST seats?