Fit for Purpose
SQNLDR Paul Simmons
Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
The Lord laid on my heart to look today at the concept of ‘Fit for purpose’. In the military we talk quite a bit about this concept. The FA-18A model that I fly, affectionately known as “the Classic”, is coming to the end of its service life. It’s becoming obsolescent in the emerging threat environment we find ourselves in from a survivability perspective. By 2022 when it is phased out it will have lost its “fit for purpose” tag. From another perspective however it’s still very fit for purpose as it allows us to train the next generation of warriors that we are going to put into our next front line fighter, the F-35. Fit for purpose can mean many different things and can be applied from many perspectives.
Today I want to use the “fit for purpose” concept and apply it to our lives as Christians. I believe personally, as Christians, all of us are fit for purpose for God not only made us to live but also gave us a specific purpose to fulfil on this earth. With that as a given, the real question is how, through what process and how long will it take for us to develop as and to get to the place where we are actually being used for and in our purpose effectively.
A concern I have with the western church today is that everything is focused within the four walls or on our own circumstances. While I understand this is a sweeping statement, I hear us talk about metrics, talk about growth, talk about the number of programs we’ve got running or talking about prosperity. When I compare it to Jesus and his ministry I cannot see the parallels because everything He was about was outside the four walls and about those who did not yet know His saving grace. Jesus was all about getting out and reaching those who were unlovable or for some reason unattractive while simultaneously saving his most venomous attacks for the religious people who tried to put him in the ‘church’ box! And we wonder why we are struggling as a western church body to engage with our society and those around us. We want “them” to come into an environment that’s completely foreign, we want them to take on a language that is completely new and then suddenly become servants in the “House” while leaving much of what they knew behind them… and we wonder why that’s not particularly attractive??
I believe we need to be a body of Christians that are full of life, empowered and full of the Holy Spirit and absolutely excited for the purpose for which we are placed on this planet for and wanting to share the joy of a relationship with Christ with others. I also passionately believe that as we grow into all of what Christ created us to be, while loving and blessing those we come into contact with we will become magnets that attract others to search for a relationship with Jesus.
Let me illustrate my point with my personal experience. I have flown aircraft for 30 years and I have been in the military for 27. My journey to where I am today is a longer story but and I’ve been fortunate enough to fly fast jets and I love that… when I fly I genuinely feel God’s pleasure. To me my best worship time can be whilst flying. In fact one of my best worship times was when doing some training in East Sale and conducting some missions down in Tasmania in the late 90’s. It was late one afternoon and I was taking a young pilot on a training mission when his aircraft went unserviceable on the ground. It was a perfect autumn afternoon and despite my wingman breaking my boss said “go down and fly the plan but just relax and enjoy, you do a lot of work as the fighter combat instructor in the squadron and you don’t get this opportunity often”. So fast forward 45 mins and I’m approaching Cradle Mountain from the north at low level (100m), pretty slow at 700 km/h and I am relaxed and peaceful and enjoying the stunning beauty. It’s fairly calm, I’m comfortable and as I approach the rocky upslope I simply increase some power, pull up the side of the mountain and smoothly roll upside-down going over the top of the mountain to keep on my way…all while I’m having an amazing praise and worship time. I then proceeded over to the west coast, turned north and climbed up to 50,000 feet where you can just start to see the curvature of the earth and it’s dark (you see the stars even late in the afternoon). Even after all these years the memory brings a smile to my face and I know this is what I’m meant to do, I feel His pleasure when I do it with all my heart and soul and my passion for my purpose is magnetic
But the question is how do we find that place of peace and purpose, that so called “sweet spot” of service? The reason for answering the question is important because it’s in that sweet spot that other people feel the presence of God in your life. It’s in that sweet spot where you are doing what’s in your DNA that people go ‘whoa what’s going on with you and in you?’ and where the pleasure and blessing of God flows. One of my best friends and a fellow fighter pilot will testify to this as he observed my Wife and I over many years and at a critical time in his life, when many things were on the line he came looking for Jesus and now his life, marriage and future have been radically transformed by the saving grace of Christ and power of the Holy spirit.
As we examine further the concept of “fit for purpose” I want you to consider that Christ has not called us to the concept of just being a Christian in the church but being a Christian and being the church in our environment and to those around us. Lets look at two men from the bible who lived at the same time as Jesus. Both were tax collectors and both encountered Jesus during his time walking the earth, were radically changed and made “fit for purpose” but in very different ways. The two are of course the disciple Matthew and Zaccheus. Matthew has an encounter with Jesus and what does he do? It completely changes the course of his life. He goes from being a tax collector through to being a disciple of Jesus and finding what he was created for and being made fit for that purpose. Yet the other, Zaccheus has an encounter with Jesus that transforms him but it leaves him in his purpose. While we don’t hear of him again as far as we know he continued to be a tax collector but radically changed and it’s his story that I want to spend some time examining.
Luke 19:1-10 (Amplified)
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector [a superintendent to whom others reported], and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, but he could not see because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead [of the crowd] and climbed up in a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus reached the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 So Zaccheus hurried and came down, and welcomed Jesus with joy. 7 When the people saw it, they all began muttering [in discontent], “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a [notorious] sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “See, Lord, I am [now] giving half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone out of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, because he, too, is a [spiritual] son of Abraham;10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Lets be straight, Zaccheus didn’t get that money by being a good guy, he got it through extortion and he took more than he was entitled to. He was a despised part of the government institution, he had power and he used that to make his money. While he was certainly rich and he could wield power over the people, he got no respect from them due to his corrupted character. This is the context for the story.
So this rich and corrupt official hears that this man Jesus is coming to town. For some reason Zaccheus feels a compulsion to interact with Jesus. When he goes to see Jesus he cannot for there’s something in his way – he is short and there are many people lining the road. So why didn’t he just push his way to the front? What was it about his position in society that left him unable to use his authority as an official to get to the front of the line and see Jesus? Was it guilt? Was it the aggression of the crowd because he had extorted them for so long – possibly? Its would have been easy for Zaccheus to go ‘Oh it’s too hard…there’s a mountain in the way’ but there is something about this Jesus that brings a certain compulsion to see Him and he is determined to do whatever it takes.
So this short and despised tax collector, likely wearing a robe of some sort, decides to climb a tree. Not a particularly regal thing to do for a leader but he thinks that it doesn’t matter; there is a compulsion to see Jesus. So he positions himself outside “the box” of what would be considered appropriate for a man in his position, up a tree in a robe and looking over the tope of the crowd while he now waits. I don’t know how long that process was yet what we know is that he positioned himself intentionally to see Jesus and in response to Zaccheus’ determination Jesus comes to him.
While Zaccheus is thrilled at this interaction with Jesus and his new dinner guest the people are muttering amongst themselves that Jesus has gone to be the guest and lodge with a man who is pre-eminently a sinner. There was no respect or love for this man yet Jesus connected with him in a very public way and without reservation.
Through this interaction with Jesus we know that Zaccheus is radically transformed and his life, the families’ lives and the community are all positively affected by it. His encounter was initiated by a strong desire to interact with Jesus, a willingness to position himself up a tree despite his job / standing and after encountering Him, allow change to enter his life that enabled him to become “fit for purpose” as a tax collector and a blessing in his community. The way Zaccheus fundamentally changed and operates now would be a salvation bringing process to that entire community. One interaction with Jesus and this man is now on his assignment and helping change his family and community.
I believe that this story illustrates the crux of what we are on about as MCF and as Christians in the military community. Does it mean that as a Christian and a fighter pilot I must now run around and kowtow to everybody? – no absolutely not. I pride myself on being one of the more aggressive fighter pilots out there. I work with a lot of 21 year olds and I can tell you they are strong and fit, they are smart but they lack experience and wisdom and it is my job to develop that. We teach, train and mould them as effective warriors who have a real understanding of the responsibility they have. In my environment you need areal sense of compassion and understanding that what you do taking life is not anything which should be taken for granted, nor treated flippantly. I still passionately believe my current God given assignment is with military aviation and until He directs my paths otherwise I shall continue to do it to the upmost of my ability and remain fit for purpose.
So back to where we started, the premise that we are all called as Christians into the body to fulfil a purpose. There are people who are called into the church to serve (who have that fit) and have it function vitally and that is brilliant. If that is your purpose go for it. But there are a lot of people that have guilt or a feeling of judgement because they are not serving madly in the church or an overseas mission but instead have a passion to reach those in their work and local community. The reality is that they are actually in relationship with people who are lost and they have an assignment outside the four walls of a church building.
My heart as a Christian in Defence is that it’s not about me running around and loudly trumpeting my faith. It’s about me being professional, it’s about me being very good at what I do and being passionate about what I do. It’s about leading sacrificially so that others would succeed and become better than me. It’s about bringing to them the love of Christ where and when needed. Where there’s brokenness and where there’s hurt being able to sit, listen, talk and if they’re open, to pray for them. It’s about treating all with the love and dignity that Jesus gave and gives us daily.
He’s called us to be “fit for purpose” and our service right now is on assignment in the military; to be Spirit filled Christians that are very good at what we do, who love people and who serve and lead sacrificially. When we operate like that people can’t argue with our ideology. He came as he said to seek and save the lost and He’s called us as fit for purpose in the military to do the same thing and that’s my passion. While your fit will not be the same as mine, let me encourage you to seek God’s purpose in who he made you to be and don’t be afraid to position yourself outside “the box” in order to do that.