Unmistakable (Matthew 16:13)

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“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do   people say the Son of Man is?””

Prior to this point in Matthew’s narrative, Jesus has used the term “Son of Man” nine times to refer to Himself (Matt 8:20, 9:6, 10:23, 11:19, 12:8, 32, 40, 13:37, 41). This is the 10th time the term comes up, and He will use it twenty more times in this Gospel account. Clearly, Jesus wanted those who follow Him to be aware of who He thought He was, and “Son of Man” was the term He felt best described Himself.

“Son of Man” is an Old Testament scriptural term. It comes up once in Numbers, once in Job and a few times in Psalms. But it comes up 91 times in Ezekiel and twice more in Daniel. Literally “ben-Adam”, Son of Man refers to a male progeny of Adam. In that sense, the term is almost a derogatory one from God’s standpoint. 

Numbers 23:19 uses it in reference to mankind’s unreliability. Job 25:6 uses it in reference to mankind’s inability. The Psalmist first uses it in reference to mankind’s ranking in authority (Ps 8:4). These are all instances where the term is referring to humankind as a whole. But when “Son of Man” refers to God’s servant, it has a very different meaning. In Ezekiel as in Daniel, the connotation becomes one of “the best humankind can get”. The same is true in Psalm 80:17, “Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.” 

To this point Commentator G. Van Groningen noted, “when used of an individual person, who is spoken of as Yahweh’s agent, it points to humankind created royal, restored to a regal position, and called to serve as Yahweh’s human representative on behalf of human beings.” That is the context in which Jesus uses it of Himself. 

In so doing, He takes upon Himself a term that hints at His Messianic role of redemption: He literally is the one who takes what was fallen and redeems it to God’s original (and highest) purpose. 

Jesus was not only always aware of who He was, He was always aware of His role. His role (who He was sent to be – the one who redeems) and identity (who the Father said He was – God’s Son) were united, allowing Him to minister wholeheartedly from a position of strength and self-awareness. Knowing His disciples would one day need to carry on His ministry, Jesus knew His disciples would likewise need to be firm in their identity and self-awareness. 

That awareness starts with being cognizant of God, and cognizant of God’s calling. So the question He asks is critical. They cannot know who they were and what they were called to be without first knowing who He is and what He had come to be. But rather than ask that question without context, He first asks who others think He is. It is a question that is most appropriate, given the context of where they are –  both geographically and in their discipleship journey!

Essential to understanding Jesus’ identity is recognition of his divine agency.

Andrew T. Lincoln

APPLICATION: Intentionality

The question of our identity can only be rightly answered when we know Christ’s identity. For then and only then can we rightly ascertain who we are in relation to Christ, and our core identity is found not in ourselves by ourselves, but in relationship – and in relationship to God. 

The Foolishness of Yeast (Matthew 16:5-12)

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Jesus and His band of disciples are making their way across the lake, having  left the  Pharisees and Sadducees who tested Him behind. Along the way, Jesus is a bit frustrated that His disciples ‘forgot’ to bring bread. It is possible they deliberately forgot, for they had earlier picked up 7 basketfuls after the miracle of the feeding of the crowd. The fact that they had counted them and Matthew wrote down how many basketfuls is testimony to their remembrance of the incident. It is therefore not an unreasonable conclusion that they wanted to see if Jesus could feed the next large crowd without one of their lunches as a starter. Knowing this, Jesus had cryptically said, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 

Of course, the disciples immediately thought He was poking at their lack of bread. But Jesus’ comments make it clear that while He was aware of the matter, His deeper frustration stems from their blindness to the real issue. That is, that their ‘forgetfulness’ comes because they’ve allowed the ‘yeast’ of the Pharisees and Sadducees to permeate their thinking. They thought they could manipulate Christ into doing what they wanted Him to do, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees thought they could when they tested Him just before they left the area by boat.

Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 

The Pharisees and Sadducees had taught that they as human leadership were in charge, and by their response to Christ they had taught that God needs to prove Himself to them. Jesus’ frustration is that His own disciples would pick up on how the Pharisees and Sadducees were acting and start to do likewise. The Lord will have none of it. God is in charge, and He does not need to prove anything to His creation. He will never allow Himself to be manipulated into doing or acting as self-appointed human masters expect. 

This is a profound point that is even more relevant in our day than it was in the disciples’ day. Many are those in a teaching authority who effectively claim they know better than God how He should or must act. Many are those in our day who would and are subtly trying to outsmart God, tricking Him into acting in a way that we personally find satisfying. This is the great folly of both those who preach the “prosperity Gospel” (that God must bless you if you give to their cause), and the great folly of legalism (that God will only like you if you follow a great litany of extra-Biblical rules).  

One must remember that God is a being. He is not a force we can manipulate like electricity. One must remember that God is not just a really smart being, but omniscient King of Kings. He is not a simpleton we can outsmart or an entity we can trifle with. 

It must be beyond frustrating to Him that some nevertheless try to manipulate Him as though He was a six year old child – and all the more when He looks at our frail limitation and knows that our daily sustenance comes directly from His hand.

Unlearned men vainly talk; and such not only show their ignorance in religion, but are also wholly destitute of common sense.

John Calvin

APPLICATION: Intentionality

For us who know Christ, God is ever always Abba, Father. But He is also God Most High and ever and always deserving of great reverence. 

The Richness of Bread (Matthew 16:5-9)

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The twelve had been with Jesus when He leaves the vicinity of Magadan by  boat. Just  before they go, Jesus had rather sternly and a bit sarcastically shut down a conversation with the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to test Him by asking for a sign, saying “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” 

The echo of that statement would be on the disciples’ minds now that they are with Jesus in a boat, crossing a large lake. The image of Jonah and the idea of all Jonah went through – including being tossed off the boat on account of a storm caused by his own foolish disregard for God’s Word – would not easily be dismissed from thought. Especially because the disciples had ‘forgotten’ to bring bread for the journey, in spite of just picking up seven basketfuls of bread from the feeding of the 4000 before they left. And, it’s well possible they deliberately didn’t bring the bread just to see if Jesus could feed the next crowd without a “starter loaf” – making Jesus’ comment about Jonah (a disobedient prophet) all the more poignant. To top it off, Jesus says something that seems to cryptically point at their failure, “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”” 

Jesus’ use of the word “yeast” (in Greek, “zyme” – a key ingredient in making bread) would certainly seem to poke at their own error in not bringing the bread. Sure enough, Matthew writes, “They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” But the disciples are again in error. Jesus does not mean to passive-aggressively point out their failure. He means to teach them an important principle about fallen human pride, “Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand?””  

All through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught that what God meant by His Word had a much higher meaning than we might read by the text only. When a fellow human being says, “Do not murder”, we hear the words and we interpret those words to mean effectively only that – as if they had said, “Do not kill unjustly.” But we must not forget that the person speaking the words adds the weight of their reputation, value and office to the words. So when God says, “Do not murder”, we must hear His Word with the weight of His glory in mind; His command means more than just “Do not kill unjustly”. As Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” The character of God (that is the source of the text), informs the text. 

Knowing this, we see that God’s command, “Do not murder” is much deeper and richer than the text itself might otherwise communicate, as the glory of God is infinitely greater than the glory of man. Likewise when Jesus speaks, for He is God the Son. So, what Jesus meant by “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” was not “You fools, you forgot the bread!” Rather, it is something far deeper. Something far more meaningful, and something far more ironic!  

Every word of Scripture carries the weight of God’s authority.

R.C. Sproul

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Your voice has weight too. Let it be used wisely! 

Bread (Matthew 16:5)

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Matthew 14 describes the feeding of the 5000 just outside Jesus’  hometown. In that  instance, Jesus had withdrawn to a solitary place by boat. When the disciples were told to feed the large crowd that gathered, they replied, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” That would’ve been about one basketful – the loaves being little more than large buns. Jesus miraculously transforms that small supply to enough to feed the whole crowd, enough to have twelve basketfuls left over. 

Matthew 15 describes the feeding of the 4000 in Decapolis. In that instance, Jesus had gone up on a mountainside. When the disciples were told that He wanted to feed the large crowd that gathered, they reported their supply as being only seven loaves and a few fish. Again, Jesus miraculously transforms that into enough to feed the whole crowd, enough to have seven basketfuls left over.

Now Jesus has again withdrawn and crossed the lake. Matthew 16 includes, “When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread.” This is unusual, because the last two occurrences inform us that they had obviously been bringing something to eat pretty much everywhere they went. It is even more unusual because by now they’re learning that Jesus loves to be hospitable – to the point of expecting to feed very large groups of people with little to no preparation. The fact that Matthew mentions that they ‘forgot’ to take bread with them at all is yet another attention flag, because to this point there has been no mention of what provisions the band typically carried. 

In light of these three facts, one can see that the issue is probably not that the disciples assumed Jesus would again want to feed a large crowd and had erroneously assumed the other would bring the meager supply, but that they had deliberately forgotten the bread to see if Jesus could feed the next large crowd without a starting point at all. 

It is always error to presume upon God. Jesus had Himself proved that when Satan tried to temp Him the second time. One recalls what Matthew had said earlier; “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

To presume is to expect another to overcome your own lack. It is to test the goodwill of the other, and as such it is not merely a demonstration of lack of faith, but a form of betrayal. For it betrays your perception of your relationship as nothing more than a source of supply. Jesus is more than that to us – at least, He ought to be. The Father is not someone or something to be milked. He is our King and our God. He is to be honored by us, not to be presumed upon. 

Not even for helpful miracles and wonders. 

There is no sense in not appreciating things, and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.

G.K. Chesterton

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Let us give thanks for God’s provision without forgetting our responsibility.

Thunder In The Distance (Matthew 16:4)

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It is certainly true that God is very great – so much so that we can say with  confidence  that His power, majesty and glory are beyond what out limited minds can comprehend. Job even wrote, “How great is God—beyond our understanding!” Being repeated throughout the Bible, the truth of the greatness of God is one of the motifs of Scripture – and the same is true for His mercy, compassion and love. As David said, “Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great.” “Your compassion is great, O Lord.” “For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” 

The same can be said for all of His character – including His patience. As Paul noted, “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?” 

Yet though it is great, God’s patience, mixed with His great love and mercy and compassion – does reach a conclusion in the face of protracted disobedience. The Scripture plainly teaches us that when the people He made only entertained evil thought and action for generation after generation, the Father purposed to destroy the whole lot of them – saving only obedient Noah and his family. Likewise, Ezekiel tells us that when Israel’s leadership refused to repent time and time again, His presence left them as a people and they were scattered in exile. God’s Spirit leaves individual people too; His Spirit departed from King Saul when Saul refused to obey the Lord in all things, and David begged God not to take His Spirit from him when he committed murder and adultery. 

It is no wonder that God the Son acts the same way. The reader of Matthew’s Gospel sees that by chapter 16, the Pharisees have been harassing Jesus in one form or another since they’ve known about Him. In spite of so many who were healed, delivered and taught, they asked Him for a sign. When He refused (giving them only the sign of Jonah), they ignored His harsh judgment of their behavior and simply waited – while Jesus continued to heal, deliver and teach – and then asked Him again for a sign from heaven. 

At this Jesus has had enough. He again alludes to the sign of Jonah, and then Matthew records, “Jesus then left them and went away.” 

Watching someone who can heal all diseases, deliver from the most horrific of demonic possession and teach the deep things of God so wonderfully walk away ought to have filled the Pharisees with godly sorrow and regret. But there was none of that, because there was nothing godly in them to start with. 

Scripture teaches how the Lord has a lifetime of patience for those who are part of the lineage of the godly, but yet comes to the end of His patience with those who reject Him at the end of that lineage. It is a sobering reminder of the devastating folly of taking God’s patience for granted. And sadly, it is something else the Pharisees failed to take note of, though they claimed to truly know God’s Word.

The primary notion of a responsible being is one blessed with privilege, and able to use or abuse it at will. But men are constituted so as to derive much wisdom from experience, and hence failure in the use of privilege, in a few instances, may possibly create an experience that will constrain to a more careful observance of duty when newly imposed. Life is full of helps to obedience as well as of hindrances. But as time is required for the development of responsibility, so it is obvious that the possession of privilege involves a limit to the period for use or abuse. Government without a reckoning would be no government. Everlasting patience is inconsistent with responsibility attendant on privilege.

Henry D.M.S. Jones


“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.” – King David (from Psalm 2:12)

Blunt Signs (Matthew 16:1-4)

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After taking a short break in the vicinity of Magadan from ministry in the Decapolis, Jesus’ fame catches up with Him again. People have heard that He traveled there, and the Pharisees and Sadducees once again show up, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.”

The Pharisees had asked Him for a miraculous sign before. After the demon-possessed man who was blind and mute had been healed, Matthew recorded, “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” In that case as in this one, Jesus only promises them the sign of Jonah. But this time He answers in the form of a riddle:

“He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.” 

Jesus’ response is cryptic yet more than understandable. He reminds them of the ancient childhood saying, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.” He points out that while they can understand such basics, they cannot understand who He is, why He is there at that season in Israel’s history, or what is happening all around them – even though they read Scripture all day long and claim to be the only ones who can interpret it correctly. He is cleverly insulting them, implying that they are able to grasp childish riddles, but not the things they claim fame for. 

At the same time onlookers can see Jesus as a new Solomon, who is able to address the most difficult of questions and solve the most problematic of riddles with the wisdom of God. Jesus refers to Jonah – a book that opens with God speaking and closes with God speaking. Those seeking God find the Lord speaking all through its verses. But those with closed minds find nothing more than a fishy story. 

To allude to Jonah is the ultimate comeback to those who are so close-minded they demand a sign just for themselves instead of looking at the obvious results of Jesus’ ministry. Everyone who looks at Jesus with an open mind finds God through Jesus. Just as the Queen of Sheba walked away from Solomon saying, “Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you,” so also Matthew notes of the people Jesus had just ministered to, “The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” 

It is clear that even a child could see and perceive that God was working powerfully through Jesus. There was no need to ask for a sign, only a need to look at the signs already given! 

There is much instruction in our Lord’s lack of response to a desire for the spectacular, for all too often we seem to say, “If God will only give me a sign, I will do wonderful things for Him!”

M.S. Mills

APPLICATION: Intentionality

When the King gives you a gift, you do not ask Him to also give you another gift to prove that it was He who gave you the first one. 

Persistence (Matthew 16:1)

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Matthew chapter 16 opens with, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.”

This is not the first time the Pharisees have shown up to make Jesus’ life uncomfortable. They saw Him at Matthew’s house and questioned His disciples. They saw the possessed mute man healed and attributed it to Jesus working under Satan’s power. They directly confronted Jesus at the synagogue when they saw His disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. They plotted to kill Him when He healed a man’s hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath. They accused Him of being Satan’s minion when He rescued the blind mute from demon possession. Over and over again the Pharisees – sometimes alone, sometimes with the teachers of the law and sometimes with the Sadducees -come to Jesus with doubts, snide comments and foolish accusations. 

A life in service to God will have pros and cons. The pros are obvious – you get to enjoy and be a conduit of God’s peace, presence and power. You are privileged to see His Kingdom grow all around you, even as His joy grows inside you. You know His love for you and you are confident of your identity in Him. 

But there are also cons – negative aspects of a life in service to God. There is the occasional direct spiritual attack, and there is the constant sniping of the enemy through those who believe his lies. For Jesus, the Pharisees are part of the latter. They come to Him in selfishness and ask questions with unclean motives. His answer is almost irrelevant to their cause, because they are not actually seeking to affirm His identity as God’s Son by means of the witness of a miracle. They are disregarding all He has done so far and selfishly insisting that they alone are the judges of just who is approved of God and who is not. And in so doing, they are acting out the enemies plan to ensnare Jesus by prompting Him to do something for His own glory. 

Ironically, by this point Jesus has already judged them. In fact, back in chapter 12 Matthew recorded, “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Jesus then went on at some length to clearly lay out the urgent need of the wicked to repent. 

Since then, Jesus has taught the parables of the sower, the weeds, the mustard seed, the hidden treasure and the net. He has fed the 5000 and the 4000, walked on water and both delivered and healed the Canaanites’ daughter! The evidence of who He is has been profound and sustained.

That the Pharisees would come back to Jesus with a different group of supporters for their cause and ask exactly the same question is both insulting and wearisome. But the called must be persistent, because the dogged determination of the enemy to try to grind down your joy and stall your life purpose does not go away until the day you open your eyes in glory. 

Jesus emphasizes […] the value of persistence not simply in challenging injustice, but also in exercising expectant faith that divine providence assures the final reign of justice.

Carl C.F. Henry

APPLICATION: Intentionality

As God persists in bringing sun and rain on all year after year, so also His people must persist in demonstrating His grace upon all. 

Ordinary Tools (Matthew 15:39)

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There are some things in each book of Scripture that get repeated again and  again. Not  all of them are seemingly profound. One of the more mundane things Matthew repeats is the primary method of Jesus’ transport. At the close of Matthew 15 we again read, “he [Jesus] got into the boat.”

Matthew 8:23 says, “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.” Matthew 9:1 says, “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town.” Matthew 14:13 reads in part, “he [Jesus] withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”

As every student of history knows, until the advent of the locomotive and airplane, the waterways were the highways of the world. That was just as true of the middle east in 30AD as it was of Canada in the 1800’s. The boat in Christ’s time was as the car and bus is to ours. People could get to various places other ways of course. Most would walk. If you had one, sometimes you could ride an animal, and the very powerful & rich could use a chariot for greater land speed. But to move significant distance in good time – and especially with multiple people – there was no faster and more convenient way than by boat. 

Of course, a fishing boat wasn’t very fast. But faster boats meant sails and/or large crews. That was for the military, who could afford and value single-purpose equipment. The ordinary people who could afford one wouldn’t want that. They would want simple boats that were designed for long service life, a minimum crew of one and multiple purposes. They needed fishing boats with stability and cargo capacity. In Jesus’ time, fishing boats and oxen were tools of the middle and upper-middle class world over, just as ordinary cars and computers are in our time. 

Ministry depends on the ordinary and mundane tools and methods that the whole world uses. Ministry depends on transportation to the people we minister to. That transportation needs to be reliable and routes need to be free of obstruction. Most of all, it needs to be affordable. Ministry in Jesus’ time therefore demanded a fishing boat. In our time it often demands a car. 

Ministry also depends on meetings in spaces where people can gather. Ministry depends on short meetings over refreshments like coffee and longer meetings like sitting down to a meal. Ministry is about relationship, and the tools of relationship are common to the whole globe – which is really saying that ministry needs the simple and ordinary just as much as it needs the holy.

God might not give you a media platform, a large building or a private jet. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be involved or be helpful to His mission in hugely impactful ways. After all, when we apply the ordinary and mundane to the divine purpose, wonderful things happen!

“Deep spiritual reform is usually not flashy.

John Folmar

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Samson used a donkey’s jawbone. Moses used a wooden rod. Use what is in your hand to use. God put it there. 

Debrief (Matthew 15:39

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Jesus has taken the disciples on a mission trip to the Gentiles. There, He  healed a deaf  mute, caused the lame to walk and restored the sight of the blind. Many were healed. To top it all off, four thousand men – besides women and children – were miraculously fed with just seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. To say that it was an eventful and successful trip would be an understatement. Best of all, as a result of this ministry trip, people “praised the God of Israel.” 

Now that the trip is over, Matthew records, “After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.”

The Gospel of Mark refers to the same area as Dalmanutha. It is likely that the area had several small villages by various names, and people referred to it by the village they had some personal memory of. Today the towns of Kfar Hitim, Arbel and Hamam are there. “It was […] about three miles N,NW of Tiberias, on the southern end of the great plain of Gennesereth, famous for its fertility and year-round tropical climate.” 

Jesus has deliberately taken His team to a low-key area so they can unwind. 

A well-run short-term mission trip includes times of debrief – especially at the end of the experience. Actually, every intensive ministry experience requires a debrief! Like a Sabbath day at the end of a challenging work week, it is a welcome break from a demanding schedule. It is a time to clear your mind and relax a bit. It is a time to get more physical rest, talk to your friends, and share what impacted you (both positive and negative) so you can fully process all that’s happened. 

Some may think to dismiss such a time as a waste. But we need mental and emotional space to digest all that happens, just as our bodies need a break to recover from physical activity. How much more so a spiritual break when one has been engaged in intensive spiritual activity!

Perhaps it was partly with this in mind that God built a time of rest into every week. He established a rhythm to life so that people might not be overwhelmed with the emotions and stresses of daily life. 

A weekend is supposed to be to the mind what sleep is to the body. Rest and relaxation allow that one can spend significant time in prayer and reflection, which heals our minds and soul as sleep heals the body.  Yet if we see value in a weekend, we ought also to see value in a time of debrief, for the spirit also needs rest!

Rest and debrief are a necessary part of ministry life. They hold great value. Without them you are like a worker being told to do a double-shift. Without them you cannot be as spiritually productive as you need to be, and without them resentment begins to build. 

Team debrief is a time for a team to hear each other, pray for each other and minister to each other. It is rich and meaningful, a most productive use of time. Do not miss it! 

Periodically I debrief a class. I sit down with some students over refreshments and ask what spoke to them, what they understood me to be saying, what questions they have. I’ve found this one of the more productive means of feedback.

Howard Hendricks

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Our quiet times with God are most productive when we listen to Him debrief us on what He’s been doing while we were busy or sleeping.