Leaders Living Wise in the End Times
Networking is good and impact is good, but there is something more important than networking and impact: it's our hearts growing as we connect with the King.

Leaders Living Wise in the End Times

by Mike Bickle
11/8/16 Christian Living

God has given each one of us spheres of influence. Whether we’re leading in the workplace or in the home, are influencing five people or five thousand, the way we carry our hearts matters to God. He encourages His followers to be faithful and wise during the present age.

Knowledge of the signs of the times creates urgency to press into God and to understand what is happening according to the Word of God in this hour of history. They prompt us to understand the 150 chapters in the Bible of which the end times is the primary subject.

Through the parables in Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus describes the generation before His return as a period that, for many, will be simultaneously shorter, longer, and harder than they expect.

To “live wise” as leaders during this time, Jesus gives us an indication of how wisdom can be displayed in a leader’s life.

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil . . . The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’” (Matthew 25:1–4, 8)

During the time of waiting for the Lord to return, there will be believers who the Lord will call wise and others He will call foolish.

The issue in which Jesus anchors His definition of wisdom is whether that man or woman prioritizes cultivating intimacy with God in their personal life. And more than just intimacy with God, are they cultivating intimacy with Him as the Bridegroom God, who has delight and deep desire for His people? Have they prioritized growing in understanding of this aspect of God’s personality? Have they prioritized connecting and interacting with Him as their Bridegroom God, interacting with His heart and understanding His ways as the Bridegroom King?

The parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1–13) emphasizes the need to cultivate intimacy with Jesus as our Bridegroom God. This flows out of encounter.

In this passage, some servants of the Lord are wise and some are foolish. Notice they are all sincere; none of them are described as evil (as in other parables). Beloved, you can be sincere and still be foolish in the way you spend your time. You can miss the primary point of how God defines wisdom, which is investing the time to cultivate intimacy with Jesus as our Bridegroom King.

In verse 1, the use of the word then indicates a specific time frame in history. There is only one generation in history in which the Holy Spirit will emphasize Jesus not as just the King, but as the Bridegroom King. The Holy Spirit has never emphasized that truth universally to the Body of Christ. There is one generation in which He will do that.

In the parable, Jesus uses ten virgins to represent what we would refer to as ten ministries. These are ministries because they all have lamps that bring the light of Jesus to people. Their lamps are bright and are burning, representing functioning ministries. They are all born-again believers, as they are virgins in God’s sight.

Born-again believers are to all have “shining lamps” that bring light to others. At the end of verse 1, we see all ten of them are going out to meet Him, which means the Bridegroom is a part of their understanding of their relationship to God. They are encountering and meeting Him as a Bridegroom God.

But in verse 2, we see that as time goes by, they all get busy, but only five of them continue to walk in what Jesus calls “wisdom.” The other five virgins become “foolish” over time.

In verse 3, He defines what it means to be foolish. Although they took their lamps—their ministries—they did not take oil. In this parable, and in other places in the Bible, oil speaks of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to our heart.

They took their ministries—their lamps—and they were busy working for Jesus, but they did not prioritize oil in their own lives. Their first priority was growing their ministry, instead of intimacy in their relationship with God. Actually connecting with Jesus the Bridegroom God became a lesser priority. They started off well by encountering Jesus as the Bridegroom God, but as time went on, they lost focus on this reality.

I have never met a believer who intentionally decided to lose focus on God’s purpose in their life.

We lose focus because the months turn into years and the years into decades. As we are laboring, we can often get caught up in the problems, as well as the increase, of our ministry influence: how many are we reaching and how well? And I believe the Lord would say to such people, “But you are not connecting to Me like you used to. You took your lamp (ministry), but you did not take oil (intimacy with Me). Your ‘lamp’ has become first in your life, and your ‘oil’ second. Reverse it. Flip it around. Make getting oil first, and make your lamp second.” So He calls them foolish—not evil, not insincere, but foolish.

Some leaders start off with shining lamps while encountering the Bridegroom, but over time, in the midst of the rigors of ministry, their focus on intimacy with God fades. This is very common in the lives of sincere leaders.

Personally there have been a number of times I’ve lost my focus on intimacy with God in my 40 years of ministry. But by the grace of God, the Holy Spirit reminds me what is most important. I confess and realign my heart. This happens three or four times a year.

I am talking about something a little more emphatic than just a general recommitting of my life to Jesus. A few times a year, the Lord will whisper to my heart and say, “You are more focused on ministry than My heart. Make ministry important, but make it priority number two, not number one. Make ministry to your family and to others second.”

The most natural thing is for us to be far more focused on networking and the size of our impact. Networking is good and increased impact is good, but there is something more important than networking and impact: it’s our hearts growing as we connect with the King.

In verse 4, we see that the wise took oil first. Jesus teaches us to prioritize oil over ministry. In this verse, the wise took their oil; it was the first priority on their hearts, and it needs to be the first priority on our hearts as well.

Later in the parable, because the foolish ones are still in ministry (verse 8) , they are burning out and are losing some of the vibrancy they had in their earlier days. Then, the foolish ask to receive oil from the wise, saying “Give us some of your oil! Our ministries are diminishing. Our lamps are going out. Our ministries are getting flat.”

All ten virgin ministries started off with oil (verse 1) and a shining ministry that brought light to others. However, some wise leaders work hard and with good motives, yet with a wrong spirit, by neglecting to maintain their intimacy with God. Our measure of intimacy with God can be lost. This is all too common for many leaders in the body.

It is possible to work with good motives, but still have a wrong spirit by neglecting intimacy with God. In Luke 10, when Mary and Martha were coming before the Lord, Mary of Bethany sat at the feet of Jesus, which speaks of seeking to know God’s heart in greater intimacy. Martha, her older sister, was troubled and said, “Jesus, tell my little sister to get with it, to get to work.” He looked a Martha and rebuked her. Now, He was not rebuking her because she was working in the kitchen.

Some people say, “Get out of the kitchen, and get into the prayer room.” No, that is not what this passage is saying.

Beloved, we need people who serve in the kitchen. We need people in every facet of the kingdom. The point was not that Martha was in the kitchen. The point was that she was serving with a wrong spirit. She was serving disconnected from the King’s heart. We can serve in many different ways, but we must serve with a right spirit—connected to the King’s heart.

The wise ministries took oil in their vessels with their lamps. In other words, they pursued acquiring oil as their first priority before seeking to expand their personal ministry (verse 4). The foolish ministries recognized their mistake in neglecting oil.

Many “ministry lamps” will go out because they will lack spiritual vitality from the Spirit’s oil. Like the foolish virgins, they will ask the wise to give them oil to “bolster” their ministries (verses 8–9). The wise understood that their spiritual history and spiritual preparedness cannot be imparted or given to others. Christian self-help and pop psychology sermons will not meet the need of the hour in that day. In that day, we must be a voice that pursues the truth based on our secret life in God and that is not just an echo of popular ideas.

Many times, the enemy will try to hook sincere believers with what is called a Messiah complex, trying to convince us that we are the only ones who can meet the needs of various people. And because we cannot bear the pressure of disappointing people, we say yes to everything, thinking we’re the answer for them, or because we cannot bear the pressure of them thinking less of us.

Through this parable, Jesus is telling us to know our limitations. Often I can hear Him remind us, saying, “You cannot be everywhere doing everything. You will end up with no oil, and then you will end up not being helpful at all to people. You will end up in the condition of those other ones.”

The response of the wise virgins may seem harsh to some, but what they are saying is, “We cannot transfer our spiritual history in Jesus, nor our spiritual depth and preparation, to you. You have to do it yourself, in the God-ordained way, by the God-ordained process. You have to engage yourself, invest yourself, and get oil in the way the Bible says.”

In my own life I’ve seen the necessity of saying no as very important. If you cannot say no to the numerous requests placed on you and yes to prioritizing time to connect with the Lord, your lamp will go out, your oil will be gone, and you will not be effective to anyone. You might be popular, but you will not be spiritually effective. Beloved, you have to know your limitations.

Every one of us has a history in God. It may be a short history in God, if you are a new believer, or a long and deep history in God. But you have a secret life in God, a secret history that only He knows. You cannot give that history to someone else. I cannot give my oil to someone else, my life in God to anyone else. I can pray for them, and the Lord can inspire them and touch them, but I cannot give my preparation to somebody by saying words or praying for them. You can pray, and God’s grace will touch them, but the one place oil comes from is from our own personal interaction with God over time.

Jesus says that wise leaders prioritize cultivating intimacy with Him. Foolish leaders who have good motives but do not know their limitations are deceived into thinking they are the answer to everyone’s problems. Often they cannot bear the pressure of disappointing people, so they say yes. Jesus said, “You are foolish. I love you. I know you love Me, but you are foolish. You will burn out, and over time you will have little to give that has spiritual vitality in it.”

Jesus exhorts us to buy oil, to engage in the God-ordained process of acquiring intimacy with God. He is not calling people to try to earn it, but rather to invest themselves in a costly way to position their hearts to receive it.

This exhortation to buy does not mean to earn it. Instead He is instructing each believer to invest yourself in your relationship with Him in a way that will be costly. It will cost you time. And you do lose opportunities when you draw back in your schedule and invest that time in the Lord.

When I look back over forty years of ministry, there are many places I could not go and many social events and conference invitations that I had to refuse. There were many gatherings I missed because I did not have the time to do everything, because I sought to prioritize oil—though not always. Again, I have been corrected by the Lord many times. The Lord instructs me to get back to cultivating oil. He says, “Invest yourself in a costly way.” It will cost you because people will get upset at you. You really will miss out on some opportunities. But you are positioning yourself to get oil.

And this pursuit of cultivating oil, beloved, is worth the cost in order to be found as wise before our Bridegroom King.

Question: Which passages of scripture help you focus on cultivating the oil of intimacy?

For more timely insights about Christian leadership, check out our IHOPKC podcast Kingdom Impact.

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Mike Bickle


  • Founder, IHOPKC

Mike Bickle is the founder of the International House of Prayer, an evangelical missions organization based on 24/7 prayer with worship. He is also the founder of International House of Prayer University, which includes full-time ministry, music, and media schools.

Mike’s teaching emphasizes growing in passion for Jesus through intimacy with God, doing evangelism and missions work from the place of night-and-day prayer, and the end times. He is the author of several books, including Growing in Prayer, Passion for Jesus, God’s Answer to the Growing CrisisGrowing in the Prophetic, and Prayers to Strengthen Your Inner Man.  Mike and his wife, Diane, have two married sons and six grandchildren.

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