The Navy SEALs get their name from the three ways they infiltrate on a mission: by sea, air, or land. At times, such as when Richard Phillips, captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, was taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009, a SEAL team uses more than one method of "infil."

In that case, the SEAL team parachuted, at night to avoid being seen, into the Indian Ocean. Picked up by boat, they were taken to the U.S.S. Bainbridge, the destroyer keeping watch on the small lifeboat holding Captain Phillips and the pirates. From the Bainbridge, the SEALs staged their rescue of Captain Phillips.

Whether by air, sea, land, or a combination, the teams find their way to their mission.

Just as special operations teams have three means of infiltration, so too we in ministry have three primary means of bringing the gospel into situations we face.

Prayer is perhaps the most direct way of bringing God into a particular situation. We pray for God's help, and we pray for the wisdom we need. But there's more to prayer than asking for what we're lacking.

As John Ortberg writes, "The goal of prayer is not to see who can spend the longest time in prayer ... not to pray with greater feelings of certainty, or greater eloquence, or even greater frequency. The goal of prayer is to live all my life and to do all my ministry in the joyful awareness that God is present, right here, right now." Prayer is being conscious of what's true all the time, whether we're conscious of it or not: God is here.

Presence is the second way the gospel infiltrates. We point to God's presence, which is always here even though we're wont to ignore it, neglect it, or be distracted from it. Practicing the presence of God is part of the art of a maturing ministry.

But presence has another element, and that's personal presence. Just as Jesus became incarnate and dwelt among us on earth, so in ministry, we are given the opportunity to be present with others. To represent Christ. To be his arms and legs and hands and feet to people who aren't yet capable of recognizing God's less visible presence.

We all know that it's possible to be physically present but emotionally and relationally distant. Presence in ministry means being fully present, fully aware of God's presence and fully aware of what's present in the lives of the people in the room.

Scripture infiltrates when we bring God's Word to bear on the situations we face. Scripture can be used superficially or prematurely, or it can be used well.

If someone confesses a struggle with porn, for instance, we can quickly spout Bible verses like "if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out." Or we can do the harder work of discerning what soul deficit the person is experiencing—distance from God, perhaps, or loneliness or shame—and point to Scriptures that address the deeper causal issues.

As one pastor told his counselor, "I realize that in my ministry I have used Scripture like spaghetti on a wall. I throw a bunch out there and hope something sticks. You have used it like a scalpel, with precision, in the exact place it's needed."

Prayer, presence, and Scripture: three means of infiltrating the lives of those God has called us to reach.

Marshall Shelley