It occurred to me the other day that Christians frequently handle information in the same way the world does. We often think more information will change our situation. If we only knew the Bible more, if we only understood theology correctly we could win more people to Christ, if we only had that seminary degree then people would really respect and listen to us…if…if…if.
I understand the situation. As a believer in Jesus, I believe that the Bible is the standard of truth and that knowing Jesus involves knowing how Christ is revealed in its pages. This has lead me [and many, many others, but hey we’re talking about me here…] to pursue knowledge, thinking that knowledge itself is how I grow up spiritually. Even typing those words, it sounds so wrong, but that is how we as Christians act.
Paul spoke directly to this idea when he said, “…while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church,” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Paul knew there was a deception in the church that would cause us to substitute knowledge with true love and maturity. A.W. Tozer, echoing these sentiments hundreds of years later said, “You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically, and as empty as one spiritually.” Again, the idea is knowledge can make us feel like we arrived, but can leave us empty at the end of the day. If information was all we needed, we’d have completed the Great Commission by now and each made hundreds of disciples. There’s more to Christ than just mental understanding.
The other day I feel like the Lord spoke this to my spirit: “There are people alive today who have better theology than the apostle Paul, yet there are fewer apostle Paul’s on the Earth.” What I felt like He meant by that is there are people alive today who know the Gospels, they’ve dissected the epistles, they know historical theology and probably have a more articulate handle on the Bible than even the apostle Paul did. But these same people aren’t living Paul’s life. They aren’t turning the world upside down. They’re bookish, but not Kingdom-ish.
So to you are caught in that same trap that I’ve been caught in, I say this with love: repent. Don’t put your trust in your learning. Put your trust in a living Jesus who wants to encounter you, teach you to love, and carry the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, raising up disciples along the way. Don’t abandon a sound understanding of God’s word, but let the understanding be birthed out of love for Jesus and obedience to what He’s commanded, not out of a pursuit to know more.
A few days ago a prominent pastor/teacher/theologian/writer in the body of Christ indicated in an interview that he would be supportive of a homosexual marriage. The body of Christ in the West was shocked as someone who represented the best of evangelical Christianity seemingly betrayed what the church has stood for for generations. Since that time, this leader has taken back his words, but needless to say the body of Christ was a bit shaken.
In a few months, some very conservative, prominent Bible believing pastor/leader/writer who has made a stink about this issue will be revealed to have fallen to one particular sin or vice in his life. This will correspond with the book tour of the next Evangelical leader who will write a book about how the Bible isn’t true.
These are not prophecies as much as they are expectations based on the season that we’re in. It seems as if we are in a season where leaders are falling left and right and causing us to doubt the validity of Biblical Christianity. One minute a trusted leader is caving to some new form of heresy. The next minute, the one who stood for Biblical truth against that leader is falling into sin. It makes us believe there is no one standing for Biblical Christianity.
The truth of the matter is I wish I could say that most of this was the devil waging war on the body of Christ. Honestly, while I believe that in part, there is a higher truth that I believe is going on in the West right now. God says, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens,” (Hebrews 12:26) and the writer of Hebrews goes on to explain that ‘[t]his phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain,” (Hebrews 12:27).
I actually believe we are in a season where the Lord is shaking everything that can be shaken. This is leading up to the end of the age, but it is not the end. The goal of it is to shake those things that we put our trust in that are not Jesus and His Kingdom. These aren’t just evil things that are being shaken–they are good things that we have put our trust in other than Christ! Where our lust for leaders is greater than our desire to follow Jesus, Jesus is actually shaking us, in His mercy, so that we put our trust in the eternal things of the Lord that will never be shaken.
I believe this is a season, not a day or a week or a month or even a year. I believe it will happen in waves and we will think it’s passed. Then it will happen in another wave and we’ll get all stirred up again. And then same cycle will repeat itself. It will jolt us but if we’re not careful, we can be lulled to sleep in the times between the waves. I believe this is primarily affecting Christians in the cultural West, but it’s leading somewhere greater than that. It’s not the great falling away that Scripture talks about, but it is a shaking that will cause us to choose between what can be shaken and what can’t.
Why would God do this? He desires that we find our fulfillment and our satisfaction in Him. Not in leaders. Not in their piety. Not even in their good theology. He wants us to trust in Him because He alone is the only Thing that cannot be shaken. We’ve thought for so long that the great shaking would come to the world, and we would be okay, but Peter tells us clearly “for the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household,” (1 Peter 4:17). So while there will be shakings that happen to world systems, there is a shaking that right now is taking place in our midst–and God’s goal in it is that we trust in Him, not just the evangelical brand of Christianity we’ve become comfortable with.
In this season, we should anticipate more things being shaken in the cultural landscape of Christianity. What need to examine our lives and identify areas where we are trusting in things that can be shaken and give those areas to God. If we get good at building on obedience to Jesus and His Kingdom, our lives and the lives of those we serve will stand even though they are hit hard by forces beyond our control (Matthew 7:24-27).
Are you ready?
It’s a story that I hear over and over again.
Go down the street to a church that has had a measure of success and grown fairly large and talk to the people who have been there since the beginning. Those people will tell you about the days when the church was small. In the days when the church was just planted, everyone knew everyone else. It was like a small group. They knew each other like family. “Man, I miss those days,” is how I hear people sum up those beginning days.
What changed? Well, the church was able to attract people. More people kept coming. They had to get a building. Then they had to get a bigger building. The number of people caused the feeling of family to disappear. There were small groups, sure, but they didn’t feel the same. There was more business that needed to be attended to. The pastor was busier. Those who were around at the beginning had responsibilities to help the new people who were coming.
They grew out of that season.
There is a way to grow without losing that close-knit family. You can make more disciples without giving yourself to keeping the doors open and the lights on. It starts with a commitment to meet as a house church, to birth more house churches instead of growing large, and to make disciples who make other disciples instead of growing a crowd. Not all church plants have to lose the spirit of family and discipleship.
It’s a path we chose.
Recently I wrote about disappointment with prophetic words about revival and how God has surer promises that we can depend on. What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was that for many people, this brought up a larger issue about disappointment with prophetic words in general, not just about revival. I think what I found was that, for many, prophetic disappointment is real and can lead to dangerous places.
First, for those not initiated, the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit gifting people who are part of the body of Christ to hear what God is saying and speak it forth. God loves to speak to His people, so much so that Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit told the Corinthians (who, by the way were known for the over-use of spiritual gifts) that he wanted everyone to pursue spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1). This is still a reality that happens today but everything that the Holy Spirit says should be grounded in and not contradict what God has clearly said in the Bible.
I’ve been part of groups that have believed these truths for the past 20 years and I’ve seen some incredible good come from people sharing things that are clearly from God. I have also seen some people hurt by people abusing the gifts of the Spirit or just through people being wrong about what God is saying. Neither the good or the bad has swayed me, however. Instead, Scripture’s admonition that the gift of prophecy builds the church continues to encourage me forward in hearing God’s voice and sharing it with others. So how do we navigate prophetic disappointment?
Paul actually gives us the following encouragement in regards to those who are struggling with discouragement around prophetic words:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
There are two areas here where we miss the Lord’s will here: We can despise all prophecy or not test any of it. Each of these is a pitfall that can lead to prophetic discouragment.
Despising prophecy is the first pitfall. It’s actually a form of bitterness of the soul that comes from being hurt. Not only will despising prophecy not profit you as a believer, but the accompanying bitterness can spring up and defile you and others. The fix here is that you acknowledge that just because people have used the gift of prophecy poorly in your life, doesn’t mean the gift of prophecy is evil or wrong. We have to be willing to allow God to use prophetic gifts to speak into our lives–it’s part of learning to be the church.
Failure to test prophecy is the second pitfall. Not testing prophetic words sets people up for prophetic disappointment. Because New Testament prophecy is given en masse to the body of Christ, there is the potential for error. This is why Paul calls us to test the prophetic and hold to those declarations that actually pass the test. For many of us, we’ve been so hungry to hear from God in this way that we’ve blindly accepted every word that someone has spoken. This actually sets up ourselves and others for disappointment later. Test everything. Hold to what is true.
The best example I can give you in this arena is Shawn Bolz. Shawn is a legitimate prophetic voice in the body of Christ today and he’s known for giving incredibly accurate words of knowledge.He walks in a powerful prophetic anointing and teaches others to do the same. But Shawn is well aware of the hurt that has come from failed prophecy. He has repeatedly taught in his classes that a sign of maturity in this gifting is being able to go back and apologize for the places where we’ve inaccurately shared a prophetic word. This is the side of the prophetic most charismatics don’t want to talk about, but keeps us from growing as those who hear from the Holy Spirit.
God longs to speak to us today. If we want to grow in His likeness and mature as believers, we need to begin to open ourselves to His voice. In order to do that, we must repent of despising the prophetic and begin to believe in it so much that we test the words others give us and hold onto the ones that survive that test. When we do, we begin a journey of powerfully hearing from the Holy Spirit. This marked the New Testament church and propelled them into amazing things. Don’t settle for less than this.
Last week, I wrote a quick post about a particular type of heartsickness that causes people to give up, not only on their calling and vision but also on Jesus. In what I can only describe as some sort of miraculous accident this quick entry became my most read post of the year. I think that fact speaks to the reality that many of us face heartsickness around something we thought was from God but didn’t turn out like we expected.
I had one friend write in and ask a very pointed question, that I think deserves follow-up. She wrote:
Yeah…what if you have tried to believe in that dream for several years but nothing has happened???? Years and years.
Honestly, my original post had no instructions about what to do in the place of disappointment other than to not let it destroy your faith. I stand by that advice in so many ways, but I wanted to offer something a bit more practical for this sister and others out there who find themselves trying to navigate heartsickness and decide what to do with that dream. For those who find themselves in that place, I would do (and have done) the following things:
- Discern What Was Jesus and What Was You- It’s unfortunate but true, sometimes we latch on to a vision that wasn’t from Jesus. Sometimes the things that stir our heart aren’t always the things Jesus is doing. I’ve seen people with ministry visions that are well-intentioned but obviously born out the flesh. In many cases these saints are loved by God but are listening to themselves. Believers in this situation need perspective and the place to get it is in a collective of older, wiser, and trusted friends who are willing to help you discern what is from God and what is from you. Tell them the story of your vision. Tell them about God speaking to you and the times God confirmed His voice. Then tell them the difficulties and let them help you discern what is from God. This is scary because you are trusting people who aren’t perfect. They may be wrong. But over the years, these men and women in my life have kept me from giving up on the right things and from pursuing the wrong things. Once you have discerned what is Jesus, lay down the things that are not. Grieve time you may have wasted on things that aren’t from the Lord. But hold to the things that, once tested, have proven to be real.
- Consider Yourself- We’d be wrong if we didn’t consider ourselves as part of the equation. Is there something in us that is keeping us from entering into the promised land where Jesus has called us? God called the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt to inherit the promised land, but their inability to believe God kept them from entering. While I believe the gifts and callings of God can’t be withdrawn (Romans 11:29) I think its important to remember that we play a part in pursuing the calling on our lives. Paul says “I obeyed the vision from heaven,” (Acts 26:19) which tells me we can disobey it somewhere along the line. So we have to do a non-condemning assessment of ourselves and own the parts of barrenness that come from us. Where have we not believed God? Where have we been disobedient to the heavenly vision? In these places, repent and believe God that He can restore the years that the locusts have eaten. You may find yourself quickly catapulted back into the vision you’ve long considered dead.
- Remember Timing- Once you have spent real time figuring out what is from Jesus and what is from you and you have considered how you may be impacting your own vision, consider whether you have missed God’s timing. It’s possible that you saw something way off in the distant future and because of the way God speaks to our hearts, you thought it was for now or a year from now, but it was a decade or more in the future. You certainly wouldn’t be alone in this. Hebrews chapter 11 tells us that (at least) Abraham and Sarah “…died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth,” (Hebrews 11:13). In Abraham and Sarah’s case, they were given a generational vision that was real, but they could never pull it off by themselves. They had to raise up others to inherit their promises. So while your vision may be real, your expectations of timing may not be right. For those who are here, ask God about timing and prepare for the long haul. As Westerners, we believer everything must happen now, but God has His own timetable He is working on. God’s words to Habakkuk are also important. Habakkuk was a prophet who saw a vision of God but was discouraged when it didn’t happen immediately. God says this: “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed,” (Habakkuk 2:3). All of this is to say don’t let a discerned vision cause heartsickness just because of delay. Delay may be a misunderstanding of God’s timing.
Most importantly, remember that the things that are truly from God will happen. God calls things into existence out of nothing and spoke the Earth into existence over a period of days. Once you have discerned something is truly from God, don’t give up. All of the heroes the Bible tells us about are broken and unlikely people who believed God when all hope was lost. Don’t lose faith. Be like Abraham:
Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, ‘That’s how many descendants you will have!‘ And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb. Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.
I regularly encourage people to begin meeting in homes, encouraging each other, witnessing to lost people, and making disciples. I do this because I see it as the apostolic pattern in the New Testament. As I’ve encouraged people to take these steps, I’ve seen two very distinct responses: One group seems to submit more and more to Jesus and biblical truth, the other group throws out the baby with the bathwater.
Having watched people, this transition is hard. Tradition (buildings, sermons, clergy, etc.) rather than the Lordship of Christ has been what has “kept people in line” for most of their lives. This realization that the tradition doesn’t have the support of the New Testament can cause people to throw off all restraints, including God-ordained ones. So not only do they get rid of buildings, sermons, and clergy, but they throw out sound doctrine, Scriptural purity, any kind of spiritual discipline, and commitment to other believers. These are quickly ship-wrecked in their walk with the Lord, because they aren’t just getting rid of traditions, they are getting rid of Christ’s lordship over their lives.
Which brings us to the topic of anarchy. The idea of anarchy is borrowed from the realm of government. It means a society without a government or more specifically a land not ruled by a king. The Church for a long time has submitted to illegitimate heads (think the Pope or abusive evangelical leadership structures) but the cure for the church is not “losing its heads.” The cure isn’t anarchy. The cure for the church is recovering submission to its true head: Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 5:23).
Instead of anarchy, instead of calling believers to throw off all restraint, our task is to call men and women to submit to Christ more fully and express that in ways that grow ever closer to the pattern we see in Scripture. We’re not looking for anarchy. We’re looking for the true headship of Christ expressed in His body. This is more like a reformation, where the very operating system of the church is reformatted and brought closer to it’s original design, than a free-for-all where we can pick and choose what parts of the Gospel we like or not.
So let’s test our previous assumptions. But let’s test them, not in the light of “doing whatever is right in our own eyes,” (Judges 17:6) but in relationship to Christ’s Lordship that we understand through a diligent and faithful study of God’s word. Let’s submit to the Kingship of God and find life and power beyond our understanding. Let’s pursue a reformation of the church and the removal of illegitimate kings, but let’s not throw away the kingship. Let’s just give it to the Man who deserves it: Jesus.
Once, when asked what he would do as the pastor of a church in a city, Billy Graham shared this strategy:
I think one of the first things I would do would be to get a small group of eight or ten or twelve men around me that would meet a few hours a week and pay the price. It would cost them something in time and effort. I would share with them everything I have, over a period of years. Then I would actually have twelve ministers among the laymen who in turn could take eight or ten or twelve more and teach them. I know one or two churches that are doing that, and it is revolutionizing the church. Christ, I think, set the pattern. He spent most of his time with twelve men. He didn’t spend it with a great crowd. In fact, every time he had a great crowd it seems to me that there weren’t too many results. The great results, it seems to me, came in his personal interview and in the time he spent with the twelve.1
So, I’ll ask again…why aren’t you starting a house church?
1This quote is famously captured in Robert E Coleman’s important book, “The Master Plan of Evangelism.