What It’s About: Written by Bill Johnson, the book sets out to convince the reader that their current perception about God is wrong. Johnson argues that God is not like the abusive step-father we believe Him to be and more like a good Father that Jesus portrays in the Gospel. Johnson invites us to believe in a God who is good and desires good things for His children.
What I Liked: I love Johnson’s approach to healing and the supernatural. He pushes us to not settle for hopelessness and the idea that God desires sickness and defeat. There is war in his spirit that comes out in this book that will be helpful to the body of Christ. I found myself encouraged to pursue God more, believe Him more, and contend in prayer for the things He wants to do.
What I Didn’t Like: Unfortunately, while I love Bill and some of the things he represents in the Kingdom, there are some things I didn’t like about this book at all.
The first thing I didn’t like is his spurious treatment of the Old Testament. He spends an inordinate amount of time talking about it, defending his love for it, and even showing the goodness of God in it in places, all while he simultaneously seems to diminish its importance. It should be said that I’m a big believer in the following statement from Paul: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). So, when Johnson makes arguments that the Gospels/Jesus reveal the true nature of God and juxtaposes that argument with a quote from C.S. Lewis that pits the doctrine of the goodness of God against the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Johnson dances dangerously close to setting up a set of books in the Bible that is more inspired than other parts of Scripture. I believe the fullest and most exact expression of God is Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2), but I don’t believe we have to dismiss the rest of Scripture in order to get there.
Secondly, this book would have more aptly been titled “The Failure of Man: We’re God’s PR Problem.” I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I had bought this book to wash my spirit in the goodness of God and hoped not only to get a theological treatment of the topic, but an experiential one that Johnson would be able to provide. Instead, the main thrust of Johnson’s argument is that God is not perceived as good because we have failed to represent Him (especially in the area of manifesting His power) the way He really is. In Johnson’s view, more people would think God is good if we got our act together and believed for the things God wants to do.
Do I believe God wants to do more through his people? Absolutely. Do I think sometimes we focus too much on unclear passages in Scripture and what they say about God’s character than we do about the clear example of God we see in Jesus? Yes. Can we believe God is better than we currently think and become a sign of God’s goodness to others? Undoubtedly. But is diminishing the importance of God’s inspired word and pointing to our failures a good way to help us see God’s goodness? I don’t think so.
Should You Get It: There are a lot of good books by Bill Johnson. I just finished “Raising Giant Killers” by Johnson earlier this year and LOVED it. There are some beneficial things in the book and if you can “eat the chicken and spit out the bones” of this book, you may grow from this book, however, for most, I find it generally hard to recommend.
What specifically does the book of Acts reference that may be easier to leave in the past?
A church focused on the Great Commission (Acts 1:8)
A church that encounters the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3-4)
The church is a community calling people from sin to a focused, communal lifestyle (Acts 2:38-47)
Healings happen (Acts 3:7-8)
Untrained men are vessels for the Gospel (Acts 4:13)
The church had a supernatural unity that manifested itself in economic care (Acts 4:32-35)
God had high standards for his church (Acts 5:1-11)
Unusual miracles like the apostles’ shadows healing people (Acts 5:12-16)
Faithfulness to Jesus doesn’t save Stephen’s life (Acts 7:59-60)
The Holy Spirit doesn’t fall immediately at salvation (Acts 8:16)
God directs the harvest in crazy, supernatural ways (Acts 8:26, 39)
God chooses a murderer as a leader (Acts 9:5)
Trances (Acts 10:10)
Tongues (Acts 10:46-47)
Prophets predicting events (Acts 11:28)
The angel of the Lord striking people (Acts 12:23)
God sending blindness on someone (Acts 13:11)
Persecution (Acts 14:19-20)
“We must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
Elders appointed long after a church was established (Acts 14:23)
Demons being cast out (Acts 16:18)
Rapid church planting (Acts 17:2,10)
Tent-making apostles (Acts 18:3)
Visions that direct mission (Acts 18:9-10)
Unusual miracles like handkerchiefs healing people (Acts 18:11-12)
Paul providing for his own needs (Acts 20:34)
“It is more blessed to give than receive.” -Jesus (Acts 20:35)
Personal prophecy and the difficulty with interpretations (Acts 21:10-14)
Visions of Jesus directing people (Acts 22:17-21)
“…all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do.” -Paul (Acts 26:20)
Angels directing people (Acts 27:23)
“Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed.” -Acts 28:9
What did I miss?
When I was in Bible College, I had one of the best roommates I could have asked for. We had both come to the school to learn more about the power of the Holy Spirit. My friend was an evangelist, but our school focused almost exclusively on prayer and the power of Holy Spirit. So late in our first year at the school, he got permission from the head of the school to do some intensive research about how those three topics intersect.
My friend completed his paper, but I always remember the conclusion he came to in the paper was simultaneously simple and profound: The New Testament church’s experience was one of rhythms. Instead of focusing on one aspect or the other (something the church is exceptionally good at), the church of Acts would continually move through rhythms: The community would gather and pray, the Holy Spirit would respond, and the result would be a missionary thrust that lead many people to the Lord.
You see this in Acts 1-3. Jesus ascends into Heaven but tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the believers and a great harvest is gathered in from Peter’s message. The Harvest continues in Acts 3 with the healing of the lame man and many people coming to Christ.
The rhythm begins again in Acts 4-6. The apostles are brought before the high council and warned not to speak of Christ. When they are released they gather together and pray. This time the building they are praying in is shaken by the Holy Spirit and those gathered were filled with great boldness. Miracles begin to happen, a great number of people came to the Lord, other leaders were raised up, and the mission continues to go forth.
One more example is Acts 13-19. Acts 13 opens with believers in the diverse church of Antioch ministering to the Lord and fasting. It was during this time of prayer and fasting that God by the Holy Spirit spoke to the church to send Paul and Barnabas on their first apostolic mission. This apostolic mission was marked by signs and wonders and culminated in a number of new churches in Galatia and Asia Minor.
This is important for a simple reason: There is a great divide in the church. Often people who devote themselves to prayer are separated from those who give themselves to evangelism. Oddly enough, people who experience the Holy Spirit in profound ways are often separate from the people who pray and the people who evangelize. This isn’t the way God designed the church to function. We weren’t designed to live in continual prayer meetings that never see the Holy Spirit spill out to the streets and touch the lost. Nor were we designed to be constantly evangelizing without the power of the Holy Spirit that comes when we gather together and pray.
Instead, the church often will find itself somewhere in this cycle, praying, going in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then proclaiming the Gospel to lost people. In fact, this is the testimony of many of the great moves of the Spirit throughout history, starting with the book of Acts right up through the church planting movements that are happening across the globe right now.
Are you in a season where evangelism and mission is low? Maybe it’s time to return to the place of prayer and ask God to pour out His Spirit. Are you continuing in the place of prayer, but not much else? It may be time to lift your eyes to where the Holy Spirit might moving. Are you experiencing the Holy Spirit in profound ways but not seeing much harvest? It’s possible that the Holy Spirit is sending you to people outside of your church community to share the Gospel with power. The key is knowing what season you’re in. We get stagnant (even disobedient) when we choose one activity over what the Holy Spirit has us in.
So, what season does the Holy Spirit have you and your church in right now?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Our house church network is in a season where we need to hear from the Lord about a number of things. There is no external threats, per se, but a number of us our sensing its time to gather together and seek the Lord in prayer in the way I described above. We are gathering tomorrow night for an extended time of prayer and listening to Jesus. Will you pray for us, that God would speak and help us forward in the next season of our lives together?
I would greatly appreciate it.
If you’re like me and you grew up in the charismatic movement, you heard prophecies all the time about revival. It wasn’t unusual for a traveling evangelist, prophetic voice, or a writer or teacher to talk about revival, prophesy great revival for America, or encourage the church that they were speaking at to prepare for revival because “it is coming.”
I came to Christ in the midst of this revival fervor, so I’m certainly no stranger to it. I’ve made significant life decisions believing that the revivals that people were predicting were going to happen. While I don’t regret a single of the decisions I’ve made, the lack of revival can be discouraging. I know friends who have been deeply wounded or at least left wondering where the revivals that were promised are.
Some of these promises made weren’t inspired by the Spirit. Some of them came and we didn’t recognize them because they came in a form we weren’t expecting. Some of the promises of revival were true and we are still waiting for them to happen because their time hasn’t come yet. Regardless, all of these things can discourage a person.
I’ve said it before: I still believe in the movement of the Spirit. I believe we need to keep praying for revival. But I also know there is a certain amount of revival fatigue that has hit the body of Christ. It can be the promise that is kept dangling in front of us and that can make us heartsick.
So, this morning, as I was praying and journaling, the Lord brought this verse to my mind:
For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea.
So in a way that only the Holy Spirit can do, He took the words of the Bible and made them alive in my spirit. It was as if in reading the words of Scripture, He was saying “I know you hunger for people to turn to Jesus and live holy lives. I know there have been promises of revival. Some of those prophecies have come and gone just like the prophets who gave them. But my word doesn’t come and go. I promised that the Earth would be filled with the knowledge of my glory like the waters cover the sea. There is no way that this cannot happen.”
Think about it. Where do you see the water not covering the sea? Nowhere. Everywhere there is sea, there is water covering it. According to the Bible there is a day coming where the knowledge of the Lord’s glory will cover the Earth in that way. While the prophecies of your favorite speaker may or may not come true, the Bible has proven true over and over again and you can trust in its promises.
So friends, you who have believed in the promise of revival, the prophecies of revival may have failed you, but you can trust the Lord. He will fill the Earth with the knowledge of His glory. Don’t let your heart grow weary. You can give your life for this reality and even if you don’t see it in your day, you can trust knowing that God will cause it to come to pass. It will happen.
You can count on it.
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.
It was a normal Saturday. I was mowing the lawn when a woman I knew from a previous church walked by me and struck up a conversation. Much of the conversation was just the normal catching up, but then she turned to tell me a bit about one of her relatives who had been fiery for Jesus but was now struggling to find purpose and had stopped meeting with believers altogether. She asked me to pray for him, which I did.
I sat there, praying, and a thought hit me that seemed to be spontaneous enough that I should consider whether the Lord was inspiring it. This is what I heard: “There’s a certain kind of disappointment that can paralyze a man’s soul.”
As I pondered the thought, I realized that often we can have high expectations for God to move and for things to change, but there are two different responses in the heart of men. One response is to continue to press in more. The other response is to become heart sick when you don’t see the type of Christianity you’ve been believing for lived out among a group of people. Proverbs talks about this when it says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life,” (Proverbs 13:12).
This is the danger that so many of us risk running into. If we truly believe in apostolic Christianity, we run the risk of being disappointed if it doesn’t take root with our church. We can have a vision for revival and a move of the Spirit and when it doesn’t come in the time or the way we thought, we can become so heartsick we backslide. We can want to be a part of a house church so badly that we suffer in our walk with Christ when one doesn’t materialize. This isn’t just a theory, I’ve watched it happen with young men and young women who I thought were among the fieriest people I knew.
Disappointment makes our heart sick. So what do we do? Do we stop believing? Do we set the bar really low so no one can be disappointed? Not at all.
Instead, we press in to the heavenly vision that is given us. We also need to set our hearts on Jesus and not our vision. We take refuge in being loved by God regardless of whether we see everything we thought we would see. Often, those of us who are heartsick end up that way because the love of Jesus is not alive and active in our hearts, only the love of our vision. With the seeming death of our vision, we at best backslide and at worst walk away from our faith.
Friends, carefully guard your hearts so that your vision for Christianity and your life serve Christ. Make sure that Christ isn’t serving your vision. It’s the only way to protect your heart from this particular type of heart sickness.
And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Welcome to Inspiration Avenue!
My conviction is that our generation is over-taught and under-inspired, so every week I cultivate some of the most inspiring content I can find on the internet and bring it to you. I hope you are inspired to live fully submitted to Christ and pursuing everything He purchased for you on the Cross.
Maybe this goes without saying, but I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything I post here. In fact, I expect some of the things I post will rattle your theological cages. My suggestion? Be inspired by people who aren’t perfect. Realize you won’t agree with everything I share here. Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.
So, without further ado, here are three sources of inspiration for the week:
Methods and Tools vs. Prayer and Obedience: Roger Thorman writes about his journey into simple, organic house churches on his blog, SimpleChurchJournal. This post hammers at the thought that all of our disciple making methods and strategies are useless outside of a close walk with the Lord. This is so crucial, because often we get so caught up in the methods that a relationship with Christ can get left behind.
The Phenomenonal Growth of the Salvation Army: Lex Loizides is a church historian of the revivalist variety. He spends his time at his blog Church History Review telling the stories of revivals of the past. Currently Lex is telling the story of the Salvation Army. While the whole story is powerful, I was particularly touched by the picture here of William Booth as an old man, completely eclipsed by the men and women he had raised up into ministry from the ranks of the poor and disenfranchised. May God help us all to raise up disciples that touch the nations of the Earth like He did with William and Catherine Booth.
David Ravenhill: David Ravenhill is the son of famed preacher and revivalist Leonard Ravenhill. Leonard Ravenhill was known throughout the 70’s and 80’s for calling the church away from being like the world. I recently came across a quote of David, echoing his father in many ways: “this tidal wave of deception [. . .] seeks to make self the ultimate object of our worship while reducing God to being our ultimate personal trainer. In recent years, the words “your destiny” have been preached, prophesied, and promoted throughout the Body of Christ, to the point where self has become the center and focal point of life rather than Christ and His Kingdom.” Let’s all purpose to serve Jesus and not continue to ask Jesus to serve us.