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.
As I wrote yesterday, I have a pretty long history in the charismatic expression of Christianity. I truly treasure my past because I wouldn’t have come to Christ apart from seeing and experiencing the power of God in the present. I truly believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is critical to seeing apostolic Christianity restored to the Earth.
So it was curious for me several years ago when I was reading Alan Hirsch’s book “The Forgotten Ways” that he mentioned a missing ingredient of the missional church was the Pentecostal experience:
What is still largely missing from this emergent phenomenon is any sustained and explicit Pentecostal presence, with all its passion and fire. While it’s true that Pentecostalism taught us the true value of apostolic ministry, the Pentecostals have not been a noteworthy expression of [emergent missional church], as far as I am aware. This is probably because Pentecostalism is still basking in the relative success that church growth praxis brought them.
Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways (Page 270)
I would say that Hirsch’s experience of a lack of Pentecostals or charismatic experience in the emergent missional church mirrors my experience with house churches largely outside of our network. And while I may be off on this, my perception is that very few house churches are started with those from charismatic backgrounds.
This is sad to me because charismatics should feel the most at home in house churches. House churches exist to allow every member of the body of Christ to participate in the gathering. The meetings are small to intentionally facilitate interaction, especially the sharing of gifts. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26 “When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.” The kind of organic church Paul describes here allows for the power of the Holy Spirit to move among different members of the body.
Pentecostals and Charismatics should believe in the democratization of the Holy Spirit. That’s a big five dollar word that describes that idea that the Holy Spirit gives Himself to each and every believer. Because every believer gets a measure of Christ’s gifting through the power of the Spirit, every believer should be participating in a meeting of believers with the Holy Spirit leading like the director of an orchestra. The democratization of the Holy Spirit means every believer can participate in the work of God.
Peter best articulates this for us in his famous message to the Jews in Jerusalem after Pentecost:
No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy.
What Peter is saying in this message is that a day that the prophet Joel had predicted has come to pass: God is pouring out His Spirit on everyone. Prior to this, God had poured out His Spirit on special anointed individuals, mainly kings and prophets. The Holy Spirit’s activity was unique and happened only among select people. But now, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, everyone could have access to this elusive Holy Spirit. Men and women, young and old, even the servants–all would be able to move in the gifting of God.
These are the verses that launched the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century. A desire to be filled with the Spirit and experience God personally marked places like the Azusa Street revival. But over the last 100 years, the movement has grown increasingly comfortable with letting ‘anointed’ men and women do the hard work. It’s not uncommon for attenders in charismatic congregations to have never experienced the Holy Spirit in any way outside of the pastor or preacher’s ministry.
All of this, then, is a giant appeal from me to those who believe in the gifts of the Spirit to put into practice the democracy of the Spirit. Do you believe God gives gifts to His church? Good! Then gather believers together in their homes and have meetings like they were described in 1 Corinthians 14. Let members of the church practice sharing their gifts from the Holy Spirit with each other. Don’t be content with someone else exercising their one gift for the entire body. Keep pressing into the Spirit until every member of the body of Christ is participating in a meeting of believers with the gifts God has given them.
The result will be the strengthening of the church.
I came to Christ in the midst of a spiritual revival that was sweeping through sections of the church in the mid-90’s. I watched my mom get miraculously healed of cancer in front of my eyes and it was shortly after that I gave my life to Christ. It was during this time that Brownsville, Toronto, and other places were experiencing moves of the Holy Spirit. We treasured that season because we were watching things that happened in the Bible regularly occur before our eyes. For us, this was what Christianity was supposed to be about.
Somewhere around the year 2000 many of those movements faded a bit and it was during this time I started feeling called to church planting. After college I moved to Kansas City to learn church planting and how to follow the Holy Spirit like I had seen others do. I got a bit more than I bargained for, though. Not only did I learn church planting and following the Holy Spirit, but I got introduced to the concept of house churches and my thinking about the body of Christ was turned upside down. Shortly after this I moved back to Iowa.
Since that time, I’ve mostly given myself to starting house churches in our region and raising up disciples that will make disciples. And even if you’ve read my blog, it’s largely focused on the idea that the church is a people who meet simply and make disciples.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about revival, the movement of the Spirit, and how that all functions in the context of movements and making disciples. You could think from posts I’ve written like Awakening, Harvest, and Broken Nets Part I, II, and III that I don’t believe in revival anymore. But that’s not the case. I believe (and am asking) for a movement of the Holy Spirit in our country, I just think it looks different than what most people are expecting.
What I mean is this: revival and awakening have typically happened in the context of existing structures of church. Because of this, these movements of the Spirit seem to draw people to a location, a church building, one or more dynamic leaders, etc. Men and women are born again, miracles happen, existing believers are convicted of sin, and renewal comes to the church. But the outpouring of the Spirit is based around a place, a few places, or a few dynamic individuals. The everyday person doesn’t expect to participate, other than to help or receive from those who are leading the meetings. And when trouble or turmoil comes to the places where the Spirit is moving, the revival or awakening inevitably ends.
But even yesterday as I was reading St. Patrick’s Confession I was reminded that movements of the Spirit happen in the context of disciple making movements that change whole nations. These empower every believer, not just the anointed few, to take the gospel to every sphere of life. This type of awakening can be passed to others with a simple version of church that allows the Gospel to spread like a virus among the lost. Instead of a few places experiencing awakening, it can move from person to person and have a much greater impact.
The Holy Spirit isn’t confined to our church meetings. He’s not just interested in elevating the spiritual intensity of the existing church for four or five years every decade. He is interested in the Gospel touching the hearts of lost men and women who don’t even know how lost they are. Imagine a movement of the Spirit that is able to invade a gang-ridden inner city that would never darken the door of your local Assembly of God or Vineyard church. He WANTS to release his power for miracles AND godliness among them as well. Holy Spirit even wants to spawn church planting movements that are filled with dreams and visions and signs and wonders and people coming to Jesus in every context!
How do I know this? Because it’s the testimony of church history. It happened with the first century church: THERE WAS BARELY A CHURCH TO REVIVE! All there was were lost people who needed this kind of movement of the Spirit. It happened again with guys like Patrick, It happened in this country with a couple of guys named Wesley. It’s been happening in China since the 1950’s. It happened in this country as recently as the late 60’s and early 70’s. We call it the Jesus People movement. And all over the world it’s currently happening in countries where you can be killed for following Christ. These are normal movements of the Spirit!
Friends, I believe God still wants to send the Holy Spirit in unprecedented ways*. But the way that that we package the outpouring will affect how far it will go and how deeply it will impact us. So let’s keep asking and keep believing for a movement of the Spirit, but let’s contend for it knowing it will not be something that shouldn’t look like a more zealous church service. It looks like a grass-roots movement of people coming to Christ, churches being formed, and missionaries being sent out.
*For example, I believe Joel 2 was fulfilled partially in Acts 2, but I don’t we’ve seen the ultimate fulfillment of “I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” yet (see Acts 2:17-21).