Words on a Plane

But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort…

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy…

1 Corinthians 14:3, 39

I sat down in my seat for my flight home from Texas. Missy would stay in Texas for a few extra days for a girl’s trip. The kids where already home with my parents awaiting my return. I’m not often by myself on a plane so this was a good chance to stretch my faith a little and see what God would do.

I sat in an aisle seat in a row with one guy already at the window seat. He was a young, African-American guy, maybe in his twenties. He had a durag on with a hoodie pulled over that. He had earbuds in listening to music from his phone and a mask on his face (though masks were optional on this flight). He had sweatpants on and slide-ons on his feet. His socks were some sort of cartoonish design. His posture gave the over all message, “Leave me alone.”

As more and more people filled the cabin, and seats were running low (this was a Southwest flight where you chose your own seat), a young woman decided to claim the center seat in our row. She looked to be in her twenties as well, fashionably dressed, and either Puerto Rican or mixed race. She had a lot of make up on but it was well done. Her nails too. She had one of those looks that could be confused with a number of different ethnicities.

We all settled in and I decided to tilt my head back onto the headrest, close my eyes, and begin to pray. I began with some prayers of gratitude and praise. Then I shifted into asking the Lord what I have asked Him a hundred different times when praying for people, “Lord, how do you see him/her?”

In my estimation, if this question works in church environments it should work everywhere. Meaning, if I can practice hearing what the Lord says about fellow Christians that I pray for in church, then I should also be able to hear what He says about the people around me in daily life. For some reason, the latter seems to demand more faith from me than the former.

As I began listening, I started with the African-American guy in the widow seat. The first thing I heard (“heard” meaning: a conversational thought that came to my mind that seemed not to be my own) was, “His IQ is very high, much higher than the people around him.” I don’t know what I was expecting God to say about him, but that definitely wasn’t it. Then I saw a picture in my mind’s eye of him at a computer. It seemed like he was playing video games on his computer but based on the first word, it could have been him doing programing or something. I wasn’t sure.

Feeling bolstered by what I heard for the guy by the window, I asked about the girl next to me in the center seat. I got a picture of her with children. She was helping them in some way. Then I heard, “She is good with kids. She helps kids who are forgotten and on the margins. She’s good with kids because she wasn’t allowed to have much of a childhood.”

This was all going so well, but I wasn’t sure any of it was accurate and I wasn’t sure when or how I would share these words with these people. I prayed for an opportunity to share and the courage to step out in faith.

I also asked about the lady across the center aisle from me who was sitting in the aisle seat directly next to mine. She was a heavyset hispanic lady that looked closer to my age. In my mind’s eye I saw a picture of her cooking tons of food for a big family. Nothing about her necessarily signaled that she was a mother, but it was as if she brought her family joy and connection through her cooking. Maybe a grandmother? I didn’t know.

The final word came for the lady sitting diagonally across the aisle from me in the seat in front of the hispanic lady. She was a well put together white lady in a business suit. I wondered if she had flown somewhere for business. The only thing I heard for her was, “The business deal will go through. It will work.” I had no idea what this meant or even if she was a business person. She could have been a teacher for all I knew. It’s just what I felt like I heard from the Lord.

I held on to these words waiting for opportunities to share them. After an hour, I was still waiting. It wasn’t until the girl next to me needed to get up and go to the bathroom that I felt like there was an opening.

After she left, I mustered up the courage to tap the guy in the window seat on the arm. He looked up surprised and took one of his earbuds out. I greeted him and explained that sometimes I’ll pray for people around me and ask God how He sees them. Then I asked, “Do you want to know what I heard Him say about you?” Still a little confused, he said that he did.

I said, “I heard the Lord say that your IQ is really high and that it is higher than the people around you. Then I saw a picture of you on a computer either programming or playing video games. Are you a computer programer or something?” He said, “No. But I do play a lot of video games.” I nodded, “Oh, okay, I must have mixed that up a little. Can I ask what you do?” He replied, “I’m going to be a doctor. I’m finishing up med school to be a radiologist.” Laughing I said, “Oh wow, that must be the whole thing with your IQ. I just want you to know that God has given you your intelligence as a gift and he wants you to use it for good. And it sounds like you already are!”

He thanked me for praying for him and asked about me. I shared that I was a pastor. He asked a few questions about my church just as the girl from our row returned from the bathroom. That seemed to go well and gave me a little more courage to try out the other words.

The plane landed and parked at the jetway. I stood up to stretch my legs as people prepared to leave the plane. I didn’t want the girl next to me to leave before giving her the word. So I decided just to jump in and explain to her that sometimes I pray and ask God how He sees the people around me. I asked her if she wanted to know what I heard God say about her. She looked very skeptical. And with more than a little attitude she said, “Sure.”

Unexpectedly, the guy next to the window chimed in and said, “He did the same for me. And he was right. Trust me, it will be good.” Now I was the one a little shocked. This guy who I just met was helping me out. So cool. The girl confirmed again that she wanted to hear what I had to say.

I said, “I heard the Lord say that you’re really good with kids. I saw a picture of you helping kids who had been forgotten and on the margins. He said you are good with kids because you weren’t given the chance to have much of a childhood.” Still looking skeptical, she nodded and said, “Okay?” She seemed to be processing it all and not knowing what to do with it.

I asked, “Can I ask you what you do?” She said, “I’m a nurse.” Pointing to the guy next to the window I said, “Oh great, he’s a doctor.” Surprised, she turned and had a short conversation with him about what he was doing in medicine. She then turned back to me and said, “Yeah, I’m a travel nurse but I used to work in pediatrics.”

This was a gracious lifeline to me. She could have left that detail out, but she decided to throw me a bone. I was so encouraged by this little detail because it meant that I wasn’t totally off in hearing the Lord. I said, “Oh wow, so you are good with kids, and probably some of those kids were really struggling.” She nodded in agreement. I said, “Well, maybe God will give you an opportunity to return to pediatrics. Clearly, you are really good with kids and God loves that about you.” She was still reserved in her response and didn’t seem totally convinced, but I considered that conversation a win.

We were all getting off the plane before I could deliver the other two words to the other two ladies. But then I noticed that the heavyset hispanic lady was walking right beside me as we entered the airport terminal. I tried my best to give a quick, 30-second summary of how I listen to the Lord and that, for her, I got a word about her cooking for her family. She looked a little freaked out and nodded in a way that said, “Please leave me alone.” Ha! She quickly darted in the the women’s restroom before any conversation could happen, and I was off to baggage claim. I never caught up with the lady in the business suit.

Two out of four ain’t bad. But it confirmed to me that God has thoughts about every person on the planet (read Psalm 139:17-18). He knows us intimately and in the most detailed ways. His heart posture toward us is love, not condemnation.

As followers of Jesus, not only is God willing to share his thoughts through the Holy Spirit (read 1 Corinthians 2:9-13), but He is willing to share his feelings as well. When God gives me words about people, I find that I can’t help but love them in that moment. It’s like God’s love is so big that the residue of His love sticks to every prophetic word He gives. Each word is just a fragment of all the thoughts He has for that person, and each one carries a tiny fragment of His love with it. As His word for them flows through me, the residue of His love for them rubs off on me and changes my heart for them.

Prophetic words weren’t designed to come as raw data. They were meant to come wrapped in His love. They are a kind of incarnation. The word becomes flesh, even on a plane.

Tremble

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth.

Psalm 96:8-9

Throughout the Psalms, and the Bible in general, we see that a normal response to the tangible Presence of God is to tremble. When theophanies happen in the Old Testament, people often tremble in the presence of God.

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

Exodus 19:16-17

We get the sense that in a face-to-face encounter with the fullness of the living God, our bodies can’t handle all the power, our sin can’t handle all the holiness, our eyes can’t handle all the light, our hearts can’t handle all the love. The healthy and reverent fear of the Lord hits people and they begin to tremble. We might call this trembling a “physical manifestation of fear” or a “physical manifestation of being emotionally overwhelmed.”

I grew up in a Baptist church where we used to sing a hymn that spoke to this reality. It was called “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.”

 Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Stanzas 1 & 2

All of this got me thinking about trembling as a “physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit.” To clarify, this is different from trembling that is a “physical manifestation of being emotionally overwhelmed” (although emotions may accompany it). When the Holy Spirit causes the physical manifestation, it is not showing up in our body because of our emotions. While emotions may be a part of the experience, physical manifestations of the Spirit are when the Holy Spirit himself causes our body to react to an increase of his tangible presence. And while our bodies can react in a number of different ways, trembling is a common one.

Both Jonathan Edwards, in the First Great Awakening (1730s), and John Wesley, in the Second Great Awakening (1790s), recorded the phenomenon of people trembling under the power of the Holy Spirit. In subsequent revivals (Azuza Street in the early 1900s, Charismatic renewal in the 1960s, Toronto and Brownsville in at the 1990s) the experience of people trembling under the power of the Holy Spirit was very common. While this reaction of trembling has been recorded by historians in nearly every revival, it sometimes gets explained away with accusations of some combination of groupthink and mass hysteria.

Yet, these simplistic dismissals can’t account for the wide rage of personal experiences that people have had with the Holy Spirit. How do they account for people continuing to experience these physical manifestations of the Spirit while they are alone in the privacy of their own prayer time with the Lord? How do they account for their regularity? How do they account for people with no prior religious experience experiencing these physical manifestations despite not wanting them and even being skeptical of them? There is too much personal and historical evidence that one of the physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit is the phenomenon of trembling.

What’s fascinating to think about is that while people who experienced trembling were not necessarily experiencing a theophany in the traditional sense–they weren’t face to face with the living God–their bodies were reacting as if they were. It’s as if their bodies were picking up on the reality of the tangible Presence of God in a way that their eyes weren’t. What if their bodies were responding appropriately to God’s tangible Presence even when their mind wasn’t able to?

Have you ever had a moment where your heart was ahead of your mind? Your heart picked up on something and tears began to flow but your head was still unaware of what was going on. You were crying but you weren’t sure what you were crying about yet. Your heart was ahead of your head. Only later, upon further reflection, did your mind begin to understand what your heart already knew. Has that ever happened to you?

I suspect the physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit that happen to our bodies, like trembling, are versions of this. It’s like our spirit and our body picks up on God’s Presence in a way that our mind hasn’t yet. Our body and spirit are ahead of our mind. Only later does our mind make sense of it. And this completely makes sense when we begin to recognize the truth that we have the Spirit of God actually dwelling in us. When the Spirit within us connects with the Spirit falling upon us, our body will react to that powerful connection often before our mind can catch up.

We may begin trembling in a way that is beyond our control. If this happens to us, we shouldn’t fight it as if there is something wrong with our body. Quite the opposite. Maybe our body is actually responding appropriately. Maybe it’s the rest of us that has to catch up. We’re experiencing the profound Presence of God in our midst, and maybe whatever walls may be up in our heart and mind need to come down so that they too can join in on the moment.

Self-Limiting

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:6-8

As Christmas approaches, I’ve been thinking a little about the incarnation–God becoming human in the person of Jesus. Nothing can limit or contain God except Himself. When Jesus became human in the incarnation, it was a gigantic act of self-limitation on the part of God. The One who was once omnipresent, self-limited to a time and place in history. The One who never experienced pain, hunger, or thirst, self-limited Himself into a human body that experienced all the basic human needs for food and sleep. He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.

Does this mean that Jesus wasn’t the fullness of God?

No. Colossians 2:9 is clear, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Imagine a dad playing basketball with his young son. If he is a good dad, he will “self-limit” the amount of force and skill that he exerts. He does this out of love for his son. Does this mean that in this moment he is “less” of a dad? Quite the opposite. In the dad’s loving self-limitation he is fully himself and maybe even the best version of himself because his love is tangibly on display. The same is true of Jesus. “The Son is the image of the invisible God…” (Colossians 1:15).

What about God’s omniscience and power? Did God self-limit those in the incarnation?

I believe He did.

It is true that we see Jesus know things He couldn’t know without supernatural insight. We also see Jesus do incredible miracles that He couldn’t do without divine power. Yet, I believe that what we see in Jesus is a tiny fraction of God’s total omniscience and power. I believe Jesus only did that which is possible to do through the power of the Holy Spirit. He only did that which was possible for a human to do who is completely filled and empowered by the Spirit and perfectly connected to the Father. In other words, I believe Jesus did these things as a perfect human conduit of the power of the Spirit not as God the Son.

Luke 4:1 says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” after His baptism as He was led into the desert to be tempted. Then, having been victorious over Satan in the desert, Luke 4:14 says that Jesus returned to start His ministry “in the power of the Spirit.” It’s not until this happens that we start to see Jesus do miracles, healings, and deliverances. So I believe that the “supernatural” aspect of Jesus’s ministry was Him acting as a human fully empowered by the Spirit and completely connected to the Father. I don’t believe they are instances of Him flexing is divinity (though He had every right to as God the Son). So even His miracles are an aspect of His self-limitation.

We know that the power He could have displayed could have been so much more overwhelming. Jesus even said, leading up to the cross, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?“(Matthew 26:53). There was so much more power that could have been unleashed but wasn’t. Again we see Jesus’s self-limitation.

Though Jesus knew things about people that He couldn’t have known without supernatural help (see John 1:47-48 & 4:16-18, Luke 5:22 & 9:47), I believe this was Him operating in what the apostle Paul would later call gifts of the Spirit like words of knowledge, words of wisdom, and prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). Yet, we still see that Jesus self-limited His foreknowledge when He talks to His disciples about the end times and says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).

Jesus’s self-limitation in the incarnation was a radical act of love toward us. It also leaves us followers of Jesus without excuse. We can no longer write-off parts of Jesus’s ministry with the statement, “Yeah, well, He was God.” We sometimes like to think Jesus’s divinity gets us off the hook from having to operate like Jesus did in the fullness of the Spirit. But, though He could have operated out of His divinity, I don’t believe He did. Everything He did He did as a human fully surrendered to the Father and fully empowered by the Spirit. And though we will never be the perfect conduit of the Spirit that Jesus was, we are still called to be a conduit just the same.

Washing Feet – Revisited

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 

John 13:6-15

I love when the Lord shows me something new in a passage of scripture I’ve read a hundred times. I read the above passage the other day and felt like the Lord showed me something new. We tend to think of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet as an act of humble service whereby He then instructs His disciple to do the same for each other (that is, serve each other). But consider that there’s more that Jesus is addressing here. 

We know that Jesus isn’t just talking about personal hygiene. And I believe He’s talking about more than just service. When He’s talking about taking a bath, He’s really talking about baptism/salvation. He’s talking about the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

And when Jesus is talking about washing feet, He’s talking about the regular cleansing that we need even after we are saved. Jesus said, “Those who have had a bath (been saved) need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.” Meaning, we who are followers of Jesus have already been forgiven of all of our sin, and yet we still need a regular kind of cleansing because of our regular contact with sin and the contaminants of the world. We’ve been cleansed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out (our spiritual bath), yet we still get the muck and grime of the world on us simply by walking daily in the world. After we have had a “bath” we don’t need to get saved over and over again, but we do need a different kind of cleansing. We do need a foot washing.

We see this same kind of “dual cleansing” demonstrated by the priests at the Temple. First, they offered the sacrifices of animals to account for their sin. The spilling of blood addressed their guilt from sin. Yet, the priests also had to wash in the wash basin before entering the Holy Place. The washing with water addressed anything they may have had contact with that made them “unclean.” And these wash basins were made from bronze mirrors. They would have literally seen a reflection of themselves as they washed away the contaminants of the world with water. I don’t think it was an accident that a time of reflection accompanied this time of cleansing.

Jesus introduces a new kind of “dual cleansing” for the new priesthood of believers. First, baptism represents the full and total cleansing of our life from sin. Jesus’s blood is what would enable the Holy Spirit to come and bathe us in righteousness from the inside out. Then, a foot washing, which represents the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.

Not only do we need a spiritual “foot washing,” a regular kind of repentance and cleansing, but this cleansing is something we believers can offer to each other. Jesus commands, “…you also should wash one another’s feet.” We not only are called to serve each other humbly, but we are called to participate in helping each other stay clean. The cleansing water is the Holy Spirit, and He does what only the Spirit can do. Yet, we can participate in this by metaphorically washing each other’s feet.

I have seen the reality of this kind of cleansing happen over and over in the prayer ministry we have at our church. People come in for prayer with the muck of sin and the muck of the world caked on them. They feel ashamed and defeated. They feel oppressed and depressed. They know there is more to this Christian life than what they are experiencing but they just can’t seem to tap into it. They are followers of Jesus who have been bathed in the waters of baptism, but they still need a foot washing for their soul.

Then we start praying, and the increased Presence of the Holy Spirit begins to be poured out. We as prayer ministers bend low to wash feet and the cleansing power of the Spirit does His work. I watch as time and again people get set free from sin, free from shame, free from unforgiveness and hurt, free from the heavy weight pressing down on their shoulders, free from the heaviness on their chest that keeps them from taking a full breath. As the cleansing water of the Spirit is poured out, the Light comes, lightness is felt, freedom is experienced, hope returns, and a cleansing takes place right in front of us.

When Jesus taught us to wash each other’s feet, I do think he had in mind humble service. But I also think He had in mind ministry that brings freedom and cleansing, ministry that one believer can offer to another. We have the honor of ushering in the cleansing power of the Spirit for each other if we are willing to bend low. This ministry of cleansing is the ministry of washing feet and inviting the Holy Spirit to come and wash souls.

Carrying God’s Presence

Imagine God calls you into something through a prophetic word. You have a special assignment from Jesus. This assignment is so unexpected that the Lord actually uses supernatural divine revelation to bring it about. God tells someone else ahead of time what will happen and that person then tells you. And then, God’s prophetic word through this person comes about. It actually happens! As unexpected and unlikely as it seems, God brings about the word spoken over your life!

Now imagine that the divine calling that came through this prophetic word is that you will carry the very Presence of God on you and release it to other people. You will be the conduit through which people will experience a tangible encounter with Jesus. Other people will have an encounter with God because of the tangible Presence of God resting on you. This is your calling! Can you imagine?

Have you ever experienced something like this?

How special would you feel if this was you? How uniquely chosen would you feel? How honored would you feel? How humbled would you be? How overwhelmed at the enormity of this responsibility?

Yet, I am reminded that there is someone who had this exact thing happen to them in the Gospels. It was a donkey.

As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 

Luke 19:29-35

Jesus spoke a prophetic word to His disciples about what they would find. He called this donkey out ahead of time through a word. And what was the divine calling? It would be to carry the very Presence of God into Jerusalem so that the people of Jerusalem could have an encounter with their Savior.

We who have been called out by a prophetic word, we who bear the heavy responsibility and incredible honor of being a conduit of God’s power and Presence, need to remember that we are very much like that donkey.

We are special and unique and loved and called. We are honored and humbled and surprised that God would use us. Yet, our main task is simply that of the donkey. We simply carry the Presence of God to others. He does all the rest. We can’t save, or heal, or deliver, or empower, or comfort. But Jesus does all of that and more. Our job is to carry His Presence, follow His lead as He pulls on the reins, and do what He asks us to do. Then we watch as Jesus does the miraculous all around us.

A minister named Dr. Randy Clark operates in an astounding measure of God’s power. I love his prayer. Let it be ours!

“God! Let your eye fall on me, for I want to be totally yielded. I want to be that person through whom you can show yourself strong. I want to be the coin in your pocket for you to spend any way you want. I want your glory to rest on me. I want to be the donkey that you ride on. I just want to be yielded, God, and I want to believe that I can be the person that you clothe yourself with. I want to believe, God, that I can be mightily used in your kingdom. God, in my heart I am saying to you, please, look upon me and let your grace fall upon me because I want to reveal your glory. Show yourself strong through my life.” 

Dr. Randy Clark, Spend and Be Spent

Proximity Healing

As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Mark 6:54-56

A guy in my church came down for prayer after our service was over on Sunday. He wanted prayer for his foot that had been bothering him for some time. When we prayed, he immediately started to feel heat all over his body to the point where he started sweating. The Presence of God was on him in an intensified way. As I continued to pray for his foot, the pain left. The prayer time took no more than 5 minutes. Jesus healed his foot right there.

But why ask someone else for prayer? Why go to someone who has seen people physically healed before and ask them to pray for your physical ailment? Can’t we just pray on our own? Doesn’t God just heal whomever He wants whenever He wants? Why would the book of James recommend that we go to particular people for prayer?

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. 

James 5:14-15

In the time of Jesus, people traveled long distances carrying their loved one on a mat just to get them near Jesus. Proximity mattered. They wanted Jesus to touch them or for them to touch the edge of Jesus’s cloak. Either way, power seemed to be coming from Jesus that was bringing physical healing to people. Jesus was a touchpoint, a conduit, of God’s power. So they traveled to get near Jesus wherever He was. The Gospel of Luke says it this way:

…a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Luke 6:17-19

But couldn’t God just heal all those people in their own homes? Couldn’t God just heal them in their own synagogues? If God really wanted them to be healed, couldn’t God just answer their prayers for healing right where they were? Why would God have them travel to Jesus to get healed?

The answer is, “Yes.” God could have healed each of these people right in their own homes and in their own synagogues. He could have sovereignly healed them right where they were. But He didn’t. Just like He could have healed my friend in my church who came forward for prayer. God could have answered His prayer for healing right in his own bedroom. But God didn’t. God chose, instead, to use me as a touchpoint of His grace, a conduit of His power, in order to heal. This is something that is a regular pattern for God.

When God flows through us, through the Holy Spirit, to bring healing to someone else, we are functioning like a spring of water. Sovereign healings are like rain. Someone in ancient times could wait and say, “If God really wanted me to have water, He would send rain.” And there is some truth in that. But understanding the ways of God is really important. Another way God provides water is having people travel to a spring, or to a well, to collect water. People shouldn’t just wait on rain; they must travel to that spring if they want water.

Waiting on rain isn’t always always an act of faith. Often it is an act of misunderstanding the different ways that God provides water for us. The same is true of healing. Waiting for a sovereign healing is sometimes an act of faith. But often, it is simply a misunderstanding of the different ways that God provides healing for us. Sometimes we must travel to a source of healing, a place or person where God is regularly pouring out His healing through the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9-10, 28).

So we should always pray for our own healing and ask God to bring healing. But sometimes we must go to the wellsprings of healing. This means seeking prayer from those within our church who operate in gifts of healing. It also might mean traveling to people and ministries who specialize in gifts of healing and miracles.

In Jesus’s day, people could have stubbornly stayed home and reasoned with themselves, “If God wanted to heal me, He would do it wherever He wanted and whenever He wanted.” But this is a misapplication of the truth of God’s sovereignty. Those who traveled to Jesus got healed. Those who saw the power of God pouring out of Jesus, and understood that proximity mattered, picked up their friend on a mat and did whatever they could to get them in front of Jesus. They understood that sometimes God sends rain to us and other times we must go to the wellspring for water.

We need to be ready in faith to travel, to go to where God is pouring out His healing power. We need to be able to identify healthy springs and go to them. We need to have enough wisdom to discern the difference between the charlatans and the real servants of God. Going to someone who has gifts of healing still does not guarantee our healing, but it acknowledges one of the primary ways God brings His healing into this world.

COVID-19 and The Gospel

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-20

The gospel and being filled with the Holy Spirit were always meant to spread like a virus, not unlike COVID-19. One person can “infect” a whole group of people. Yet, what are the preventative measures that stop the spread? Masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and inoculation.

Masks = when people hide their face, when they are afraid to be transparent about their life

Hand sanitizer = when people refuse to get their hands dirty, when they want their Christianity tidy and neat and don’t want the mess that comes with the Holy Spirit and a servant-life of following Jesus

Social distancing = lack of connection, lack of community, relational distance

Inoculation = vaccines work by exposing the immune system to part of the virus without being exposed to the whole thing. People get inoculated from the gospel and the Holy Spirit when they get a partial exposure but don’t experience the whole thing. This leads them to believe they have experienced the whole thing, and they are not impressed when it is offered again. They’ve built up a hardness of heart, an immunity.

By far the strongest preventive measure against a virus is a vaccine. Likewise, the strongest preventive measure the enemy can enact against the gospel and the filling of the Holy Spirit is partial exposure without full exposure.

I see this with the gospel when people say, “Oh yeah, I grew up in church.” What they often mean is, “I already know all about Jesus and the church and I don’t want any part of it.” But of course, that isn’t true. They were exposed only partially to the Kingdom and all that comes with following Jesus. If they knew the whole thing, they’d want all of it.

I also see this with the filling of the Spirit, mostly from those who have some experience (usually bad experience) with the charismatic tradition. People saw a charismatic televangelist or went to a charismatic. church for a time in their life and had horrible experiences with that. They now believe they are an expert on the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. They reject so much of the Spirit’s work in the world because “they already know.” But if they really knew the fullness of the Spirit, they would be running around telling everyone about it. They’ve become inoculated with just enough exposure to leave a bad taste in their mouth but not enough exposure to see what all the fuss is about.

This is why it is vital for churches and Christians to be “all in.” When we give people a partial exposure to the gospel or a partial exposure to the gifts of the Spirit, we run the risk of eventual inoculation. We must be all in ourselves, sold out for Christ, and invite people to an uncompromised experience of the Kingdom and the Spirit.

Baptism of Jesus

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:4-8

John the Baptist baptized people in water for repentance. But where did he get the concept of being baptized with or in the Holy Spirit by Jesus? Because of church history and tradition, we usually reserve that phrase, “baptism in the Spirit”, for charismatic or Pentecostal churches. So where did John get this idea from?

John the Baptist was the final and greatest prophet of the Old Testament/old covenant (Matthew 11:11). So this idea of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit must have been a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. John was simply proclaiming what was expected of the coming Messiah. And there are a number of prophetic passages that expected the Messiah to have the Holy Spirit upon him and for the Spirit to be poured out in abundance in the new Messianic age. This was in contrast to the Spirit being selectively given to certain kings and prophets as was the case is the Old Testament. Here’s a few of those passages:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners…

Isaiah 61:1

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.

Isaiah 44:3

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth…
    
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance

Joel 2:28-32

We know that Peter quoted this Joel 2 passages when the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost in Acts 2. The disciples saw that moment as the beginning of the fulfillment of these prophetic promises. Jesus was baptizing, immersing, flooding them with the Holy Spirit just as others had been baptized by John in water.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:1-4

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is when we are filled and flooded with the Spirit. There is a tipping point of Jesus being invited to take over every part of a person’s life. Like a dam breaking and a flood carving new terrain in the landscape, the will breaks in surrender to the Lord and the Spirit pours out, carving new terrain, new freedom, new gifts, new power, new intimacy in the life of a believer.

The prophets of old had long expected this kind of outpouring of the Spirit. We get the incredible blessing of being a part of this Messianic age where all of this is possible under the new covenant. The Old Testament prophets and king longed to see what we see and experience what we now have access to in the Spirit.

Then he (Jesus) turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Luke 10:23-24

Roadblocks

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Mark 8:27-30

A local YoungLife leader took some of his guys out on a camping trip. After some time talking about life, the young men were asked this question, “What is the biggest roadblock that is holding you back from truly saying ‘Yes’ to a relationship with Jesus?

What a fascinating question. There are so many things that can be roadblocks to surrendering our life to Jesus. Most people who take this question seriously understand that saying “Yes” to Jesus is more than just believing that He died for our sins so that we can be forgiven. They get that following Jesus with our whole life is deciding to surrender to His way rather than our own way. It is inviting the Holy Spirit to come and live inside of us so that He can begin to transform us from the inside out.

Some common roadblocks are things like a faulty view of God, thinking that we must clean up our act before surrendering to Jesus. But this is obviously backward. We surrender to Jesus because we admit that in our own strength we can’t clean up our act.

Doubt and unbelief can be a roadblock. Bad experiences with Christians or the church can cause offense, bitterness, or resentment to strangle our heart and these three emotional toxins can become roadblocks. Many times our favorite sins keep us from Jesus. We’re afraid He’s going to ask us to surrender those to Him and we just don’t want to. Or maybe we just don’t know who Jesus is. Many in Jesus’s own day were confused about His true identity.

But, if we adjust this question a little, it can also apply to people who have been Christians for most of their life.

What is the biggest roadblock that is holding you back from truly surrendering every part of your life to Jesus?

I can tell you that in my own life, I have hit different moments where I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that I had been holding different parts of my life back from Jesus. Ultimately, the roadblock for me was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Pridefully, I thought I knew all about the Kingdom of God, Jesus, the Bible and the gospel.

This kind of pride is especially prevalent in my fellow seminarians who have advanced degrees in theology and have gone into full-time ministry. This is especially true of my more “progressive” friends. Their alignment with current cultural attitudes has bolstered their confidence in their own “rightness.” I remember the feeling.

However, God encountered me in a profound way that I wasn’t expecting. He showed me different parts of the Kingdom that I knew nothing about. But before He would show me, I had to surrender. I had to 1) trust in the Lord with all my heart and 2) lean not on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Many people with advanced degrees in theology want to do the first but aren’t willing to do the second. I had to confess that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

In other words, the further you go with God, the less you can take with you. And pride about your own understanding is one of those things you can’t take with you. I had to admit, “There is more and I had no idea.” I had to pray, “Lord, forgive me, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” I had to re-enter a kind of Holy Spirit discipleship training with the Lord and this after a decade of pastoral ministry.

So, it is a worthy question to ask yourself. “What is the biggest roadblock that is holding you back from truly surrendering every part of your life to Jesus?

You might know immediately. If not, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it. Just be ready for an answer that you may not have expected and that you may not like.

Words of Knowledge for Healing

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:46-52

Sometimes on a Sunday morning before church, I’ll ask God if He wants me to focus on praying for anything in particular in the church service that morning. Sometimes I don’t hear anything. Sometimes I sense that He wants me to invite people to give their lives to Jesus or pray for people dealing with emotional needs. Other times I will hear a particular physical ailment to pray for.

I want to be obedient to do whatever it is He asked me to do. People tend to be fine with me praying for salvation or for emotional healing. Yet, when I pray for physical healing, that can sometimes cause some discomfort in the room.

The reason I pray for healing like this is multifaceted. I’ll admit that I don’t always hear the Lord correctly. My gifts have a lot of room to grow, and I am still a work in progress. But here is why I try:

1) The Lord has given me spiritual gifts that I want to faithfully steward. This requires their use. I want others to discover their gifts and put them to good use as well.

2) I want to take risks of obedience that don’t always make rational sense. I want to model obedience over rationalism and skepticism.

3) I believe it is loving to pray for healing. Those who desperately desire to be physically healed tend to love healing prayer. Those who live with the privilege of a healthy body sometimes don’t.

4) The Sunday morning worship service is my workplace. Praying this way is me stepping out in faith at work. I want people in our church to do the same. I want them to sit at their work desk, ask the Holy Spirit who and what they should pray for that day, and then obey…even if it doesn’t make sense…even if it is a little awkward.

5) I want to see people get miraculously healed in our midst. I’ve seen it happen a lot at our church. I want to continue to see it happen more and more. The only way for it to continue is for us to continue to step out in faith and ask for it.

6) I want to normalize the supernatural side of the Kingdom of God. I believe this is what following Jesus was always meant to be. This is what Christianity looks like in the rest of the world. The church in the West is lagging behind. Healings, signs & wonders, casting out demons, words of knowledge, prophesy, prophetic dreams, encounters with the Holy Spirit…I want all of it to become “normal Christianity” for my whole church just as it has become normal Christianity for me and some others. This is what following Jesus looked like in the Gospels and the book of Acts. This is what normal Christianity currently looks like in the Southern Hemisphere of the world and in the East.

A “word of knowledge” is a supernatural download of information from the Lord to our mind from the Holy Spirit. It’s often about another person. It is one of the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Many followers of Jesus have gotten little bits of information about people from the Spirit and didn’t know that’s what was happening. Maybe they didn’t know it was the Holy Spirit or that it was a gift meant for the church. A word of knowledge for healing is a supernatural download of information about someone else’s physical illness as an indicator that God wants to heal it.

I was asked by a friend if standing up and giving a word of knowledge and then praying for healing was ever in the Bible. It’s a question that is rooted in legitimate skepticism about the charismatic tradition and the abuses of televangelists in the past.

There are a few things that came to mind when this question was asked. First, you can’t read more than two paragraphs of the Gospels without Jesus healing someone, performing a miracle, or casting out a demon. Healing was a regular, daily part of Jesus ministry and the ministry of the disciples.

Secondly, one must believe that Jesus used supernatural gifts of the Spirit to do His supernatural ministry in order to find an example of Jesus using “words of knowledge.” Some Christians believe Jesus just used His divinity to do all of His miracles. But if one holds this view, then we could never expect to find any example of Jesus using any of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

I do believe Jesus used the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in order to set an example to His disciples and to us. If He simply used His divinity, we could never follow His example (something we’re asked to do repeatedly). And I do believe that, in many of these scenarios of healing, Jesus used what we would call a “word of knowledge” to determine the source and identity of the illness. We see this specifically with the crippled woman in the synagogue in Luke 13:10-17 and the demonized boy after the Transfiguration in Mark 9:14-29. In both cases Jesus supernaturally diagnoses the source of the physical ailment and the solution. These were words of knowledge for healing (maybe with a little “discerning the spirits” mixed in, another gift listed in 1 Corinthians 12).

I also believe there were lots of instances with Jesus that resemble what we do when we give words of knowledge for healing in a church service. For instance, when the demon in the man at the synagogue in Capernaum starting yelling at Jesus, He immediately cast the demon out of the man in front of the whole congregation (Mark 1:21-34; Luke 4:31-37). We likely wouldn’t be that bold in our church. We’d likely drag the person off to the prayer room and do deliverance there. In other words, in so many ways, we are much more tame with the supernatural than Jesus ever was.

We know that Jesus dropped a bunch of words of knowledge on the woman at the well, and these words of knowledge actually exposed her sin (John 4:1-42). We would rightly hesitate to be so bold as that! Yet Jesus didn’t hesitate at all. The woman’s own testimony was, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!” Again, we are much more tame with the supernatural than Jesus ever was.

But the scenario that most resembles doing words of knowledge for healing in a church service is the interaction between Jesus, the disciples, and blind Bartimaeus. Here is the sequence from Mark 10:

  1. Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus for healing.
  2. Jesus sent a message to Bartimaeus through His disciples indicating that Jesus wanted to heal him.
  3. The disciples delivered the personal message to Bartimaeus in the midst of a large crowd of people.
  4. Bartimaeus identifies his need for healing, his desire for healing, and his faith for Jesus healing him.
  5. Jesus heals Bartimaeus through the conduit of Bartimaeus’s own faith.

That same chain of events is what happens when a person gives a word of knowledge for healing in a church service. Jesus is sending a message through a disciple that indicates what Jesus wants to do. That person/disciple must be obedient and say what they heard. The person needing healing then responds in faith, acknowledging their need and believing that Jesus wants to heal them in that moment. Their faith becomes a possible conduit through which Jesus heals them.

I’ve personally seen this happen a number of times in a number of different worship services. And once you’ve seen it once, you believe it can happen again and again. But it requires obedience and faith, both on the part of the “disciple delivering Jesus’s message” and on the part of the “Bartimaeus” in the room.

Even after all of these biblical examples, I understand the skepticism that still may exist. There have been abuses with this kind of healing ministry in the past in certain streams of the church. It makes sense that people would be wary of the improper use of words of knowledge for healing. Someone may read all of the above and respond with something like, “Yeah, but we aren’t Jesus. His ministry was different.” I get it. But to this objection I would offer Jesus’ own words.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

John 14:12

I am fine with the critique that argues that there are better ways to pray for healing in a church service than doing words of knowledge for healing. Maybe so. If so, let’s discover what those are. But I believe not praying for healing is just not an option for churches moving forward. The churches around the world that are growing are the ones who are fully embracing the gifts of the Spirit. Our post-Christian culture is resembling the rest of the world more and more. And so, I believe we must resemble the faithful global church more and more.

Consider the possibility that you have already been getting words of knowledge and just didn’t know what they were. Maybe you don’t use that terminology, or maybe you didn’t know it was a gift of the Spirit. Yet, many of you reading this right now have experienced the Lord give you a small nugget of information about someone through the Holy Spirit that you couldn’t have possibly known otherwise. Consider how God may want to use that gift in your life to love others. Could seeing others get healed be a part of that?