Spectrum of Influence

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:10-12

Scripture is clear that we are attacked by the enemy in various ways and at various levels. But not all demonic activity is the same. What I’ve noticed over the years is that there is a spectrum of demonic activity and influence in a people’s lives. Scripture speaks to this as well. Moving from light to heavy influence, there is the spectrum:

Temptation: this is when we are invited to believe a lie or to do something we know is wrong. The demonic spirit is outside of you whispering invitations and lies to your thoughts and emotions. If we were to use a preposition (which is difficult because we’re talking about things in the spirit realm) it would be “around.” The demonic spirit is circling around you. The image here is flies that are buzzing around your head that you have to swat away. Scripture says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it“(1 Corinthians 10:12-14).

Harassment: this when the enemy seems to target one area of our life and launch continual temptations or attacks on that one area. The feeling is that we’re being hounded by temptation. If we were to use a preposition it would be “upon.” The enemy’s attacks are “landing” as it were. The image here is gnats that swarm around your face and get into your eyes. Harassment happens because we have started to believe the lies and may have given in some to the temptation. Scripture says, “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

Attachment: this is when we have given in to temptation and harassment and certain demonic spirits have found a foothold in our life. The feeling is that the demonic spirit is always there cranking what should be a level 3 temptation up to a level 8. If we were to use a preposition it would be “on” or “onto.” The demonic spirit is holding onto you and not letting go. The image here is a vulture who has landed on your back and has its talons dug in.

This is usually the point at which deliverance ministry starts to become necessary. At this point we often need the help of others to get free because we’ve given the enemy access to our life. Scripture says, “do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27), and for good reason. When a demonic spirit gets attached, it starts to wreak havoc in a person’s life. When demons that have been attached leave a person, they often just lift off of them. There usually aren’t a lot of fireworks. The person is usually just left feeling a sense of peace and rest.

Oppression/Stronghold: this is when we have consistently given the enemy access to our life through chronic sin or chronic affirmation of lies, and so the demonic spirits move in. Jesus describes our life like a house (Matthew 12:44). Oppression is when a demonic spirit (or spirits) enter our house and set up camp in at least one room of the house. They don’t own the house, but they occupy one room, one part of our life. If we were to use a preposition it would be “in” or “into.” The spirit is inside, trespassing on a Temple of the Holy Spirit, and needs to be kicked out in Jesus’s name.

At this point we often see demons who have been given so much territory and authority in a person’s life that they are able to take over a person’s body, facial expressions, eyes, and voice when they feel threatened. Demons will stay hidden as long as possible (that is their best defense) until they are confronted with the delegated authority of Jesus and the power of the Spirit operating through a person. When they realize they are threatened and exposed, they will sometimes try to puff up and take control of the person they occupy. Deliverance ministry is essential for this. Deliverance ministers function as police officers kicking out the trespasser and revoking its right to be there, all in the name of the King. We see Jesus cast out a number of demonic spirits that fit this category.

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

Luke 4:33-35

When demons who have entered a person get kicked out, they often try to create a scene (as we see in Luke 4:35). They can sometimes leave violently as they fight to stay in the person. This can look like dry heaving, vomiting, coughing, shaking, flailing, screeching, or yelling. Their goal in leaving this way to create fear and embarrassment in the person, so we try to limit this reaction as much as possible in Jesus’s name. Interestingly, if the person is on antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, we have seen them leave with a yawn (instead of a violent cough or dry heaving).

Heavily Oppressed: this is the same as being oppressed but, in this case, multiple demonic spirits have taken over multiple rooms in a person’s life. If they are a believer in Jesus, we called this heavy oppression. If they do not have the Holy Spirit in them, this would be “possession.” Jesus warned about this possibility in Matthew 12.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. 

Matthew 12:43-45

And we see the reality of this condition with the Gerasene man who was heavily demonized. He “lived in the tombs” and, “Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones“(Mark 5:3-5). He told Jesus, “My name is Legion,…for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

I have seen this reality firsthand. But in our culture, people who are heavily demonized look normal. They don’t live in caves with chains. They simply need the power of the Holy Spirit and the delegated authority of the name of Jesus to help set them free. They need someone willing to fight for them and love them enough to go to battle against the tormentors in their life. They are beloved children of God who just want to be free.

At the lighter end of this spectrum, mostly what we need to be free is an encounter with truth. But as the influence of the enemy increases in a person’s life, we not only need a truth encounter but a power encounter. Conduits of the power and authority of Jesus must come and kick out the trespassers. Both kinds of encounter (truth and power) are necessary for us to experience freedom. And most of all, we need love. We need to know that no matter how far the enemy has dug into our life, we are still loved and cherished by our Heavenly Father. And our Father wants us to be set free even more than we do!

Fire of the Lord

Nearly everyone who has sat around a campfire has experienced the mesmerizing nature of fire. Something about it not only draws our attention but keeps our attention. Our bodies are drawn to the heat. Our eyes are drawn to the light and the colors. But it seems like there is more going on. It seems as if our very souls are drawn to it. We can’t explain it but there is a peace that comes over us as we gaze at the fire. There is a wonder to it all even though we’ve seen it a hundred times. So much more than just the chemical reaction of combustion, fire seems to have a life to it.

When God’s Presence invades our material world, He often shows up as fire. This started in the Old Testament:
By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light“(Exodus 13:21). “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire” (Exodus 19:18). “On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire“(Numbers 9:15-16).

This continued in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit was sent to followers of Jesus:
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…”(Acts 2:1-4).

When John encountered the risen Jesus, John described Him as surrounded by light and fire with eyes blazing with fire: “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters“(Revelation 1:12-15).

So maybe it is not that God is like fire. Maybe we have it backwards. Could it be that fire is like God? Could it be that what captivates us so much about fire is that a part of us knows it is like our Creator? The light, the colors, the heat, they are a shadow of what we’ll experience when we stand before God in the fullness of His Presence.

Sometimes when I pray for people and the Holy Spirit comes in power, I get really hot. I start sweating because the heat gets so intense. Other times, the person I am praying for gets hot. They start sweating. They testify to feeling heat either all over their body or in the one area that we are praying for. Maybe we experience the heat because the fire of the Spirit is present and our bodies are responding to it. The temperature in the room hasn’t changed. But there is a fire in the spirit realm and our bodies can sense it.

The fire of the Lord is so much more than just a metaphor. It is real. It is tangible. It can be experienced and felt. Every fire gives off light and heat. The Presence of the Lord does the same. And it is more captivating than any campfire we’ll ever experience.

Invitation: There is More

Throughout our journey with Jesus, He will set up forks in the road with a sign posted that says, “There is more!” We will have to decide to turn down the road to “more” or not. “There is more” is not an accusation but an invitation. When Jesus says, “There is more,” He’s not saying, “You are less.” Unfortunately, this is what some people hear. No, this is an invitation to experience a new province of His Kingdom that we haven’t seen before.

In seminary, I came upon a “There is More” fork in the road with a smaller sign underneath that read, “Life Together.” It was an invitation into deep community with two brothers in Christ. I could have walked away, but I’m so glad I said, “Yes.”

After 6 years of pastoral ministry, I came upon a “There is More” fork in the road with a smaller sign underneath that read, “Social Justice: Human trafficking.” It was invitation to help start an organization that would help reach children who were burning in God’s heart–children who were being trafficked. I could have walked away, but I’m so glad I said, “Yes.”

After 10 years of pastoral ministry, I came upon a “There is More” fork in the road with a smaller sign underneath that read, “Supernatural Kingdom.” It was an invitation to receive and engage in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. I could have walked away, but I’m so glad I said, “Yes.”

One of the cries of God’s heart is, “There is More!” There is more to His Kingdom. There is more of His Kingdom that we haven’t seen yet. Are you willing to embrace the “more?” Are you willing to say, “Yes?” Are you willing to pursue God for the “more” that He has for you? In the end, the “more” isn’t just about us. It is about those who will be impacted through us because we said “yes” to the “more.”

A Temple

I don’t think it is coincidence that there were three main parts to the Temple and there are three main parts to a person. The Temple had 1) the outer courts, 2) the Holy Place and 3) the Most Holy Place. Each person has 1) a body, 2) a soul and 3) a spirit. In the outer court of the Temple, blood and water brought cleansing. When Jesus gave his body on the cross, blood and water flowed from His body cleansing us from all sin.

In the Holy Place were the lampstands for light, the Bread of Presence, and the altar of incense. Our soul is comprised of our mind, will, and emotions. And the Most Holy Place was the dwelling place of the Lord. Our spirit becomes unified with the Holy Spirit as we give our life to Jesus and the Spirit comes to dwell in us (1 Corinthians 6:17). We become Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).

When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place was torn in two. The point was not only that we now had access to the Presence of God but that the Presence of God wanted to bust out. The Holy Spirit wants to do the same. He doesn’t want to just dwell with your spirit, he wants you to be “filled with the Spirit”(Ephesians 5:18.) Meaning, he wants to completely saturate your soul and body.

He wants to renew your mind so that it brings light. He wants to see your will surrendered to the will of God so that it can become food/bread for your soul. Jesus said his food was to do the will of the Father (John 4:34). The Spirit wants to completely invade your emotions so that the cry of your heart aligns with God’s. Then he wants to show up in your body, purifying it with His Presence, so that it becomes an instrument of righteousness (Romans 6:13).

The Holy Spirit wants to do to your whole person what God did to Solomon’s Temple when it was dedicated. “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped”(2 Chronicles 7:1-3).

The Point of It All

God wanted to be with His people, but they remained at a distance (Exodus 20:18-21). So God had the people create the tabernacle and the Levitical system so He could safely be present with them and they with Him. This became a permanent arrangement with the building of the Temple. The Temple became the place where heaven and earth overlapped, the center of the Venn diagram between two worlds.

When the old Temple and the old covenant was destroyed, God established a new covenant and a new Temple, Jesus himself. Jesus was the Word of God that had come to “tabernacle” among us (John 1:14). Jesus told the people that if “this Temple” was destroyed, he would raise it again in three days (John 2:19). And He did.

Though Jesus was “God with us,” He didn’t stop there. He didn’t just become a new Temple, a new place where heaven and earth overlapped. God’s next move was extraordinary! After ascending to heaven, Jesus sent His Spirit and made us the new Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). When we surrender our life to Jesus, the Spirit comes to dwell inside us and we become the new center of the Venn diagram between two worlds. We are where heaven and earth overlap! You, follower of Jesus, are where the Kingdom of God breaks into this world!

And this brings fulfillment to humanity’s original purpose. The reason God commanded that no graven images be made (Exodus 20:4) was because He had already made humanity “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). So we were perfectly designed to be Temples of the Living God. We just needed cleansed and made new, which Jesus did on the cross and in His resurrection. And all of this simply because God wanted to be with us, His people.

And He’s still not done. At the end of Revelation, we read about the conclusion of all of history. Here’s how the story ends, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God”(Revelation 21:3). This was the point of it all!

Hunting on the Frontier (Part 2)

Another lesson I learned from hunting was how different it is to shoot a rifle compared to a shotgun. These are two different kinds of shooting for two different kinds of targets.

When you shoot a rifle, you are aiming at a large animal (or target) hundreds of yards away. You are looking through a scope that will get off target with the slightest movement. Even your breathing will mess up your shot. So, with a rifle, the goal is to calm everything down. Even pulling too quickly on the trigger will mess up the shot. It must be squeezed carefully.

I didn’t realize how much my heart would race right before I pulled the trigger (and this was when I was aiming at a paper target). I didn’t realize how hard it would be to keep the crosshairs of the scope directly on the bullseye. First, your scope must be calibrated accurately. And, in order for an accurate shot, you have to intensionally exhale slowly and calm your heart rate. The extent to which you are able to achieve a kind of calm and peace is the extent to which your shot will be on target.

The spiritual applications here are obvious and many. When we live in panic, fear, and anxiety, it is nearly impossible to live “on target” in the Christian life. The peace of Christ is what helps us see clearly what we’re aiming at. Our internal world greatly impacts our external world.

And if we are believing lies about ourself, the world, or God Himself, we need a recalibration of truth from His word. We can be “at peace” all we want, but if the scope of our understanding is skewed, every shot will be a little off. We see this in abundance in our culture. Many are claiming to have found “inner peace” but their life is still off target. They need a recalibration of truth.

Then there is the shotgun!

I found that shooting a shotgun was completely the opposite experience from a rifle. Shotguns are often used for bird hunting–for closer, smaller targets that are moving quickly. Whereas with a rifle the shooter has to be still and has to wait for the deer to be still, with a shotgun everything is moving–the target and the shooter.

We spent an afternoon shooting clay pigeons with various shotguns. At first I tried to use the sights on the shotgun to aim at the clay discs flying through the air. That didn’t work. I was trying to apply lessons learned on the rifle to the shotgun. But when I tried to use the sights, I probably missed 9 out of 10 shots. I knew I had to switch up my technique if I was going to hit anything.

Instead of “aiming” I started to just “feel” the shot. I stopped using the sights and, instead, kept my eyes on the clay disc. This allowed me to move the barrel of the gun with the movement of the disc. I started to get a feel for how the disc was moving and where it was going. When I shot this way, I probably hit 8 out of 10 shots. It also helps that shotgun shells shoot a spread of BBs instead of a single bullet. They give up distance and power for a larger spread downrange.

Again, more lessons learned. While rifle shooting felt more like obedience to the clear directives in Scripture–a clear bullseye in a controlled environment, shooting a shotgun felt more like the obedience that comes from following the prompting of the Spirit–on the fly and in the moment.

The apostle Paul said to the Galatians, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh,” and “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16 & 25). There is a certain intuition, a certain feel, to following the Spirit at times. It is relational. There is movement to it. It can be a moving target, so obedience requires motion. It’s often less about an exact bullseye way off in the distance and more about sensing the movement of something flying through the air.

In hunting, both the rifle and the shotgun are necessary. Both have different purposes and uses. This is true for the Christian life as well. We need to enter a place of peace and calm and be able to live out the clear directives of Scripture. We also need to be able to follow the spontaneous promptings of the Spirit. We need a disciplined life that consistently keeps the life of Jesus in our crosshairs. We also don’t avoid sin by striving to keep the law but by keeping in step with the Spirit. Both are necessary elements in our life with Christ. Both are what is needed in order to stay on target.

The Laws of the Kingdom

…through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:2

All throughout the created world we see laws at work that counteract each other. One law of nature seems to be greater than other laws. For instance, the law of centrifugal force should mean that the rotation of the earth flings us all out into space. Centrifugal force is that feeling of being pushed to the outside anytime you spin around something. It’s that feeling of sliding to the far side of the car when it’s going around a turn.

But the reason we don’t fly out into space is because of the law of gravity. The force of gravity is stronger than the centrifugal force. Another way of saying this is that the law of gravity is above or greater than the law of centrifugal force. It doesn’t make the lesser law less true. It just means the greater law takes precedence. Both laws are true but the greater law wins out.

(Fun fact: the centrifugal force is greatest on the earth at the equator. So gravity is counteracted the most at the equator. Meaning, you are a little lighter at the equator–by about 10 oz or so–than you are at the poles of the earth.)

We see this same principle at work in the judicial system. There are many laws on the books. But in the courtroom the judge often has to decide between two competing laws. This is especially true with the Supreme Court. Both laws are true. Both laws are there for a reason. But often one law takes precedence over another law in a particular case. For instance, a federal law will take precedence over a state law if they are in conflict with each other.

These examples are simply reflections of what is true in God’s Kingdom. In the spirit realm, there are laws at work. And some laws supersede other laws. Romans 8 tells us that the law of the Spirit of life is greater than the law of sin and death. Both laws are true, but one is greater than the other. It is true that sin leads to death. It is true that because of our sin we deserve spiritual death. But a new law was introduced in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are now saved by grace through faith in Jesus. And having been given the Spirit, we are now set free from the law of sin and death. There is a greater law at work.

Paul describes a hierarchy of Kingdom laws in Galatians 5. The law of freedom stands over the law of the Spirit of life. Yet, the law of the Spirit of life stands over law of sin and death. Paul warns the Galatians to use their freedom to submit to the Spirit rather than to sin. And if we use our freedom to submit to the Spirit, we will walk in the Spirit and the will keep us from sin.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 

Galatians 5:1, 13, 16

The reason I am pointing out that some laws in God’s Kingdom supersede and take precedent over other laws is to highlight an important truth about healing. This is something the Lord has shown me over the last few weeks. If we want to operate in healing gifts and if we want to pray and see people healed, we need to remember this truth.

What the Lord showed me was that, because the law of the Spirit of life is greater than the law of sin and death, people can be healed of disease. We might call this the law of healing. But He also showed me that the law of freedom (or what we would call free will) is greater than the law of healing in God’s Kingdom.

Let’s break this down.

First, the law of healing is the general principle that God wants people to be healed in their bodies. Jesus is the perfect embodiment of the will of God on earth. Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing. He was God in the flesh. Every single person who came to Jesus and asked for healing got healed. Jesus never turned someone away in the Gospels and said, “You need to be sick so the Father can teach you a lesson.” No. Scripture says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35).

The life of the Spirit in Jesus was transmitted to those who had illness. Disease is a product of sin and death in the world. The law of the Spirit of life overcame the law of sin and death. It is clear from the life of Jesus that God’s will is to heal disease and sickness.

The obvious question becomes, “Why then isn’t everyone healed?” The same kind of question could be asked about why then isn’t everyone saved. 1 Timothy 2:4 states very plainly that God our Savior, “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” God wants everyone saved. But not all are saved. Why? Free will. The law of freedom gives people a choice to trust in Jesus or not.

So how does the law of freedom sometimes supersede or have precedence over the law of healing?

One example is a testimony from a woman named Joanne Moody. She wanted to be healed and believed in healing and got lots of prayer for healing but for years was not healed of her chronic pain. It wasn’t until a man spiritually discerned that she had made agreements with certain demonic spirits (spirits of death, spirits of suicide, etc) that anything changed. When the man discerned the truth and led Joanne to break those agreements (with her own free will) only then did prayer for healing actually heal her body. She was completely and totally healed. [See her testimony here.]

She had made agreements with the enemy that were blocking her healing. She was free to make those agreements because of the law of freedom (free will). Only when she renounced those agreements and had those demonic spirits cast out of her did her healing come. In other words, her free will had to cooperate with what God was doing in order for the law of healing to take center stage.

Another part of Joanne Moody’s testimony is that she almost died on an operating table. When this happened, her spirit floated above her body and the Lord came into the room. He gave her a choice to go home and be with the Lord or to go back into her body. She admits that she wanted to go be with the Lord, but she choose, for her son’s sake, to go back into her body riddled with pain.

Think about that scenario for a second. All these people were praying for her not to die. All these people were praying for her to come back and be healed. God wanted her to be healed. Yet, ultimately, God gave her a choice. The law of freedom took precedence over the law of healing. Had she freely chosen to go home to be with the Lord, she would not have been healed. She would have died right there on the operating table.

We see this with Jesus and the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). They cried out for physical healing. Jesus then gave them a command to go show themselves to the priests. They had the freedom as to whether they were going to obey. If they didn’t go, they wouldn’t be healed. If they did go, they would be healed. The law of freedom takes precedence over the law of healing.

They all decided to go, and “as they went” they were all healed. Before they even got to the priests, Jesus healed them. So now all of them were physically healed from leprosy but only one came back to thank Jesus, and he was apparently a “Samaritan.”

Jesus responded to the gratitude in the man’s heart (his free will choice to return and give thanks) by granting the man even more healing. Jesus said, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” That word in the Greek translated as “made you well” is the word for saved (sozo). The man was already physically healed; Jesus then healed him at a much deeper level. The other nine men who were also physically healed made their own free will choice not to return and give thanks, and they did not receive the deeper healing.

What’s the point?

The point is that the law of freedom sometimes takes precedence over the law of healing in God’s Kingdom. Does God want to heal? Yes! Emphatically, yes! This is what we see over and over again in the life of Jesus. Yet, it seems, there is a greater law that is often at work. God does want to heal but more than that He wants us to have our God given freedom of will. Without freedom there is no love. In order for love to be real it must be free. The law of love is dependent on the law of freedom. And so often, in order to see healing, we must freely cooperate with what God is doing and saying.

This is not to say that this is the only reason people are not healed. Don’t hear me say that. There are lots of variables involved with someone getting healed and many of those variables are a mystery. What I am saying is that one of the variables is the reality that the law of freedom supersedes the law of healing in God’s Kingdom. Our freedom is one of God’s top priorities and we must use that freedom to cooperate with Him. Learning to cooperating with God in healing is part of the journey of the Christian life.

We must explore this truth more. I feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg. How does our freedom and our free choices interact with healing? How can we engage the law of freedom in such a way that it enacts the law of healing? There is much more that we have to learn about this truth.

Contemplative Silence or Spiritual Deafness

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voiceHe calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 

John 10:1-5

I spent years thinking I was engaging in the contemplative silence of God, as if to spend time with God was mainly about embracing His silence and learning to be silent myself. But I was mistaking my spiritual deafness for God’s silence. Many Christians, especially progressive Christians trying to embrace contemplative Christianity, are making this same mistake. God likes to talk. Jesus’s own nickname is Word of God. God is not perpetually silent. How many times does Genesis 1 say, “And God said…”? God is speaking all the time. Most of the time, we just haven’t learned how to hear Him (or haven’t taken the time to).

Silence with God is like arguments between spouses. When I hear married couples say, “We never fight!” I get worried. Never fighting is awesome if you are an older couple who has spent decades learning how to communicate. However, for younger couples “never fighting” is too often an indication that one or both spouses are avoiding things for the sake of a false peace.

I have the same feeling when I hear Christians say things like, “God’s primary language is silence.” If you have spent decades hearing His voice, learning to listen and obey, and have learned to enjoy His Presence so much that both you and God can just sit in silence with each other, wonderful! That’s beautiful. But that’s not most American Christians.

Most Christians are never addressing their spiritual deafness because they are mistaking it for God’s silence. God wants to speak, and if our spiritual ears are open, we will hear Him. His sheep know His voice and listen to His voice.

An 80-year-old couple sitting in silence at a restaurant speaks to how they know each other so well. A newlywed couple sitting in silence at a restaurant often signals a breakdown in healthy communication. Not all silence is golden.

I have found God to be most silent when He has already spoken. He is silent because He’s already told me what I need to know and now it is time for me to trust and rest and follow His lead. Too many Christians believe that God is mostly silent and only speaks occasionally. I used to believe the same thing. But I was spiritually deaf, not understanding all the ways that God speaks through the Holy Spirit. My spiritual ears were clogged with doubt, unbelief, and skepticism.

Too many Christians have managed to take a spiritual problem (the inability to hear God) and have spun it into a spiritual attribute (“I embrace the silence of God”). It reminds me of the husband who, when asked about his marriage, says it’s going great only to look over at his wife and see her eyes rolling. She knows their problems are deep and many. He’s the kind of guy who will boast about never fighting with his wife only to experience a divorce a few short years later.

If God is silent, do not assume you are a master of contemplation enjoying the quiet presence of God. Assume, instead, that you are spiritually deaf and have a long way to go in learning to hear God’s voice. Cry out for an opening of your ears. Surrender the false belief that God doesn’t speak to you. Only after we learn to hear the Holy Spirit regularly can we then learn to enjoy God’s silence in a way that is healthy.

The Three Rs

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…

1 Peter 2:4-5

The three “Rs” of education have classically been reading, writing and arithmetic. The Church also has three “Rs” of transformation. The three “Rs” of transformation in the Church are Renewal, Revival, and Reformation.

Renewal is the term that describes when the Holy Spirit begins to refresh and renew individuals in a church through a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. People begin to have new encounters with the Lord that they’ve never had before. The gifts of the Spirit are renewed in the church and people begin to experience the supernatural in their midst. When a whole church goes through “renewal” it means they collectively begin to be refreshed and renewed by an outpouring of the Spirit throughout the congregation.

Renewal tends to be disruptive as new wine gets poured into old wineskin. Things break and tear and a new wineskin is sought after to hold the new wine being poured out. As individuals get brought into a fresh intimacy with the Lord, the whole church starts to feel different. As individuals have personal visitations of the Presence of God, this gets brought into the corporate worship setting. The whole atmosphere of worship begins to increase in the Presence of God. But this is only the first “R.”

If Renewal continues, it leads to Revival. Revival happens when there is a transition from visitation to habitation of the corporate Presence of God. Revival happens when there is no longer fighting about the Renewal and instead a unity in pursuit of more of God. Revival happens when there is corporate repentance and corporate pursuit of holiness. When there is unity in the Body of Christ, the church functions as a holy Temple of the Lord inviting a continual habitation of His Presence. Each member of the church carries His Presence into their homes and workplaces.

As Revival spreads from local church to local church, it begins to bleed out into society and culture. This is Reformation. Reformation is when society is changed because of the Revival culture that is spilling out of the Church in the region. Reformation is when there are mass salvations, healings, and deliverances that happen on the streets, in the bars, and at the schools. During Reformation, laws change as a response to God’s outpouring. Societal structures change. Politics change. Even those who don’t know Christ begin to adopt the ethic of the Kingdom of God because of the fruitfulness that they witness around them.

We as the Church are described in a variety of ways in scripture. We are the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. Yet, we are also described collectively as a Temple, a spiritual house, where the Spirit of God dwells.

The Temple had three main areas: 1) the outer courts, 2) the Holy Place, and 3) the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place was where God’s Presence dwelled. Only the High Priest could enter there and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Holy Place is where the priests would minister inside the Temple. The outer courts were where the offerings and sacrifices were made among the people.

Renewal is when we experience the Presence of God in the Most Holy Place for ourselves. Revival is when the Presence of God in the Most Holy Place breaks out into the Holy Place and fills the whole Temple. Reformation is when the Presence of God breaks out of the Temple entirely and breaks out into the outer courts and throughout the city of Jerusalem.

Many churches have yet to experience any of this. They are dry. They are dying. Yet even those experiencing Renewal in their midst have only just begun the journey of transformation. The purpose God intended for the Church was never just about getting renewed and refreshed in the Spirit. God wants His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. He wants to do this through the conduit of the Church if we are willing. This means we must pursue not only Renewal but also Revival and Reformation.

The three Rs–Renewal, Revival, Reformation–must be pursued in their fullness and in that order. Pursuing Reformation without first pursuing Revival becomes another failed social gospel. Pursuing Renewal without Revival splinters the Church into “haves” and “have nots.” Pursuing Revival without Reformation leaves no lasting impact on the world. We need all three.

Partnering with the Lord

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:16-17

Being co-heirs with Christ means a kind of partnership with the Lord. It is certainly not an equal partnership, as we are God’s children, but it is a partnership nonetheless. Over and over again, God gives us an important part to play in the activity of His Kingdom on earth.

God could do everything for us but He knows that would be disempowering. Instead, God does things with us because He loves us. God could sovereignly present the gospel to people, and sometimes does through encounters and dreams, but He likes to partner with us in sharing the gospel. He wants to use the Church, His Body, to spread the good news of Jesus.

God could sovereignly heal people, and sometimes does, but He likes to partner with us in healing. He likes to work through His children as they lay hands on the sick and pray for healing.

God can sovereignly deliver people from demonic oppression, and sometimes does, but He likes to partner with us in deliverance. If we are being bound by bitterness and resentment, Jesus invites us into freedom by calling us to forgive. When we do our part and forgive, God then moves in and sets us free from bitterness.

If we experience heavy oppression from the enemy, God will partner with our brothers and sisters in Christ who pray for us to help us get free. He wants to empower not only the people praying, so that they discover the authority they have in Christ and the power they have in the Holy Spirit, but also the person receiving prayer. He wants all of His children walking in the authority and power that was purchased for them in the death and resurrection of Christ.

With God there is a constant back and forth. This life in Christ is a dance as we follow His lead. If we don’t understand this partnership, we’ll either think everything is all up to God or all up to us. Both extremes are found in the Church and both views fall short of capturing the truth. Sometimes God is waiting on us to move and sometimes we must wait on the Lord and His timing.

This is why intimacy with the Lord, listening to His voice, and ongoing interaction with Him is so vital in our Christian life. Otherwise we fall into legalism. Each situation requires that we follow His lead. And He may not do what He did last time. He may not direct us the same way He directed us last time. It’s case by case. This is what it means to “keep in step with the Spirit“(Galatians 5:25). It’s a dance. And as we learn to dance with Him, it’s beautiful.