Traps and Questions

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

Matthew 22:15-17

People who opposed Jesus intentionally tried to trap Him in His words. This is also a common strategy of the enemy for those who follow Jesus. The first attempt was by people with a combination of a religious spirit (Pharisees) and a political spirit (Herodians). The question was about politics. If Jesus rejected imperial taxes, He would gain favor with the general populace but could be condemned by Rome. If Jesus embraced imperial taxes, He would protect Himself from Roman imprisonment but would lose favor with the people.

Notice that they come with flattery. They are trying to get Jesus to overstep with His words and make an enemy of Rome. But Jesus sees through it all. He tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Everyone was amazed by His answer. Not only did He not fall for the trap, but He challenged their own arrogance.

Christian, beware of political questions that are not coming from a place of interest but from a place of trying to trap you in your words and discredit you. In our post-Christian culture, we need to be wise. Jesus warned us saying, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves“(Matthew 10:16).

Not only did the Pharisees and the Herodians try to trap Jesus with politics, but that same day the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus in His theology.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Matthew 22:23-28

Notice here that the Sadducees have concocted an elaborate question about the obscure details of the resurrection, something they don’t even believe in. This is a strong indicator that the question is not coming from a place of curiosity but from a place of cynicism.

Imagine you visit an island in the Pacific that has unique volcanic sand that is black. Now imagine a friend, who doesn’t even believe that island exists, asks an elaborate scientific question trying to prove that black sand is a myth. It’s not worth having a long conversation about the scientific reality of black sand. Your friend doesn’t even believe the island is real in the first place. Notice how Jesus answers the Sadducees.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Matthew 22:29-30

Jesus skips over the elaborate details of their question and gets right to the root of the problem. The question itself is in error. They are asking the wrong question because 1) they don’t know the scriptures, and 2) they haven’t experienced the power of God. Their interpretation and understanding of scripture is limited and skewed and their experience of God is lacking. These two things cause a person not just to have the wrong answers but to start with the wrong questions. They are not coming to Jesus teachable and curious. They are skeptical and arrogant and want to get Jesus in a theological bind.

Christian, beware of theological questions that are not coming from a place of learning and curiosity but from a place of trying to trap you theologically. In our post-Christian culture, we need to know the scriptures and the power of God. Experiencing the power of God is just as important as our study of scripture. Leonard Ravenhill once said, “A man with an experience of God is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.

We can argue all day about black sand, but I’ve actually been to the island. I’ve put my toes in the sand in question. I’ve gone swimming in the ocean and breathed in the fresh air of the island. We’re not talking about an idea. We’re talking about something I’ve experienced firsthand.

There’s no going back after we’ve experienced the power of God. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. And knowing the scriptures helps us put our experiences of God into the larger context of the Kingdom of God and the story of God.

Spend time answering the questions of people who are genuinely curious, genuinely hungry to know God. This is the example that Jesus set. When people were trying to trap Him, He gave short answers and moved on, knowing their hearts were either hard or rocky and not ready for the seed of the word of God (read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).

Not ashamed

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…

Romans 1:14-17

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. He was not ashamed of being a follower of Jesus. He was not ashamed of telling people about Jesus and about salvation. He was honored to get to be adopted into the family of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He was honored to have the Spirit of the Living God dwelling in him. Talking about the gospel was as natural to Paul as talking about his shoes or his elbow.

When we talk about Jesus to those who do not believe, we don’t need to be timid about it. Talking to others about Jesus is like talking to your kids about sex. If you are ashamed and awkward and embarrassed about it then you nonverbally communicate that this topic is shameful, awkward, and embarrassing. But if you talk about it as it truly is – a good gift, normal, natural, a blessing – then your nonverbals will communicate the same.

To Timothy, Paul’s protege, Paul wrote this at the end of his life:

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. 

2 Timothy 1:7-9

We’ve been given a Spirit of power. We’ve been given the gospel which is the power of God for all who believe. We’ve been given a Spirit of love. So we don’t need to be embarrassed or timid or ashamed of the testimony about Jesus. Even if we get ridiculed for it, we can endure such a small bit of suffering by the power of God. After all, we have been saved, rescued, restored, redeemed and made a new creation in Christ. We’ve been called to a holy life, not because we were worthy, but because of God’s own purpose and grace.

Who are we to remain silent about such a gift?

Good Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

Sometimes we read Psalm 23 and we can think of the Lord as a gentle but weak shepherd. Can you picture it? He’s guiding the sheep along quiet waters and gently caring for them as they lie down in green pastures. It’s a very calming picture, but we might not immediately call this kind of shepherd “powerful.”

Yet, as we continue to read the Psalm, we run into the next verse which says, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” And since we don’t come from a shepherding culture, we may have no idea what it’s talking about here. The rod was for the protection of the sheep. It was used to fight off predators. The staff was meant to corral the sheep. The hook at the end of the staff was used to pull sheep back into the flock.

A modern, modified way to read verse 4 would be, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your shotgun and Your cattle prod, they comfort me.” In other words, the Psalmist was comforted by the Shepherd’s power to protect him and power to correct him. This kind of power is comforting. It means we don’t have to try to muster up strength that we don’t have. In John 10:11 Jesus identifies Himself as the “good shepherd.” And the only way for a shepherd to be a good shepherd was for him to be a powerful one.

We see this truth in the early life of David before he became king. David was about to fight Goliath. King Saul told David that Goliath had been a warrior from his youth. David proceeds to give King Saul his resume. And the only thing on his resume was “shepherd.” David went on to explain that his training as a shepherd was as good or better than Goliaths training as a warrior.

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:34-37

In order to be a good shepherd, David had to be a powerful one. You can’t be a good shepherd and a weak one. They are incompatible. John 10:11-13 goes on to explain that a hired hand will run away when a predator comes after the sheep, but a good shepherd will stay and be willing to lay his life down for his sheep.

So, next time you read Psalm 23, remember that the Lord is our shepherd, and though He is gentle with us, He is not weak. Our Good Shepherd is powerful! Part of what it means to be a good shepherd is to be a powerful one. His power to protect us and His power to correct us brings us rest and comfort. We don’t have to live in fear because He is near.

The Gathered Church

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

We gathered together as a church on Sunday. There were about 20 of us who were there in the building experiencing worship live. The rest of us were at home experiencing the live streaming of the service. I was telling a pastor friend the other day that trying to plan a service like this (with all the CDC safety protocols, all the live streaming tech in place, and all the details of a regular service still there) is like trying to pull off a church service under water, scuba gear and all. It’s a lot of hard work.

But then I started to think about the global church, specifically the persecuted church. This is how they have had to gather for decades. They are used to gathering with no more than 20 to 50 folks in the same room. They can’t afford to gather in bigger groups because of the real threat of getting caught, imprisoned, and/or killed.

When we gather like this, we may be afraid that a virus could get us sick. When they gather, they are afraid someone will find out and put them to death. When we gather like this, we have the freedom to broadcast our service across the internet for all to see. When they gather like this, they can’t even hint at the existence of their gathering. Most of them have to pretend to be faithful Muslims or committed Communists.

We think that it would be easier for us just to stay home. And it would be. But imagine how much easier it would be for the persecuted church to give up meeting together, how much easier it would be for them just to stay home. And I was reminded on Sunday, in that small gathering of 20 worshipers, why the Church chooses to gather despite the dangers that come with gathering.

The experience of worshipping in person, preaching in person, hearing the word of God in person is incomparably different than doing each of those things through technology from the comfort of our homes. There is power when believers gather that can only be experienced in person. The Presence of God is tangible in a way that cannot be replicated at home in front of a screen.

Sometimes we legitimately can’t gather and shouldn’t gather. And for these times, technology is a gift from God. But when we can gather, even when there is risk, we should gather. Last Sunday Jesus’s words became very real to me: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them“(Matthew 18:20). And no doubt, He was.

One Wish

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

1 Kings 3:5

Solomon had just become king over the people of God. This huge responsibility weighed on him. Then God came to him in a dream one day and essentially gave him one wish.

If God did this with you, what would you ask for? Or, in an attempt to say the “right” thing, would you assume that in humility you shouldn’t ask for anything?

Solomon did ask for something. He understood the difference between real humility and false humility. False humility doesn’t ask for anything, assuming that’s the right thing to do in this situation. Real humility doesn’t shrink back from asking for God’s blessings and gifts, but asks for things that will benefit others.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

1 Kings 3:7-9

Remember that Solomon is asking for this in a dream. We can’t fake it when we are standing before God and especially not in a dream. Solomon was in a situation where God was seeing the true contents of Solomon’s heart. What Solomon truly wanted was a discerning heart so that he could rule over the people with wisdom and justice. God loved this about Solomon.

Notice God’s response. God doesn’t say, “Because you were humble and didn’t ask for anything…” No, God didn’t have time for that kind of false humility. God loves that Solomon truly wanted a gift from God that would ultimately benefit all of the people of God and not just himself.

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.

1 Kings 3:10-13

So what would you ask for if God let you pick one thing? We all could use a little more wisdom, but we’re not all kings, so wisdom may not be the thing that would be most beneficial. Would it be more love? More grace? More power? More authority?

When we start talking about God’s power and authority many Christians get squeamish. I’ve noticed that people get skeptical about those who would ask for more of God’s power or more of God’s authority. People automatically assume poor motives when power and authority enter the conversation.

If someone asks you, as a follower of Jesus, if you want more of God’s power and more of God’s authority, do not shrink back into the lie of false humility. Many Christians think they are being humble and holy by saying, “Oh no, I’m not interested in getting more of God’s power or authority.” But this is the epitome of false humility.

The purpose of God giving you more of His power and His authority is not about you; it is for the sake of others. With an increase of God’s power and authority in your life, you will be used to help set others free from things that oppressively hinder their life with Christ. It could be sickness and disease. It could be demonic oppression. Whatever it is, you’re going to need all the power and authority you are able to carry in order to help that person get free. By shrinking back in false humility, you’re essentially saying you have no desire to help others get free.

Imagine that a group of people are being held captive, and you’ve been assigned the mission to help them get free. Then someone comes up to you and says, “Before you go in there, I want to give you the gear that will help you accomplish the mission. I want to give you these weapons and this armor. Further, I want to deputize you as a federal marshal so that everyone understands you are operating in the authority of this government. All of this is going to greatly increase your chances of getting those people free.” Now imagine your response to that is false humility. Image you say, “Oh no, I don’t want all of that. I just want to stay humble.” Can you see the problem here?

The truth is that when God gives a person more of His power and authority, it is an incredibly humbling experience. Just as there is a weight to carrying heavy armor and heavy guns for the sake of other people’s freedom, there is a heavy weight to walking in the power and authority of God. It is a huge responsibility. But God is looking for those willing to take up the challenge.

So, if God asks you what you want, don’t be afraid to ask for more of His power and more of His authority. One of the most humbling things you can do is to ask for more power and authority because you know that, if He gives you more, it won’t be for you. Your life is not your own. You will now be commissioned to go and help others get free. Just know that whatever you ask for will come with its own weight, its own responsibility. God’s gifts are not toys for self-glorification. They are expressions of His love and weapons of spiritual warfare.

Welcoming God’s Presence

When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God…

David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.

2 Samuel 6:6-11

King David was taking the ark of God to the City of David (Jerusalem). The manifest Presence of God went everywhere the ark went, so David wanted His Presence in his own city. But instead of carrying the ark on polls by priests, as prescribed by the Law, David and his men clumsily transported it on a cart pulled by oxen. This was the equivalent of treating the ark like a common pagan idol. It was how one might transport a harvest of produce.

In addition to this, no one was supposed to touch the ark. To touch the ark was tantamount to treating the Presence of God flippantly and irreverently. Imagine meeting the Queen of England and greeting her with a “good game” on her backside, then multiply that times a hundred, and we’re approaching the irreverence of touching the ark.

All of this sloppy irreverence with God’s Presence culminated in the unexpected. Uzzah, thinking he was doing a good thing by grabbing the ark, fell down dead in God’s Presence. This terrified David, and fear caused David to want to avoid the manifest Presence of God.

This still happens to us today. The Presence of God is not something to be taken lightly. God is awesome and powerful and His manifest Presence will do some strange things to people. I’ve been in worship services where people fall to the ground having lost control over their bodies in God’s Presence. I’ve seen people tremble uncontrollably. I’ve seen people get bombarded with the joy of the Lord in such a powerful way that they start laughing uncontrollably. One might think they were drunk if they didn’t know better (just like in Acts 2:4 & 13).

I’ve seen people get muscle contractions in their abdomen so strong it looks like–and sometimes sounds like–they are giving birth. I’ve seen both men and women experience this. I’ve seen the Presence of God fill a person so powerfully that they start jumping up and down like a pogo stick. And I’ve seen people just completely pass out in His Presence.

All of the above, except for the pogo stick jumping, I have personally experienced firsthand, so I know it is not fake. I’m sure a few people exaggerate or fake some things, but having experienced almost all of these, I know that these encounters are incredibly intimate, massively powerful, and often unexplainable.

Why do these strange things sometimes happen in the midst of God’s manifest Presence?

Well, picture an unattended fire hose on the ground which suddenly experiences high volumes of water passing through it. That hose is going to do some strange things when that much water, that much power, flows through it. Or, imagine a circuit or power cord normally meant for 110 volts suddenly has 220 volts passing through it. We should expect unusual physical phenomena when God’s manifest Presence comes near.

Unfortunately, our reaction is often the same as King David’s. FEAR. We don’t understand God’s power and we certainly can’t control it. As typical humans, anything we don’t completely understand that we also can’t control makes us afraid. And when God’s Presence does the unexpected or unusual, our fear causes us to step back. We push God’s Presence away. We don’t want to be a part of it. We don’t want to lose control like “those people.” We want sanitized, safe Christianity. We want measurable and controllable Christianity. We don’t want God’s Presence if it shows up in a way we can’t predict or subdue.

However, King David paid a price for this reaction and so will we. David left the ark of God (and therefore the manifest Presence of God) at the house of Obed-Edom. And simply because Obed-Edom was willing to steward the ark (and the Presence of God) in a way that was both reverent and without fear, Obed-Edom and his whole household were blessed.

The churches that are willing to invite God’s manifest Presence, treat it with awe and reverence, and not succumb to fear when God’s Presence starts affecting people in unusual ways will be the houses that God will bless. God’s manifest Presence always brings blessing where it is welcomed and stewarded well.

But here are some decisions we have to make ahead of time, before God’s Presence shows up in power:

  1. We have to decide ahead of time that we won’t be afraid if God does something unusual.
  2. We have to decide ahead of time to let the Spirit move without trying to control Him.
  3. We have to decide ahead of time that God’s manifest Presence can sometimes get messy.
  4. We have to decide ahead of time not to take His Presence for granted, as if God owes us something, and instead treat it with awe and reverence.
  5. We have to decide ahead of time to be as welcoming, inviting, and hospitable to the Presence of God as we try to be to guests who visit our church.
  6. We have to decide ahead of time not to quench the Spirit if God starts moving powerfully in us or in the person next to us. In other words, if things start getting weird, we have to resist the urge to extinguish it and instead hold a “Yes” in our hearts.

Power Problems

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:10-11

Imagine a person came to you and said, “I want to know the power of God.” Many people in the church would give that person a strange look and wonder what was wrong with them. But this is exactly what the apostle Paul wrote here to the church in Philippi, and he wasn’t ashamed to say it. He knew that to know Christ more deeply he’d have to know His power. And we know that Paul not only pursued the power of the Holy Spirit but actually demonstrated it through signs, wonders, miracles and the proclamation of the gospel.

To the Romans, Paul wrote:

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 

Romans 15:18-19

Why was Paul so comfortable pursuing and exercising the power of the Holy Spirit while so many in the church today get squeamish with any talk or mention of the power of God?

I believe the squeamishness about power and avoidance of the pursuit of the power of God stems from a misunderstanding of power in the Kingdom of God. People are applying their understanding of power in the world and assuming it works the same way in the Kingdom (Hint: it doesn’t).

Americans are skeptical of those in power and anyone who would pursue power. There is a distrust of anyone who would want more power because of all the abuses of power that we’ve seen. We are inundated with stories of those in power misusing and abusing their power for their own selfish agenda. Americans have resisted those in power, rightly or not, since we broke away from the King of England in the Revolutionary War. The whole idea of a government with a “balance of powers” came from this deep distrust of those in power.

So when someone starts pursuing the power of God, all of those assumptions get launched at that person. Skepticism rises, distrust abounds, and questions about agendas get asked. But behind all of this is a profound misunderstanding of the power of God in the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom, and God’s power through the Holy Spirit, does not work like power in the world.

God’s Kingdom is upside-down compared to the world. The first will be last and the last will be first (Mark 10:31). Whoever wants to become great must become a servant (Mark 10:43). The ones listed as the top leaders of the church, the apostles and prophets (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11), are actually at the very bottom as the foundation (Ephesians 2:20).

Some people take this upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God to mean we shouldn’t pursue greatness, but that is not the case. God wants us to become great; He just wants us to know that greatness is a journey downward into servanthood and humility not a climb up an organizational chart. God enjoys exalting His sons and daughters like any good Father would, but He’s called us to humble ourselves first (James 4:10).

This same principle is at work in the power of God. Jesus walked with tremendous power. The evidence of that power was all the healings, deliverances, signs, wonders, and the power with which He spoke. Scripture is clear that our journey in the Christian life is a pursuit of becoming more like Jesus. If we are going to become more like Jesus, one aspect of that journey will include a pursuit of the power of God flowing in our lives like it flowed in His.

The apostle Paul was unapologetic about wanting to know the power of His resurrection. He was unapologetic about operating in the power of the Spirit. The reason he was unapologetic about it was because he knew that identifying with the power of Jesus also meant identifying with His sufferings. The power of the Spirit and the suffering of Christ go hand and hand. To identify with one is to identify with the other. The same is true of God’s love. His love and His power go hand in hand. They are inseparable. So to pursue His power is to pursue His love. Many people don’t understand this because they’ve been too squeamish about power to find out for themselves.

Pursuing the power of the Spirit is like someone saying they are going to run a marathon. When someone says they are going to run a marathon, those who are insecure and those who don’t really know the sacrifice involved in training for a marathon might react by thinking, “Oh yeah? Who do you think you are?” They might assume the person is running for their own personal glory and recognition.

But people who are emotionally secure and people who know the tremendous sacrifice of time and effort it takes to train for a marathon react differently. In other words, they understand that the sacrifice of training for a marathon is GREATER than the personal glory of the finish line. They know that training for a marathon takes so much “dying to self” that the danger of self-glorification is itself usually nullified by the training it takes to finish the race. So their response will be something more like, “Oh wow! That’s amazing! Way to go!”

This is the same with the pursuit of the power of God. The pursuit of the power of the Holy Spirit is a journey downward into humility. It is a pursuit that will demand that you go low and stay low. It is not only identification with the resurrection of Christ but also with His sufferings. It is a million occasions of “dying to self.” The journey itself requires so much sacrifice that it usually nullifies any danger of self-glorification. It is a pursuit of becoming more and more like Jesus every day. The pursuit of the power of Spirit is also the pursuit of the love of the Father and surrender to Jesus.

I have found that in my own personal pursuit of the power of the Spirit, the power comes much later in the process. What God does first is have you encounter His love and, in turn, calls you to love others. Then you get humbled, over and over again. Often in this process is the reality of getting misunderstood and ridiculed. In other words, identification with the sufferings of Christ comes before identification with the power of His resurrection. And because of this, many people do not stay on the journey. It requires too much dying to self.

Pursuing the power of God is nothing like pursuing power in this world. It is an upside-down journey of becoming the last and the lowest. Anyone who doesn’t understand this truth has likely never taken the risk of pursuing the power of the Spirit. It’s much easier to stand at a distance with arms crossed and self-righteously declare their disinterest in power, as if that is some badge of humility. It is much easer to never attempt to be like Christ in His power and therefore to avoid the inevitable suffering that comes with it.

When the Spirit falls

Word came to Saul: “David is in Naioth at Ramah”; so he sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came on Saul’s men, and they also prophesied. Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. Finally, he himself left for Ramah…But the Spirit of God came even on him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. 

1 Samuel 19:19-24

Saul was out to kill David. Saul was jealous of David and at times lost his mind in fits of rage. Yet, when the Spirit of God falls, the plans of humanity fall apart. No matter how many times Saul sent men to kill David, they all ran into the thick Presence of God and started prophesying. Saul then decided to do it himself, and he too was waylaid by the Spirit of God. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry...especially when God decides to interrupt them.

One of the main promises of when the Holy Spirit is poured out on everyone–prophesied by the prophet Joel and then quoted by Peter–is that everyone will be able to prophesy.

…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

Acts 2:17-18

So we know that when the Spirit falls upon people (like in the Old Testament), or when the Spirit fills people (like in the New Testament), the result is often the gift of prophecy.

We also know that when the Spirit falls, our plans get interrupted and disrupted. Things get messy. King Saul found himself lying naked day and night. Neat and tidy Sunday services burst open with fervor and fire. Calm and respectable people get undignified. This has always been the case when the Spirit falls in power. It will always be the case no matter how tidy we try to force the Spirit to be.

Sometimes the Spirit falls so powerfully that we are unable to continue with our day. We are knocked to the ground or so enraptured with His Presence that we don’t want to do anything else but be with Him. Notice what happens to one of Saul’s servants when he goes to offer sacrifices at the tabernacle.

Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.

1 Samuel 21:7

Sometimes in our normal obedience, maybe something we’ve done a thousand times, the Lord comes and detains us in His Presence. Suddenly the ordinary worship becomes a divine encounter. When this happens, it’s best not to fight it. If the Lord wants to interrupt our routines and traditions with His beauty and power, we should be grateful. We should linger. We should surrender and allow ourselves to be detained before the Lord.

We American Christians can get so offended by the messiness that comes with the Spirit of God. We can get put off by such raw displays of divine affection. We like to be in control, and we’ll often resist the move of the Spirit to try to stay in control.

But is that what the Lord did with us?

No. The Lord saw all of our messiness, the sin and chaos of our lives, and never once flinched. He didn’t get offended by our mess or distance Himself because of it. Instead, He did the opposite. He came near. The Spirit saw all of our chaos and mess and decided to move in. He decided to take up residence inside the mess and then invite us to join Him in the great renovation of our lives.

Do we not owe God this same response to the messiness that comes with a move of the Spirit? When the fire falls and we get pushed out of our comfort zone with things like the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we do what He did for us? Shouldn’t we lean in instead of push Him away? Shouldn’t we embrace Him as He has embraced us…mess and all? Shouldn’t we put to death our inner control freak and let the Spirit lead us?

I think so.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good…

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

The Power of the Spirit

Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.

Judges 14:5-6

Samson was set apart from birth. The angel of the Lord came to his mother and father and directed them regarding how to consecrate themselves and the baby to the Lord. Samson was set apart with a Nazarite vow from the time of his conception. God had a calling on his life as one who would begin to deliver the people of Israel from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

This kind of exceptional consecration and calling resulted in an unusual level of anointing on Samson’s life. When the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, he was able to operate with an extreme level of power and authority. Samson didn’t always use this power wisely, but it was always available to him.

Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle.

Judges 14:19

Samson’s early life is a foreshadowing of Jesus’s birth and anointing. Jesus was similarly set apart from birth and operated in a similarly powerful anointing. And Jesus was the fulfillment of all that Samson wasn’t.

Samson is also a picture of what is available to us in the Holy Spirit. Samson had the Spirit come upon him in power. We have this same opportunity. As people who have surrendered our lives to Jesus, not only do we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, but we have access to the Holy Spirit coming upon us in power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us for our sake but often comes upon us for the sake of others. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us in power, the enemy gets torn to shreds.

I’ve witnessed what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person who is preaching. What is released in the room is more powerful than the words that are being spoken. People are cut to the heart by the word of God. People give their lives to Jesus for the first time. People respond with their whole hearts and their whole lives.

I’ve witnessed what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person in prayer. Power is released on the person receiving prayer in such a way that dramatic things happen. Demons flee. They can’t seem to get out of there fast enough. Instant physical healings take place. The person’s body conforms to the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of this world. Things are set right. Wounded hearts are repaired as the love of the Father is tangibly experienced.

Without the tangible demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, Christianity devolves into just one religion among many. But when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon us in power, and the reality of the Kingdom of God is on display, Jesus is revealed for who He really is–King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

This is how the apostle Paul describes his own ministry:

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 

Romans 15:18:19

For Paul, to “fully proclaim” the gospel of Christ meant that signs and wonders through the power of the Spirit had to be on display. Anything less than that was not the full proclamation of the gospel of Christ. We are called to daily walk in the power of the Holy Spirit!

I Swore

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips;meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:5-9

In order to be a leader, it requires strength and courage. Over and over we see God command Joshua as a young leader to be strong and courageous. He is to be obedient, not afraid, and not discouraged because of the awareness of God’s Presence with him. God’s presence, if we are aware of it, has a way of destroying fear and discouragement.

Also notice that this powerful thing that God is about to do through Joshua (take the people into the Promised Land) is not really about Joshua. God will surely use Joshua and God searched for someone ready and willing to be used in this way. It was an honor and a privilege for Joshua to be chosen for this leadership role. But none of this is about the greatness of Joshua.

What we learn from this passage of scripture is that all of this is about the nature of God who is not willing to break His promises. God swore to Joshua’s ancestors that He would give them the Promised Land. Joshua being used powerfully by God is more about them than it is about him. It is more about God’s faithfulness to keep His promise to Abraham. It is more about God’s willingness answer the prayers of the people when they were crying out in Egypt.

For those of us who are in leadership roles in ministry, this is a good reminder. We need to remember that when God uses us powerfully it is not about us at all. We are simply instruments of righteousness in His hands.

It is likely that if God moves powerfully through us to impact someone else, God is simply keeping a promise to someone who has been praying for that person. Maybe He is keeping a promise to that person. Maybe He is keeping a promise to one of their grandparents who prayed for them many decades ago. We won’t know until eternity. Until then, we are to serve and lead faithfully, knowing that God’s power flowing through us by the Holy Spirit is all about Him and not about us. It’s all about His greatness and His nature, not our own.