Stimulus

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. 

Acts 2:42-44

Everyone knows that the economic stimulus package that is being sent out to people, while temporarily helpful, is just a band-aid. Strangely enough, stimulus checks like this are most helpful in stimulating the economy when they are given to people who aren’t struggling financially. Only those who have an economic engine–like a good job or investment strategy–and are responsible with their money can take that check and pour it back into the economy. Those really struggling need it just to survive and pay debts. The check stops with them.

This same principle applies to our life with God. Moments where we might have a spiritual encounter, like at a retreat or conference, are helpful but can’t be expected to sustain a person. Strangely enough, these moments are most helpful to the Kingdom when they impact those with a spiritual engine already established in their life. For those really struggling, the moment often stops with them. But for those with an established spiritual engine, the moment turns the person into a conduit of the Spirit, impacting all the people around them.

A spiritual engine is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that daily connect a person to the Lord. This is what truly sustains growth in the Christian life.

For the early church, they had this kind of spiritual engine. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. For us this would be regular time in God’s word, studying and meditating on scripture. The early church devoted themselves to fellowship and the breaking of bread. For us this would be regular times of gathering with other believers to be encouraged and challenged in our walk with the Lord. And the early church devoted themselves to prayer. For us this would be daily time talking to Jesus, laying out our requests, and listening to the Spirit for comfort, guidance, and direction.

When we have these disciplines in our life, they become a spiritual engine that helps to keep us on fire for the Lord. And the fruit from this kind of intimacy with the Lord is undeniable. For the early church, the apostles regularly engaged in signs and wonders, miracles, healings, and deliverances, etc. The miracles were signs pointing people to the reality of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God among them. And all the believers shared their possessions with each other. They took care of each other and the outsider. They were a close-knit community.

When moments of spiritual encounter come, they fuel the fire of those who are already operating with a spiritual engine in their life. Without this, these incredible moments become a flash in the pan. Too many followers of Jesus think that spending one-on-one time with the Lord is optional. It’s not. Daily time in the word, in prayer, and regular time connecting to other believers is essential for growth.

Recovering from Discouragement

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 1:9

Joshua had just been given the job of trying to fill Moses’s shoes. Anyone want that job? Joshua was assigned the task of leading the Hebrew people into the Promised Land. This land was flowing with milk and honey, but it was also filled with giants and armies. The Lord tells Joshua to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid and not be discouraged. The reason? God will be with them wherever they go.

And this reveals a secret to bouncing back from discouragement.

Have you ever hit the wall of discouragement? Maybe work became overwhelming. Or someone spoke a harsh word to you. Or you got into a fight with your spouse or family member or friend. Something was supposed to go right and instead it went horribly wrong.

Discouragement is like the brick wall that you don’t see coming. You’re just cruising along, enjoying life, and then you slam right into it unknowingly. Discouragement feels like a weight around your neck. It is demotivating and de-energizing.

So how do we recover from discouragement?

Sure, there are all the normal bits of advice. Exercise. Get outside. Go do something fun. Other people try to combat discouragement by using their favorite escape. They escape into video games, food, alcohol, etc. But I have found that these are only temporary in their relief.

Next time you feel discouraged, I want you to try this. Go to God in prayer. Describe to Him the situation that is so discouraging. Lay it all out. Then conclude with something like this: “Father, I feel discouraged right now, but I know You are with me. I know that I am Your son/daughter and You love me. I know what You say about me is true. And right now I need encouragement. Would You send me some encouragement today/this week?

That’s it! Ask God to encourage you. Have you ever done this? I know it sounds too simple, but, I am telling you, it is powerful! I have done this over and over again and watched as God brought encouragement to me in the most unique ways. After asking God to provide encouragement for me, I’ll get a random email or Facebook message. I’ll get what seems like a random word of encouragement from a source I wouldn’t expect. And I believe you will too.

The Lord commands us, “Do not be discouraged,” because He wants to provide encouragement for us. He doesn’t want us seeking our own methods of soothing our wounded soul. He doesn’t want us trying to escape life. He wants us returning to Him in our need and trusting that He is our ultimate provider of everything…even encouragement.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

James 1:2-5, 17

Pauline

I went in to pray for Katie as I do most Fridays. Nevin, her husband, told me that there was a new aid there today. The plan was to warn her that I was there to pray and that she could join if she wanted. God had different plans for us that day.

Katie is a young wife and mother of two young kids. In 2016 she experienced a traumatic brain injury because of mistakes made by doctors in the ER. They told us she’d never come out of the coma and that she’d be a vegetable the rest of her life. So we prayed. She eventually came out of the coma. She eventually became responsive. They told us she’d never get off of the trach. So we prayed. She now breathes on her own. They told us she’d always need to be in a care facility. So we prayed. She returned to her home in September 2020. She still doesn’t have control over most of her body or her speech. She still can’t eat food. She still needs a lot of care. So we keep praying that God would continue to heal her. (I invite you to pray with us for her complete healing.)

I visit Katie on Fridays to pray with her and for her. Robin, her mom, is usually there with me along with Katie’s 6-year-old daughter. But this time it was just me and Katie’s aid. So far, all of Katie’s aids have been French-speaking west African women who speak with a thick accent. They have all been Christians and all have joined in quietly in the background as we pray for Katie. This day was Pauline’s first time being Katie’s aid.

I introduced myself and asked if she wanted to pray with me. She said that she did and she was emphatic about it. I figured she would pray in the background as the other aids did. I was wrong. As I began praying for Katie, Pauline stood to her feet and raised up her arms. At first she mostly just agreed with what I was praying but I could sense that something was different. Pauline prayed with tremendous faith. The power of God filled the room as she and I prayed together.

Then, as I got toward the end of my prayers, Pauline began to get louder. She stepped over to Katie’s bed, kneeled down, placed her hands on the bed and began to intercede. And I mean REALLY intercede. She wasn’t launching “wishful thinking” kinda prayers. She was dropping bombs in the Spirit. She was praying for Katie, who she had never met before and doesn’t know, with a fervor that was palpable. She was on her knees crying out to the Lord for Katie’s healing. She was praying with power, with boldness, and with faith and trust. It was clear she has spent a LOT of time on her knees. The only thing I could do was kneel down with her.

As she and I prayed back and forth for the next few minutes, it was incredible. She was a true prayer warrior and she was going to battle for Katie–a stranger but a sister in Christ. When we finished and got up off the ground, I gave her a hug. She started the morning an unknown African woman from Cameroon and I an unknown white man from America. But by the end, we experienced the “unity of the Spirit”(Ephesians 4:3). She was family. I was her brother and she was my sister. There is nothing more unifying than the Holy Spirit. There is nothing that bonds people together who are so very different than the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the beauty of the Church!

I asked her about herself and she mentioned that her ministry was intercession. She was a member of a global prayer chain connecting French-speaking Christians from America, Canada, Europe, and west Africa. She also said that, originally, she wasn’t going to accept the job of being Katie’s aid because she lives an hour away. But now she understood why she was there. She was there to pray for Katie. Before I left she promised to put Katie on the international prayer chain. So, now people from all the world are praying for a miracle for Katie. God is good!

During our prayer time together, the Lord showed me something about myself and Pauline. In the world’s system of privilege, I–a white American man–am at the top, and she–an French-speaking African women–is near the bottom. Even in the religious system of the Church, I am a pastor who ministers publicly and she is a medical aid worker who works behind-the-scenes. But God’s Kingdom is an upside-down Kingdom.

It was clear from our prayer time, and from the years she has spent on her knees, that she was the one with special access to the throne room of God. She, not I, had the VIP All-Access pass into the Presence of God that morning. Her faith was so much more powerful than mine, her “privilege” in the Kingdom so much greater than mine. It was an honor for me to pray with her. I was in school and she was the instructor. It’s yet another reminder that “favor” in the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with one’s race, sex, or socio-economic status. It has nothing to do with whether you are a pastor on staff at a church or a medical aid worker. It has everything to do with surrender. It has everything to do with faith.

I hope to pray with Pauline again.

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.

The Turn

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you:
    All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
    and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant,
    your heart will throb and swell with joy;

Isaiah 60:1-5

“We’re at the turn.”

That’s what I heard the Lord tell me the other day. As I’ve processed it, I believe He was referencing how when people race around a track, there is always a final turn before the home stretch. The home stretch comes right before the finish line.

I believe God was saying, for so many of the people I had been praying for, they are at the turn. This is the turn that happens right before the finish of one season and the beginning of a new season. The new season will bring a brand new life. It’s at the turn that the finish line is in sight for the first time.

One friend for whom I’ve prayed for four years went through infertility, divorce, and loss of her foster children. She’s at the turn. Another friend for whom I’ve been praying for more than four years experienced a traumatic brain injury from a medical mistake. She’s finally leaving the medical facility she’s been in for years and will receive medical care at home where she can be around her family. She’s at the turn.

Another friend has been battling autoimmune disease and multiple misdiagnoses for three years. He just started a new medicine that is looking promising. He’s at the turn. A married couple who had been estranged from their daughter for three years just had a reunion and got to see their grandchild. They’re at the turn. For years I’ve prayed for my sister to find a husband and be married. So have my parents. She’s a few weeks away from her wedding day. She’s at the turn.

And these are all happening in August and September of 2020. A few months from now every single person mentioned above will have a dramatically differently looking life. Their new life is within sight. It won’t be long now! We are at the turn. Darkness has covered their life for a time, but the Lord is rising upon them. Their hearts of sadness are turning to hearts swelling with joy. This is the season we are in right now. Praise Jesus!

I wonder how many more people this word applies to. Have you been praying for something for a long time? I’m not talking about a few months of praying. I’m talking about three, four, or five years of praying consistently for something? It’s hard to faithfully pray for something for that long. But I am seeing all of these prayer requests come into a season right now where the tide is turning. What is that for you?

We’re at the turn. Look for it. Lift up your eyes and look about you. The new day is coming!

Keep Praying

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…

Ephesians 1:18

What happens when we pray for people who aren’t making the best decisions in their life? How do our prayers affect them?

In eternity, we will have free will, yet we will only choose what is good. I believe this will happen for two reasons. First, our completely purified and redeemed hearts will only desire what is good. Secondly, we will only have good options to choose from.

When you pray for people, you release the Kingdom into their life. I believe this does two things. First, it provides their hearts the option to explore different desires, good desires, that they may not have considered before. They can now choose to follow desires that align with the Kingdom of God that they didn’t have access to before. Secondly, it provides external options to choose from that weren’t there before.

Imagine the person you are praying for in a convenience store full of junk food. Your prayer for them releases in them a craving for fruit. Your prayer also introduces a fruit and vegetable stand from the farmer’s market into the convenience store. Your prayer for them doesn’t force them to make a better choice but it does provide for them better options.

Keep praying.

Hearing God in a Crisis

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

My family and I are in the midst of a tragedy. We are walking through grief and loss. My older brother has just died at 47. He was in a car accident. He left behind a wife and three kids. We feel like so much has been stolen from us. So much time and so many memories that were yet to happen were ripped away from us in an instant. My nieces and nephew lost their dad. I lost a brother. My parents lost a son. My sister-in-law lost her husband. My kids lost an uncle. The pain is real and intense.

During these kinds of seasons we need the presence of the Lord to be near to us and comfort us. We need Jesus to bring His peace that passes all understanding. And it is extremely helpful to hear from the Lord as He speaks to us about what is happening. Yet, many people report that during difficult times, they don’t hear from the Lord. It often feels like the Lord is silent.

I have some thoughts on this. I believe the Lord wants to speak into these situations in our lives. I don’t believe the Lord wants to be silent. But I believe we often experience a kind of silence for a couple reasons.

Have you ever been on a video conference call and someone started talking while they were still muted? You can see their mouth moving but you can’t hear anything. It’s not that they aren’t talking but the mute button is keeping you from hearing them. I believe we sometimes interact with God this way. God is speaking but we don’t hear him. We have a mute button on in our spirit.

The thing that opens communication with the Lord is trust. If we can trust him implicitly in good times or bad, no matter what happens, then the communication lines stay open. Lack of trust shuts down our ability to hear from the Lord. So if personal crisis causes us not to trust the Lord, then we are shutting down the very thing we need in that moment–the voice of the Lord.

Not only does mistrust shut down our ability to hear, but it will sometimes cause God to stop speaking. He stops speaking because He loves us. That may sound strange but just think about it for a second. Imagine you are grieving an incredible loss in your life. Now imagine someone you don’t trust starts talking to you. In that moment, do you want them to keep talking? No. It doesn’t matter what they are saying. It doesn’t matter if they are saying all the right things. If we don’t trust them, we don’t want them speaking to us while we are in the midst of deep grief. It would be better if they were just silent.

God knows this. If we don’t trust God, it doesn’t matter what He says to us in that moment of grief and pain. If we don’t trust Him, we will misconstrue whatever it is He wants to tell us. We will doubt it, question it, and misinterpret it. Our lack of trust toward God often means it is more loving for Him just to be present with us and not speak to us in that moment.

Yet, in the midst of grief and pain, we are willing to hear from people we trust. So if we trust the Lord no matter what, we are willing to hear from Him in the midst of our pain. God speaks and we listen. And when we hear the word of the Lord in the midst of our tragedy, it is so helpful, so comforting, and so clarifying.

This may sound strange to some, but here’s the truth: God has not been silent during this tragedy in my life. In fact, the only way to describe my interaction with God right now is that God has been downright talkative. In the midst of my grief, pain and loss, He has had so many things He’s wanted to say to me.

He has spoken to me directly through scripture, through prayer (His still small voice in my heart), through friends, and through prophetic words from others. When I didn’t know what to pray, the Lord gave me different themes and things to focus on that directed my prayers. When I was confused by what seemed to be missing pieces of the puzzle, God dropped a puzzle piece on me that brought understanding.

My wife had a prophetic dream in the middle of our crisis that brought tremendous clarity. My good friend had multiple prophetic visions that he shared with me that were hard to hear at first but brought a level of comfort and understanding. This is why the above verse of scripture says, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all.” If we can learn to receive and process prophetic words on our normal days, then they will become lifelines during a crisis.

Trust is what keeps those communication lines open. When God begins to speak, and He says something unexpected, trust is what allows us to receive His word without being confused or offended by it. Jesus is the most trustworthy person I’ve ever met. We owe Him our unconditional, implicit, unyielding trust.

We need to stop believing the lie that God is always silent during hard times. Not true. God loves to talk us through a crisis. He loves to speak. He loves to speak words that bring clarity, understanding, comfort, and peace. If God is quiet, it may be that He knows what we need in that moment is His tangible Presence and not His words. But it also might mean that our inability to trust Him has shut down communication. Let’s make sure our trust in Him keeps those lines of communication open. Even during a crisis, He is worthy of our trust.

Different Strategy

Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?”

The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hands.”

So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them…

Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.

1 Samuel 5:18-25

David had become King of Israel and the Philistines didn’t like it. So the Philistines came to the Valley of Rephaim to attack the army of Israel. David does what he had always done–inquire of the Lord. David was always checking in to see what the Lord wanted him to do.

What is so unusual and amazing about this time is that David checks in a second time. The Philistines were defeated in the first battle in the Valley of Rephaim, yet they amassed their army there a second time. They tried the attack King David and his army in the same place and in the same way.

Most of us, when faced with the same exact situation as last time, would just do what we did last time. What David did last time worked! Why not do it again? After all, the Philistines are in the same exact valley and are attacking in the same exact way. Let’s just do what we did last time and God will once again give us the victory, right?

But instead of just assuming that he knows the mind of the Lord, David decides to ask the Lord again what he should do. And to our surprise, the Lord gives a different response. God basically says, “Don’t do what you did last time. Instead, use this new battle strategy I am giving you.” So even though the situation looked identical to the last battle, God knew it would require a brand new strategy to get the victory.

This is a great model for those of us living the Christian life. While it is good to know biblical principles, if we think those principles are a substitute for interactive intimacy with the Lord, we’ll slide into the trap of living by the law. Instead, we need to continually check in with the Lord, even when current situations look identical to past situation. God can see things we can’t see.

This is why the apostle Paul encouraged the Galatians not to live by the flesh OR by the law. Both of those are ditches on either side of the road of faithfulness. He wanted them, instead, to walk in step with the Holy Spirit. Here’s how Paul said it:

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. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:13-18

In order to walk by the Spirit and live in a way that is led by the Spirit we must be in continual communication with the Spirit. Paul’s exhortation to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) isn’t about petitioning God with our requests all day long. That’s what a toddler does to their parents. No, praying continually is about interacting with God all day long. And much of that interaction needs to be listening. It needs to be us “inquiring of the Lord” and giving Him the time and space to answer.

We need to do this even when we come upon a situation that we think we can handle on our own. We need to do this even when we encounter something we’ve encountered before. It’s easy to pridefully think we know what to do without checking in with the Lord. But His ideas are much better than ours, and what He can see is much greater that what we see. Like an iceberg in the ocean, sometimes there is way more to a situation than we can possibly know.

Raising the Dead: A Conversation

Sam: Did you hear that Bethel Church is praying for the 2-year-old daughter of one of their worship leaders to be raised back to life? She died a few days ago and they are praying for the little girl to be resurrected. Can you believe that insanity?

Me: I can believe it. And I love it! I am so inspired by their faith and courage. I only wish I would be able to have the same boldness to take that kind of risk for the sake of the name of Jesus if I were in that situation.

Sam: What? Are you crazy? You actually believe we should be praying to raise the dead?

Me: In certain situations, yes. And, technically, what we’re talking about is resuscitation. Theologians usually reserve the word resurrection for what will happen at the end of all things when we get a resurrected and glorified body. To delineate this from when a person comes back to life after being dead, they use the word resuscitation. Lazarus was resuscitated. He was dead and was raised back to life in his earthly body, but he eventually died again (John 11). In common vernacular, resuscitation is what EMT people do through CPR before a person is dead. This is why some people prefer the term resurrection because it is a little clearer to the average church goer. But in theological terms, resuscitation is when a person has died, then they come back to life in their earthly bodies.

Sam: But that was like a one time thing right?

Me: Actually, no. Jesus resuscitated/resurrected Lazarus, the little 12 year old girl (Mark 5:40-42), and the young man during his own funeral in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). He was following in the tradition of and improving upon the resuscitations/resurrections performed by the prophets Elijah (in 1 Kings 17:22) and Elisha (in 2 Kings 4:34-35 & 13:20-21).

Not only that, but the early church performed resuscitations/resurrections as well. Tabitha (also called Dorcus) was raised back to life by the power of God through Peter (Acts 9:36-42), and Eutychus was raised back to life by power of God through Paul (Acts 20:7-12).

Sam: But I thought that when a person dies, it was the sovereign will of God. Isn’t it just a person’s “time” when they die?

Me: I used to think that too. But with that thinking, the stories of resuscitation/resurrection in the New Testament make no sense. If it was the little girl’s “time” to die because of the sovereign will of God, why then did Jesus bring her back to life? This would seem to imply some conflict between Jesus’s actions and the will of God. Yet, we know Jesus only did the Father’s will.

Likewise, if it was just Tabitha’s “time,” if it was God’s sovereign will that she died, why did Peter pray that she be raised to life? Further, why did God then answer Peter’s prayer and bring her back to life? Or what about Eutychus? Was it God’s sovereign will that he fall out of a window and die while listening to a sermon from Paul? Is that what we are to believe? Clearly, Paul did not believe that or he wouldn’t have prayed for him to be raised back to life.

From these situations in the New Testament we learn that sometimes people die before their time and that Jesus has authority even over death.

Sam: So are you saying that sometimes people die before they are supposed to?

Me: Yep. Tabitha in Acts 9 died before her time. Eutychus in Acts 20 died before his time. Lazarus in John 11 died before his time. The young man in Nain died before his time. Jesus has authority over death, and He gives that authority to His disciples to be used for His glory.

On a number of occasions, I have cast out of a person a demonic spirit of death. The assignment of a spirit of death on a person is to bring all forms of death into that person’s life. And sometimes that demonic assignment tries to bring about an early death. On more than one occasion, I’ve tried to cast out a spirit of death only to have it fight hard to stay. It’s a stubborn demon and doesn’t want to let go of the person to whom it is assigned.

I believe that sometimes people die, not because it is their “time,” but because the enemy is trying to take them out early. In the end, Jesus wins anyway because, as believers, we get to spend eternity in heaven. But the enemy is actively trying to take pieces of the Kingdom of God off the chessboard because he doesn’t want God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. After all, Jesus told us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…“(John 10:10).

Sam: Wait, wait, wait! This is nuts. Are you serious? How are we supposed to know if a person died because it was their time or because of the enemy attacking them?

Me: Great question, Sam. How did Jesus know to raise some from the dead but not all? How did Peter and Paul know to pray to raise some but not all? They didn’t pray to raise everyone who died. They only did this occasionally. How did they know?

The answer is not formulaic, though we love formulas in western Christianity. Jesus was in constant communication with the Father so that He could execute the perfect will of the Father. Peter and Paul were checking in with the Holy Spirit for discernment and guidance. And so, we must do the same. The truth is, we don’t know. When a person dies, we have to ask the Lord what to do next. But in the range of options of “what to do next,” we need to have the option of praying to raise the dead.

Sam: But why?

Me: Because Jesus commanded it. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He commanded them, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:7-8).

Then before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“(Matthew 28:18-20). In other words, Jesus commanded them to heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons. Then, before He leaves, He tells them to teach the next generations of disciples “everything I have commanded you.” This includes healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons.

Based on the book of Acts, that is exactly what they did. We see the early church heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. Just because the American church has such little faith that we struggle with these realities doesn’t mean we aren’t still commanded to do them.

Sam: Okay, okay. First, doesn’t praying to raise the dead disrupt the grieving process? Isn’t that unhealthy for grieving parents? Secondly, do we have any evidence that God is still raising the dead today?

Me: As to the first question, the parents will be grieving the loss of their child for the rest of their lives. Is it too much to ask to wait for a few days in an atmosphere of faith and hope, trusting Jesus with whatever the outcome might be? The Bethel people have buried plenty of people. They’ve done lots of funerals. They are not denying reality. They have faced the fact that the child is dead. They are not praying for healing. They are praying for resurrection, which means they are owning the reality that she is dead. But they are also trusting that God is a God of miracles, that Jesus has authority over death, and that biblically, in certain situations, the church has a mandate to pray for the dead to come back to life.

All of that said, it must be done lovingly and carefully. Just as praying for the sick must be done with love and care, so too must praying for resurrection. It should not be done for every death, and it should never be forced on any family. But when parents ask you to join them in prayer for their child to come back to life, that is not the time for speculations about God’s sovereignty. It’s a time to get on your knees next to the parents and believe in resurrection.

Sam: But what about my second question? Does it even still happen? Do we have any reason to believe God still does this?

Me: Yes, Sam, it is happening today all over the world. Story after story of resurrection are coming out of Iris Global’s ministry in Mozambique. And before we doubt these stories because they are coming from Africa, we need to check our xenophobia and cultural prejudices at the door. They know what death is. They have hospitals, doctors, and morgues. They also have seen people who had been dead for days sit straight up in the morgue. Heidi Baker and Supresa Sithole have seen resurrections in their ministry over and over again. David Hogan of Freedom Ministries has also seen resurrections in his ministry in Mexico. It’s not hypothetical. It’s happening in the global church today!

But if your skepticism or cultural prejudices are still getting the best of you, a notable resurrection happened here in the U.S. a few years ago in St. Charles, Missouri. They made a movie about it called Breakthrough. John, who was 14, was trapped under a lake for 15 minutes. Then paramedics and ER doctors tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him for 43 minutes. This is medical record. Medically, there is no coming back from this. Yet, when his mom came in and prayed for him to come back to life, he did. His heart, which had not been beating for roughly an hour, suddenly started, not because of a defibrillator but because of prayer. Roughly 48 hours later, he was awake and answering questions.

Again, Jesus has authority over death, and part of our inheritance in the Kingdom is that we get to share in that authority because we are in Christ.

Sam: But why would God bring some back and not others?

Me: Sam, the answer to that question is way above my pay grade. But I am encouraged by the true testimony of Joanne Moody (watch her full testimony on YouTube here). She was dying on an operating table after years of having debilitating chronic pain, and she felt her spirit release from her body. She floated above her body and saw what was happening around her. Then Jesus entered the room. And He told her, “I have heard your cries and I know full well your pain. You can go with Me now, or you can stay, for the prayers of the saints have given you a choice.”

In other words, so many people were praying for her that God was going to give her a choice to go back into her body or to go to be with Jesus in heaven. Everything in her wanted to go be with Jesus. She wanted to be done with the chronic pain. Yet, in her heart, she remembered her son. Her love for him took over and in her heart she knew she had to go back. Jesus read her heart and responded by saying, “It is as you wish, child.” And with that, she was sent back into her body.

So I believe that, sometimes, the prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ give us a choice. I don’t know how it all works, but I believe that Joanne Moody’s testimony reveals that sometimes our prayers for resurrection give that dead person a choice as to whether they will stay with Jesus or return to their body. It is Jesus’s prerogative to give us these kinds of choices. But our prayers do matter. Our prayers do impact things in the spirit realm even when we can’t see their effect (read Daniel 10:12-14 if you struggle to believe the truth of this).

Sam: So, now are you going to pray for resurrection for everyone who dies?

Me: No. That’s not what we see in the New Testament. But I hope to be the kind of pastor who will believe that Jesus has authority even over death, and that if I am led by the Spirit to pray for someone to be raised from the dead, I will do it in obedience.

My prediction is that years from now Bethel will be seen as a church that pioneered radical faith. More and more resurrections will happen in the U.S., and people will look back in awe that Bethel was willing to believe even when most of the anemic American church was not.

Count me among those who are willing to look foolish if it means taking Jesus at His word.

Hearing God

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

1 Samuel 3:8-10

As a child Samuel was dedicated to the Lord, so he served with the priests at Shiloh. Eli was his chaperone and mentor. One evening, just as Samuel was lying down to sleep, the Lord called to him. Having never heard from the Lord, Samuel didn’t know it was the Lord. He thought Eli was calling his name. Finally, after the third time, Eli realizes it is the Lord and gives Samuel instructions on how to listen.

This scenario is still common today. Many followers of Jesus have never been taught how to hear the voice of the Lord. They have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, and yet they feel as though they’ve never heard the Lord speak directly to them. The reality is, much like this situation with Samuel, the Lord has spoken over and over again but, because we didn’t know what to listen for, we didn’t know it was the Lord. We need an Eli in our life to guide us in our hearing.

The results in Samuel’s life from hearing the word of the Lord directly were profound. Notice what happened to him.

The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

1 Samuel 3:19-21

None of Samuel’s words fell to the ground. Have you ever spoken and felt like your words just dropped to the ground having no impact? Like they didn’t even reach their intended audience? Samuel’s willingness to hear from the Lord changed the power and effectiveness of the words he spoke. Because he wasn’t just speaking his own words but was speaking with words laced with the word of the Lord, they carried weight and authority. Every time he spoke, his words impacted those who heard him. People began to recognized this and named him a prophet of the Lord.

Notice also that God was revealing Himself–His nature, character, and thoughts–through His word. When someone speaks, they reveal pieces of themselves through what they say and how they say it. It reveals what they care about and what they’re focused on. When Samuel heard from the Lord, he was learning a little more about God each time.

This happens with us. This is why John calls Jesus the Word of God in the Gospel of John. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of who God is and what He’s like. So as we read God’s word in scripture and as we hear God speak directly to us through the Holy Spirit, we receive little pieces of what God is like.

We can hear God speak to us in a variety of ways. He can speak directly to us through a scripture passage, a spontaneous thought, a mental image, a dream, patterns in circumstances, and through the words of trusted friends. If you’ve never heard directly from God for yourself, here is a simple practice that can help:

1. Quiet yourself. Set aside some time and space where you won’t be distracted. Play soft worship music if that helps but make sure you are alone.

2. Focus your heart and mind on Jesus. Picture yourself with Him if that helps. Pray this, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

3. Ask the Lord a direction question. Don’t start with theological questions. Ask personal/relational questions. A good one to start with is, “Father, who do you say that I am?” Or, “What is your favorite thing about me?”

4. Watch and listen for any spontaneous thoughts that come to mind or any mental pictures that appear. There might also be a feeling that rises up or a mental movie in your mind’s eye. Don’t dismiss or edit these.

5. Write down what you hear or see. Ask the Lord a follow up question to what He said. Then write down His next response. Take what you’ve written down to a trusted friend who loves Jesus and has some experience hearing from the Lord. Ask them if they think what you heard or saw was really from the Lord.

Repeat this process until you begin to get a feel for what it’s like to hear from the Lord. The more you practice hearing from Him, the better you will get at it. He wants to speak to you. He loves to talk with you.

As we saturate ourselves in hearing the word of the Lord, our own words will begin to change. Our words will start to be woven together with the word of the Lord. Our words will become less and less harsh, angry, sarcastic, and condemning. They will become more and more encouraging, loving, and kind. They will also begin to carry greater weight and authority. People will begin to sense that our words impact people.

Don’t be surprised if you begin to use less words too. People who tend to go on and on–who use way more words than necessary–are verbally revealing, through their endless chatter, their own insecurities, identity issues, and self-absorption. When we begin to hear what God thinks of us and we believe what He says about us, those insecurities and identity issues get healed. We’ll stop feeling the need to give every opinion on every issue. We’ll stop giving every detail of every story. We’ll stop preemptively explaining ourselves and defending ourselves. And our words will go from having no weight to actually leaving a lasting impression.