Hearing what people say is one thing. Really listening is something else entirely. What turns listening into an art form is learning how to juggle listening to others and listening for the Lord at the same time. Listen well enough to others and you will more easily hear from the Lord. These simple rules and visual images will help put you on track, but only practice makes perfect.
And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:9 ESV
A Lost Art
Sometime in the last century we lost the art of letter writing. Once widespread and flourishing, writing long, thoughtful letters by hand kept people intimately in touch over great distances, but the telephone and air travel supplanted it. Something similar seems to be happening to story tellers and good listeners. Where are the raconteurs who could hold you spell-bound with a simple tale lovingly told? Where are the caring souls who set their lives aside to really give a good listen to yours? It seems as if both are being crowded out by the pressured pace of modern life, for both of these art forms require a gracious supply of time in which to thrive.
This cultural deficit actually makes our task as Christian ministers much easier. So many people are weighted down or stressed up with the burdens they are carrying. Often their attempts to find a caring soul have been brushed off by people too busy to give them the time of day. Others they encountered were so filled with their own cares they didn’t dare open themselves to feeling the weight of another’s concern. And then there were false friends who heard them out, but failed to keep the confidence. In such a cultural climate finding a good listener is a rare treasure indeed! Yet, listening is the easiest point of access for those who desire to enter into The Care of Souls which is the essence of Christian ministry.
The beautiful thing about becoming a good listener is a) that you can start right away, and b) you can easily do a lot of good and very little harm. The deeper you go into Christian ministry the more training you will need and the more danger there will be of inadvertently causing damage. If you want to counsel people, or exercise a gift of prophecy, or minister inner healing and deliverance, you’ll have to strap yourself in for the long haul. Seeking to help people at the level of their deepest need requires training and teamwork. But if you want to relieve people by listening well, all you need is one good ear. If you have two, so much the better!
Ears to Hear Him
Listening is also important because our life with God is predicated upon listening carefully. In fact our ability to listen to others will increase dramatically as we learn how to give ear to the Lord. He speaks His word to us in a variety of ways. We listen for what He may be saying to us through scripture, through the words of others, through books, through conscience and through the way the Spirit guides our circumstances. That’s a lot of listening! But that is not all.
There is an art to listening to the Lord. If you stay busy, you hear very little. The more you slow down, the more you notice that He just might be trying to get your attention about something. Then, if you really settle down and get quiet, you just might (finally) be in the right position to hear what He is saying. Imagine a darkened, windswept, rain-splattered pond. If an acorn were to drop on the surface you’d hardly notice.
Oh, but let that same pond be utterly still on a sunny day and anything dropped on the surface will be immediately heard and its effects seen across the whole expanse of quiet water. Learn to be that quiet pond on the inside and you will hear so much better from the Lord. How will we ever understand our lives or our world, if we don’t pause to really hear Him when He speaks?
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand.” Matthew 15:10 ESV
LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared a seven (!) page download, Walking in the Spirit, complete with images, examples, exercises, scriptures and prayers to help you grow in your ability to hear the Lord and walk with Him. It’s free—download here.]
The Payoff with People
All of this training at listening to the Lord comes in handy when listening to people. With them also it is not just a simple matter of recognizing and understanding words. The way they speak, their choice of words, their inflections, pauses and points of emphasis all give insight into their inner conversation—the thoughts of their heart. Body language and facial expressions also send a message, sometimes more loudly than anything they may actually be saying. If a person looks really down and discouraged and you hear it in their voice, but they tell you “all’s well,” what are you going to listen to as truth?
Just as we need to be quiet to hear from the Lord, so too we need to be quiet to listen well to others. Being unquiet on the inside always gets in the way of good listening. Haven’t we all seen people at parties who can’t wait for the other person to finish speaking, so they can jump in? Many people, when introduced to someone new, are so anxious what to say that they don’t hear and remember the person’s name. Or, perhaps something you heard triggered a very distracting thought. By the time you came to the end of it, you looked up and realized the other person was still speaking to you! These are just a few examples to show the need for emptying out as soon as you turn your attention to someone who wants to open up to you.
Stop, Look and Listen
We have to be ready to give our complete attention at a moment’s notice. Years ago we had railroad signs in this country which said, “Railroad Crossing: Stop, Look and Listen.” If you don’t want to wreck the other person’s train of thought, let this bygone phrase remind you of the dangers of not coming to a full stop! Then, let the whole phrase provide a framework for excellent listening.
As soon as you see that someone wants to open up to you, or has a legitimate need to talk, stop what you’re doing. This should be obvious, but the devil is in the details. If you look at your watch, or fidget, or show the slightest sign of irritation or impatience, you may lose your moment with them. Come to a full stop and stay stopped. Set the stuff in you aside. Don’t start thinking of other things you could be doing, unless of course, you should be doing them. In that case it is better to listen well to the first few sentences, explain that you have to go, but would really like to hear more later. Honesty like this will save you from resentment and them from embarrassment.
Inconvenience, on the other hand, can conceal the call of the Lord. Moses famously turned aside upon seeing the burning bush—it wasn’t his plan. Had he not noticed and stopped, he could easily have missed out on joining the Lord in a very heroic part of the Rescue. If you don’t know it yet, you may as well brace yourself for finding it out soon: The Lord takes a rather cavalier attitude towards our agendas. He prefers His plans to ours! Imagine. This means that your burning bush moments with others may come at seemingly inopportune times. Take time to tune in to the Lord. Lift the interruption immediately up to Him. If you can’t honorably set it aside, set your agenda aside instead. He’ll help you with that later.
Above all, look them in the eyes. Look with your heart of love and acceptance that Jesus gives you. Look to see how important this moment is to them. Just don’t overwhelm them by too intense a gaze—people in need often feel insecure and wilt if you look into them too deeply or too long. Then, as you have opportunity, take in the whole aspect of the person to see what that might tell you as you begin listening to them. Are they in a pain or a panic? Do they seem distressed and disheveled? Do they look like they need an immediate response from you to calm them down? How badly do they seem to be in need? Will someone else have to be called in, or does this seem like something you (with the Lord’s help) can handle?
While you’re looking, look around. Is this a good place for the person to open up? Will it afford them enough privacy? Do they seem on the brink of tears? In that case is there a quieter corner or more convenient place for the conversation? If you are feeling self-conscious or awkward about being approached, try not to let it show. Above all, never worry how the situation will look to others. Deal with those feelings immediately by looking up to the Lord and seeing or sensing if you have a green light from Him to go forward in this location. That’s all that matters. Very likely you will get the go ahead, since the burning bush moment is already a sign of His Providence in choosing the time and place. If not, suggest a better location and move there.
James tells us to be quick to listen, slow to speak. That’s our guide. Affirm their feelings, not necessarily their opinions. Wait patiently for your time to speak—don’t interrupt. Be willing to count your own words as small things compared to what the Lord will be speaking to them, simply by you listening well. The image here is of a full pitcher of water. They are filled to the brim with all kinds of thoughts and feelings. If they don’t tell someone they will overflow!
Your job is to let them pour what’s inside them out upon your listening ears. It hardly matters where they begin. Their heart will secretly direct their conversation to the points that really matter. That’s where you want to focus your innermost attention: on whatever it is that their heart is seeking to express. Don’t strain. Just listen to them and to the Lord. If some insight needs to come to you, it will. Once that comes out into the open, your own heart will help you give the right response when it’s your turn to speak. If you can find nothing significant to share, don’t reproach yourself. Keep listening! Turning on the lights for you and your friend is the Lord’s job. We are wisest when we wait on Him to do just that.
In the meantime, remember that we weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh. Both are healing. Just go with the flow at first, responding to them as Jesus does with you. Set aside any judgments that may arise against their situation or their behavior. Ask questions if need be to keep the flow going: “What hurts? How did that make you feel?” Be a spiritual sponge! Absorb what they are sharing, taking it to your own heart and holding it up to the Lord in prayer. Be directive or assertive only if they seem to be straying off focus or dodging something. Good listening creates a bond of trust. You have to earn the right to speak.
As they empty out, this give you the opportunity to pour in some encouragement or the wisdom gained from a similar experience. Just don’t be in a hurry to do that. The quarry is dove like. If you don’t quietly wait for your moment, you may startle them into taking flight. The primary comfort is not your words, but your love. That is shown incredibly well by listening well. It is rightly said that a burden shared is half lifted—and you don’t even have to do any of the lifting. The Lord will lift their spirit through the principle of fellowship.
Good listening is a way of showing hospitality to others. You are welcoming them into your presence and treating their conversation with the respect a guest of your house deserves. God will use your caring and listening to bring much comfort and restoration, even if you have no inspired insight to give. Just by talking people are helped, even to the point of discovering the answer for themselves. Just know your limits. Avoid sharing about unhealed, wounded areas in your life and getting in too deep into theirs. Follow these simple guidelines and you will not only do others a great deal of good, you will be making friends for eternity as you go along!
More to Explore
Inner Healing and Deliverance Basic Discipleship enables us to prune the bad fruit off of our spiritual tree by calling on Jesus in any moment of need. Inner Healing and Deliverance are needed to pull out our deeply buried “root” issues. We all have them. They are unresolved stuff still stuck in us that produce bumper crops of bad attitudes and actions. “Where’s there’s fruit, there’s a root.” The great thing is that once you deal with the root, a lot a bad fruit goes away.
Giving Talks There is one rule that governs all talks: make sure you have something to say! We can’t help you with that, but we can supply the coaching for how to know when you’ve got it (something to say) and what to do with it when you do.
Leading Prayer Ministry This is only one of many ways of doing prayer ministry, but it has been highly effective. The great thing in the care of souls, as in medical practice, is to make sure you do more good than harm. This “method” has led to many happy outcomes.
Scriptures on Listening
And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua 3:9 ESV
Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes. Psalms 81:13-14 ESV
And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:9 ESV
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. James 1:19-20 ESV
Funny, isn’t it, just how much meaning can turn on something as simple as a preposition? Did you put the ice cream on the fridge or in it? Makes quite a difference doesn’t it? Especially as time goes on…
In an earlier article, “Who Is the Holy Spirit? (And What Is He Doing inside Me?),” I wrote about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, trying my level best to lift the veil surrounding the “Mystery Person” of the Trinity who dwells so silently and secretly with us on the inside.
Here, I’m focusing on the equally amazing work of the Holy Spirit upon us. There is little that is silent or secretive about that! Please note, however, that unlike indwelling us, this is a work the Holy Spirit desires to do, but may not be allowed (by us) to do. With our own little wills, we can resist the Mighty One from empowering us. But that’s not why you’re reading this, is it? You want to receive from God all He desires to give!
Then, let us begin the journey by looking over some “unfinished business” of the Old Covenant. The real weight of our understanding about the Holy Spirit does not rest on two prepositions, but upon two promises. These promises, given by the Father, describe two very different works of the Holy Spirit intended to correct deficiencies which hindered Israel in their walk with Him.
Two Tremendous Promises
Throughout the history of Israel, the Holy Spirit was present with them in powerful ways. However, the Spirit was never permanently present with anyone, nor was His power available to all. Certain select individuals were singled out by God as priests, prophets, kings. These were anointed with oil as a visible sign of the anointing of the Holy Spirit being poured upon them for the work they were called to do. In a similar way craftsmen and others were gifted by the Spirit in unique ways and for specific purposes. Even so, the Holy Spirit would come and go like the wind, lifting them to heights of supernatural giftedness and plunging them back into depths of their own depravity. Saul and Samson come readily to mind.
With hindsight we can see that this was an unsatisfactory this arrangement, but I suspect that it never really occurred to them to question if something more could be done. What they were already receiving by way of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power far exceeded anything their neighbors were experiencing. Nevertheless, God had a much better plan in mind for them and for us. Through His prophets He promised that things would dramatically change in the future: A day would come when His Spirit would be placed within and also poured out upon His believing people. These two promises point toward vastly different purposes.
Ezekiel proclaimed the promise of an indwelling presence: God would one day give us a “new heart” and put a “new spirit” within us. From our perspective in the New Covenant we can easily see how this takes place. God gives us a new heart which enables us to know and love Him. He also places His Spirit inside of us which enables us to live for Him and through Him.
All this happens when we are born again even if we aren’t aware of it in the slightest. It’s called regeneration and it means quite literally that we are brought out of a living death into spiritual life. We are regenerated (reborn) by having our spiritually dead spirit superseded by the new spirit He places within us. That new spirit in turn is united to God’s Holy Spirit at a depth far beyond our knowing.
Confused? Mystified? No one could blame you. It is one thing to repeat the words which describe it; another entirely to comprehend this deep working of God. Perhaps I’m simply confessing my ignorance, but I have read volumes on the subject and still can’t fit these concepts into nicely tied off theological boxes. It must have been completely bumfuzzling for Ezekiel’s’ readers. Nevertheless, it is clear even in this prophetic passage God’s purpose in doing this was to cleanse us from sin and restore us to faithful living by empowering us from within. The focus is on the inward life of the believer and their spiritual growth.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:25-28 ESV
Through Joel the Father gives us something else entirely. Here the promise is all about empowerment for ministry to others. In that future day God would pour out His Spirit upon “all flesh” and every believer would move in a supernatural anointing previously reserved only for prophets and other hand-picked leaders. Dreams, visions and prophecy are mentioned by name, but more is implied since those who moved in the prophetic gifts also performed healings and other supernatural miracles. It certainly cannot mean less than that. What is promised under the New Covenant is superior in every way to what was given under the Old.
We might well imagine the profound sense of wonder such a promise cast upon those who heard it. Everyone? Yes, everyone! Regardless of age, or gender, or social status, everyone would be raised to unimagined heights of supernatural empowerment. As the Spirit descends in divine outpouring, the whole company of God’s faithful people would be raised up. Visionary encounters (dreams, visions, prophecy) would certainly enhance each believer own walk with God, but that’s not the end game. Taking the prophets as the operative model, this future outpouring points towards a supernaturally empowered ministry. The focus is on visionary experience and societal impact. That’s just what happened when the promise came through.
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” Joel 2:28-29 ESV
[LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared a 5-chapter PDF download, Living in the Spirit, to help you learn more about our incomparable Guest and how to grow your relationship with Him. It’s free—download here.]
The Promises Fulfilled
How and when were these promises fulfilled? Curiously, they were both fulfilled in the same Upper Room in Jerusalem, though these great events were separated in time by 50 days.
God fulfilled the first promise on the evening of the Resurrection. Jesus entered the Upper Room and breathed the Holy Spirit breath of new life into the disciples. According to His command and under His direct leadership, all of the disciples present received the Holy Spirit right along with saving faith in Jesus as their Risen Lord and Savior. You can’t get any more born again than that! This fulfilled the promise given through Ezekiel of a new heart, a new spirit and His own Spirit being placed within believers.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” John 20:21-22 ESV
This first “giving” of the Holy Spirit marks the birth of the Church. Some sections of today’s church celebrate the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost as the “birthday of the Church,” but that clearly isn’t the case. What happened at Pentecost was a second and entirely different giving of the Spirit than what takes place when new believers are born again.
It’s true that many new converts were made after Peter’s sermon, but those new fish were hauled into the arc of salvation by disciples whose own conversion was now 50 days old. Naturally enough, these new converts received the gift of the indwelling Spirit for that comes automatically with the gift of saving faith. However, what marks the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost is not what happened for the new converts, but what happened to the already converted disciples which enabled them to become so successful at “fishing for men.”
Remember, Jesus set all of this in motion Easter Sunday. On that evening when saving faith came and the indwelling Spirit was first given, Jesus looked at His band of brothers and saw they were still missing something. He had just told them that His intention was to send them out with the same equipping the Father had given Him. Stage one of that is being born of the Spirit, just as Jesus Himself was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This He immediately accomplished there in the Upper Room.
Stage two hadn’t arrived yet. Jesus had been sent out, not only baptized in water (as they already were), but baptized by the Holy Spirit. It was in the power of the Spirit that Jesus did all of His supernaturally gifted works. In Luke’s account of this same evening Jesus closed by instructing the disciples to pray and wait for that second “promise of the Father”—power from on high.
“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49 ESV
God fulfilled His second promise in the Upper Room on the morning of Pentecost 50 days later. In the meantime, the disciples diligently obeyed Jesus’s command to seek this empowerment, though they hardly knew what it would be like or how it would come. One thing is certain, they weren’t just hanging around, hoping it would show up. Apparently, the intentional seeking of this gift is necessary. Then, ten days after the Ascension, these same disciples and more—120 in all—received a divine outpouring that would ultimately raise them into the same kind of supernaturally gifted ministry as that of Jesus. This fulfilled the promise of empowerment given through Joel, a fact not lost on Peter who specifically identified the passage from Joel as being fulfilled in their midst.
FREE BONUS: Dig deeper into the wonder of what come with the Spirit baptism: 9 Power Gifts of the Holy Spirit (two page PDF). It’s free – download now. Discover how the Lord equips us!
Something else was different too. The giving of the indwelling Spirit takes place so secretly and silently within us that few people even realize it’s happening. However, this outpouring of the Spirit was so extraordinary to the disciples that they poured out their praises. Their celebration was so boisterous that it drew a large crowd. There simply was no mistaking that God was up to something grand!
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4 ESV
Two Ways to Receive the Gift of the Spirit
This tells us is that there are two distinctly different ways that the Holy Spirit can be given to Christian believers. These gifts equip us in different ways for different purposes.
1) Every Christian receives the gift of the Holy Spirit as an indwelling presence within them. This comes through faith-conversion when we repent and turn to Jesus as our Savior. God immediately gives us two extraordinary gifts: a) the forgiveness of our sins through what Jesus did for us at the cross and b) a new life empowered by the Holy Spirit who is united to us on the inside. Through this gift of the Spirit, we all now have God on the inside helping us learn the new way of life that comes to us as we trust Jesus enough to put Him first and follow Him.
2) Any Christian who desires it can also receive the gift of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them. This baptism (full immersion) is the source of our empowerment for the supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit. This readies us for Jesus to do His deeds of power through us by His Spirit. Although it doesn’t come automatically at conversion, being baptized with “power from on high” is available to everyone. All that’s needed is faith in the Risen Lord and a willingness to seek this further blessing of empowerment.
Since I have already written in a previous article on the Spirit within us, the rest of this one will be devoted to the Spirit upon us.
Will You Ask for This?
The Lord is such a respecter of our free wills! We ask for forgiveness and a new life with Him and boy, does He give it to us. Because the new life and saving faith are intimately tied to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of God comes as an unheralded part of that package. With the baptism of power, it’s quite different. I’ve met people who received it at conversion, a rare few who seem to have received it prior to conversion (that will mess with your theology), but by far and away, most everyone has had to do what Jesus said to do: stay and pray.
For reasons best known to God, you have to desire it, ask for it and seek it, sometimes praying and waiting diligently for it to come. I’ve known people who pursued this gift for years, and dissolved into grateful tears when it finally arrived. On the other hand, it can just as easily show up with the first prayer uttered, but rarely does this empowerment come upon a person who isn’t looking for it. That’s how it was with the first disciples: Jesus told (commanded) them to seek it through prayer. Why would we think it would be any different for us?
Sadly, I have known many who refused the invitation, but why would someone not go for this? Let’s hope you never find out! Oh, you might confess (as I and many others could), that it was this or that fear or offense which tried to hinder you. But if you press in to receive it (as I hope you will), then you’ll thank God that He somehow carried you past the many obstacles to receiving this blessing. Can you see a similarity in this to receiving salvation? There certainly are plenty of obstacles that keep people from seeking Jesus for salvation, but if you’re the one who’s been saved, you really can’t imagine why anyone would refuse the offer!
The Surpassing Power
With Jesus the supernatural seems so natural. The gospels are saturated with the accounts of the healings, miracles and prophetic insights that seemed to pour out of Him wherever He went. And He never broke a sweat! What was His “secret”?
Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit for these works. The Spirit came down upon Him at His baptism and did the works through Him. Just as He never acted on His own, but always looked to see what the Father was directing Him to do, so He never did anything in His own strength, but relied upon the Holy Spirit to furnish the power. For our sake He had to become and remain fully human. We know through Paul’s word in Philippians that Jesus set His divine side aside in order to completely enter into the conditions of our humanity. By this He was able to become our true representative at the cross. By this also He became our perfect Example for how to live faithfully and do ministry supernaturally.
It is the same for us. The Holy Spirit within us connects us to Jesus so that we can follow Him, just as He followed the Father. The Holy Spirit upon us (if we have received Him in that way), stands ready to work through us, just as He did for Jesus. The nine supernaturally empowered gifts cannot take place without the Holy Spirit’s active involvement. As the Son of Man, Jesus entirely depended upon the Spirit to empower His works. As sons of God through faith in Christ, it is the same for us.
We have seen how the disciples weren’t trained for the supernatural by studying the scriptures, but by direct encounter with the Person of the Holy Spirit. It was being baptized in the Spirit, not being born again, that launched them on their miracle-working journeys in the Book of Acts. Although the scriptures and spiritual birth necessarily came first, what needed to come second was the empowerment they received at Pentecost. From then on wherever they went signs and wonders followed.
Was this supernatural ministry confined to the first few apostles? Absolutely not! For the first two centuries the Early Church was known by miracles and deeds of power. Some have called it “power evangelism” for it is evident, both in scripture and from the historical record, that the tremendous drawing power of healings and demonic deliverances accelerated the growth of Christianity wherever the gospel was carried. Much of this died down as Christianity became “watered down” once it became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Nevertheless, the miraculous never ceased entirely.
Healings, deliverances and other miracles continued down through the centuries in sporadic outbreaks or through uniquely gifted individuals. Such deeds have always been regarded by the Roman Catholics as a primary qualification for sainthood. Still, it must be admitted that the baptism in the Spirit and deeds of power fell on hard times for many long neglected centuries. Ask yourself: If you were the devil, wouldn’t you want to crush it? Sadly, many in the church began preaching and teaching that the miraculous is no longer needed or available, thereby enshrining our failed experience as if it were doctrine.
Fortunately, this apparent death of the baptism of power was overturned by an astonishing round of events. In the late 1800s devoted believers in the United States began seeking God for a return of the power Jesus promised. In response the Lord restored the gift of tongues to the Church during meetings held in Topeka, Kansas in 1901. Then in 1906, in a stable (!) in Azusu Street in Los Angeles the modern Pentecostal movement began with the baptism of power, tongues, and signs and wonders. Since then, millions of Christians world-wide have sought and received this “second blessing,” making Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement the fastest growing branches of Christianity in the world. You can be a part of it too!
Why Don’t We Get this Automatically?
Why didn’t the Lord give this to us at the beginning? That’s fair to ask. Lots of things came with the Starter Kit, things we never asked for or expected to receive. We were only looking to meet Jesus, or get ourselves rescued from sin, death and hell. Still, God poured in lots of other gifts (see “Saved by the Free Gift”). Why was this withheld?
I can’t give you an explanation, because none is given, but I can offer two kinds of facts. Both the Bible and the personal experience of Christians demonstrate the fact that the baptism of power comes later. Clearly, it came later for the disciples. Fact One: the disciples were born again in the Upper Room on Easter evening and baptized in the Spirit fifty days later on Pentecost. That’s a Biblical fact. Fact Two: since the baptism of power was restored, the vast majority of Christians who have received it, experienced it as coming, not concurrent with salvation, but afterward—usually after a season of praying for it and seeking it. That is an undeniable fact of present experience. This demonstrates that it usually comes later, but doesn’t tell us why.
Searching for Something More
Let me hazard a guess. Perhaps, though this is mere supposition, the Lord intended for the two to be separate in order that the beauty and power of the baptism in the Spirit would not overshadow the beauty and power of having the Holy Spirit dwelling secretly and silently within us. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is united to us—it doesn’t come and go as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit does when the gifts of power are in operation. It is certainly good for us to know that salvation and the indwelling Spirit go hand in hand. That way our salvation-confidence can be based upon our faith in what the unchanging Word of God says that Christ has done for us, regardless of our feelings.
With the baptism of the Spirit feeling and experience rise to the forefront. Moving in the power gifts requires attentiveness to the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit. The anointing of His presence comes and goes like the wind, and so does our sense of His leading or directions. That’s no foundation for confidence about our eternal position in Christ! From this standpoint it is an extremely good thing that our salvation doesn’t depend upon sensing the Holy Spirit, but in believing God’s Word alone.
What Comes with It?
This next section is observational. As a missionary, priest, chaplain to the homeless, and extremely curious seeker, I have talked with and observed countless Christians. I paid special attention to things that often seem to come with the Spirit baptism. The following six characteristics aren’t guaranteed to come your way if you’re baptized in the Spirit, but there’s a good chance they will. Naturally, the best way to find out the difference it will make in your own life, is to seek it whole-heartedly, just as Jesus “recommends.” Then, you can start your own list by exploring this wonderful gift from the inside, not the outside only.
Tongues. The very first thing that comes is the gift of tongues for personal edification and worship. This is what came to the disciples in the Upper Room on Pentecost. Along with the tongues can come a whole host of sensations or impressions of the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit. Many would say, myself included, that the personal prayer language is not the most important thing about the baptism of power, but it is invariably the first thing given. Tongues is a subject in itself and if you’d like to learn more (as I hope you will), follow this link to Prayer in Tongues at our website.
Sensitivity. You can expect to enjoy greater sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Just as being born again introduces us to Jesus and opens the way to recognize His way of being present with us, so too the Spirit baptism sensitizes us to the presence of the Holy Spirit. It would appear that out of the initial encounter flows a graced ability to “connect the dots” of personal experience with the way the Holy Spirit is uniquely present to us. No longer is the Holy Spirit the Mystery Person of the Trinity! I have met many Christians who haven’t been Spirit baptized, who readily confess that they have little practical awareness of the Holy Spirit’s day to day operations in their lives. This is never the case with those who have been baptized in the Spirit.
Scripture. You will likely experience a greater ability to comprehend the scriptures. Without question, any Christian can become sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s presence and grow greatly at understanding the scriptures. Nevertheless, it seems that for the majority of Christians the Bible is a difficult book to penetrate, just as the Holy Spirit’s presence is an elusive concept to grasp. These walls come down with the Spirit baptism. Almost universally, those who have been baptized in the Spirit report a greater ability to receive revelation and comprehension when they read the scriptures. This makes perfect sense, since the Holy Spirit is the One who authored the Word of God and the baptism aids our awareness of our Teacher’s presence.
Discerning. I have often noted a greater ability and willingness to engage in spiritual warfare among those who have been spirit baptized. The discerning of spirits is one of the nine power gifts of the Spirit made available through a personal Pentecost. Not everyone receives this gift in its fullest form, but many share in it to lesser degrees. Just as they display a greater sensitivity to the presence of the Holy Spirit, they also evidence an enhanced awareness of the unholy spirits. Not only that but they are willingly trained as spiritual warriors for intercession or for demonic deliverance. None of this guarantees the accuracy of their discernment, any more than having sight guarantees you won’t slip stepping off a curb. But it does give you a practical advantage over a unsighted person.
Guidance. There is a greater potential both for being led by the Holy Spirit and for being misled. Let me explain. An enhanced ability comes with the empowerment to sense the leading, prompting, checking and grieving of the Holy Spirit. Not everyone submits to these overtures, of course, but for those who do, a heightened awareness of the Holy Spirit is indispensable for walking closely with the Lord through the events of each day. Because of this, believers who have been Spirit baptized rightly place a high value on being guided by the Spirit. Sadly, this leads some to set common sense or Biblical guidelines aside, when their “spiritual sense” points them towards doing something downright goofy or wrong.
The Supernatural. With the Holy Spirit baptism comes a greater ability to pray effectively for healings and miracles. God listens to the prayers of every Christian and He oversees healing in all of the denominations. Nevertheless, it is a FACT of history that Pentecostalism was birthed—just like the Early Church was birthed—through tremendous outpourings of supernatural power for healings and deliverances. This isn’t a question of being holy, or more deserving, or being more loved. It has everything to do with the obedience of seeking what Jesus commanded us to seek as “power from on high.” That power alone is what accomplishes the healings and miracles.
Boldness. The baptism in the Spirit brings with it a greater boldness for spreading the gospel. It was that way in the beginning. Indeed, Jesus told His disciples that they would be His effective witnesses once they received the power He desired to send. Because of the qualities listed above and because of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit baptism, there is often more boldness and success in spreading the gospel. Don’t think of this simply as sharing faith and preaching the word. The truly powerful combination then, as now, is signs and wonders (healings and miracles) accompanying the Word.
What Doesn’t Come?
This gift is good, extremely good, but it isn’t a silver bullet. There are some important things, like Christian character, integrity and maturity, which cannot be conveyed to us by any gift. Rats! But we knew there had to be a catch in there somewhere, right? As it stands, spiritual growth and character development are the work of the indwelling Spirit and are therefore, available to any Christian who wants to die to self in order to follow Jesus.
The baptism of power and the power gifts that come with it seem like they should increase our character, but they don’t. They can even be used to work against our growth, on the principle that the Enemy can turn any blessing into a curse, if we don’t take care to submit it to Christ. Think of it this way. A lot more horse power under the hood doesn’t make anyone a better driver, but it practically guarantees you’ll get into trouble (a lot faster) if you don’t learn how to handle it. Just knowing what you’re riding with presents a whole new set of temptations, not least of which is pride. That said, the greater sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that comes with this gift, can tremendously enhance our ability to listen and obey, if we want it to.
You need to know, though, that many (not all) who have been baptized in the Spirit fail to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Please, guard against this! The baptism of power is not a short cut to maturity, the fruit of the Spirit, real holiness, integrity or character. You can be baptized in the Spirit and display none of these essential elements of a faithful believer. Don’t let that be you. Press in to the Lord through faithful, cross-bearing discipleship and the indwelling Spirit will help you grow the fruit you are intended to display. Then, with the proper combination of these two gifts, you can become a valiant warrior who advances the Kingdom.
Prayer to Receive the Baptism
The Lord says to seek Him where He can be found. Where the baptism in the Spirit is concerned, this often means going to a church or conference where the Spirit baptism is being taught and where the power gifts are being put into practice. For most people, a worship gathering or prayer group provides that extra boost to faith and receptivity that are needed. The disciples, for instance, received it in a group setting after an extended season of prayer.
Don’t despair, however, if you don’t have ready access to such a group, or if you haven’t received it after your first few prayers. Persevere! The Lord knows how to find you, as well as lead you. If you need a group, and you’re willing to go, He’ll get you to one. If not, He is perfectly able to come to you. I know a person who received the baptism and gift of tongues while in the shower. I’m reasonably sure she was alone at the time…
In the meantime, be offering up your heart and your prayers. No formula exists, but here are some elements from my own praying.
Dear Jesus, You said that we should seek to receive this power from on high. I want You to know that today I am asking for this gift. Send whatever You desire to send into my life and prepare me to be wide open to receive it, however it may come. Forgive me for any time when I may have disparaged this gift or shrank from receiving it. I cast down all past fear or pride that may be in my way. I humble myself before You and Your Word and confess that if You want Your Church to receive this gift, then I certainly need to welcome it.
Holy Spirit, please come. Baptize me to overflowing fullness. Enable me to speak in tongues. Empower me to serve others with any of the nine gifts that You would appoint for me. Empower me to boldness in my witness of who Jesus is and all He has done. Draw me closer into union with Yourself, and pour out upon me this mighty blessing!
Don’t look now, but if you asked Jesus to save you, the Holy Spirit of God is living inside of you. Wonder of wonders, salvation comes with two huge gifts: the forgiveness of our sins through what Jesus did for us, and a whole new way of life through what the Holy Spirit can now do inside of us. Just as Jesus became our death (at the cross), so the Holy Spirit becomes our new life (when we die to self). That is an unbeatable combination!
The Holy Spirit is the power and presence of Jesus living within us, ever-ready to raise us into Christ’s way of living. This is so truly amazing, that it is positively astonishing that many Christians don’t seem to know much about the Holy Spirit. We know and love Jesus. We have fairly clear ideas about the Father. Yet, the Holy Spirit has often been called the “Mystery Person” of the Trinity. How can God-inside-us be so well hidden from us?
Would it be OK, if I try to lift the veil on that one? I can’t put all I’d like to share with you into one article—the Holy Spirit is just to HUGE a subject. So, I’m going to focus on questions that inquiring minds might be asking, misunderstandings that need clearing up, and what I hope are fresh insights into the secret life of our Mysterious Guest. Yes, we are all hosting a Mystery, but don’t let that spook you. No one could be kinder or more considerate, or love us better than this devoted Friend. He is truly our Helper, just as Jesus said.
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father even the Spirit of true knowledge who comes from the Father—he will give witness about me.” John 15:26 BBE
What’s New about This?
When Jesus told the disciples that He would “send” the Holy Spirit to them, His words touched off a lot of speculation later on that has lasted down to our day. Did that mean that no one has the Holy Spirit until He comes to them through faith-conversion? Does it mean that only Christians “have” the Holy Spirit? Did it mean that the Holy Spirit only came to the disciples at Pentecost? Is it only Pentecostals who have the Holy Spirit? Perhaps you have heard questions or statements like these. The answer to all of them is no.
Let’s note what Jesus actually told the disciples (in the above quote). He told them that the Holy Spirit was already dwelling “with them.” This was before His death and resurrection, before saving faith was given to anyone, before the Spirit was “given” first in the Upper Room and later at Pentecost. What’s more, Jesus thought that they should already “know” the Spirit due to the fact of His dwelling with them. The simple truth is that God has always and will always be doing helpful things for everyone by the Holy Spirit. That is nothing new.
It’s no secret that Holy Spirit did great things for Jewish believers in ancient Israel. Or that He does great things for anyone who calls on the name of the Lord. Beyond this faith connection, however, He is the giver and sustainer of life for everyone, regardless of whether they know Him or not. He is also the giver and sustainer of life for all creatures, whether plants or animals. None of this has changed through anything that Jesus did for us by His death and resurrection. What did change?
“You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:17 ESV
The altogether new thing that God is doing for us is that the Holy Spirit now lives inside all who give their lives to Christ through faith-conversion and the new birth. He who has always been “with” us, is now “in” us. This (along with Christ’s sacrifice) makes the “new and living way” possible. The Holy Spirit lives inside us, helping us to live in a new way that was never before possible outside of childhood—the way of surrender and trust.
Before we became Christians, the Holy Spirit was always doing things for us, even if we didn’t know it, but now that we are Christians, He is helping us from the inside to live throughHim. Faith-conversion helps us in two tremendous ways. We can call on the Lord with confidence that God by His Spirit will do for us more than we can ask or think. We can also call on the Lord for His help in yielding to Him so that God by His Spirit can live through us in ways He never could before.
[LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared a 5-chapter PDF download, Living in the Spirit, to help you learn more about our incomparable Guest and how to grow your relationship with Him. It’s free—download here.]
Help on the Inside
As the inner “witness” Jesus mentioned, the Holy Spirit confirms our faith in the Risen Christ and acts as a guarantee that we are going to heaven, but there is so much more to it than that. The Holy Spirit brings into our lives absolutely everything necessary for new life and right living to take place. That this doesn’t seem to happen for many of us needs some explaining.
As we all know, the Christian life is not easy. Following Jesus at all times, trusting Him in the face of every challenge and denying self whenever it raises it’s selfish, ugly head, is not only hard, it’s impossible! Impossible, if we try to do it in our own strength and under our own leadership. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. Since we cannot live the truly Christian life without God’s help, Jesus has sent God the Holy Spirit to be our Helper.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” John 14:16 ESV
As our ever-present Helper, the Holy Spirit does a lot of things for us for free—without any effort on our part, even without our knowledge. Nevertheless, most of what He has come to do, requires our co-operation. He is our Helper, not our “doer.” This is why finding the joy, peace and fulfillment promised to us, doesn’t come automatically. There is still a part, a rather important part, that we have to do.
I said the Christian life is hard and you probably agreed with me. May I remind you now that it is also easy, as easy as child’s play? It is easy whenever we surrender all to Jesus. Then the Holy Spirit lifts and leads us into new life and we flow in a river of peace guided by the Lord. This is the way we are meant to live at all times, but it cannot happen by force of will or intensity of effort, only by the yielding of our will to the Lord.
Holy Spirit helps us on all sides of this equation. He helps us realize our need to surrender; He helps us find what we need to release, so that we can surrender; then He helps us by being the new life within us once we finally and fully yield to Jesus.
No child has to figure this out. They live surrendered most of the time. They simply let go all care, trust their parental covering and go with the inner flow. Unrecognized and unheralded the Holy Spirit supplies that inner flow. Children flowing out of their “good nature” are the joy and wonder of the world.
Little children are not only a picture for us of what “kingdom living” is like, they represent the direction of true growth. Jesus said that unless we are converted and become like little children we cannot enter “the kingdom”—the quality of life He has planned for us on earth where “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” reign (Romans 14:17). Holy Spirit helps us surrender and live as little children, if we let Him. But He cannot and will not do it for us. That choice is always ours.
Did You Get the Memo?
None of this is obvious at conversion. We are given an extraordinary gift, but without any fanfare. This indwelling by the Spirit is automatic, involuntary and unheralded. Strange to say, we receive the Holy Spirit without our asking or our knowing. Incredibly, you can become a born again Christian without even realizing that the Holy Spirit now dwells within you.
In fact I have never yet met anyone who got saved because he or she desired to be indwelt by the Spirit of God. At conversion our eyes are elsewhere. We are thinking about our need for rescue, or forgiveness, or eternal life. Our focus is almost entirely on ourselves and on Jesus. Once Jesus is revealed, there is nothing that can compare with Him. We hunger for more of His presence; we seek to follow Him and try to trust Him. That’s a lot to keep up with!
Meanwhile, The Holy Spirit is quiet as a whisper. According to scripture, He loves directing our attention to Jesus, preferring not to “speak of Himself.” Holy Spirit resides so gently and unobtrusively inside that He is easily overlooked. As a consequence, many Christians don’t know Him like they could. Why would God do things this way?
A Disappearing Savior
Have you ever thought that the disciples had it made? Jesus was with them bodily. It’s no wonder they took off like rockets. Every day they could bring all of their questions and problems right to Him. If He headed out in a new direction, they knew immediately and could easily catch up. Following Him was a breeze. What could be better? Actually, Jesus Himself said that it would be better for them—to their “advantage”—that He was going away.
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:7
Jesus may have been referring to what was about to happen the next day. He had to secure for them (and us) a “better resurrection.” To do that He had to “go away” by dying on the cross. When He came back on the evening of His resurrection, He breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit. For a brief moment in time (40 days) they had Jesus visibly with them and the Holy Spirit living inside them. Then Jesus ascended and ten days later the Holy Spirit came down upon them at Pentecost.
Alternately, Jesus may have been referring to the fact that He would be “going away” by ascending into heaven in the near future. But the disciples were not to worry: He would send the Holy Spirit to them. Either way we understand it, after forty days Jesus went away and stayed away. This is apparently His idea of making it “better” for us!
Remember “doubting Thomas”? He was allowed to see Jesus’ wounds, but was chided that a greater blessing would have been his, had he only “believed without seeing” the Risen Lord. That statement includes us. Incredible as it may seem, we are evidently blessed by not seeing Jesus with our natural eyes. From the Lord’s point of view gaining spiritual sight by means of faith alone is the greater blessing.
An Invisible Helper
Why on earth would Jesus think that giving us an invisible Helper is better? It doesn’t make sense. Yet, the truth is that if the visible presence of Jesus is what we really needed, God would have given it to us. Instead, He did something no one could have imagined. He gave us “another Comforter” by sending the Holy Spirit to live inside us. Instead of a visible Savior, known for His coming and going, we now have an invisible Helper who never leaves.
This really is better. Even back then, Jesus couldn’t be visibly present to all of His disciples all of the time. There were plenty of occasions when He sent them ahead or intentionally left them out of things He was doing. They had to fend for themselves without their favorite Companion to comfort or guide them. And that was when He only had twelve people to keep up with. Now, He has two billion! It would never have worked for Jesus to be visibly present to all of us. He had to leave so the One could come who would be perpetually with us all.
Here’s where it gets a bit difficult to think about, because there’s more to this than the impossibility of Jesus being visible everywhere at once to all of His followers. The steadfast, perpetual presence of the Holy Spirit actually requires that He be both invisible to us and barely sensed by us. “No, no,” you might say, thinking that it would be better to sense His presence all the time, especially since we can’t see Him. I agree, that would be (and will be) heaven. But don’t let it come too soon! We aren’t ready for prime time.
Would you believe me, if I told you that it would bother you no end, if you could see Jesus or sense the Holy Spirit all of the time? I hate to bring it up, but there might be some edgy, unlawful or immoral moment (God forbid) when you wouldn’t want to be “forced” to encounter a visible Lord, or anyone else for that matter. You would rather have it the way it is with your free will intact, with life being a process of discovery with you in charge, and with God calling you gently to repent if you realize (with His help) that you went wrong. Children want their parent watching over them from a distance, not in the sandbox playing with them the whole time.
Similarly, there are even some legitimate private moments, when few of us would want the intrusion of God’s visible presence. For instance, would you really want to see Jesus in the shower with you? Or, see Him looking on when you are in the bridal chamber? Yet the Holy Spirit is present even then and you don’t mind that at all. That’s because He veils His presence so that we don’t sense Him. Thank God for that!
Harder to see is that we need “space” from God in order to freely choose to move closer to God. It’s a free will issue. If Jesus (or the Spirit) reveals too much of Himself, it compromises our freedom by forcing our choice. If we were feeling too much of the love, we would be drawn to Him like moths to a flame with no say so in the matter. On the other hand, if too much holy fear were upon us, it would turn us into cringing slaves or send us fleeing in terror, regardless of our feelings. He has to watch over that one for us.
That’s as far as I can carry the thought—the mystery is too deep. The main idea is that with the Holy Spirit living permanently but insensibly inside of us, we have the very comfortable knowledge of God’s abiding presence without any uncomfortable sense of invasion of our privacy. How He pulls that off is still amazing to me!
[LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared a 5-chapter PDF download, Living in the Spirit, to help you learn more about our incomparable Guest and how to grow your relationship with Him. It’s free—download here.]
7 Ways He Helps Us
Here are seven main ways the Holy Spirit helps us. There’s a lot more, especially in the area of supernatural power for doing ministry the way Jesus and the apostles did it. I’ll put that in a newsletter soon, but if you’d like to skip ahead, follow this link to The Baptism of Power.
Holy Spirit reminds us that Jesus is alive and that He is our Savior and Lord. I used to think that this was me doing the remembering, but later I understood better that the Spirit holds these thoughts in place. Through my work “on the streets” of Savannah, GA, I have met many a backslidden Christian. They lose a lot of precious things—family, identification cards, memory and money—but they still have this inner witness quietly at work on the inside, reminding them of the direction they need to turn and the One they need to turn towards.
The Holy Spirit works the same way with those of us who merely drift away from our true Focus due to distraction or distress. Once He gets us willing to turn, He helps us pray, reminds us to cling to and call on Jesus, and leads us back into the “sweet spot” of total surrender.
This is absolutely essential, because until we start calling on Jesus in a situation of trouble or temptation, we are actually “calling on” ourselves. Self will never be a sufficient savior. Leaning on Self always leads to stress, anxiety, depression and fresh disasters. The new life is leaning hard on Jesus, clinging to Him and calling on Him. This activity on the inside does more than anything else to change us from being self-centered creations operating out of our fallen nature, to Christ-centered new creations filled with His Spirit.
The Holy Spirit reminds us what we have already been taught by the Lord, both in our conscience and by the scriptures. Jesus said that we have an enemy who seeks to steal out of our hearts the Word that God sows. Holy Spirit works to keep God’s truths in our remembrance. Hint: You can make His work easier by memorizing key scriptures.
In addition to this I have found that I can ask the Holy Spirit to remind me of things to do, when to do them, and practically anything else. So long as the prayer is honest, the reminder always comes in, but be careful. The reminder doesn’t always arrive at a moment I might consider convenient. If I act upon it, I discover reasons to be glad I did. If I brush it off, usually no further reminder comes and I’m on my own. Since I don’t like having to depend upon my “Swiss cheese” memory, I try to heed the Spirit’s call when it comes.
Imagine anything you might need help with: studying, planning, organizing; memory, reason, skill; loving, laughing, weeping; working, buying, trading; creating, cleaning, cooking… Nothing is too small for His concern or too big for His abilities. Keep in mind that He has been with us all along. He was there in the beginning helping us learn to suckle and grasp, teaching us to forms sounds and learn language, even guiding us into play and laughter as little children.
Now that the world’s greatest Teacher is living inside us, we have an edge in any field of endeavor. Learning how to yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s enabling power can carry us further than mere natural abilities alone. One way to “link up” with what He has already been doing is to take a moment each evening to acknowledge His help during the day. It works like this: Anything you did or said wrong, that was you. Anything you did or said right, that was Holy Spirit helping you! This will grow your spiritual eyes to see more of His Hand in your life.
This is one of those intimidating (and boring sounding) church words. What it should convey to us, however, is a sense of the refreshing way it feels to shower up after a grueling day of hard labor. Strictly speaking it means being set apart. We have been set apart as a dwelling place for God by the Blood of Jesus which separates us from our sins and by the Holy Spirit who dwells within. In that sense we are already sanctified. We are holy because He who lives in us is holy.
Just don’t get carried away with that one. We’re nowhere near the home stretch yet. Between here and heaven, the Holy Spirit will be continually at work, sanctifying us by slow degrees. In one situation after another, with one scripture after another, He will seek to separate us from wrong thoughts, wrong beliefs, wrong attitudes, wrong actions and wrong desires. That’s a tall order! It stretches from here all the way up to the full stature of Christlikeness.
This is, perhaps, His most important and all-encompassing job. Holy Spirit has come to reveal truth to us so that we can be progressively freed from bondage to darkness and gain ever more liberated entrance into the Kingdom of Light. Jesus said that if we continued in His Word we would know the truth and the truth would make us free.
Truth is preeminently the Spirit’s domain for one of His divine titles is the Spirit of Truth. So is freedom, for Paul tells us that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. Truth and freedom are, therefore, inextricably linked. The Holy Spirit works to lead us into increasing knowledge of God’s truths and greater freedom of spirit. This involves liberating us from the binding power of spiritual darkness.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11 ESV
Among other things this means that Holy Spirit helps us to a) recognize sin as sin and turn from it, b) understand what righteousness is and turn towards it, and c) realize that God’s judgment in these matters is all that matters.
Basically He points us to God’s Word and to the Person of Jesus to awaken our conscience and settle the issue: Where the Bible is clear the case is closed; in other matters we look to Jesus. How would Jesus handle it? What would He do? What would He want us to do? It pays to spend a lot of our scripture time pouring over the gospels to see Jesus in action and absorb His thoughts. Whatever is contrary to the nature and character of Jesus is sin. Whatever aligns with Him is righteousness.
Not only does the Spirit show us truths to believe, He has also come to lead us in the true path. He is our Guide and Companion in the way who knows the Way. If we are attentive to Him, He shows us the next right thing to do. That’s all we really need, since He also helps us trust God for the things we don’t know. In this way the one who is Truth can lead us step by step through each day’s choices and onward through the whole of our lives. If we let Him.
This brings His gift to us as Truth Teller into every dimension of life. By trusting our hearts to God through faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit lifts and leads us into a whole new way of living. We emerge into the glorious liberty of the children of God!
Source of New Life
By dwelling within us the Holy Spirit is in position to help us dwell within Jesus. The indwelling Spirit is essential for our being able to experience, cultivate and live filled with the fruit of the Spirit—peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This good fruit comes to us as we abide in Christ through trusting and obeying His leadership over our lives. All of these beautiful and enjoyable qualities comprise that river of “living water” which Jesus said would flow out of our hearts. And so it does anytime we surrender all our concerns and complaints to Jesus.
His Part; Our Part
Naturally enough, the Holy Spirit is a self-starter. He isn’t going to sit on His Hands waiting for us to get in the right mood in order to begin His divine assignments. With or without our permission He goes to work helping us, sanctifying us, revealing truth to us, guiding us and supplying us with the fruit of new life. It just goes so much better when we cooperate. Good spiritual health is letting the Holy Spirit have His way by yielding our hearts entirely.
In all these ways and more, our Helper points us always to Christ, working to get us to trust Jesus with all He allows and all He asks of us. As we trust Jesus, the Holy Spirit raises us into the peace of Christ, shows us the next right thing to do (so that we can follow the Lord step by step), and then helps us want to do that next right thing.
All of this, of course, depends on our willingness. But the Holy Spirit will even help us with that—if we want Him to. Learn this prayer, inviting the Holy Spirit to work in your heart, especially at those times when you sense that you don’t want to surrender to God:
Lord, help me want to want, what You want, desire what You desire, and hate what You hate. Make we willing to be made willing to surrender everything to You.
[LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared a 5-chapter PDF download, Living in the Spirit, to help you learn more about our incomparable Guest and how to grow your relationship with Him. It’s free—download here.]
Let the Good Hunt Begin!
Jesus said He would not leave us comfortless and He hasn’t. He is living in us through the Holy Spirit who is “sealed” to us a sign of our eternal destiny and as a present source of help and hope for any situation of need we may encounter. All the while He draws so little attention to Himself, you would hardly know He is there. Part of the “fun” is learning to recognize and acknowledge our incomparable Guest.
By all means, keep on thinking of God as “out there” and “up there,” but add to that “in here.” Think of Him as willing to work for you, but think also of Him as wanting to live through you. If you are in Christ through faith, then the Holy Spirit is in you, working, working, working to help you learn how to live in and with and through His enabling grace.
“Faith wants to become FACT!” That phrase was ringing in my ears as I awoke early on Easter morning. Clear as a bell, I knew Jesus was speaking to me about two facts. Fact #1: Jesus is alive! Fact #2: I know it for a fact! What others may see as my “faith” isn’t faith at all. It’s knowledge of the FACTS. Faith has nothing to do with it. An eternal truth was revealed to little old me. I was shown that Jesus is alive. Knowing that I know that fact is also a fact. These two facts change everything!
Do you “know that you know that you know” that Jesus is alive? Then you too have been shown these two facts. Most of the world doesn’t have a clue. Only about two billion of our present population self-identify as Christians. That’s just 2 out of 7. In reality though, it may be that a fair percentage of Christians do not know these truths as facts, only as articles of belief. Their faith may bring them to rebirth, but in the meantime there is a huge difference between faith for the facts and knowledge of the facts. Faith wants to become fact within us.
The Uniqueness of Christian Faith
Christianity isn’t like other faiths. First of all, it is true. Naturally, that sets it apart, but how do we know that? Isn’t it prideful to believe it? Doesn’t that go beyond the boundaries of what faith can assert? Not at all. We have been shown the FACT that Jesus is alive—and we know that for a FACT! Being born again means that God has in some way revealed Jesus to us as our living Savior and Lord. We absolutely know that He died for us and rose again. This fact is the God-given foundation for our faith. Our faith isn’t founded on spiritual belief, or religious tradition, or cultural history. The core of what we believe is a fact of the universe that God Himself has shown us. Maybe we can’t prove this fact to others, but God has certainly proved it to us.
Our faith is founded on receiving personal revelation of ultimate truth. If God has shown us that Jesus is alive, then it is not prideful to acknowledge it. How we go about proclaiming that fact may indeed be prideful, but true humility can have no other opinion about truth than what God has shown. It would be prideful to say that we don’t really know for sure, or that we are only operating on personal faith. We’re not! We Christians are the only people on the planet in possession of these stupendous facts: Jesus is alive and this fact can be known as a fact.
These two facts necessarily go together, but they are not the same thing. The first fact is the objective event of his saving work which includes His death and resurrection. The second fact is the subjective event of God’s revelation of that first fact to us. Even if you have been shown these two facts, you may not fully realize the enormity of what you have been given or how to put it to best use. Watch how an entire understanding of the universe revolves around knowing these two facts.
1) Facts not Faith: How the faith of the early church was founded on these two facts.
2) Facts and Faith: How we build our faith and our world view on these two facts.
3) Faith on Facts: How knowing these two facts changes everything else (if you let it).
Facts not Faith
How every believer in the New Testament received faith as a fact.
When we read the gospel accounts of the resurrection, we see a strange jumble of experiences, all seemingly different: the women with the angel, Mary Magdalene with the “gardener,” Peter and John racing to the tomb, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Thomas left out of the inner circle entirely. They all have one thing in common though: These early disciples wanted their faith to become fact—yet none of them were convinced by second-hand evidence.
That’s a pity, because the second-hand evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes it one of the most powerfully proven events in history. To this day there is no logical, rational argument that holds up against the evidence of the empty tomb, the combined eye-witness reports, and the explosion of transformed lives (see these three proofs at our website beginning with The Empty Tomb). Nevertheless, these unanswerable “proofs” rarely convince anyone of the truth of the Christian claim that Jesus is alive. That should not surprise us. They didn’t convince anyone then.
They do, however, cultivate a faith-hope that the resurrection took place. What carried the disciples over the line is the same thing that works for all of us: At some point along the way God revealed Jesus to them. Let’s take “doubting” Thomas as our case in point. He knew about the empty tomb (and knew his friends weren’t the ones who had removed the body). He heard first-hand their enthusiastic eye-witness reports. He also saw how tremendously changed they were (in their confidence and joy) from what he still was (in his doubts and distress). He wasn’t swayed by any of this. What convinced Him? Seeing the Lord for himself. Nevertheless, Jesus upbraided Thomas for his lack of faith and placed an everlasting blessing on those who would come to believe “without seeing.” That’s us!
We don’t usually see the Risen Christ with our natural eyes as the early disciples did, but we do come to see Him just as well. We see Him through having our inward eye of faith opened. When that happens, we know as thoroughly as Thomas and the others did, that Jesus is “our Lord and our God” (John 20:28). Whether you come to this knowledge by sudden conversion (as I did) or by the slow growth of faith, if you “know that you know” then you are in full possession of the FACTS. Upon these facts we can build by faith an entirely new and far more accurate understanding of the universe we live in than anything the world has to offer.
Facts and Faith
How we build our faith and our world view on these two facts.
How do we do that? How do we build upon these two facts? Paul was a brilliant and incredibly well-educated Jew of his day. Yet, he tells us that he counted all that as nothing, that he might know Jesus better. He also said that as a wise master builder he was interested in laying no other foundation than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But, of course, he never would have said these things before becoming convinced of the “new” facts of the universe he was living in. The turning point of his life came when God revealed His son to Paul. From then on he was off to the races!
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11
A similar thing happened to me. At age 33 God revealed Jesus to me in such a stunning way that my entire world was turned upside down, very much for the better. I could see at last that I had been enslaved by a demonic deception for the previous twelve years (that story is told in Rescued from Hell at Amazon). I was glad to be free of the lies, but it meant that like Paul, I now needed to rebuild my entire understanding of the universe, of myself, of God, and of other people upon the only certain foundation: Jesus Christ.
In the next section I will show how to lay the first course in those four main areas of knowledge, but here I want to explain the difference between our faith and our knowledge of the facts. The facts form the foundation. Everything else is built upon those facts by faith. If we don’t understand what faith is we are likely to become prideful and argumentative, thinking we know more than we do. If we don’t understand what knowing the facts gives us, we can easily lose confidence and strength of faith.
Here are the bare essentials of the facts: I know that Jesus is alive and that He has (somehow) made Himself known to me as my Lord and Savior. (Don’t you?) Going beyond this is very tempting at this point, but to go any further is to move beyond the facts to building on them by faith. If we stick to the facts, we will quickly see that we have tons in common with every genuine Christian who ever lived. We all have these facts in common. Once we start building on this foundation, however, we soon find many points of difference.
That’s because our understanding is a work of faith, not facts. The facts are not up for discussion, much less debate. That Jesus is alive and that He is Lord is the truth that believing Christians have been shown. However, in the initiating event of Jesus being revealed to us, we were not shown a whole lot else. The rest is supposition, inference and interpretation—aided by the Holy Spirit, but hindered by our flesh. Even when we bring the Bible into the picture, we are still building our understanding by means of supposition, inference and interpretation—based on what we believe the Bible is telling us.
I am not arguing against the Bible at all—it is a priceless means of renewing our minds and rebuilding our understanding, but what we do with it is a work of faith, not knowledge. There is a LOT that I believe based on the Bible that I would bet my life on, but I try to remember (with humility) that my faith-understanding of these things is not based upon direct revelation. I know Jesus by direct revelation. I believe Biblical truths by faith—faith that the Bible is true and faith that the understanding I have of it is also true. I hope you can see the difference. It’s huge!
Faith on Facts
How knowing these two facts changes everything else (if you let it).
Here is where the fun begins. Picture what Paul was referring to—the thick stone foundation of an important building in the ancient world. That’s what we’ve been given, already laid by God. The first course of quarried and carved stone that goes upon it will give shape to the whole structure and be as solid as the foundation it rests upon. This first set of beliefs laid on the foundation will feel massively solid, because we are going to stick closely to what the facts are telling us.
1) Knowing these two facts, changes the way we see God.
The first faith-encounter with Jesus almost always conveys a sense of His grace and mercy. Whatever else we may have thought of God, we now know that God is love, that our sins can be forgiven, and that we have an eternal home in heaven, and (not least) that God can be known. We also know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is a Person (not an unknowable, impersonal force), because Jesus is.
Now that I know that Jesus is alive, I also know that the Bible is true in what it says about Him. He really did die for our sins and rise again! This confirms the Bible to me as God’s way of speaking truth to me. The Bible is now embedded upon the foundation. It becomes the primary means of developing my faith-understanding based on the two facts I know.
In the Bible I see that Jesus lived His whole life in devoted relationship with the One He called Father. I also see that Jesus promised to send the One He called the Holy Spirit to live within and upon those who believe. I may have very confused ideas about this Three-in-One God, but because Jesus clearly believes in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so do I! Incidentally, because the Jesus I see in the Bible thoroughly believed in the reality of Satan, the demons, hell, the good angels and heaven, I do too. To become like Jesus we need to make sure that we believe what Jesus believed. That’s Rock-solid reasoning from revelation.
2) Knowing these two facts, changes the way we see ourselves.
There is a whole package of gifts that comes with being born again (see What Just Happened to Me?at our website) but most folks aren’t usually aware of more than a few at the time of conversion. Just coming to the faith realization that Jesus really is alive is overwhelming enough. Now, that I know Him, I know who my Lord and my God is. I know that He loves me enough to reveal Himself to me and show me great grace. I know that heaven is as real as He is and that He wants me there with Him. I know that my sins have been forgiven and that He is not condemning me, but loving me. How about this one: I know that He knows me! I am not alone without a God, not neglected or overlooked by God, but intimately known by Him.
Now, what this great FACT should awaken in us is a corresponding realization, one that is crucial to the kind of life we will lead with Jesus for our God. Until the reality of Jesus as our Lord is revealed to us, we really have little other option than to live for our self. Sure, we can attempt to live for other people, or live through them, but that’s a stretch. Our fallen nature is so self-centered and self-protective that when push comes to shove, we almost always fall back into basing our life on our own wants, desires, needs and ideas. The daily questions are “What do I want to do? How do I want to handle this? What do I think or feel about it?” There’s really no one who can tell us better than ourselves. Or so it seems.
But let Jesus be revealed and that old foundation can be immediately discarded. We are not the center of the universe; we are not even at the center of our life. Jesus is! Now that He is revealed as our Lord we have somewhere else to go for far better answers to those essential daily questions. We are free (at last!) to no longer be enslaved to living for ourselves by the light of our limited understanding or our often distorted feelings. We can turn from Self as our guide and live for Jesus instead. This is exactly what Paul described as one of the key features of the new creation that we are.
And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5:15
[LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared a 3-page PDF download, Our New Identity, complete with a full color illustration, scriptures and prayer. It’s free—download here.]
3) Knowing these two facts, changes the way we see other people.
Because of these two facts—that Jesus is alive and can be known—I now know things about other people that even they might not know. I know for a fact that Jesus is their Lord and potential Savior. I know that He must love them as much as He loves me. I know that their sins are as fully covered by Him as mine turned out to be. I know that He knows them and wants them to know Him. I know that if they don’t know Him they are completely in the dark where the most important fact of their life is concerned: Their Lord and God is alive and His name is Jesus. And I know that if Jesus could reveal Himself to me, He can do it for anyone.
This tells me that no matter how convinced or convincing the atheist is, or the worshipper of some other (so called) god, they are totally deceived. It may do little good to tell them that, but it is something I need to know with a firm and absolute conviction, or I will be of little help to them as an intercessor and witness. We live in a politically charged climate that has gone against faith in Christ. The blinded ones are seeking to control the conversation and make it seem that we who believe are out in left field. Nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t let the unbelief of others intimidate you or cause you to doubt. You know what you have been shown! You know the truth that others don’t want to see or hear. Stand fast!
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4
If you have been shown that Jesus is alive and you know it for a fact, then you know what all other people need to know. At the end of their life no one is going to stand before Mohamed, or Allah, or Buddha, or Shiva, or any of the other contenders for deity. No one is just going to drift off into the Big Sleep whether of Nirvana, or sheer unconsciousness. And certainly no one will be “partying” in hell. We will all stand before God and Jesus. People who follow the false religions or who think there is no God to seek are simply wrong. They haven’t yet been shown what you’ve been shown. That doesn’t make us better than them, but it has opened our eyes to see ultimate truths that others don’t. Their need for your prayers and witness is far greater than they can possibly imagine.
4) Knowing these two facts, changes the way we see the universe.
I have immense respect for science and scientists. We need their devoted and disciplined efforts to advance every field of knowledge and continue making those discoveries that make our lives better. However, we would be wise to filter what they say through the lens of what we have been shown. It seems that very few scientists actually know the most important truth this universe has to show them: Jesus is alive and He is Lord. I remember saying to myself at the time of my conversion: “I had one of the best educations that money can buy and I was never taught the most important thing to know!”
Naturally enough, people who don’t know the truth, especially a truth as big as this, will come up with all kinds of other explanations. We humans are rarely content to simply confess our ignorance. It is an act of hubris on the part of scientists (and other atheists) to proclaim that this universe has no Creator, or that there is no God watching over the world, guiding human destinies and shepherding creation. No amount of scientific research will ever be able to prove the existence or non-existence of spiritual realities because science can only investigate material realities. They should know this, but few stop at these limits.
Through no fault of our own and certainly through no merit of our own, we Christians have been shown the truth. In knowing for a fact that Jesus is alive, we know for a fact that this universe was created by Him. We know that He is Lord over it all and we know that He is intimately involved with every human life, because He is with ours. We cannot expect that others, no matter how many degrees they have, will see and believe this, or take our word for it. But if we pray and give our witness, the Lord just may lead these blinded souls to enlightenment and genuine conversion. In the meantime, we can rest assured that our universe has a Creator and a Redeemer lovingly watching over even the sparrows…
[LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared a 3-page PDF download, Our New Identity, complete with a full color illustration, scriptures and prayer. It’s free—download here.]
The Solid Rock
We know these two facts not because we deserve to know them, but because we have been shown them by Someone else—someone who is in charge of ALL the facts. And we know this for a fact.
What we build upon these facts will determine the course of our life. How we build upon it will determine whether we’re prideful or humble, careful or confused. Remember to watch carefully over the line that separates what you know (the two facts) from what you believe based on what you were shown (your faith-understanding built upon those facts).
It is important for your faith confidence to recognize that these two facts are not matters of belief any more than saying that the sun in the sky warms and enlightens the earth. To a blind person that statement is a matter of faith: The blind cannot see the sun and have to take the word of others in faith. But let their eyes be opened and they will know it for a fact themselves. It is exactly the same with our faith-facts.
A major accomplishment of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that now the Father can give to His blinded, unenlightened children the key to unlock their sin-darkened minds and re-build their understanding on the Rock of profound truth.
Sadly, according to Barna surveys, less than 20% of Christians in the US have their understanding infused with a Biblical world view. This means many of us here in the States have not been using this God-given “code” to reprogram our minds. We are still seeing things like “copper-tops” in the Matrix, interpreting the world by the world, rather than by what has been revealed. Don’t let that be you!
In full display before a watching world, Jesus suffered as no human being has ever suffered or will ever suffer again. Yet, no one looking on could see it. The scoffers certainly couldn’t see that it was their Messiah who was being crucified right before their eyes. However, even those who believed in Jesus couldn’t see the true extent of their Messiah’s suffering: Physical death wasn’t the greatest torment of His cross. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ plunged our Lord into an invisible inward agony.
Everyone there, of course, could see the brutality of the cross and the violence it was doing to the three men doomed to die at Golgotha that day. Even to this day the gruesome physical ordeal of crucifixion seems to capture all the attention. And why not? It’s visual and visceral. The Romans wanted it that way to strike terror into the hearts of any potential rebels against their regime. It easily plays upon the abhorrence we all feel at the thought of intense physical pain. And it should. There is nothing trivial about the way our Lord was executed. Even so, we need to remember that there is nothing unique about it either.
I almost feel like a heretic writing this (so much is made of His physical suffering), but Jesus is not the only person who died by crucifixion. He is not the only person who died unjustly. He is certainly not the only person who died under conditions of horrific physical suffering, whether due to a tragic accident, a wasting disease, or torture. He is also not the only person to die for the sake of liberating someone else. What made His suffering unique?
The answer to this will lead us straight into the heart of what was taking place “behind the scenes” at Golgotha. I hope it will also lead your heart to esteem Jesus even more for the courage that led Him to the cross and the love that held Him there. There is so much more to His death than meets the eye.
For our sake Jesus chose to descend into an abyss of suffering—unparalleled in all of history—without a guide to lead Him through it, or a friend to cheer Him on. What looked like a ghastly travesty of justice was in reality the valiant conquest of a hideous foe. Though it came only at the cost of unimaginable suffering, the innocent Victim became the invincible Victor—even before He died!
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” John 10:17 ESV
How Far Have We Fallen?
What Jesus suffered for us is in direct proportion to our need for His salvation. If we could figure out how far we have fallen, that might give us a better idea of how great our need for His salvation truly is. We can get at this corporately by looking at the long, dismal record of human history with all of its wars, oppression and disasters, but let’s keep this personal: How far have I fallen into sin?
There are three main ways to estimate how far we have fallen.
1) First, there is the view from the top. This of course is denied to us by way of direct access, but we can catch a glimpse by using our “sanctified imaginations”—with our vision aided by divine revelation. Despite the distance in time and depth of depravity, we can “see” that Adam and Eve lived at a summit of perfection on the high ground of holiness.
From the very first moment of their creation they lived in absolute purity and innocence of heart, filled with such love and peace that they enjoyed perfect harmony with each other, with all of creation and within themselves. Above all they enjoyed unbroken, face to Face intimacy with God. From this exalted height they fell and we fell with them. Now, the experience of life at the summit is so entirely lost to us that it is even beyond the capacity of unredeemed humanity to believe it ever existed. How impossibly high does that summit look to you?
2) Second, there is the long uphill climb. As we take a look around our present position, we see that we are moving upwards better than some, but worse than others. Have you ever tried to raise yourself above certain unwanted faults? It’s so hard to do! Unaided by the Lord it is all but impossible to make any headway. Let me ask you, how far have all of your best efforts at moral improvement carried you? If we are honest, we can see that for every fault we may rise above, others descend upon us. Maybe we’ve gotten beyond the major sins, but even the minor ones show us that we still have such a long way to go. How far have we fallen? How long is it taking you to climb back out?
These two views are from our perspective. They are both painfully revealing of our fall from grace, but there is another view. It is from God’s perspective. It is the most revealing and the most painful of all.
3) There is the broken wreck at the bottom. As we look to the cross with our vision aided by scripture, we see how much it cost Jesus to save us. In order to reverse the direction of our fall, Jesus plunged past our present fallen condition into the very depth of our depravity and beyond. He descended to the ultimate horror of where the curse was taking us all. Our sins—placed upon Him—carried Jesus… Well, that part is coming, but first we will work through the stages Jesus took to get there and chart His suffering first in body, then in soul and finally in spirit.
What Jesus Suffered for Us
You may wish to read through this quickly at first in order to get the big picture. That’s fine, but please consider coming back later to take the journey slowly. Allow time to let it sink in. That tireless lover of God, St. Francis, once spent the whole of Lent (40 days of fasting and prayer) meditating on the cross and asking God for grace to know within himself something of what Jesus suffered for sinners, if he could also know something of the love for sinners that made Him willing to suffer. Jesus answered His prayer by appearing to him in Person!
No matter how you read through this, I recommend that you breathe out these two prayers at the end of each one of the three sections:
Dear Lord, forgive me that this is what you had to suffer because of me.
Thank you Jesus, that You were willing to suffer all of this for my sake!
There Was the Physical Suffering
In the first stage of making atonement Jesus suffered… all the assaults that human cruelty could devise. He was spit at and slapped in the face. Brutal men beat and bruised His body. His flesh was ripped open by a whipping that would have laid bare his bones. A crown of thorns was wedged upon his head, tearing at his scalp. Weakened by these punishments, He was forced to carry the crushing weight of the cross beam on shoulders shredded by the lash.
At Golgotha large spikes were pounded through his wrists and feet, then came wrenching pain as He was lifted high upon the cross. All this was a mere prelude to the fuller agony of crucifixion itself: the pulling of the nails against flesh and bones, the gasping for breath, the heart strain and cramping of muscles—pains impossible to relieve. Crucifixion tortured its victims to death.
This was visible to all, but this was only the beginning of His physical sufferings.
In this latter stage of making atonement through His body Jesus suffered… the full onslaught of all that the curse had brought upon our physical bodies. Isaiah revealed that the Messiah would carry within Himself our sicknesses and our diseases.
Surely He has borne our griefs (sicknesses, weaknesses, and distresses) and carried our sorrows and pains [of punishment], yet we [ignorantly] considered Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God [as if with leprosy]. Isaiah 53:4 AMP
This meant that Jesus now suffered physical pains and ailments that the Author of life had never known. He who had only known perfect health now experienced (somehow) within Himself the terrible gamut our wasting illnesses in all of their dreadful forms. Our aches, pains and piercing agonies were all in the cup from which He drank.
There Was the Suffering of His Soul
In the early stage of making atonement Jesus suffered… all the assaults that human treachery could heap upon Him. From the common people in the mob to the religious leaders in their assemblies reproach, insults and vile accusations were hurled against Him. Those He served rejected Him; those He loved hated Him; those He tried to reach scorned Him. Perhaps, most grievous of all, those He called and trained deserted Him. From the Garden of Gethsemane to the cross Jesus experienced the pains of betrayal, abandonment and intense aloneness.
This we can see and imagine, but this was the least of what He suffered in His soul.
In the latter stage of making atonement Jesus suffered… the full onslaught of our sins. Until this dreadful moment He had known sin only as a temptation to be resisted. At the cross thoughts and feelings the sinless One had never known as His own came crashing down upon Him. Paul revealed that on the cross Jesus actually became our sins—he was (somehow) infused with and united to our sins.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
This meant that Jesus was forced to experience our feelings of anger saturated with hatred, of bitterness as hard as stone, and of lust as insatiable as fire. Our untrusting fears, anxieties and faithless terrors crawled through His heart and mind, along with our ugly prejudices and heartless apathies. He was forced to feel within Himself our loneliness that reeks with self-pity; our jealousies and envies that love nothing but their own self-seeking; and our pride and ambition in all of its scheming forms. These foul thoughts and feelings of our sin nature—so common for us—now swirled through Jesus like a sewer.
Surely this was His final and most terrible suffering? No, there was worse to come.
There Was the Suffering in His Spirit
(It has to be acknowledged that this is a mystery so deep we can barely lift the veil.)
In the first stage of making atonement Jesus suffered… not the appalling experiences of what our sin is like, but its dreadful consequences. Sin darkens, deadens, defiles and destroys all that it touches. Inevitably, indwelling sin began mutilating Jesus. The supremely enlightened One experienced our mental and spiritual darkness. The Spirit-filled One experienced our deadness to life and love. The Holy One of Israel experienced our defilement from sin. The Prince of Peace experienced the destruction of peace and inward wholeness. Just as unrelieved sin squeezes and crushes the life out of us, so Jesus experienced it in far fuller measure. He who knew no sin was being made to be the sins, not of one individual, but of all humanity.
Incredibly, we are not there yet.
These evils previously described are unworthy of being compared to the worst suffering of all. This may well have been what Jesus saw in the cup the Father showed Him at Gethsemane. Here was the ultimate suffering, the one that He would gladly have set aside, if only the Father could have devised another way to save us.
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:41-42 ESV
In this final stage of making atonement Jesus suffered… the unimaginable. It was perhaps as unimaginable for Him as it surely is for us. None of us who are the redeemed will ever come close to this. We will certainly have known sin and its consequences, but not this—thank God! Jesus received within Himself the horror of sin’s ultimate penalty. For the first time in all the eons of uncreated time, Jesus experienced—not hell—but a desolating separation from His Father’s loving presence. There! There is the thing He dreaded most: Rejected and utterly separated from God!
God the Father has to reject sin and Jesus (on our behalf) became sin. Sin separates us from God. It darkens our vision of God. It deadens our love for God. It defiles our communion with God. It destroys our intimacy with God. It separates us from the glorious presence of God. This terrible doom must surely be at the center of Jesus’ deepest agony in Gethsemane. It is clearly at the heart of His cry of dereliction at the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus had never known the slightest separation from His Father: Even on earth He always did what He saw the Father doing and spoke as He heard the Father speaking. The uncreated, loving embrace between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is at the core of Who They Are. Now that oneness was shattered. Now that timeless intimacy was ripped away from Jesus as He bore our sins to the extremity of separation that holiness requires.
Even in our worst moments of shame or loneliness, we only experience such separation in slight measure—so great is the unfelt love and grace that surrounds us. Jesus suffered our well-deserved separation in all of its sheer, horrifying totality.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who among them considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living [stricken to His death] for the transgression of my [Isaiah’s] people, to whom the stroke was due? Isaiah 53:8 AMP
Gone now was the all-consuming, ever-infusing embrace of divine love. The Father’s love and joy were still flowing all throughout His beloved creation, but Jesus was cut off—stricken for our sins—seemingly exiled forever from the Presence even He could not live without. This is an anguish our minds can never fathom.
These terrible sufferings were in the cup that Jesus drank from at the cross. What of suffering, or sin, or sorrow has been in your cup? Know that He has already drained it all for you. Gaze with adoration and wonder upon His mercy-filled love, and give Him thanks!
The Final Word
The sufferings Jesus endured—as horrendous as they were—were not allowed to have the last word. He did! When it was over, when He had fully drained the cup His Father offered, Jesus declared His great Work finished. Only then did He freely release His Spirit to God.
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30 ESV
A Prayer to Receive Jesus as Your Savior
After seeing what Jesus was willing to suffer for you, would you like to invite Him to be your Savior and Friend? If you have already prayed a prayer to receive Jesus, it still won’t hurt to refresh your heart and recommit your life with this prayer.
Dear Jesus, I see now how much You must love me! And how great is my need for You to save me. Forgive me for all my sins and wash me clean with the Blood You shed. Please come into my heart, into my life, and live your life in me. I surrender myself to You: body, soul and spirit. Help me by Your Word and Holy Spirit to trust and follow You step by step into the new life that You have promised. Just as You were willing to lay down Your life for me; help me to lay down my sinful life and live for You!
If you prayed that prayer (or want to pray it but aren’t quite there yet), please accept this offer of our free eBook, Salvation Basics: How to Get Saved and Live Saved. It’s simple, easy reading and filled with lots of insights and answers about salvation and new life in Christ. Want it? Why not go there now!
A Hymn of Adoration and Praise
Now that we have meditated deeply on all that Jesus suffered for us, it is only right to pause and give Him thanks and praise, adoring the One who loves us with a love stronger than the grave.
O Sacred Head Sore Wounded Medieval hymn, selected verses
O sacred Head sore wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
Have you ever felt like the plug got pulled on your life in Christ? Like you’re cut off and drifting away, or worse, have taken a big hit and now are in free fall. Doesn’t feel very good does it? The peace of Christ becomes a faded memory, a host of weaknesses sap your strength and temptations you thought you’d finished with are back pounding on your spiritual door.
Disconnected! It’s one of the easiest things to happen to a Christian and fairly easy to remedy, if you understand the game and how it’s played. Like a wonderful piece of technology, you are a new creation, perfectly fashioned to fulfill all of your Designer’s intended purposes. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have made everything about you new in Them. You are an awesome piece of spiritual handiwork!
There is only one problem: You have to stay “plugged in” for the juice to work right! Sure you can manage for a while on battery power, but that’s certain to empty out. You were never created to function without a consistent connection to your Source of never-ending divine power. You are not your source. Jesus is! Staying rightly connected to Him is the only thing that will keep you up and running as the person you’ve been created to become. This is the “secret” of the Spirit filled life. Listen to how He put it:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 ESV
Sadly, the enemy seems to understand this better than many Christians. He has a thousand ploys to secretly slip our plug out of the socket. Things like distraction, deception and discouragement break our focus, disconnecting us from the flow of peace and spiritual empowerment that comes when we’re trusting Jesus with our life and loved ones. Then we wander about feeling deflated, defeated and wondering, “What’s wrong with me?”
The Real Problem
This is a strangely difficult lesson to learn, but there’s actually nothing wrong with us—ever—that reconnecting with Jesus won’t remedy. Being disconnected is the only real problem! Problems don’t necessarily go away (though some do), but a fresh surrender enables us to go forward through the problems and despite the problems. Whenever we are in the “sweet spot” of a dynamic connection, nothing else matters except staying by His side. Why? Because now the Holy Spirit is powering us up to flow in the river of peace once again and we are delighted to be back at His side.
Here’s an uncompromising truth: The new creation only comes forth on the basis of our complete surrender to and trust in Jesus. Being under your own leadership—that’s the domain of Self. Self will never be a sufficient savior and life guide for you. Jesus came so that we could be set free to no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:15). When we trust Him with what He has allowed and are willing to let Him lead the way—when we die to Self—we are already being raised out of our fallen ways into His new life. Beautiful!
Can you see by this that staying well-connected to Jesus is how the game of new life is played? Your enemies (let’s include the world and our flesh, along with the devils) are trying to disconnect you. Your elementary task is to make sure that a) you don’t get disconnected, or b) you get swiftly and sweetly reconnected if you do. That’s where the Connectors come in.
The Big Five
To help us in this the Lord has given us five delightful things to do which He can use to keep us steadily connected to Him. I call them the “Big Five” Connectors and they work like champs. I was so badly broken when I came to faith that I knew I couldn’t possibly survive in the walk unless Jesus could keep me closely connected—and I couldn’t trust myself to guard the plug! As I cried out to the Lord about this, He showed me the Big Five and impressed upon me that He uses them both as connectors and as “safety nets.”
What are they? Bible, prayer, worship, fellowship and service. In this article I will be explaining further how each one connects us to the Lord and also serves as a safety net to draw us back to Him if we start to drift away. For now I want to point out some things about all five. First of all, we don’t do them for Him. He’s going to love us no matter what. We do them because they help us live in the “sweet spot” of surrender and empowerment. Our new life depends upon it. That’s reason enough!
These are sometimes called “disciplines” in the Christian life. I hate that way of describing them because it makes them sound like dead, dull duties. They’re not! They are absolute delights if you are doing them with Jesus. He loved doing all five when He walked the earth. They kept Him well-connected to the Father. Now, He delights in helping us love what He loves doing. He is already in us wanting to do the Big Five for the sake of the joy each contains, for the sake of His own joy of communing with us as we do them, and finally for the sake of our joy in becoming better connected to Him through them.
Are you excited about this? I am! Ever since the Lord showed me these truths over 33 years ago, I have been steadily keeping all five of the Big Five in play and He has been using them to a) keep me from falling away (despite the many blows of adversity) and b) to draw me into such a sweet place of surrender in Him that I would never, ever want to go back. Sound like something your heart is yearning for? Good! Then, let’s dig into the Five.
[LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared a one page download, “A.C.T.!” Fast to Reconnect with Jesus,” complete with a full color illustration, explanation, scriptures and prayer. It’s free—download here.]
Think of the Bible as Jesus in written form. We call Jesus “the Word made flesh”—not the Word made obvious. Just as people could look at Jesus in the flesh (His physical body) and not see the bright, shining Light of the Word, so too, we can look at the Bible and see only a book. The Bible, however, repeatedly makes the claim that it is much more than a mere book. Through the written Word the living Word can reveal Himself on any page to those who trust that His Word is true. Jesus spoke the words that brought all of creation into being. If His spoken Word can do that, think what His written Word can do for you, to bring you fully to life. Let Him speak to you through it.
1) Connector: The Bible connects us to the Lord in two main ways. First, God uses scripture to reveal truth to us, truths about who we are and who He is, truths about the world we live in and how to live in it with Him—and countless other truths in addition to these. According to Jesus, knowing truth sets us free (John 8:32). The enemy enslaves through twisting truth (deception). So there is a battle going on in which God reveals truth to liberate us. But that is only half the battle. The other thing needed is to be able to fully believe in and bet our lives on the truths that we are being shown. That’s the other way the Bible connects us: It instills faith (Romans 10:17) to believe the very truths that it conveys. You have to work at it of course, but the Lord is at work with you to help you get it.
2) Safety Net: As a safety net the Bible helps us (at the very least) as a road map for things to avoid (sins) and for things to do. Straying outside God’s moral boundaries is certain to disconnect you from the One who drew the lines for us in the first place. Trespassing into sin always separates us from God—not from His love, but from our fellowship with Him, from His strong support, and from the confidence and clear conscience He desires to give us. The second use the Lord makes of this safety net is to draw us back to His side whenever we do start to drift away. For this to work we have to stay in the Word even when we are going through situations that are playing havoc with our attitudes. In this way He can use scripture to help you stay “powered up” for doing the right thing (the connector) and also speak through it to wake you up and steer you clear of wrong turns (the safety net).
Troubleshooting: The obvious problem to avoid is reading the scriptures too little; less obvious is reading them too much. How can you get too much of a good thing? Spiritual knowledge which the Bible delivers in spades is not the same thing as spiritual growth, which always proves itself out amidst the pressures of daily life. Just as children need both food and exercise in order to grow physically, so we ever-growing Christians need to feed on the word of God and then practice what we are learning, or our growth will be stunted.
[FREE BONUS: Download a great, graceful Bible reading plan which you can tailor to your exact needs: The “Refrigerator Method” for Healthy Bible Reading (single page PDF). Never again feel guilty about your reading habits for feeding on God’s Word! It’s free—download now.]
The Lord promises us that all who call on His Name will be saved (Romans 10:13). He is not just talking about heaven, but about gaining a more heavenly life in the here and now. Prayer is calling on God for mercy, for help, or for fellowship whenever you may need it or desire it. He loves listening to us and responding. Let your weaknesses and your needs drive you to Him and you will never run out of things to talk about! Best of all, this connector brings us through communication into communion.
1) Connector: Imagine having someone at your side filled with exactly the help, wisdom or encouragement that you need, but never being allowed to speak to them. That would frustrate both of you, wouldn’t it? You don’t have to pray: You get to pray! Not only is the Lord always willing to listen, He can actually do something about our predicaments. That’s reason enough to start talking to Him. But don’t stop there. Learn to connect with faith as you cast your concerns on Him. Persevere in prayer until you really sense He has it in His Hands—and that you are finally and fully letting it go. This reconnects you with His peace.
2) Safety Net: A vigorous prayer life strengthens our relationship with the Lord, especially if we remember that conversation is a two-way street. Give Him opportunities to “speak.” Even if you don’t hear words, you will receive impressions. By these means He communicates understanding, sympathy, and the clear sense that we are not alone. Prayer draws us into intimate fellowship with our best Friend, divine Lover, and majestic Lord. We begin with short-term needs for intercession (the connector), but the long-term goal is an intimacy which knows that we can rest our heart in His (the safety net).
Troubleshooting: Don’t make the mistake of thinking you shouldn’t be troubling the Lord with a small request. No concern is too small! God may not answer your prayer in the way that you’ve made it, but He will always listen to your heart and treat you right. So, don’t let false humility hold you back, or shame silence your tongue. I have given the Lord tears, fears, even my pain and anger. He seems to welcome the kind of trust that lets us expose our heart to Him. What doesn’t work is becoming strident and stubborn, insisting on our own solution to the problem we are praying about. That’s when the heavens can go strangely silent. Finally, watch out for falling into routine and ritualized prayers. Would you like someone to talk to you by memorized lines, saying the same thing over and over? Neither does Jesus! Let your conversation be natural, free and wide ranging—just as it would be with a good friend whose affections you cherish and whose wisdom you trust.
Worship is that higher form of our conversation with the Lord where we are no longer talking over our needs and making requests, but thanking and praising Him for who He is and what He has already done. This brings us speedily into close communion with Jesus—a fast track to enhanced connection with His peace and presence. We can worship in many ways: with others in church, in our quiet times, or simply by doing all that we do as a love gift to Him.
1) Connector: Worship actually means “to ascribe worth to.” Since it is so easy during the week for our focus to shift to lesser things, Sunday worship provides an opportunity for all of us to ascribe a greater worth to the Lord. In public services of worship (and private moments of intentionally drawing close to God), we can experience the returning wonder of who He is and of all that He means to us. Corporate worship, especially, creates a spiritual “atmosphere” which seems to draw heaven closer to the earth, making it easier for everyone present to become worship-full. This becomes a powerful point of re-connection or improved connection for all of us as Jesus “inhabits” the worship of His people.
2) The Safety Net: There is a difference between church and worship. Anyone can go to church and participate in the worship service. Entering into worship is a different thing entirely. For that to happen we will have to clear away any impediments. Sin needs repenting and confessing. Also, hard feelings towards self or others must be released and anxious cares turned into trust for the desired encounter with the Lord and His grace to take place. I have long seen worship services as a kind of diagnostic: Is my heart as right with God as I think it is? If so, the heavenly gates swing open (the connector); if not, I’ll start seeking God to help me clear the way for Him to draw near (the safety net).
Troubleshooting: We are told that Lucifer once led worship in heaven. He fell due to pride. That should give us all pause. The Pharisees also loved to be honored, to be seen as holier than others, and to draw praise to themselves. Be careful about this: Spiritual pride is a terrible pitfall! So is false humility. Don’t hold back due to any feelings of unworthiness. Jesus has made you worthy to enter God’s presence and to stand before Him as a much-loved child. We are actually invited to come “boldly” to God’s throne of grace anytime we need mercy or help of any kind. Don’t let the sight of your sinful side keep you pinned to the mat—the Blood really is covering you! That’s why it’s there. Thank God for that and you will be praising Him in no time.
Our amazing God(s)—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—are always in perfect love and fellowship with One Another. They are now working through the gospel to draw us out of our self-focus into genuine fellowship with each other and with Them. Fellowship is much more than friendly conversations around a pot luck supper or over coffee after church. The New Testament says that we have fellowship “in the Spirit” and “in truth.” By intentionally seeking out friends in the Lord who desire to grow in Spirit and in His truth, we stay refreshed and strengthened.
1) Connector: Now that we have been born again by Word and Spirit, we are not only free to worship God in Spirit and in truth, we can find common ground with anyone if the spirit between us is love and we can find some truths to agree upon. This is only hard if you expect perfect love and perfect agreement from everyone you meet. Once you grasp this simple principle you can become well-connected to Jesus practically anytime with practically anyone, especially if they are also seeking fellowship with both you and Jesus. Any bridge of fellowship becomes a pathway for re-connecting with the Lord, if need be, through their words and prayers and for enhanced connection when you share praise reports about the good things God has done.
2) Safety Net: Our word intimacy sounds like what it means: “in-to-me-see.” Through fellowship we “see into” each other and therefore can foresee problems or have insight to things the other person may be facing. In this way fellowship becomes an avenue for wisdom, guidance, correction and confirmation coming to us from the Lord, keeping us on track in our walk with Him. Your spiritually minded friend may actually see you drifting off into a poor attitude or dangerous direction before you do. The strength of this safety net is almost entirely dependent upon how well we build those bridges of genuine fellowship (made of honesty, openness, and transparency) during our times of connection.
Troubleshooting: There is a thief who will try to steal the greatest of God’s gifts from you. Love is the greatest gift, the one thing that we know we are required to grow. Our hearts should be much bigger by the end of the journey than at the beginning. Fellowship will help you grow love, but here’s the catch: You cannot grow love without trust opening and upholding your heart. Your enemy will do his level best to see that you are wounded by your fellow Christians in order to break your trust and cause you to withdraw from close fellowship. Don’t let that happen! Being hurt and offended is practically unavoidable. Jesus even said that it was “necessary” that offense come. The great thing isn’t if you’ve been hurt, but if you’ve gotten over it.
Serving others leads us out of ourselves into living more like Jesus does—selflessly. Almost everyone has work that they need to do for their own survival, which, nevertheless, benefits other people (if it is honest work!). Service takes us into the realm where we learn to give ourselves, expecting nothing in return, simply because it is the right and loving thing to do. God always rewards those who follow Jesus in laying down their lives for others.
1) The Connector: Desiring to be a servant leads us into the good things our loving Father has planned for us, connecting us more closely with His will and with our destined purpose. Seeking ways to serve the Almighty God, rather than just the “almighty dollar,” helps us learn to do all things “as unto the Lord.” This makes us far more aware, not only of what we are doing, but how we are doing it. Are we serving others in a way that reflects Jesus’ loving kindness? A servant’s heart will open us to compassion for others and transforms us into becoming more like Jesus, if we do as Mother Teresa said: “We serve for Jesus, with Jesus, through Jesus and to Jesus. What a connection point that is!
2) Safety Net: Giving your time away in today’s material culture only makes sense if you are doing it because you believe the Lord is asking it of you. This is how the call of service—in any moment—works as a safety net. If I am not willing to lay my life down or set my agenda aside to be of service to the Lord, or if my attitude proves to be a stinker, then the call to service is showing me I need to have a “come to Jesus” meeting. I may never get that kind of feedback working on my paying job. Service, therefore, “works” to transform us. If we cooperate, the Lord uses it to draw us into splendid moments abounding with His love and life (the connector); if we encounter internal resistance to His call, the Holy Spirit is showing us our need to repent and return (the safety net).
Troubleshooting: The main problem to avoid is thinking that God needs your talent. Skills and abilities that you have cultivated, especially in the working world, are indeed God’s gifts to you and can be of great benefit in service to Him. But that is not why He called you. It is your heart He wants. The Lord needs us teachable and loving, period. He needs our availability far more than our abilities. The opposite problem is holding back. Don’t let the sight of other people’s gifts and abilities make you feel inadequate. You have a heart. You’re available. That’s all that is really needed! Let God worry about how to put you to good use and how to get the results He wants. Step out in faith and the Lord will meet you every time.
[LIFE SUPPORT: I’ve prepared a one page download, “A.C.T.!” Fast to Reconnect with Jesus,” complete with a full color illustration, explanation, scriptures and prayer. It’s free—download here.]
The Danger of Not Doing the Big Five
The important thing to keep in mind is that we are not given these connectors for God’s benefit, but for our own. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by ignoring your five big lifelines to the Lord. They won’t always be in the best of repair. Sometimes you may neglect one or more of them for solid reasons or shabby ones. When that happens, always be quick to mend them before any sizable holes develop. You don’t want to fall past the “do’s” into the “don’ts”!
I have worked with men with addictions for years and have never yet seen someone fall back into the addiction who was faithfully working these five do’s. They do fall back whenever they stop working them. The men, however, almost universally think that the problem was doing the don’ts. Yes, of course we don’t want to do the don’ts, but the do’s keep us from the don’ts! So whatever you do, keep your safety nets in good repair and keep re-connecting with the Lord’s power, peace and presence. Live plugged in to the Spirit filled life!
I learn so much by working with Christian men struggling to get free of addictions. They experience in a titanic conflict what we all experience to a lesser degree. This gives clarity to many issues in the Christian life. Here’s one: Most of the men are so glad that Jesus is helping them gain freedom from the addiction that they simply camp out in what I call the “Neutral Zone.” This never works!
Some former addicts heroically fight off all desire to go back to Satan’s dominion over them represented by the addiction, but they seem to make no real attempt to go forward into the radically new way of life that Jesus offers us. They barred the door to the Big Bad Wolf on the outside, but typically fail to see that there is another wolf just as dangerous on the inside. They have “unplugged” their passionate attachment to the addiction (not necessarily other things of the world), but they have not reattached their passion to Christ. This effectively leaves Self in control—the other wolf!
This is a tragic mistake for two reasons:
1) They need a passionate attachment to Christ or they will inevitably drift back into their addiction once they leave us and are no longer coddled and cajoled by us to stay within the boundaries of the program.
2) They have a golden opportunity set before them to begin living in radical abandonment and passionate pursuit of Someone who is far superior to any created thing, Someone who can make them deliriously joyful in a way no substance ever could. Then they won’t need a program to stay free. They will be “addicted” to Jesus. Loving Jesus is the greatest passion anyone could ever hope to discover!
I try to warn them that one of the great dangers of the Neutral Zone is boredom. You have Satan (represented by the addiction) shut out, so there is a lot less chaos, but without Jesus brought fully in, there is a lot less excitement. Beloved, we were never meant for boredom!
These former addicts are men who should know this. They have lived for their passion (the substance) in reckless, radical pursuit of the dream it represented. They risked their lives, were willing to lose all worldly goods, even the respect of their families and former friends. They risked imprisonment, even death for their “god.” That’s just the kind of devotion that Jesus is looking for!
You would think that they would all eagerly transfer that hard-won previous training in passion-based living to Jesus, and use it in hot pursuit of the only sure provider of everlasting “ecstasy” and earthly fulfillment. Some do, but not all by any means.
By the way, even the still-addicted ones have something to show us. They are a full-color portrait of what radical living can look like, if you have “a god” you are totally devoted to pursuing! What fuels their passion for the substance is a deep-seated pain that needs mending—an inner angst or emptiness that they desperately want soothed, combined with the recognition that (at least for the duration of the “high”) their substance of choice makes them feel fully alive. Of course it never lasts and dooms them to destruction once the hook goes in deep enough, but don’t we all have something that needs deep mending?
Jesus is my “substance of choice”: He mends me, fills me and sends me higher into peace and joy than anything else I’ve ever found! Let’s go for the good addiction!
How did we ever get snookered by this one? Jesus is the most amazing and beautiful Person in the universe! How can we not be passionate about Him? Why don’t we live absorbed and fascinated by Him—all day long? There has to be a good answer for this, for this is surely the Enemy’s number one problem: How do you keep people from seeing the beautiful God and running to Him?
What is the enemy’s strategy to defeat our natural, nearly automatic, passionate embrace of Jesus? What has “Dr. Evil” been up to? Oh no, not that! Not the nefariously nasty, ultra-effective “Passion Blocker”!
If you were the enemy and had to overthrow this seemingly insurmountable obstacle, then you would have to give the people something even “better” to capture their attention: a counterfeit deity! A god that they will find endlessly fascinating, one who will absorb the majority of their thoughts and concerns, one who promises to save them and make them feel special. Voila! Self is born!
What an ingenious ploy! Forget about all those clunky idols of wood and stone. They’re history now! They were difficult to carve, cumbersome and couldn’t be kept them in front of people’s eyes everywhere they went (though smaller pocket-size idols were sometimes carried about in the ancient world). Worse, many people couldn’t afford to buy idols for their homes. That will never do!
Fast forward to our time and consider the beauty and simplicity of Self as the go everywhere idol. Just put fascination with Self and Self’s desire’s into the head and heart of fallen humanity and what have you got? Distracted people who spend their days endlessly asking of themselves:
“What do I want to do? How do I feel about that? What do I think so and so should be doing? What are my goals? Why should I have to put up with this? How can I solve this problem? How can I get more of this, that or the other?…”
Sad, isn’t it? Jesus has been eclipsed by Self! Can you hear in the “I” focus of the above questions, a replica of the enemy’s own self-love and self-will being re-birthed in us? His disastrous fall into pride of self is recorded for us in the famous “I will” passage of Isaiah 14.
You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God; I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ Isaiah 14:13-14 ESV
Where Does That Leave Us?
Are we, modern day lovers of Self—“Mini Mes”—playing to Satan’s Dr. Evil with a false focus engendered by the wrong spiritual father? (The reference is to the Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery movie in case you missed it when it came out. Dr. Evil created a cloned, miniature version of himself named “Mini Me.”).
In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self. 2 Timothy 3:1-2 ESV
Take a revised look at the above questions. Wouldn’t they be much better phrased,
“Jesus, what do You want me to do? How do You want me to handle these feelings going off in me? How can I pray for and serve Your purposes for so and so? What are Your goals and directions for me? Help me embrace this cross You have allowed. Lead me into Your solution for this problem. Withhold from me anything that doesn’t serve Your present purposes…”
Few be the lovers of the cross. In order for our true focus to shift from Self to Jesus, we will have to come to a place of complete surrender to His will and His leadership—wanting only His will, His way (See a related post: “The Second Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled.”). We will have to learn to love the cross in order to keep loving the One who bids us deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. Until then, Self will remain the go-to deity.
And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV
Let’s go for this! What an adventure it is to “live no longer for ourselves, but for Him” who has the power and the plans to bring us into a life and a destiny that beggar descriptions. Press in and break through all of the “Mini Me” barriers!
What is the helmet of salvation?And why do we need it? It protects our minds from assaults by theAccuser to try to undermine our confidence in the salvation our lives depend upon. Ever watched the Olympic swimmers? They have very tight-fitting skull caps.
That’s what we need,spiritually speaking, in order to swim our best in the rough seas of inward and outward turbulence. Since both Ephesians 6:17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8 call attention to it, I want to give you what I believe the Lord has given me as“air-tight” protection against the foul breath of the Accuser.
1st Question: What is the gospel?
It is thepowerof salvation (Romans 1:16)! Knowing what the Good News really is, keeps it fresh and powerful. There are threemust knowscriptures: John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9, and 2 Corinthians 5:19.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16 ESV
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV
Each is a one sentence descriptionof the best news you could ever hope to hear concerning your salvation. Put a sticky tab on them, highlight them, and make sure you can rejoice in them—at a moment’s notice. When the enemy comes calling, if he can point to any spiritual dirt on you, you will need torunto these “home bases.” They all point to our salvation beinganchored in God’s grace and our faith in Christ’s work.
2nd Question: Do I have “saving faith?”
Since I am saved “by faith”how can I knowfor surethat I have “saving faith?” This also is amust knowbecause the enemy can be relentless at accusing us of not really being saved due to the way we are thinking, feeling, or behaving during times of testing and trial. Again the Lord showed me three scriptures to nail my confidence down using His Word: in addition to John 3:16, see Romans 10:9 and Romans 10:13.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”Romans 10:9, 13ESV
Jesus says in John 3:16 that it isby believing alonethat we “will not perish, but have eternal life.” “OK,” the enemy says, “But you must not really have the right kind of believing, otherwise you wouldn’t be such a worthless sinner…”
The Lord through Paul counteracts this attackby defining the right kind of believing for us: “If you can confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” In other words “saving faith” is believing that Jesus really is Lord and that He died and rose again (for our sins). Simple?
Then he caps it offby saying four verses later: “All who call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” Just make sure that you continue in calling upon Him, no matter what your need may be, andyou definitely shall be saved. God wants to save everyone, but He will not save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved by Him. That’s why calling on His name is essential to salvation. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?
The Good News is simple: Heaven is easy to gain entry to and assurance about! Otherwise, the gospel wouldn’t be very good news, would it? Once the Lord showed me these verses I have never had any trouble keeping the helmet of salvation fitting tightly in place.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm… and take the helmet of salvation.Ephesians 6:13 and 17 ESV
The thing that drives Islamic terrorism is easy to understand. You don’t have to take a lot of case histories. You don’t have to read the whole Koran. You only need to know your own heart and the basic reality of life on earth in order to grasp it. Why our leaders and media experts in the West don’t seem to understand it, now that’s a thing which requires a bit more explaining!
At the deepest level imaginable the terrorists are themselves terrorized. A dreadful and unrelenting fear torments them: They thoroughly believe that God is holy and just; that they are separated from Him, sin prone, and need His mercy; that there is a next life which goes on forever; and that there is, therefore, a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid at all costs. Quite naturally, they fear displeasing God and going to hell! This much is based on reality. Unfortunately, the wrong answers they have been given for relieving their deepest fears fuel all the hatred and violence.
Of all people we Christians should understand this best! We, too, know that the stakes in life are incredibly high: There really is a God who is holy and just; there truly is a heaven to gain and a hell of unimaginable torment to avoid. Everything depends upon somehow pleasing God. Fortunately for us, we have been given the right answers. It’s not about doing things to please God so He won’t throw us into hell, but trusting that He loves us so much that He made a way to save us through the death of His Son, Jesus. We don’t have to kill someone so we can get to heaven. God already did that. No further sacrifice is needed. But our beliefs are not held by the majority!
Since a secular worldview dominates our media and is embraced by the intellectual elite of the West, we need to understand why they don’t understand the jihadists. Atheists, secular humanists, agnostics and even many nominal Christians don’t believe in heaven and hell. They are, therefore, “blissfully ignorant” of the eternal spiritual realities which surround them (for the time being). They can’t even imagine that thoughts about heaven and hell could have life-controlling power over anyone. This life on earth is all there is! Naturally, they want us all to get along and can’t understand why anyone would want to sacrifice their hope of happiness in this life to gain the next.
Being completely out of touch with genuine spiritual reality, they come up with all kinds of fanciful explanations for what’s driving Islamic terrorism. Even Christians (who should know better) seem caught up in spinning theories that have no more substance than cotton candy. It is widely stated that they hate freedom, or hate our freedoms. That’s not it at all! They love their own freedom and (above all) they want freedom to kill us. Others imagine they’re jealous of what we have in the West (No, they see us as enemies of Allah). Still others believe that they want to take the world back to the way it was in the sixth century. (And give up their cell phones? I think not!).
Many call Islamic terrorists barbarians and psychopaths. Yet, there is a logic and rationale to why they do what they do. The jihadists accurately suspect the fundamental realities that surround us all (holy God, our sins, heaven and heal), are scared out of their wits, and want to have an answer for it. They believe that Allah sent Mohammad to show them the right answer which he did through the Koran. From their point of view, their only hope of gaining heaven and escaping the flames of hell is to do what Allah wants them to do. This makes perfect sense. If Mohammad was right and if everything they believe about Mohammad is right, then they have a moral duty to obey. Islam, after all, means “submission”: obedience to the will of Allah.
Short of annihilation, there are only two ways out of this kind of captivity to spiritual darkness. Either they could be shown that Mohammad was not right in what he taught about God; or they could be shown that their interpretation of Mohammad’s writings is not right. The former is the job of Christian missionaries; the latter, that of other Muslims. If Mohammad really had known the truth about the true God, he would have embraced Jesus as his Savior. His followers still can. It’s our job to pray and work for their conversion: They truly are in the dark.
On the other hand, only those who believe in the Koran and practice it in love, can have any hope of reaching those who believe in it and practice it with a vengeance. If radical Muslims can be shown that their interpretation of the Koran is mistaken, then their fears might be tempered. But who is making this case successfully? They certainly won’t listen to the rest of us. It’s going to take people on the inside to rise up and show how their holy book has been hijacked (if indeed it has been).
Personally, I don’t hold much hope for the latter path. The terrorists have had their religious fears awakened; only the true gospel can bring them the peace they need and which we need them to have. Even if a compelling case can be made that the terrorists aren’t reading Mohammad correctly, they are well disposed to kill as heretics fellow Muslims who don’t agree with them. The good Islamic world is being crushed by the terrorists, just as the “good” Germans were successfully crushed and silenced by the Nazis. I don’t think it would be wise for us to hold our collective breath waiting for Islam to cleanse itself of terror.
So we are back to war and prayers for conversion. We could wish for the world to be different than it is, but in the meantime, let’s do our best to live with eyes wide open to fundamental realities!