A father holds his child’s hand for a short while, but holds his child’s heart forever.
The desire to have the presence of God among us in more real and tangible ways is a noble hunger of our souls.
Though we know that God’s people can always be assured of his presence, too often we have long periods of time where it seems his presence is missing. Christian history records many examples of personal, church and community transformation when God reveals himself in new and powerful ways. His presence can do more in seconds than we can accomplish through years of hard work. If you have this desire for the manifest presence of God for yourself or your church, here are a few insights to give wisdom to your quest.
My thoughts come out of the story in 1 Chronicles 13 and 15 where King David is attempting to bring the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol of the presence and glory of God) to Jerusalem. His experience can add insight to our efforts to make a way for the presence of God to be among us in a greater way.
First, it may help us to realize that not all people are looking for the presence of God to be among us.
“And let us bring back the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” 1 Chronicles 13:3 (ESV)
These words of King David point out a stark reality. God’s people are not always interested in having him near. We are often okay with his presence being at a distance. I have found that those who want a greater reality of God in their church are sometimes frustrated by the lack of interest on the part of other believers. This story reminds us that this has long been the case.
A second insight is that we must take care not to rely on our own skill and wisdom to bring the glory of God into our lives and assemblies. David gathered a large crowd to celebrate the return of the Ark to Jerusalem and prepared a new cart to carry it to its destination.
“They carried the ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab…” 1 Chronicles 13:7 (ESV)
David’s quest to bring the presence of God was noble. He made sure a new cart was prepared to carry the ark, no doubt the cart was made with the finest craftsmanship available. However, it was a lethal decision. As the cart progressed to Jerusalem the oxen became agitated and put the ark at risk.
“When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.” 1 Ch. 13:9,10 (NIV)
David had a great idea and he prepared carefully for bringing the ark to Jerusalem, however he mistakenly tried to bring the presence of God to Jerusalem with his own creation and plan. A plan that turned out to be a killer. Uzza, acting to protect the ark, violated the commands of God and was struck down.
There is a human tendency to try to bring the presence of God into our lives and congregations by using our own plans and creations. This does not mean that we have bad motives or that we want something unholy, but the reality is God has planned for the entrance and greater reality of his presence in our lives. He has set forth principles to follow and going with his ways can keep us from unnecessary casualties. We likely won’t see people struck down like Uzza but the death of hope, faith and love can easily happen. Many people have become discouraged in their faith by unsuccessful attempts to bring in a greater reality of God’s presence. Sometimes those who use unsanctioned means may give up the quest all together. It is possible to have a well intended but ill-fated plan.
David soon learned that God had prescribed a way to bring the ark to Jerusalem.
“Then David said that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the LORD had chosen them to carry the ark of the LORD...” 1 Chronicles 15:2 (ESV)
Later, David speaking to the Levites said, “Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.” 15:13. (ESV) God was happy to presence himself among the people but he reserved the right to say how his presence and glory should be handled. The same principle applies today.
The question then arises, how does God say his presence is to be invited? In the Old and New Testaments we find a similar theme that answers this question – repentance and prayer. Take for example the words of the Old Testament found in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (NIV)
Compare that with the New Testament scripture of Acts 3:19,20:
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (ESV)
We also note that the disciples prepared themselves for Pentecost by giving themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). Prayer was a major factor in the expansion of the church (Acts 2:42). The believers were filled with boldness after a time of prayer (Acts 4:31). Peter’s vision regarding the gospel going to the Gentiles took place while he was in prayer (Acts 10). And the fasting, praying and worshipping leaders of the church of Antioch heard the Lord calling them to send out Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 13:1-4). These few examples point us to the simple pattern that the presence of God was experienced anew when his people humbled themselves and prayed.
There is no doubt that the Lord calls us to utilize new strategies and make good plans. However, never let us be fooled into thinking that a new plan can replace the timeless principles which open the way to the renewed presence of God. In my 25 years of ministry I have noticed an endless stream of new ideas, strategies and plans being offered as the way to bring life to the church. New worship styles and new organizational strategies have brought more enjoyment and comfort to our congregations, and that has its place. However, one thing I have noticed is that seldom have the new plans brought a greater level of transformation in people’s lives or a greater experience of the presence and authority of God. Yes, people may enjoy church more but the presence of God is as distant as before. Like David, we may desire the presence of God among us, and like David we think we can get it there by building a new cart. Like David we can get a lot of people excited about bringing in the presence. But again and again, God providentially agitates the oxen to derail our well intended plans. Things may go well for a time but in the end God insists on us following his ways.
So I encourage each Christian who reads this article and who desires a greater presence of God in their life or ministry. You have a great desire, it is a godly desire. Just remember, a renewed sense of God’s presence is invited by repentance and prayer not a new creation of our own hands.
- The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (2001), Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Publishing,
- The Holy Bible, New International Version, (1984). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
© Lyndon Wall 2017
Jesus is the one in charge of the miracles.
“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
Have you ever heard God speak to you?
The Bible is full of stories of God speaking to people. God spoke to Adam and Eve in the cool of the day and instructed them to enjoy all the Garden of Eden except for the tree of the knowledge and good and evil. God spoke to Cain, warning him that he was in danger of making a bad choice. God spoke to Noah, instructing him to build an ark to save the human race. One day the voice of the Lord got Abram’s attention and told him to leave his country and people. God spoke to Jacob the night he was fleeing from his home, giving him a vision of heaven and promises for his life. Joseph was a young teen when God spoke to him powerfully in a dream that pictured the future. God spoke to Moses on the day he was caring for sheep, calling Moses to lead his people out of slavery.
Throughout the Old Testament – the first part of the Bible – we see again and again God speaking to people. Specific words on specific days. Men and women would be going through life living the average challenges of an average day and God would speak.
In the New Testament, we again see God speaks to specific people on specific days. God spoke to Mary and Joseph about being the parents of Christ. He let Joseph know that Herod was coming to kill Jesus. God spoke to Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist as Zechariah served in the temple. God told Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Christ. God spoke to Peter about including the Gentiles in the Gospel. And, on a specific day God blinded Saul on the Damascus road, calling him to be a servant of Christ. As the church of Antioch was having days of prayer and fasting God spoke saying, “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them.” All through the Bible we see God speaking to specific people on specific days.
The Bible is solid on the fact that God speaks. It is also solid on the idea that we can hear God speak. “Today, if you hear his voice,” the writer says. The concern of the author is not to establish the idea that God speaks but that you and I respond wisely when he does. “Do not harden your heart,” counsels the writer.
Just as the Bible records God speaking it also records how people responded to his voice. Some people hardened their heart to God’s loving words. Adam and Eve resisted God’s voice and lost the paradise where they lived. Cain ignored God’s words of warning and ended up committing murder. The Nation of Israel ignored God’s voice and as a result wandered in the wilderness 40 years instead of enjoying their promised land.
Positively, many people heard God’s voice and heeded what he said. Moses listened and led a nation out of bondage. Joseph and Mary listened and escaped Herod’s plot to kill their child. Saul listened and was transformed. He became known as the Apostle Paul and led the spread of the life changing message of Jesus to the known world. Whenever God speaks the person who he speaks to can accept or reject the message.
How do you respond when God speaks to you? The most important matter God speaks to us about is his Son Jesus. Jesus came to earth to restore our relationship with God. All who trust in his death for their sin become part of God’s family and have an assurance of life with God after death. In our response to Jesus, spiritual life and death hang in the balance. Because of God’s great love for us, and because he does not want us to miss the great blessings that await, he speaks to us about Jesus. Has God ever put on your heart the need to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord? How did you respond?
God also speaks to us about daily life. Our relationships with family and coworkers, temptations we face or decisions we need to make are matters within the scope of his care. He desires that we live lives guided by wisdom and is willing to help us.
So if God speaks to you today, don’t harden your heart. Heeding what he says opens the way to the life he desires you to have both now and in the world to come.
We recently had the privilege of hosting two men who serve the church in Ethiopia. They shared the remarkable things happening in that country for the gospel.
There is a great advance of God’s kingdom happening now. Thousands are coming to faith in Christ, hundreds of churches planted and the power of God is being visibly demonstrated by transformed lives and deliverance from evil forces. It was such an encouraging evening but it was also challenging.
The stories from that far away place caused me to wonder why the church in my culture seems to a large degree to be missing the authority now prevalent in that African country. It made me wonder if we are experiencing an “unnecessary powerlessness”.
We can come up with a variety of reasons to explain this difference. We can point to economic factors, educational factors or cultural matters. We can excuse ourselves in a variety of ways and no doubt at times need to consider new strategies. However an even wiser idea is to consider what Scripture teaches about unnecessary powerlessness. Such a teaching unfolds in Mark 9:14-29.
In this story the nine disciples who did not go with Jesus to the transfiguration are given opportunity to demonstrate the power of Christ by a man who brought his demonized son to them. Unfortunately the nine could not win the day. The demon remained lodged in the tormented boy, the father was frustrated and the nine disciples were embarrassed by their lack of authority.
We see in the story, that sadly, this powerlessness of the disciples was completely unnecessary. In fact, Jesus expresses great disappointment that the disciples were unsuccessful.
“Oh faithless generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I bear with you…” (NKJV).
Looking back in the Book of Mark we see that the disciples had indeed been granted authority over dark spirits and had been able to cast them out.
“He called the twelve…and gave them power over unclean spirits.” (Mk. 6:7 NKJV)
Yet in this case they were powerless. It was a story of authority lost.
The story continues as Jesus arrives on the scene. He responds to the father’s desperate request, demonstrates his authority over this very powerful demon and sets the boy free. The nine disciples, stung by their lack of power and failure to exercise their Christ-given authority, demand that Jesus tell them why they couldn’t cast out the demon. Jesus answered, “This kind can only come out by prayer.”
We don’t know why the nine disciples were deficient in their prayer life. Perhaps they had relied on past successes or were discouraged because they had not been invited to the transfiguration. Whatever the reason, they had moved away from prayerful dependence on God. As a result they were powerless before this evil.
I must say that I find is quite easy to identify with the powerless nine disciples. I too have faced evil strongholds or fears and have not won the day. Though I know I have been given authority that authority has not always translated into victory. So too, sometimes our churches have often drifted into a state of powerlessness. The stories of transformed lives and people being set free from the bondage of evil can be few and far between. Could it be that the answer for us is the same as the answer was for the powerless nine?
The Apostle Paul warned that in the last days people would have a form of godliness but deny its power. (2 Timothy 3:5) I sometimes wonder if Christians will fall into the last days powerlessness unintentionally by simply neglecting prayer. As a result we find ourselves unable to win the day over personal and corporate evils that torment us. Like the powerless nine, there is an identification with Jesus – a form of godliness – but a disconnect from his power. This helplessness may not be intentional but it happens through the neglect of prayer.
As I listened to my Ethiopian brothers they told me of the prayer life of the church planters who are leading the advance of the gospel in many remote parts of that country. They told me that it is not unusual for these men to spend hours in daily prayer, waiting on God for his grace, power and direction. From the place of prayer they move into their world with a great authority.
It is encouraging to note, that a good number of God’s people in our culture have recognized their powerless state and have begun to seek the Lord with a renewed focus on prayer. To all of you who are seeking him in a renewed way, be encouraged and persevere. Your lost authority is on the way back.
I recently returned from a mission trip to Brazil. It was my first time to South America and I enjoyed learning the different culture, food and customs of the people in the northeast part of that great country. Yet for all the differences from other countries I have traveled to, I found a common factor – unsung heroes.
It was my honor to spend four days with a group of missionaries who are involved in church planting and radio ministry. My first impression was that this was a happy bunch of workers. Yes the challenges are great, the work demanding, the spiritual warfare strenuous, but they were persevering. Their ministries may go long periods of time without tangible results. The weather is very hot, but the response to the gospel is often cold. It takes a special grace to persevere when there seems little to show for one’s efforts. Yet they have taken their stand at their places of assignment. Faithfully they share Christ as they seek to build His kingdom. It’s not glamorous work but it’s important work. It’s not easy work. But daily as they live the character of Christ before their neighbors a beachhead for the gospel is being established. We anticipate a greater harvest to come but right now most of the work is planting seeds. It’s the work of unsung heroes.
Much of the gospel’s strength is found in such workers. All over the world in remote and accessible places unsung heroes take their stand for Christ. They serve in quiet towns in Northern Alberta, the remote villages of Uganda, the squalor of impoverished settlements of Africa or the distant villages of South America. Having been touched by the love of our Savior Jesus, these unsung heroes share his love with others and serve to move God’s kingdom forward. They have said yes to his call and have put their life on the line to obey. This is not work that draws great adulation or medal ceremonies with adoring crowds, for the most part their efforts are largely unnoticed.
Much of the gospel work is carried forward by unsung heroes. It has always been that way. Many references are made to such people by the Apostle Paul in his writings. “Onesiphorus…often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.” (2 Tim. 1:16) “Epaphrus…He is always wrestling in prayer for you.” (Col. 4:12) “Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord…I am sending him to you…” (Ephesians 6:21,22)
These unsung heroes never wrote a book of the Bible or headlined big ministries but were essential in the Kingdom’s advance. This is still the case today.
Each time I travel, it’s an opportunity to be humbled by the loving dedication of those who carry the gospel to difficult places. It is inspiring to me to see that the gospel still is going out to those who don’t yet know Christ and it is being carried by those who simply serve with loving obedience.
So if you are an unsung hero, serving in a remote area or unrecognized ministry I salute you for your faithful love for Christ and I assure you that one day you will hear him say, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
In January 2016 Lyndon Wall of Refresh Ministries travelled to Northeastern Brazil for ministry with Brazilian church leaders and missionaries from Avant Ministries. Lyndon led a three day seminar on expository preaching for the church leaders and conducted a three day spiritual renewal retreat with missionaries. In this video, Avant Missionary Ken Gustafson describes the time of ministry in Brazil.