Posts filed under 'prayer'
by David Sliker
It’s the midpoint of 2010. Normally, a typical year surprises you by its unexpected speed - you look up, and suddenly it’s June. You think, “where did the time go?” The surprise is normally knit to how the mundane realities of living life “pulling weeds in the heat of the day” - meaning the simplicity of the rigors of chores, bills, and other life details - make life feel like it’s creeping by sometimes. It’s easy to forget that life is a “vapor” that rapidly diminishes and passes swiftly by.
This year, however, I haven’t felt that way. The days are rocketing by with a speed that is, at times, overwhelming. It’s not what I expected from this season of my life - I entered 2010 with great joy, having shed every title and position I’ve held over the years at IHOP-KC. I had no “official” responsibilities, no official title, and as the year went on, no office space. The year was one that was supposed to be an unofficial “sabbatical” year of me, Jesus, and the prayer room - much like it was in the early days of 2002, when I first arrived at the prayer room.
I remember those days so vividly - for the first time in my life in full-time ministry, I had no title, no responsibilities, and lots of time to enjoy God and be enjoyed by Him. It was the most gloriously exhilarating season of my life: brand new on staff at IHOP, no one knew me, no one expected anything from me, and I could enjoy long hours in the prayer room, at teaching services on weekends, and in the word. Of course, the “crown jewel” of that season for me was that my wife was pregnant, the IHOP staff went on a 50-day fast together, and the last 12 nights of that fast were dedicated to gathering to hear IHOP’s prophetic history - which for years we called the “Encountering Jesus” series. I never thought I’d have a season like that again.
Of course, when I resigned from my roles at IHOP in September of last year, I was sure that I was headed for another glorious season of me n’ God. My wife is even pregnant again! Due in September, it was almost poetic to me as I looked back to those months with fondness. What I learned is that you can never go back - that yesterday’s season and yesterday’s encounter is what it is, what it was, and what it had to be. It was unique and can never be recaptured or relived. It’s not supposed to be - for in the infinite creativity and beauty of God lies a wonderful propensity to show you how different two similar seasons can be in His plan for your life. Thus we forget what lies behind and press on towards the goal of knowing Christ Jesus - and all of the wonderful surprises He has in store for us today.
The greatest surprise of this season came on two separate dates: November 11, 2009 and January 29, 2010. In November the Lord apprehended my with His Spirit in the most unexpected and glorious way - my testimony is below. In January, He commissioned me in the most unexpected and glorious way. The IHOPU Student Awakening changed my life in many ways, accelerated my life in others, and was the final means of transitioning me to the next season of my life. I’ll always look back on these days with awestruck wonder and tender gratitude. The Lord saved me. He delivered me. He filled me with joy and reset me into His purposes. Then, in January, He began the next phase: weekends in Atlanta. Three times a month I travel to the house of prayer in Atlanta to be with my friend, Billy Humphrey, as we lead Awakening (renewal) meetings together. A binder thick with testimonies declares the reality of the power of God to heal and set captives free there. It’s been glorious.
As that phase of my new season in God began I found myself teaching Romans, Kingdom of God, and the Excellencies of Christ at the Forerunner School of Ministry. Thus my heart, wide open and tender, was being filled with the truth of His righteousness and mercy set upon me, His plans and purposes for me, and His beauty and glory apart from me. The Holy Spirit would regularly break into our classes - once it spilled over into the class next door, and then over again into the class at the end of the hall until three-quarters of the student body was encountering the Lord in power and deliverance related to His love for us. To be able to so fully give myself to teaching, preaching, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit is one of the most unique gifts the Lord has ever given my weak little heart, growing in His love.
Once we transitioned to summer, the first wave of over 1000 teenagers began to descend on us at our Awakening Teen Camp. 1000 more came this past weekend for our Fascinate High School Conference. The Lord spoke clearly to me, “watch as I show you My zeal for the next generation.” I went into the conference with great expectations, which the Lord promptly exceeded. I cannot wait for the second conference (which will fill up fast) at the end of July. Also waiting for me at the end of July are three other youth conferences, one here in Kansas City and two in California (southern and northern!). It’s like, in this season, the Lord is reminding me over and over again what He has for me in the days ahead: preaching, teaching, writing, power encounters, teens, and Asians - particularly the Koreans and the Chinese.
Just today my friend Julie Meyer told me about a dream she had about me recently: that after a long season of driving in circles (with a big smile on my face), I finally had parked the car, got out, and put the keys in my pocket. I had found a place of rest, she said, doing exactly in this season what I was supposed to be doing. She’s exactly right - while this season is similar yet altogether unlike those months I enjoyed in 2002 with Jesus, I have never felt so content and settled into the call of God on my life. For the Lord has brought me full circle - my place of greatest satisfaction hasn’t come from the labors of my hands, my fulfillment does not come from ministry and my impact on others; it comes from being loved and enjoyed by Jesus. The labors that have flowed from that place of enjoyment are, in so many ways, incidental. Important, but beside the point. He loves me. He enjoys me. I am victorious and successful, right here, right now, today - and forever, because of that simple truth.
June 30th, 2010
The Issue of Relevance
Between the elections, the issues of national decline and the hope of resurgence, international disasters, theories, and speculations, we aren’t lacking for conversation topics in America today. Yet we must never forget that the most relevant conversations must still center around the word of God. At times, the scripture frustrates belilevers because they can’t find the answers that they are looking for to the problems of today. The Mormon church capitalizes on this yearning, presenting themselves as a modern day fountain of answers for the seeker. Many Christian churches have no problem either adopting or pioneering the same approach.
The problem is that God often wants to have a different conversation with His church. We want, need, and expect God to come down to our level and address our problems from our perspective. We draw comfort from authors and speakers who deliver on that promise, making the scriptures appear to speak to the details of our life in a manner that helps us feel as if everything will be alright. All throughout the scriptures, however, the truth is that God takes a radically different approach. He consistently and persistently invites us to see things from His perspective and identify with the issues that He sees as the most relevant.
Relevance, then, is best defined in a manner that transcends cultural and personal considerations and rests in the seat and the perspective of the Most Holy One. What is most relevant are the things that are on His mind and carry His concerns. Thus, regardless of the swirl of politics, finance, nature, and life, God’s viewpoint of history and its movement forward by His hand is one that I have become obsessed and consumed with connecting to.
The Book of Joel
With that said, I want to take time to break down the book of Joel and discern its relevance and role in shaping how we live and understand our times for a few weeks. I want to focus in a particular way on the last chapter of the book of Joel, as it is often overlooked - especially in the dialogues about how the story of this age will end. Yet Joel chapter three provides one of the most vivid and spectacular glimpses into how this phase of history will come to a conclusion - and the methodology God will utilize to bring it to a close. How will God birth and ending and a beginning? In what context will He choose to do so? The book of Joel offers some insights into the answer to those questions.
Ultimately, God is unconcerned with the issue of “relevance”. His day is coming, in which He will be the most relevant figure on the planet. The day is coming in which He will not be forgotten or ignored - but He will take the most prominent place in the thoughts, conversations, and lifestyles of the peoples of the whole earth. Some will love Him, many will despise Him, all will fear Him - but none will imagine that He does not exist or that His opinions are irrelevant to their lives. The day of God’s exaltation before the return of His Son the King will be terrifying days to the earth. Thus God is patient and able to wait and watch as He leads and moves history forward to the day in which He will shake everything that can be shaken to get the attention of the peoples.
What will Happen, What to do
The glorious nature of the book of Joel is that is maps out what is to come, yet does not leave us unable to respond. Joel tells us exactly how to respond to prepare for the glory and power of God that will crash in on the nations like a tidal wave. The manner in which God shakes and arrests the attention of the peoples in mercy before He does so to greater, and more destructive measure is unto that end: that, having our full attention before He gets everyone’s attention, we can start living in a radically different way then before.
This is the simple pattern of the book of Joel - and anyone can follow along. First, something bad has happened to you as a nation - and God was the One who sent it. Second, He did so because something far worse is coming to bear down on you, and He wants you to be spared. Third, you may be spared if you passionately obey the “survival strategy” the Lord gives you related to a new and different lifestyle. Fourth, and most spectacularly, giving yourself to this new lifestyle has glorious benefits by the grace of God. Fifth, more than surviving the shaking to come, you will see what the Lord will do in conjunction with the shaking to bring great blessing.
It is the book of Joel, along with many other passages that I will explore in the days to come, that give me hope for my nation in this season of time before the great shaking begins - that a season of restraint and revival can come, and that a nation in our day can turn back to God.
That, in my mind, is of the utmost relevance and importance to the people of God.
September 5th, 2008
I’m listening this morning to Mike’s sermon on spiritual identity and standing victorious as one loved by God. I am loving it; it is refueling the declaration of my heart to stand before Jesus with a heart great in love rather than a life great in accomplishment. The things that John the Apostle cared about versus that which I tend to care about form an instructive and provocative challenge and invitation to aggressively declare again my intention to pursue my exceedingly great reward in God. I want my standard of greatness to be found in the greatness of being loved by God. I want to be fascinated by the beauty of His heart towards me - completely captivated by the movements of His heart towards me.
As such, my prayer is to pursue the primary blessing of the emotions of God touching my heart and not get sidetracked or derailed by the secondary blessings of God that come with favor on my life. I want my heart and my life to be oriented rightly with a value system that exalts Jesus and His love for me as the highest achievement of my life and the reality that sets my course and my emotions. What do I delight in? The answer to that question is the key to my longevity as one who is pursuing a burning heart for God over many decades.
June 15th, 2008
My wife totally busted me a week ago.
She looked me square in the eye and said, “You told me that I could tell how your prayer room time is going by the volume of things you write on your website.” I gave her a sheepish smile and sighed. She was, of course, absolutely right. I’ve been backsliding and spending my internal “oil” of devotion to Jesus rather foolishly.
Losing My First Love
The past two months has been a whirlwind of preparation for Awakening Teen Camp (and hundreds of teenagers invading IHOP-KC for five weeks), traveling on weekends for ministry and teaching, building and establishing a city-wide High School Prayer Initiative, and the final press for the upcoming High School Conference: Fascinate 08, to be followed by next year by “He Is Mine 09″ and “In the Lions Den 2010″, culminating with “Headin’ For Heaven 2011″. Not really. We’re actually calling next year’s conference “Fascinate 09″, but that is besides the point here, isn’t it? Well, the diversion of the past few sentences is actually a great metaphor for the entirety of my point. It is astonishing how often really minor things become major diversions.
I want to be clear and precise: while I am thankful for the impact that our conferences have and the fruit they produce, and I am serious about seeing fiery, passionate, revival prayer meetings on High School campuses, I did not sign up for this life to run a conference ministry or be a conference speaker. While seeing prayer return to schools (and, hopefully, in a far more dynamic iteration) is a critical cause in this time and the Lord is opening up many doors, this can never be my primary pursuit. It’s an assignment. I take assignments from the Lord seriously. I will encounter the pleasure and grace of the Lord in significant ways related to the assignments He gives me, and I will find significant rewards related to faithfulness in the little in the age to come.
I can never lose sight of the fact, however, that these are “little things” that the Lord is inviting me into to give me a context for faithfulness. What often happens is that I (and all of humanity) lose perspective along the way. The “little assignments” from the Lord take on an importance that is far more connected to my ego than it is a divine assignment. That’s why I so rarely talk about what I am “doing” for the Lord on this space - these articles form the journal of my heart and a picture of my pursuit. I should probably be a bit more informative at times related to what I am doing and what is happening (and I try to be), if not for my own memory and record later on - but often it’s hard to write about those things. I try to write about the things of the scripture or of the Spirit of God that are moving my heart. That is why I made that observation to my wife (who then later made the observation back to me) - when my heart is connected, thoughts and ideas that interest me about God, life, the world we live in, the scriptures, and well, all manner of surprising things emerge from my mind and heart when I’m in the place of consistent prayer for long hours.
Remembering the First Things
Thus, this is my confession. I’ve been in the prayer room sporadically but intentionally not writing much over the past month or so attempting to regain a flowing, tender heart alive with ideas and zeal for the beauty of God. My heart has been alive to a measure with ideas and plans related to my assignments and ministry, which is fine. It just happens to be far short of the vision that I have established for my life and the pursuit of God that I have declared to be the primary focus of my heart. I do not want to see Jesus face to face and offer Him a vibrant ministry or a completed assignment. I want to see Jesus face to face and give Him a heart established in meekness and obedience fueled by extravagant devotion and affection. I love Jesus. As such, I am happy to serve Him - but at times the details of my service have become the main focus of my time and energy.
That’s why I am excited about an upcoming 40-day fast that Lou Engle has invited many to participate in. For me, it’s a gift from the Lord. In the current season that I am in, there is no good time to go on an extended fast. I had been trying to figure out my schedule and lay out the most “convenient” time to give myself to a long fast. Of course, when that is the mission statement, no such time will ever be found. I was growing discouraged, and I could feel the gnawing and growing desperation in my heart for a time to immerse myself in the scriptures with prayer and fasting. So when Lou proposed to a small group of us the series of fasts that he desired to call folks to, my heart lept. I can’t say I’ve been this enthusiastic about a long fast before.
I’m ready for my heart to be re-oriented again. I can already feel it happening as I say “yes” to God again related to a fresh pursuit of beauty and fascination. The little fasts I do weekly seem to have way more punch then they have over the past year. I have that feeling, emotionally, like I’m going to be seeing a close friend soon that I haven’t seen in a while. If Jesus were strolling down the rocky path on His way to see me, I think I would just start running out to see Him in my great impatience. This has been the consuming desire of my life: I want to see, know, and encounter Jesus. The frantic pace at which I run can often distract me from that end, but I am ready to set myself with particular zeal over forty days to re-establish my heart into it’s forgotten ache. I miss my Friend.
There are so many ways that I relate to Jesus in prayer, study, and proclamation. Jesus the King, Jesus the Judge, Jesus the Shepherd and Jesus the Leader are some of the most familiar ways, because of my end-times studies. I need some time to reconnect with Jesus the Bridegroom - I know that. Yet, the stirring of my heart is to go back to the first things of my walk with Jesus, the first way I learned to relate with Him. I want to find my Friend again, the One who has humbly served and loved me tenderly in my weakness and my lack. What a Friend I’ve had in Jesus! The One who helped a 12-year old new believer overcome major issues of fear and oppression. The One who patently met me in tears, songs, and sermons, at the altar at summer camp and in the trees of my back yard, walking and talking with Him alone.
Regaining the First Things
I want to take 40 days and rest in Him again. So often long fasts that I have done have been related to my calling, my destiny, or my desire to be obedient and faithfully fervent. This one has a different feel for me, one very similar to the second long fast I went on as a believer: the “Fifty Days of Extravagant Devotion” fast of October, 2002, that culminated with the twelve-night prophetic history. I was fairly new at IHOP-KC and the old trailer. I was in heaven. I had prayed (without knowing the IHOP-KC or the Mike Bickle existed) Psalm 27:4 hundreds of times as a young man. I wanted to dwell in the house of the Lord, but I didn’t know how to “dwell” in a church. Suddenly, I had no position, responsibilities, obligations, and lots and lots of time. I grabbed a dank, smelly pillow and curled up daily somewhere near Dana Candler on the far left wall by the drum room. Those were some of the greatest days of my life, and constituted the Lord’s divine “setting” of my heart and life into a 24/7 prayer reality.
I feel the same invitation tugging at my heart again. The “tagline” for this upcoming fast is a pursuit of the glory of the Lord, but I don’t have a typical Charismatic perspective regarding what that means. For me, the glory of the Lord is a personal, intimate thing. There is significant glory, power, and grace found in the place of intimate friendship with Jesus. I long to reach that place in the never-ending pursuit of my life to be consumed by Him. I long to know the beauty of His name. I long to see the beauty of His face. I crave understanding, revelation, and deeper insight into His nature and character. I want to be a true friend.
So it is that I find myself back in the same place that I started from in 2002 in the prayer room. I have much more history, understanding, experience, and, unfortunately, responsibility. I have a dull heart and a deep longing. I am much more alive yet much more aware of my poverty of spirit than I was six years ago. I am much more devoted and much less devoted. I am aware of the dangers of the illusion of fervency and the reputation of zeal. I am deeply dissatisfied and tenderly thankful. It is an interesting and unusual place to be. Most of all, however, I simply miss my Friend. I want to find Him again, and “reset” my heart and my life according to the first things that sparked my pursuit of God as a young boy and my life of prayer as a young man. I want to get “re-oriented” and established in a place of safety and purity of desire and pursuit. I want my ambitions checked, my ego subdued, and my passions focused.
I want God, and God alone.
June 11, 2008
June 11th, 2008
If anyone was qualified to write about the weakness of true discipleship, it was John Mark. As a young man, Mark received a firsthand view of the new movement that would eventually conquer the mighty Roman Empire itself. It is widely believed that it was Mark’s home that hosted the Passover meal in the upper room; it was this very upper room that would later house a night and day prayer meeting in which 120 disciples tarried until the breakthrough of Pentecost. Thus, Mark’s home would be the very one that would be a key meeting place for the early church during the imprisonment of Peter. Upon his miraculous release in Acts 12, it was the first place he went to before moving on to “another place”.
Thus, John Mark’s home was a key hub of early New Testament Christianity. He had the unique privilege of having met or interacted with, early on, every key leader of the Gospels and the book of Acts. It would soon be time for him to be summoned to the forefront of the leadership of the Holy Spirit, as it was time for the movement to begin to move westward, towards the Greek and Macedonian regions. The young eyewitness to history was about to become a part of the story in a dynamic way.
Weakness under pressure
It was John Mark’s cousin, Barnabas, who initially opened the door for him. Barnabas had been sent by the apostolic leadership of the Jerusalem Church a year earlier to Antioch to see what the Holy Spirit was doing in that city - for the reports of His activity there had traveled all the way to Jerusalem, 300 miles to the south. Thus Barnabas made the 10-15 day journey from Israel to what is now the southern tip of modern-day Turkey. Because of the astonishing revival that was taking place there, he knew that more help was needed to serve what the Lord was doing. Of course, it would be a month or more before more apostolic leadership could arrive from Jerusalem.
Thus Barnabas decided to make a shorter journey westward to Tarsus, where a young apostle named Saul had been sent by the brethren a few years earlier because of threats to his life. Barnabas himself had been a part of this process, introducing the new brother to the apostolic leadership after they had received Saul with suspicion. He became a dogged apologist for the faith, frustrating the Hellenists in Jerusalem to the point of attempted murder. Barnabas knew that this young lightning rod was only 100 miles west along the coast, so he made the ten-day trip to Tarsus and back to mobilize Saul for the revival in Antioch. After a year of successful ministry there, the two of them were sent back to Jerusalem with both prophetic information and provision for a coming famine that would strike the Roman Empire.
When the time came for the two of them to return to Antioch, they invited John Mark to go with them. Not long after they arrived, a prayer and fasting meeting preceded the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit to launch a team led by Saul and Barnabas to Cyprus and Southern Turkey, just northwest of Tarsus. Thus John Mark was appointed as their assistant. John Mark, however, had already established a history of fear and trembling under pressure. Most scholars believe that Mark was referring to himself as the naked young man that fled from the Garden of Gethsemane, leaving his expensive linen cloak behind in his terror when young men from the contingent there to arrest Jesus laid hold of him.
Thus Mark did not respond well when the missions endeavor began to move to new frontiers. There were minor challenges in Cyprus, including a “certain sorcerer” named Elymas, who opposed them vehemently. Once they reached the shores of southern Turkey and the port of Perga, the young assistant left the team and returned home, to Jerusalem. This failure to see the journey to the end would haunt Mark a few years later, when Paul and Barnabas set themselves to return to the original cities where they planted churches to strengthen and encourage them. The decision of the Jerusalem Council had been established, and after a season in Antioch it was time to establish the decree among the brethren who had been troubled by Paul’s enemies. There was one problem: Barnabas was determined to take John Mark with them again.
Thus began a conflict that became a contention “so sharp” that they parted ways with one another. Paul chose Silas as his ministry partner - probably having young Timothy in the back of his mind, knowing that he was returning to Derbe and Lystra. Barnabas, of course, took Mark and returned to the place of his previous failure: Cyprus. Whatever Barnabas did on that journey, the results were remarkable.
Finding Simon Peter
John Mark left for Cyprus not long after the Jerusalem Council, which took place sometime near 50-51 AD. What was as remarkable, if not more so, than Barnabas severing ties with Paul, was that Mark signed up again and faced the shame and the sting of his earlier failure. He wanted to press on - though he had departed early from the first missionary journey, he had not quit in relationship to his calling. Thus his next assignment from the Lord fit perfectly.
No one is sure how long Mark traveled with Barnabas, but what is clear is that, sometime over the next decade he ended up joining Simon Peter and becoming his assistant. Theirs was an ironically glorious partnership - two godly men who had struggled with failure and flight under pressure - both knowing firsthand the weakness of discipleship. It is beautiful to me that they served the Lord together. This quote from Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis in the early 2nd Century, describes their ministry together, most likely in Rome:
“And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.”
I appreciate Edgar Goodspeed’s interpretation of this fragment of information:
“…it seems to bring up the picture of Peter, an old man, visiting Rome in his later years and there preaching in his native Aramaic to the Greek congregation. They must have listened with rapt attention as the old apostle told of his walks and talks with Jesus in Galilee, and of the swift tragedy of betrayal and crucifixion which had followed in Judea. Then suddenly Peter is himself snatched from them and suffers martyrdom. It was one of the most famous of all martyrdoms; St Peter’s marks the supposed spot on the Vatican Hill, and legends like the stirring “Domine, quo vadis?” have gathered about it. It must have filled the Roman congregation with grief. No more would they hear the old man uttering his inimitable reminiscences of Jesus, for with his death a priceless treasure of such memories perished from the earth.
But not entirely. For as the old man had preached, there had stood beside him, of course, now one, now another of them, who could understand his Aramaic speech and immediately translate it into Greek for his Roman hearers. He had used these memories only to illustrate and strengthen his own preaching, and from hearing some incidents over and over a number of times and putting them into Greek, a capable and alert interpreter would come to have a very definite memory of their wording. Out of such memories, Papias means to say, one of these interpreters named Mark composed his gospel.”
What a glorious and awesome ministry John Mark had stumbled into. Peter called Mark “his son” (1 Pet. 5:13). He went from weakness and failure to a key position in the early church - interpreting the stories and sayings about Jesus. Those very accounts and sermons would go on to constitute his gospel, the first such work in church history. It must have seemed to be an unbelievable, yet happy turn of events for the Apostle Paul - who would end his life counting John Mark as one of his most faithful and loyal friends. This would be true for Paul even when all others had fled and abandoned him (2 Tim. 4:11). Much like Simon becoming “the Rock” that Jesus could build upon, a steady and grounded lover of God, John Mark would end his days as one of the most faithful, trustworthy, and bold witnesses for the gospel in all the world.
One of the glorious realities of the weakness of discipleship is that His power is made perfect in the process, and the end of the story is all the more stunning as a result.
April 29th, 2008
This article that I wrote a while ago was posted on the Onething site yesterday. It articulates the cry of my heart well - it’s from the “Sermon on the Mount” series that I began a while back, focusing on the Beatitudes.
Blessings to you today as you pursue His heart,
April 29th, 2008
The easiest way to summarize the first part of this series, and the great problem of true discipleship, is found in Job 36:
“Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him;Nor can the number of His years be discovered.”
Again, two key points from part one: when I speak about the “weakness of discipleship”, I am speaking about the difficulty of a noble pursuit, not of the practice of discipleship itself. Secondly, I define “true discipleship” as the earnest and sincere desire to become like our Master in values, lifestyle, mindset, and desire - amongst many other categories that could be listed here. It is the very definition of discipleship that exposes the grand impossibility of our common goal, that we want to be, in essence, “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect”, as Jesus mandated in Matthew 5:48. As such, of course, I believe that we will be perfected by the perfect work of the grace of God - and that this inward transformation is one that is God-initiated and God-directed. Righteousness, in other words, is first and foremost imputed before it is imparted.
Yet, it is imparted. The manner in which I express in humble obedience the righteousness of God imparted into my thinking, my understanding, and my responses in tenderness to His value system is the manner in which I “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” related to that which God is doing within me by grace to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). In other words, the work of grace through the ministry of the Holy Spirit first gives me power on the inside to want (or “will”) to do other than that which I had been doing. This is called “repentance“. Then, there is power from the Spirit of God yet again to do those things that please God rather than please my carnal flesh. Then, as I continue to walk in agreement with God related to His value system, the Holy Spirit operates within me to transform my desires - over time the things I loved I now either despise (sin) or, in process, simply feel ambivalent towards (weights that entangle). Things I used to dread, like prayer and the bible, I now love. Fasting, serving, sharing the gospel - all of these things are examples of desires that were imparted and cultivated in the place of prayer and fellowship with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14).
The weakness of process
The problem lies in the time that it takes between our immaturity, brokenness, and weakness that marks the beginning of our journey and the power of God made perfect in our weakness as we persevere. Many believers long for (depending on their spiritual culture) that one “altar call” to be the moment in which God breaks into their lives dramatically and delivers them from all of their weakness. For others, it could be that one great counseling session, or that one great book that suddenly transforms their lives. This moment will never come. Christianity is not, and has never been, a glorified self-help program. Though the appeal for some is the invitation to go from weakness to strength, or messy to capable, gifted, awesome, and confident, Christianity is a far different invitation to the lost and broken.
In other words, the invitation of the gospel is a foolish one (1 Cor. 1:18): to gain everything later, one must lose everything now. We have the opportunity to go from broken, sinful weakness to voluntary weakness through the cross. We journey from insecurity and frustration with our faults and flaws to joy, peace, stability, and confidence not because we are healed of our flaws and made into an “uber-human” who no longer fails or stumbles in thought, word, and deed. We grow in confidence and joy when the reality of God’s great love and enjoyment of us in our weakness strikes our heart. We become emotionally stable, tender in heart, alive on the inside and filled with peace when we learn that we are loved and a lover of God from the first moment we said “yes” to His invitation to follow Him. If we do nothing else in life but rest in that knowledge, we have won.
Yet the invitation to become a true disciple involves taking that biblical insight and allowing it to empower confidence to follow Him all the days of our lives. The revelation of the tender love of Christ, the “love of God and the patience of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:5), gives us courage to pray always and not lose heart (Lk. 18:1) when we stumble in the journey. We can sign up for the weakness of the process of transformation on the inside that works its way to our outward man if we believe that He is tender and patient with us as we grope towards Him as young, new, weak disciples. In our weakness, we don’t draw strength from being a little more capable than the brother next to us. We draw strength from His fiery, committed, covenantal love that is willing to see the process through to the end, faithful to complete the good work that was begun within the very moment we said “yes” to Him.
Broken weakness to voluntary weakness
Once we embark on the journey of true discipleship, we give ourselves to a journey from initial immaturity, weakness, brokenness, foolishness, carnal thinking, darkened understanding, areas of habitual compromise, and unrestrained emotion (and emoting) to later maturity and temperance, or restraint in all things. In other words, we go from an ungoverned and unrestrained lifestyle (tempered by laws and social norms) to a self-governed and voluntarily restrained lifestyle (tempered by authentic love).
It is, of course, a very long process of training, learning, failing, and repenting. It is a process that takes our whole life (and more) to fully grasp and walk out. Jesus expressed this perfectly. True discipleship is the desire to do the same. Weak discipleship is the reality of our inability to do the same, or even grasp why we should at times. After all, who really signs up for “Christianity” under the banner of leaving, denying, forsaking, restraining, and fighting a war against the sinful passions of the heart every moment of every day of our lives until we see Him face to face? Who desires to say no to the things of this world that feed our brokenness, weakness, and carnality to walk out a lifestyle of voluntary weakness that includes praying (saying things to God that He tells us to tell Him), fasting (not eating, getting physically weak, tired, and grumpy), serving (doing things for others that you would rather they do for you), giving (possibly making a ton of money that you never spend on your pleasures, but rather give away like mad), and forgiving (laying down your personal rights when mistreated and actually hoping, at times, justice isn’t done to right a wrong done to you).
It takes great strength to choose weakness. It is one of the most difficult journeys anyone could choose to begin. It is one of the costliest decisions one could make. It is the way of the Master, the brilliance of His leadership - He made the bar high and the cost great to sift and sort through the many reasons and hidden ambitions of those who would say “yes” to an invitation to authentic, weak discipleship. Saying “yes” was meant to be hard to do. Staying in that continual “yes” was meant to be harder still. Yet, what options do we have? Saying “no” is ultimately much more difficult a journey to take, and the cost of refusal even greater. For in the grace of God, His commandments are not burdensome, but they are life to the soul and blessing to the faithful.
This is what twelve young adults found out for themselves, nearly 2000 years ago.
Next: We actually talk about the Gospel of Mark.
April 15th, 2008
In beginning this latest series, I want to make clear that the “weakness” of discipleship does not refer to the practice itself as a weak endeavor. Rather, I am referring to Mark’s examination of the messiness of true discipleship through the lens of the weakest men to ever say “yes” to Jesus. The subject of weakness as a whole has captivated me over the past month, for reasons that will hopefully unfold with clarity as I return to a regular writing, study, and prayer schedule. So, when I speak here of the weakness of discipleship I am speaking of personal weakness and the pursuit of Christlike righteousness, holiness, and perspective.
Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown…
To say “yes” to follow and become like someone else is an intensely frustrating undertaking. An elite athlete is still subject to the system of the coach, and must submit his personal preferences to the will of his leader. He or she must subdue and restrain their incredible gifts and talents in a manner that allows for the rest of the “symphony” to function in tight harmony. These realities of team life separate championship teams from merely successful ones. Thus a once in a generation athlete like Michael Vick was forced to labor in vain while another once in a generation star such as Michael Jordan won multiple championships. The former had incredible gifts but ended the careers of multiple coaches, all of whom failed to convince Vick that the team’s success meant personal restraint. For the “running quarterback” to win, he simply had to choose not to run.
Such a weekly act of discipline proved to great a task - in the end, for Vick, the ego proved too great an obstacle. In Jordan’s case, the ego was a far greater force - rarely has any sport seen arrogance, anger, and inflated ego, despite what the sneaker commercials presented. Yet, in the end, he was confronted with the weakness of subduing his ego and restraining his abilities to allow his teammates to flow and participate with one plan that flowed from head coach rather than his ability to get past the man defending him. What Jordan found was that, when his teammates were uninvolved and outside of the natural “flow” of movement that constitutes a healthy offensive strategy, there was always another defender to have to beat. One on five is always impossible, as Jordan found out dramatically in 1986 when he scored 63 points against the Boston Celtics, one of the greatest teams of that era, and still lost the playoff series.
This would be Jordan’s lot for the next five years - singular greatness overshadowed by devastating playoff losses. The accusations began to multiply and the pressure began to increase - all of which were great blows to his ego. He finally came to understand that true greatness was not knit to individual brilliance but team success. Thus, he bought into a larger plan, or system of play, which was predicated more on passing and movement. This system required that someone else initiate the plan; at times, it moved the ball through the center (who, on those teams, was often the most unskilled player on the team), and it reacted to the defense rather than barreling into the teeth of five opposing elite athletes.
This, of course, was hard for Jordan to buy into. Why? His greatest issue, other than trusting his head coach, was trusting his teammates to make sound decisions. Early on in his career, they had not. Yet, his own efforts were proving fruitless and thus he was left with little choice in the matter. To win, he had to restrain himself and allow his teammates to assert themselves. The key to Jordan’s success was not that he learned to do this 100% of the time, rather, for him success was found in adhering to this principle 75% of the time. As a once-in-a-lifetime superstar, he felt he had earned the ability to deviate from the plan and assert himself in certain key moments. Still, for Jordan, restraining himself for to allow for authentic team dynamics at that level proved enough to win six championships over the next ten years.
As Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 9:25-28: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate (restrained) in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
Infinite Power Tempered Every Day For 33 Years
The ultimate display of restraint, however, was found in the earthly ministry of Jesus 2000 years ago. What Jesus is asking of us, He modeled to perfection: He demonstrated the wisdom of power restrained, or “meekness”. While the ego and arrogance of man makes true meekness seemingly impossible, the desire of Jesus to make Himself “of no reputation” made meekness attractive. It is stunning to imagine that Jesus can make something that men find weak, foolish, and contemptible attractive as we begin to walk according to the Spirit rather than our own understanding and sensibilities.
For even what Michael Jordan did in restraining his own power was for his own sake - as is the case with every athlete who competes for a prize apart from God. Yet Jesus did it for no glory or reward of His own, but for the glory of His Father. He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death - even the death of the cross. He humbled Himself, in other words, to the point of personal humiliation for the sake of the exaltation of His Father and the interests of the saints. Who would willingly and wholeheartedly suffer great anguish and humiliation for the sake of others, with no thought of personal gain? I want to pour out my life while maintaining as much personal dignity as possible. Jesus, on the other hand, made Himself of no reputation 33 years before the cross!
In other words, how humiliating could the cross have been in comparison to “taking on the form of a bondservant” and “coming in the likeness of men”? After all, He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. What did this mean? It meant, for 33 years, Jesus joyfully stuck with the plan of His “coach” rather than baptizing the earth with fire according to His “distress” (Lk. 12:50). It meant, for 33 years, the greatest revivalist in history stayed mostly hidden, and, during His 3 1/2 public ministry years, mostly in the outskirts of His own nation. Imagine a modern revivalist operating in signs and wonders conducting their ministry primarily in North Dakota and Montana rather than the cities and the population centers?
It meant, for 33 years, always having the right answer in every conversation but mostly letting everyone else speak. It meant allowing His earthly father to teach Him carpentry, when His resume included “stretching out the heavens like a curtain” and “laying the beams of His upper chambers in the waters” (Ps. 104:2-3). It meant that most of the things He preached and taught were misunderstood and misinterpreted (Isa. 6:9-10) - even by those most loyal to Him (Mk. 6:52). Can you imagine knowing that almost every sermon you would ever preach would not be heard? As a preacher, I naturally gauge my success by the response of the congregation - Jesus was faced with a people that were continually astonished and amazed by His teaching, yet astonishingly unresponsive and dull. John the Baptist had the same problem (Matt. 11:17).
The dilemma of discipleship
How can I be like One who was so given with understanding that is so alien to my own? Why did Jesus do the things that He did - what was He thinking? How can my thinking be formed in a similar manner?
Thus, the great problem of my life can be summed up like this: true discipleship means that I have to follow in the footsteps of the One I love and desire to obey. It means that I have to buy into His mindset, and a never-ending series of “whys” behind His “what”. I have to love what He loves, and hate what He hates. The weakness of my pursuit, of course, is this:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,So are My ways higher than your ways,And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
- Isaiah 55:8-9
It is, on the surface, an impossible proposition - a preposterous invitation. We have been invited to embark on a journey that begins with our sincere “yes” and ends with a complete transformation that helps us reason and choose in like manner to the One who is discipling us. The Master has invited us to follow Him, and thus we are to deny ourselves and take up a cross in the great exchange. The question has been asked - what would a man give in exchange for his soul? The answer is found in the life of the Man who gave up everything to gain everything. To follow, I also must be crucified in Christ. While this sounds noble, I must confess that the outworking of this in my own life is so unglamourously awkward and foolish that it’s a wonder I am still saved.
Thankfully, nowhere is this dilemma more pronounced and precisely expressed than in the Gospel of Mark. The weakness of trying to emulate transcendent perfection, an other-worldly mindset and value system that my own sensibilities disagree with a good percentage of the time, is best examined through the lens of a group of young guys who were just like me. They were sincere, zealous, and passionate. They were also weak, foolish, ambitious, selfish, and often filled with unbelief. This is the portrait that Mark paints for us. The impossibility of what we are trying to do is often humorously described by Mark, who desired to give simple men like me hope that with God, all things are possible.
April 14th, 2008
Now to the part of the original question that was most assuredly the actual “meat” of the issue that was raised. If you haven’t read the first parts of the series, you may want to do so before proceeding. This subject, however, diverges in many ways from the crux of the issue as extravagant devotion translates into extravagant lifestyles, as I said in my last post on the subject. Mary of Bethany’s act of devotion was not the fruit of a random burst of emotion or wave of appreciation for Jesus. It was the fruit of years of attentiveness and connection to where the story of His life was headed. Her extravagant devotion in the moment, in other words, was the fruit of years of devotion and extravagance that culminated in the “memorial” that would forever honor her choices and her love.
Thus the issue of the day - how does one navigate extravagant expressions of devotion in the worship service?
Man looks at the outward appearance
It is noteworthy related to my paradigm of extravagance that I consider extravagant devotion to Jesus “showing up” and “not quitting”. Opening up one’s mouth to sing or pray most of the time counts, too, I would think. In other words, one cannot measure extravagance by outward appearance. This is how man judges, and God made clear to Samuel the prophet that the inward reality, or the heart of a man, is the far better measuring rod in the manner that we define extravagance.
Thus I am rarely moved by the outward, momentary burst of devotion unless it comes in context to the life of one who has a long history of perseverance and consistency in devotion to Jesus. The one who shouts and dances in the front for a few prayer meetings is neat, but I tend to watch for consistency. In other words, if “that guy” is still dancing ten years later with a heart filled with true joy, (meaning, “that guy” is truly joyful in other contexts of ministry and relationship) then I will be impressed.
This is a critical paradigm for me because of the manner in which some in the modern Charismatic stream today consider boisterous demonstrations of worship and praise the mark of a healthy meeting. If the congregation is subdued, some are troubled. Where is the noise, the activity, and the shouting? While I appreciate those things, and by no means have a heart to shut any of those expressions out of the worship mix (in fact, dancing, shouting, and clapping were accepted and encouraged parts of the Old Testament worship service), I can’t use those measures to gauge the “success” or effectiveness of a meeting. I have a heart to produce something different in someone’s life than outward exuberance.
Pray and do not lose heart
Luke 18:1, in my thinking, establishes the context for a life of faith: “men ought to pray always and not lose heart”. I define “always” in the same manner as Paul the Apostle: “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). As E.M. Bounds once said, the man who prays stops sinning while the man who sins stops praying. Thus my goal is to walk in continual fellowship and communion with Christ by walking in the Spirit - if I do so Paul assures me that I will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. So many of the apostolic prayers of the New Testament are prayers for perseverance, endurance, and strength or grace from God for the journey we are on. The pursuit of righteousness fully expressed in my life demands an extravagant pursuit of God in the place of prayer and worship.
Thus extravagance in worship can be defined in a manner that transcends personality. The introvert and the extrovert, the right-brained and the left-brained, the creative and the logical can all enter in with equal footing into a pursuit of holiness and wholeheartedness that flows from the grace and power of God and not our will or personal exuberance. The definition shifts from hand-clapping, flag waving, shouting and tears to consistency, faith, hope, and love flowing from the deepest parts in a manner that translates into long-term obedience to the commands of God. Obedience is extravagant.
I don’t mind flag waving, by the way
I recognize flag-waving, shofar-blowing, shouting and clapping worship services for what they are: a place for like-minded personalities to gather and express their excitement for Jesus in a manner that fits their internal makeup. This truth, even more than doctrinal differences, tends to define how, why, and where people gather to worship together in different spiritual cultures. So much of our Christianity is cultural - more than we realize. Knit to our cultural expressions of love and devotion to Jesus is our natural propensity to believe that the way we do it, who we do it with, and where we do it is the best and most superior place for anyone to be.
Problems often arise in the collision of two or more spiritual cultures. Spiritual pride, religious opinions, or the error of “self-preference” can emerge by which we elevate in an unbiblical way cultural elements of worship. It is not helpful to magnify our expression of worship as the superior expression. Often there are no biblical restrictions to these expressions - yet neither is there a biblical mandate that all must worship in the manner they imagine is best. What is the answer? This is where humility, love, service, and 1 Corinthians 12-14 must come into the picture. Sometimes people who are excessively exuberant in a worship service express themselves in this manner because of the above factors working within their understanding.
Sometimes people don’t really think about what they are doing, and default to what they have always done. Rarely does someone from an exuberant worship culture lay aside their personal preference to consider the people around them. Yet it is equally as rare that someone responds negatively when asked to do so. I find that people do what they have always done until someone invites them into a better option, or as Paul put it, “a more excellent way”. This more excellent way (1 Cor. 13), in context, was about love for the corporate body in a worship gathering - and not just love in the general sense. Paul was using the biblical definition of love to establish a worship culture that majored on considering the big picture and the heart of God rather than exalting individual rights and personal preference.
A paradigm of serving rather than being served
This is why one would be hard-pressed to find flag-waving, shofar-blowing, distracting behavior in our prayer room on a day-to-day basis. In the collision of spiritual cultures, we must labor to find the expression of worship that is most conducive to long-term perseverance in prayer. The prayer meetings, in their primary function, exist to minister to the Lord. The worship aspect of the prayer meeting exists to enable the people to persevere longer in the place of prayer together. It’s not really mystical - it’s very practical in nature. It is important to keep in mind that components of the prayer meeting and the worship service are built to serve the people by facilitating “enjoyable prayer”. They are not a platform for anyone to come in and become the center of the meeting. God must be the central figure that dominates the meetings, not the individual.
In one sense, the Corinthian church was formed as much by their Greek culture as it was by biblical principles. Paul really didn’t have this kind of problem in the more Hebraic (and thus holistic and communal by nature) churches he planted. It wasn’t until he came to Greece via Macedonia (after being driven out of Berea) that he encountered the individualistic mindset that characterized the Corinthian church. It was every man (and woman) for himself, at times under the guise of the “unction of the Spirit”. Thus Paul had to introduce or reinforce biblical concepts that transcended their cultural understanding and proclivities; particularly in the manner in which they were disrupting corporate life.
In other words, the Corinthians had to learn to serve one another in love rather than looking to be served in the corporate meeting. Those that hammer the Charismatic church on the 1 Cor. 14:40 verse (”Let all things be done decently and in order.”) would do well to keep in mind that it took Paul three chapters and 84 verses to make his point related to sowing values patiently before stating his conclusion. Secondly, they would do well to keep in mind just how “out of order” these Corinthians were in the manner in which they disrupted the meetings self-centeredly without love. With that in mind, Paul was brought correction where needed (”the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets”, or, you really can govern the prophetic “unction” in a loving way that serves the big picture). He also brought vision where needed.
Where did it land? In my opinion, Paul was not against exuberant expressions of devotion in a worship gathering; he was looking to curtail unhelpful or uneccesarily distracting expressions of devotion. This is what we do at IHOP-KC, particularly related to our prayer meetings. If someone is behaving or worshiping in a manner that is making it difficult for the people around them to engage or participate in the prayer meeting, we will ask them (kindly) to move to the back of the room if they wish to continue. We invite them to consider the people around them in love related to the manner in which they are worshiping Jesus. Often, this is enough to help someone walk in a more excellent manner related to the people that populate our prayer meetings from all over the world - not just their corner of it.
I find that most are very sincere and very devoted to serving - and they truly had no idea that they were acting in a manner that was unhelpful to others. A few, who were looking for attention, often stop altogether when asked to go to the back (where no one is looking at them). Even fewer choose to buck against the system and press their rights - due to the manner in which they were looking to make a statement or a point in the first place. We kindly ask these folks to leave.
All are called to the place of extravagant pursuit of Jesus, in prayer, worship, and lifestyle. For this season of church history, there is no mandate that we do so in the same room.
March 21st, 2008
It’s been a while since I set out to answer Colin’s two-part question on extravagance. The first part of his question focused on the historical context - how should have the disciples responded to Mary’s act of devotion? We discussed that last week here. His second was a more personal one - after being slightly autobiographical in the original post on extravagance, how do I currently navigate extravagant expressions of devotion to Jesus?
There are a few “layers” to the question that must be considered to answer the question adequately. I’ll try to hit them one at a time, hopefully in something approaching logical sequence. I’ll hit one today, and another “tomorrow”. I’m hoping that I can follow up with another post on the “real tomorrow”, but I’ll leave room for life to intervene. The subjects related to the answer to the question include “extravagant lifestyles”, “extravagant worship”, and “extravagantly unhelpful expressions of devotion”. In other words, some expressions of extravagance are helpful and provoking in nature, while others are sincere but unhelpful. I’ll start with what I consider to be helpful:
1. Extravagant Lifestyles
It would be helpful to assume, for the sake of this part of the discussion, that “extravagant lifestyles” equals “extravagantly biblical” and “extravagantly devoted” related to passion for Jesus. “Extravagantly off-kilter” I’ll address in a moment. I hit this category first because I wanted to progress from easy to delicate in the manner in which I deal with the extravagant devotion of others. The natural picture that enters the mind when someone introduces the subject of extravagance knit to the Mary of Bethany account is a picture of a believer in the place of heartfelt worship expressing deep devotion. I am more interested, in general, with exploring the subject of extravagant devotion as it translates into a lifestyle of “spiritual violence” and the internal fight to love Jesus with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
As such, when I meet someone who is unusually dedicated, someone who would be labeled as “radical” in the manner in which they live their Christianity before God, I sometimes find myself tested and provoked in the exchange. When I think back to the original post on the subject, I thought of fervency and zeal in this regard s much as I thought about a worship setting. In other words, the guy that always wants to call a fast or the other guy that always wants to have the deep repentance time. I don’t always want to fast, nor do I always feel like repenting on someone else’s terms. In the past I have found myself flirting with a cynical heart or rolling my eyes when the usual suspects called for a group expression of something radical.
In that regard, I have had to grow in my confidence in my identity in Christ as one whom He loves and enjoys. As my heart became knit to Jesus in the place of prayer, and I became a bit more settled in His heart for me, I became more comfortable with the journey that I was on. I realized that part of my cynicism or frustration stemmed from a subtle defensiveness and unsettledness with my own standing before the Lord. Growing in becoming “rooted and grounded” in love (Eph. 3:16-19) and settled on the inside with true Spirit-filled confidence helped me enjoy others (and even jump in and participate at times) in the moments of their expressed zeal rather than feeling threatened by them.
Secondly, I began to enjoy the provocation that followed the stories and testimonies of my comrades and friends as they made extravagant choices to live as consistently with the word as they were able to, by grace. Their choices, flowing from the place of conviction and creativity, have inspired and helped me over the years as I have been provoked to make similar choices and resolutions before the Lord. The common values and vision have served my own desire to walk out extravagant devotion in a manner that cultivates a heart alive and connected to the Holy Spirit with true vibrancy. I have greatly appreciated the comrades that I have the privilege of walking alongside on a daily basis, and I am sure that they have no idea how helpful each of them have been in my journey towards the “fullness of God” that Paul spoke of (Eph. 3:19).
How do I react to extravagance in worship?
March 6th, 2008