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Series Theme: Characteristics of a Vibrant Church

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Vision for the Characteristics of a Vibrant ChurcH

PART FOUR: Church Life in the Spirit

PART FOUR A: Theory - Our Struggles with Unbelief 

 

Content of this Part

    

4A.1 Re-establishing the Vision

4A.2 Eyeballing the Unbelief of "not for today"

4A.3 Struggling for Belief

4A.4 And So?

4A.5 To Conclude - No Need?

     

We have divided this Part into two:

  Part 4A – Our Struggles with Unbelief
  Part 4B – Practicalities of Leading the Church to be Spirit Led, Spirit Equipped

 

This is Part 4A

 

 

 

4A.1 Re-establishing the Vision

    

I think, as a starting point, we need to reiterate a description I had in the Introduction:

 

A spiritually rich church is one that is alive with the presence and power and activity of God by His Spirit, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ', bringing constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life.

    

Also, speaking of the characteristics of a ‘vibrant church' I suggested that such a church works vigorously to open the door to the Holy Spirit and lead all its members into eventually being filled with the Spirit and gifted for service by the Spirit. I didn't write that description above for study purposes but it may be worthwhile clarifying it:

 

A spiritually rich church
(Description)

•  one that is alive with the presence and power and activity of God by His Spirit,
•  where life and vitality,
•  where fellowship and friendship,
•  where power and authority,

Visible Outworking)

•  pour through the congregation, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ',
•  bringing constant life transformations,
•  with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life.

 

The first and last items I have put in ‘bold' are the cause and effect but in between are the daily & weekly life experiences of the people who form the church.

 

Reality & the Defensive Stance

 

I was recently meditating on, “the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors.” (Josh 21:43) and wrote, ‘The fact that Israel had not cleared out every single Canaanite from the Land did not mean that the plan of God was thwarted, it just meant (as we've seen again and again) He realistically works with the imperfect or incomplete.'

 

I won't give you the rest of the meditation but the point is that as we consider these various ingredients of a vibrant church, we can look at the good that we have in our own church and settle for that. It may not be as glorious as the descriptions above, but it is certainly better than ‘the world'.

 

The truth is that God does bless the imperfect and so there are, I suspect, many good churches that have known His blessing but they run shy of anything to do with ‘the Spirit'. I have been there! (Watch the signs, for example, the church that shies away from the Alpha Course with its strong elements of faith and the Holy Spirit, and opt for some less demanding course).

And it would be unfair to say that in such churches the Spirit is absent. There are the occasional conversions, worship can be good and the preaching can be good, and hearts may be full of the Lord – to an extent. And that is the crux – ‘to an extent'. We can go so far but anything that has a supernatural or ‘out-of-my-control' about it, we view with fear and suspicion.

   

  

4A.2 Eyeballing the Unbelief of, “not for today”

  

I've never done this before but in the light of where the Lord seems to be moving today, the state of the world today and the inadequate impact of the Church on the world today, we need to call out unbelief for what it is – and we all in the Western world suffer from it in some degree or other I believe.

Whether we belong to that school of thought or we simply use it for an excuse for my own lack of faith, one form that unbelief takes is the phrase “not for today”. For personal use we adapt it to, “not for this moment obviously!” The school of thought that says that, says that since the canon of scripture was completed there is no need for the things I am covering in this Part. Well let's check that out in the very contentious case of ‘healing' or to be more precise, praying for healing.

 

The Example of Healing

 

I did a little exercise recently for our Prayer Workshop, so consider the following:

 

Reasons why we might think about learning to pray for healing:

•  It was what Jesus did to express the kingdom (Mt 4:23)

•  It was what Jesus did whenever sick people came to him (Mt 4:24)

•  It was what, therefore, he said we (any believer) would do (Jn 14:10)

•  It was what, therefore, he commanded his disciples to do (Mt 10:8)

•  It was what, therefore, he commanded us to do (Mt 28:20)

•  It was what James said elders should do (Jas 5:14,15)

 

To these reasons I might add a seventh: There are many sick people in the church today (and, we might add, they are mostly not getting healed by medicines).

 

The first five things above are in the canon of Scripture as facts of Jesus' ministry, facts of what he called his apostles (sent ones) to do – and they did! – facts of ‘the Great Commission' of Mt 28, which the followers of ‘not now' are very happy with as long as it is only about sharing about salvation but nothing more.

 

Do we write off James' instruction as having a time element? It was a general principle and instruction of how things should be in the church but in most churches disobedience means it is ignored.

 

An intellectual defense that is sometimes proposed is that in that day they didn't have the medicines, surgery and health services that we have so the only way for healing was by the Spirit. Well, I could go along with that – for I do believe God has provided wisdom for our health services – except for one thing: again and again throughout history (right up to this present day) there are instances of God coming in mighty healing power through His church.

 

I know of one Christian group who lived about a hundred years ago in my area of the country, to whom He gave such a measure of healing that the story runs that the local milkman, I believe it was, in the small town where I live, a believer with the gift of healing, was constantly stopped on his rounds to pray for people - who were healed! This was common around their churches in the south-east of England for a number of decades.

I further know, from those who visited, of an amazing healing ministry in one of the countries of Africa where literally hundreds upon hundreds were healed of all sorts of major illnesses. Now these may be exceptions but they do occur and they can overshadow the simple fact that when people are prayed for, for healing, there is often healing. There are notable Christians of the last century who have clearly been used by God powerfully with the gifts of healing. You have to be willfully blind to ignore these things.

 

 

4A.3 Struggling for Belief

 

The Problems

 

I use healing as this example of faith and the Spirit because I think it is such an obvious example. However I would be less than honest if I did not say I struggle with the whole subject for healing for the following reasons:

•  I cannot heal anyone and I cannot make God heal anyone.

•  There is prayer for healing and sometimes God heals and sometimes He doesn't.

•  There are many examples of great believers living with infirmity, disability or ongoing sickness and despite being full of faith and despite having lives that most of us would think would be seriously improved by being healed, they are not healed.

•  Unsuccessfully praying for healing raises ongoing pastoral concerns for the believer who can then be vulnerable to the whispers of the enemy – “see you must have ongoing sin that stops you being healed” – which is probably completely untrue.

 

And Yet

 

BUT the facts remain

•  the Biblical teaching is clear

•  the examples in history, distant and recent, are many

•  I have been healed (– but still look for grace for handling an ongoing need)

•  I have prayed for people to be healed and they have – sometimes. But they were!

•  I have those close to me who often pray for others to be healed and they are.

  

Reasons for our Unbelief

 

So why do Christians struggle with ‘the Holy Spirit' or, as in my example, specifically praying for healing? What is it that we shy away from? The following are a couple of reasons I have observed, either in myself or in others:

 

1. Fear

- fear of not being in control is very real.

- fear that 'God might not turn up' is very real.

- fear of the unknown is also very real.
- fear of not being able to do what is expected is a fourth real concern.
- what might God ask me to say or do if I go down this path?

   

2. Integrity

- Christians are supposed to be people of integrity but questions arise

- over people – some of these Pentecostals or Charismatics are freaky

- over practices – some of the things they believe or do are freaky

- over outcomes – claims can be made that are not substantiated, esp. in healing.

   

May I make a couple of suggestions by way of preliminary answers.

    

First, the presence of fear is because of the absence of love. (1 Jn 4:18) I really do believe that there is a dearth in much of the Christian Church of the truth that each one of us is truly loved by God just as we are and loved so much that He has something better for us than we have at the present. We affirm the words of Jn 3:16 but for the reasons given in the previous Part, where we considered relationships within Church, we nevertheless feel insecure and unsure, if not of God, of the people (?leaders) around us who are just looking for us to get it wrong. In Part 4B I will seek to bring reassurances of how we may move together as church to overcome those fears.

 

Second, in the matter of Integrity, I do agree that there are likely to be imperfect people (which whom you should feel very much at home), imperfect practices (which in Part 4B we will try to counter) and inadequate outcomes (which are just the result of being in a fallen world and the previous two.)

 

Hopefully in Part 4B we will be able to pour some oil on troubled waters, if possible with a modicum of humility, gentleness and truth.

   

   

4A.4 And So?

 

SO, where does that leave me and the many of us who think praying for healing or maybe even stepping out on the Lake of Life in the Spirit is a bridge too far? Just recently I wrote a meditation on following Jesus which I think might be pertinent here, and maybe helpful for some, even before we go to the next half-Part. Here it is an imaginary conversation:

 

“Letting Jesus go ahead sounds the most simple description of being a disciple. I mean, it was the only thing the first disciples were called to do – follow me. Where Lord? That doesn't matter, I'll show you, just follow me. And he went ahead. Lord, what do you call us to do? That doesn't matter, you'll know when the time comes and you find someone or some situation before you that I've led you to, just follow me and watch me, sense what I want to do – through you – and do it. It will be that simple, just follow me.

But I'm scared about what you might ask me to do. For example you asked Peter to walk on water. Child, realise there was only one Peter and only one instance of walking on the water. Peter could handle that so I told him to come and he did. None of the others asked and so I called none of them to do it. I know what you are capable of doing – yes, with my enabling – and I know the encouragement you personally need to step up and step out to do such things, but they will be things that are unique to you because I know what you and I can do together.

But I don't know how to heal people, deliver demoniacs or perform miracles. No, but I do and all I ask of you is your heart and your voice when it comes to it; I will provide the power that brings the change. That's what I did with my disciples, that's what I will do with you if you want me to. But of course I want you to! Do you, do you really, do you really want to experience the uncertainties of stepping out in faith and possibly failing?

But, Lord, that's just it, I'm afraid of failing, of not hearing you properly, of being presumptuous and going ahead of you. That's all right, Peter often did, but he learned. I am pleased when you reach out in faith and if the time is not yet right, don't worry, you are still learning and I am still pleased. The more you try, the more you will learn to be sensitive to me. Just trust me to turn up when the time is right, learn to let me go ahead and, yes, follow me.

 

Consider:

  • Are we sufficiently secure in Jesus that we can trust him to lead us and, even more importantly in our minds, to turn up when we are confronted by a spiritual need we sense he wants us to rise to?
  • Are we secure with those around us that we can risk getting it wrong?
  • Can we put in the checks and balances that help minimize getting it wrong?
These are some of the things that will be helped by the second half Part.

 

 

4A.5 To Conclude – No Need?

 

While we are still in the Theory Part, let's conclude by considering how we counter the question, “Why should we need these gifts of the Spirit now that the canon of Scripture is complete?” In a recent Prayer Workshop I sought to answer that as follows with some imaginary people and imaginary needs in our church:

 

Examples of a Church that uses the Gifts  (1 Cor 12:8-10)

  

a) Here is  Alan , confused about how to proceed in his business. He has consulted with lots of people but there seems no answer.

•  He needs a  word of Wisdom  –  knowledge of what to do

•  Who will seek God for such a word for him, or pray for him to have it himself

(A word of wisdom is a word that enables us to see an answer to an apparently intractable problem)

b) Here is  Brenda  who is struggling with an issue she is fearful of bringing into the open

•  She needs a  word of Knowledge  –  revealed information  to tell her we know because God knows and it is all right

•  Who will bring such a word to here in love?

(A word of knowledge brings that encouragement that God knows you and knows the situation and wants to help you with it)

c)  Chris  has started feeling burdened about the needs of a certain group of people in society

•  He needs the  gift of Faith  –  assured belief in face of impossibilities

•  Will we pray over him for the releasing of that gift to enable him to move into that ministry?

(A gift of faith enables a believer to embark on a course of action that everyone else considers an impossibility but he/she knows with God can be accomplished)

d)  Donna  has gone down with a rare type of skin disease

•  She needs to be touched with someone with  Gifts of healing  –  changing physical or mental state

•  Who will allow their hearts to be broken by Jesus to be filled with compassion?

(Gifts of healing change the body/mind of the individual, often when no other help seemed to work)

e)  Edgar  is confronted with an impossible situation. He has looked at it from every angle but human resources are not enough

•  He needs a  Miraculous answer  –  ability to do impossible

•  Will we pray in faith for him to have that?

(The gift of Miracles enables the individual to do the naturally impossible at God's bidding to accomplish His will).

f)  Francis  is feeling purposeless and unloved

•  She needs a  word of Prophecy  –  God's now-word for a person or situation

•  Who will venture out with God's heart for her?

(Words of personal prophecy bring a sense of the now Presence of God that builds, comforts and encourages the believer to step out for new heights).

  

g)  Graham  comes into church for the first time. His life is under a curse and everything keeps going wrong and he keeps feeling suicidal

•  He needs someone in the church with the gift of  Distinguishing between spirits  –  revealing source in a person  who will see and know and prompt appropriate deliverance prayer.

(The gift of discerning of spirits is an alarm or wakeup call to believers in church to the spiritual state of another who needs their help through healing or deliverance)

   

h)  Hilary  comes to church for the first time wondering about the reality of God and about this Christian thing

•  Someone  speaks in Tongues  –  angelic prayer language  and someone  Interprets those tongues  –  those words into English meaning  and suddenly Hilary has insight into the beauty of the Christian heart acting as a channel for prayer and she knows instinctively that God is real.

(The gift of tongues is simply a personal form of prayer / worship that bypasses the intellect of the believer and enables them to continue praying /worshipping where their natural resources run out. In a corporate context, used in conjunction with Interpretation of Tongues, it reveals the beauty and reality of a heart inspired by the Spirit in prayer and worship that reveals the presence of the Lord in a beautiful and heart-melting manner).

     

The Bible is first and foremost our starting point and these things above in no way detract from it. Instead they bring the ‘now presence' of God into the present situation that reveals Jesus here for our blessing. Every gift is him bringing releasing of his power and purposes for our blessing and, as we grow in these things, sometimes even the blessing of those outside the church.

   

OK, are we ready to move into the Practicalities second half of this Part?