for the Characteristics of a Vibrant ChurcH
FOUR: Church Life in the Spirit
FOUR A: Theory - Our Struggles with Unbelief
of this Part
Re-establishing the Vision
Eyeballing the Unbelief of "not for today"
Struggling for Belief
To Conclude - No Need?
have divided this Part into two:
4A – Our Struggles with Unbelief
4B – Practicalities of Leading the Church to be Spirit Led, Spirit
is Part 4A
Re-establishing the Vision
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.
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:
spiritually rich church
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.
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.
& the Defensive Stance
was recently meditating on, “the
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.'
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'.
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).
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.
Eyeballing the Unbelief of, “not for today”
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.
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.
Example of Healing
did a little exercise recently for our Prayer Workshop, so consider
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)
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).
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
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.
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
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.
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
Struggling for Belief
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
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.
for our Unbelief
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:
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
what might God ask me to say or do if I go down this path?
Christians are supposed to be people of integrity but questions
over people – some of these Pentecostals or Charismatics are
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.
I make a couple of suggestions by way of preliminary answers.
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.
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.)
in Part 4B we will be able to pour some oil on troubled waters,
if possible with a modicum of humility, gentleness and truth.
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:
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
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.
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
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.
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
Are we secure with those around us that we can risk getting
we put in the checks and balances that help minimize getting
are some of the things that will be helped by the second half Part.
To Conclude – No Need?
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:
of a Church that uses the Gifts (1
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
word of wisdom is a word that enables us to see an answer to an
apparently intractable problem)
Here is Brenda who
is struggling with an issue
she is fearful of bringing into the open
She needs a word of Knowledge –
to tell her we know because
God knows and it is all right
Who will bring such a word to here in love?
word of knowledge brings that encouragement that God knows you
and knows the situation and wants to help you with it)
started feeling burdened about
the needs of a certain group of people in society
He needs the gift of Faith –
assured belief in face
Will we pray over him for the releasing of that gift to enable
him to move into that ministry?
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)
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
of healing change the body/mind of the individual, often when
no other help seemed to work)
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?
gift of Miracles enables the individual to do the naturally impossible
at God's bidding to accomplish His will).
feeling purposeless and unloved
She needs a word of Prophecy –
God's now-word for a person
Who will venture out with God's heart for her?
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).
into church for the first time. His life is under
a curse and everything keeps
going wrong and he keeps feeling
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.
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)
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.
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).
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.
are we ready to move into the Practicalities second half of this