Power Through Purity

What is the key to a revival of the dead hearts that wander through so many of our churches and Christian education communities?

Bill Johnson at Onething spoke about the commission that Jesus gave to His disciples. It was through this commission that they were given authority to do what He had commanded them. This commission still applies and those in the church have authority to do all that Jesus asks of us. However, even after giving them authority, Jesus did not immediately have the disciples go forth. He had them wait to receive power in order to make this happen (Luke 24:49). Johnson says that, similarly, we do not have an excuse to be powerless people in our generation, but rather it is our responsibility to acquire it.

How?

Through encounter that flows from a life of purity (or a single-minded pursuit of one thing).

Power Comes From Encounter

Do we want to wake up the people around us? Johnson spoke from Luke 10:13-15 and Luke 11:30-32 to show that Jesus expected the people in Israel to be awakened or persuaded by the powerful signs and wonders that were done there. He called them perverse because they could not be persuaded and said that the kingdoms of old like Sodom and Tyre would be their judgement because if the healing and miracles had been done there, the people would have repented. Furthermore, Ninevah repented at the preaching of Jonah, and the queen of Sheba at the wisdom of Solomon. We can walk in the same kind of authority in our fields of influence so that others are drawn to the solutions released by our lives. The first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Old Testament was connected to the wisdom given to Bezaleel for the construction of the tabernacle (Exodus 35:30-31). “The level to which we accept the mission that Jesus gave us is the level to which we walk in authority,” said Bill Johnson.

Let us begin to embrace this authority by reason of the commission Jesus has given to us. However, we cannot stop there. We must also demonstrate the gospel with power, and this only comes through encounter. On the day of Pentacost, the disciples were gathered to pray when the power came upon them to fulfil the commission and begin to act on their authority. They had already received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), but there was some element in which they needed to be filled up by the Holy Spirit “coming upon” them in power as described in Acts 2:1 and again in Acts 4:31. Jesus told them to “wait in the city” until they had received “power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

I think that the observation of how much prayer and intimate encounter with God takes place can reveal how much power we can expect to see demonstrated in our lives. We have nothing when we try to do this kingdom thing on our own as it was meant to take place in the context of intimacy with Jesus (John 15:4-5). Even He did nothing of his own, but only what he saw his father doing (John 5:19-20).

Johnson described power as the ability to see what God is doing and participate in it: to ride the wave. Power comes through encounter as we have already seen. However, for many of us, this is going to look like a severe challenge.

The Key to Encounter

In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells the story of seeds of the word that grew up in the soil (human hearts) they were planted in, but other seeds grew up also that choked out the work that God was doing. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). It is not easy to fight with these things, especially when the entire world around us is dedicated to their pursuit. However, we are called to be in the world, but not of it, to dedicate our lives to the pursuit of one thing at the cost of all others. If we are divided within ourselves we cannot stand (Mark 3:25). It is not possible to serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).

Jeremiah 29:11-13 is a promise to Israel that the LORD will restore what had been lost while they were in captivity: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future an a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Jesus said, “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). David also gives a warning that those who wish to encounter God must “have clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4). The reason that we do not see the power of God in spite of our asking is that we do not first let our hearts conform to holiness (James 3:4-8). What kind of evil father would give a child power before they were ready to use it well? Until there is a purity of focus and a single-minded pursuit of God (one that is not distracted by the mindset of the world), encounter will be limited and power will not flow through the Spirit that is in us as it could.

When we think we can have both God and the world, we miss out on what God has for us, but are we willing to give up everything to go and find it? The kingdom is like a treasure in a field which when a man found, he went and sold everything he had to buy it (Matthew 13:44).

By: Michael R. P. RagazzonCC BY 2.0

In Pursuit of One Thing

If we want to see our college campuses and church communities awaken to life, we must be prepared to engage in the process of leaving behind our old way of thinking and replacing it with something new. Jesus said to “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7). This indicates a requirement of action by those who want to demonstrate the power of the gospel to a broken world, and “we do not have the luxury of living a powerless gospel” (Bill Johnson).

We do not have the luxury of living a powerless gospel. – Bill Johnson

It is certainly possible for God to work through broken people, but why would we want to stay that way? What would keep us from pursuing restoration and holiness so that the Spirit can shine through our lives with a greater brilliance? Joshua 1:6-9 showcases the promise God made to do some amazing things through Joshua alongside a warning that this man would have to “be careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” This is repeated twice and indicates the idea that the power of God at work through a person requires them to be consistently exposed to the word of God. It is through the renewal of the mind that a person is transformed to reflect the image of God instead of the image of the world (Romans 12:1-2). We cannot act or become pure on our own in order to see God, but we can embrace the process of humility by which the broken areas of life are exposed to the light of truth and transformed into something beautiful! Intimate encounter with God is necessary for those who want to demonstrate power. This was true even for Jesus, who is renown for how much time He spent in prayer.

The message that Bill Johnson wanted to communicate to the young people at Onething was this: to see the restoration of our lives and communities (to wake up the people around us), we must pursue purity of heart and a single-minded focus that enables us to encounter God in a way that produces powerful demonstrations of the gospel through us. As seen in the mystery of Christ and the church revealed through marriage, encounter and intimacy are only possible in the context of purity. If we want the power of the gospel to be evident in our lives, we must choose to pursue this holiness or dedication to one thing. As Elijah said to the people of Israel, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). We all know which God answered with fire, but I think sometimes we forget that the same choice belongs to our day. If we want to see the power of God in our lives, we must give ourselves completely to Him.

The pursuit of power (which is essential to the Christian life) is at its core, a pursuit of purity!

We cannot have the one without the other.

“…choose this day whom you will serve…”

-Joshua 24:15

To All My Single Friends: Why Wait?

A long reflection from Valentine’s Day and introduction to some bigger concepts that inform my upcoming book on Christianity and sexuality: “The Choice”

Inevitably, I have once again spent too much time thinking about the ideas in my head and not enough time writing them down to match the expectations of the public audience for a blog post on love that emerges 7-12 days before February 14. Today the Valentine’s Day holiday season is  over and non-single people no longer feel the obligation of casting sympathetic glances at anyone who does not appear laden with gifts of pink hearts and chocolate – (This year my good friends set me up with a literal date…I think it was probably organic)! Yet, the struggle exacerbated by this holiday will last the rest of the year for some Christian young adults who find themselves outside the context of a relationship with someone special. In light of the occasion, I wanted to share something I have been learning, which strikes at the heart of the identity crisis experienced by so many unmarried individuals at least one day out of the year.

In order for a relationship to succeed, the individuals involved must learn the art of submission. Submission is a touchy concept within relationships and marriage, but I believe this is the result of misunderstanding its nature. When approached from the perspective of honour and identity, submission becomes a tool of empowerment by which singleness and marriage both acquire tremendous value.

In the world of Christendom, marriage is looked upon as a holy sacrament, a demonstration of Christ and the church, the subject of political debate, or worst of all the inevitable conclusion of a heart connection between two people. The issue is not that marriage is bad for relationships, but that for many people it has become a destination to reach, not necessarily a journey to be started. The difference is similar to a mistake that is made when people view ‘salvation’ as a single event rather than a life-long process of transformation.

In my opinion, marriage is a relational process that is recognised and supported by a public proclamation of commitment to its ongoing development. To mistake the public declaration for the thing itself is to rob marriage of its full potential. It is like assuming that a person has been saved because they said some magical phrase or prayer. The ceremony and the prayer were never meant to be the destination, they are simply the celebration or recognition that a journey is in progress and has reached a certain (rather undefined) point. Unless a person has taken the time to pursue the relationship that these recognise, the formalities become laughable. After all, a contract is only as good as the people who commit to it.

Within the marriage ‘contract’, two people commit to letting another person define the context in which they will live their lives. In the relationship between Christ and the church a similar mystery takes place in which each becomes the context through which the other is fully expressed. As the unity grows, the range of expression also grows. On the other hand, without Christ, church becomes meaningless; without husband, wife is a pointless term.

Certainly the way in which each partner of the relationship expresses and responds to the other will vary, but the choice remains the same: to make someone else the context in which one will ever more fully disclose and express his or her identity. Unfortunately, for many people the disclosure of identity or the proactive limitation of individuality are terrifying thoughts. Marriage is supposed to add something, not take something away – and certainly it does. The depth of relationship that can be achieved within this context can be incredibly empowering. It is beautiful and unique, but not the epitome of goodness. In fact, unless the partners are willing to learn the art of submission, they will not discover the power that exists within this relationship.

Those who are not voluntarily limited in their expression of identity by the context of marriage can find a similar level of satisfaction and empowerment when they learn to make others the context of their self-expression. What is lacking in depth is made up for in variety. Marriage and singleness each have their own sweet reward for learning the art of actively submitting one’s life to the benefit of others.

In my understanding, this submission is not a passive affair in which one individual is dominated by another, but rather an active choice to invest oneself fully into another without expecting a particular outcome. Such an investment inevitably results in a heightened level of relationship in which one shares in the joy, success, sorrow, and failure of the other. Therefore it is very important to wisely choose where this investment is made. At the same time, though, we must remember that the very existence of such a relationship is rewarding in itself regardless of the outcome.

Sadly, there are some who believe that unless this investment results in a marriage, it has been wasted. If they see no potential for a long-term commitment, they will not make any kind of investment. They will only choose to submit their life to the context of another person if they can expect to receive something back. One reason that so many people find themselves in this scenario is that they have been hurt when their past expenditures of time and energy into another person have not paid out in the way they expected. Or perhaps they chose to submit themselves to the context of a person that was harmful for them.

The issues is not that the person chose to invest in a relationship, but that they expected the relationship to supply them with some sense of identity. Even within a marriage, the husband or wife can not provide the other with a complete sense of identity. Relationships are a context for the expression of identity, not the source of it. Both individuals must let themselves be defined by something greater which can supply purpose and meaning to their lives, which they can invest in the pursuit of a more dynamic relationship. Without this external input, it is possible to see relationships in which individuals begin to make demands of each other rather than giving of themselves to each other. These reflect the sad case of the planet earth which is under the dominion of a people who do not understand who they are and ask of the earth to give them of itself to provide them with a sense of identity. The earth has no choice but to submit and this has often caused it harm. So it is with people who enter relationships without knowing who they are and needing their partner to provide them with a sense of identity.

It is therefore impossible for a single or a married person to experience the deep satisfaction of submission without first learning what it means to submit one’s life to the context of perfect love. For example, this past week I met a wise old woman who has spent the past several years of her life caring for a husband who died, a mother who also died, and now caring for the elderly in nursing homes who have nothing to give back. Where does she get the energy to continue pouring herself into the lives of these people? If she required some kind of validating response from those she invested her life in (submitted to by making them the context of her self-expression), her situation would be tragic. However because her first submission is to a being that also makes her the context of His expression, she is constantly filled with more love to give.

Within the created order, the man receives his identity from God, but requires woman to the be context of its expression. As a part of the man, woman also receives her identity from God, but requires man to provide the context of her expression. No human being is complete without someone else to provide the context for the expression of our humanity. We were not made to be alone. Marriage is a mysterious context in which the level of trust engenders a more full expression of oneself. But why wait until this season of life to begin experiencing the joy of submitting your life into the context of another?

Who can become the context in which you express the person that God has made you to be? Where can you invest the gifts that he has given you? If you do not have a wife or a significant other, the answer may prove to be less obvious. However, it is no less important. As we learn to submit ourselves to God by making Him the context of our lives, He will  give us the opportunity to give what we have to others without expecting anything in return. Though the decision of where we invest our lives is crucial, the reward of this investment is not in the result but in the giving itself.

Thus, the conclusion that I have come to is that neither marriage nor singleness is a perfected state, but simply a setting in which to experience the joy of making others the context by which I express the nature of God that is within me. Relationships are not about receiving, but about sharing what I have to give with others. I cannot do this in any other way besides through the unique characteristics, interests, and skills that God has given me. Furthermore, I cannot share these things freely unless I am certain that I will be rewarded, which is why I must first learn to submit to God (or make Him the context of my life).

As I test the waters, I am beginning to discover that is truly more blessed to give than to receive. On the other hand, it is foolish to begin taking my identity from what I can give to someone else. I will never be everything that they need. The beauty of relationship is in the limitation of my self-expression to the context of other people. Because it is a limitation, the choice of where I choose to do this is incredibly important. It is possible to submit my life to investing in other people just because I need somewhere to do it…and this is not always a good thing! To all the amazing women that I know, please take this is a plea to not compromise your potential by making a man without character and wisdom the sole context in which you express your identity. Let yourselves be defined by love (i.e. submit to God) and choose to share the amazing person He has made you with others in ways that add value and empower you to be great!

And finally, men, it’s time to stop pretending we don’t want to grow up and embrace the privilege and responsibility of maturity. This appeal is not to let go of the qualities that are uniquely us, but to develop these and to maximise their potential in our lives by learning how to submit them to the context of the people that are around us. It means choosing to take control of the direction our lives are going and wrestle, fight, pray, and shape them into something we can be proud of. This means learning to overcome our selfish tendencies by making others into the context of our self-expression.

Why wait until a marriage ceremony says that this is what is supposed to happen? Enjoy the benefits, the blessing, the joy, the pain, and the amazing experience of learning to submit your life to love (God) and then to express this in the context of deepening relationships with those around you. It is within this context (not marriage, not singleness, but submission) that the individual transcends the limitations of fear and selfishness to become the transforming power of love in the world. You don’t need a marriage relationship to begin. The best time to start is now!

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More related articles and posts will be coming out as I complete the first draft of a book exploring identity and relationships in the context of sexuality and the church. Some of these will provide more detailed biblical and logical support for the broad topical overview supplied here. Learn more about my upcoming book, “The Choice” here. http://charlesheyworth.com/publications/love-lust-power/ Please let me know what you think. Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Need clarification? Let me know and you can be a part of bringing hope and restoration to at least one small part of our world. Courage, friends!