Yesterday, I experienced a moment of pause when I was speaking about how to let go of control by embracing the mystery of the goodness of God. To me, this is a newer practice, but I already value teaching it far more than I value teaching people how to more effectively control the world around them through a comprehensive explanation or understanding of some academic discipline.
This second objective governs just about every learning experience I have been part of. But if I truly embrace the mysterious position I have found myself in, then my teaching will go beyond explanation to facilitating an experience. The moment of pause came when I realized that the accepted explanations of our limited experience of existence often lead us so far astray from reality that we get lost in a fantasy world of our own creation.
Among the Elements
The true pagans of today are those who believe their minds define the world. The new gods are not pieces of wood and stone as much as they are living breathing brains, who struggle with one another for power, acceptance, and control over human destiny.
This redefinition represents a fascinating exposure of my perspective. I am far more open than many in the Christian tradition to recognizing the natural function of various elements of creation. I think the rocks, the hills, the trees, the stars, all serve their purpose in the life of mankind. It would be foolish to presume that such things can define human destiny, but not more so than to presume we can define it for ourselves.
Humanity has received delegated authority to cultivate these resources, but it does not come from our power to manipulate the elements. Our authority comes from a connection with the same source of life from which the other elements spring. Through our union with the creator, we may redeem what aspects of their function have fallen into futility, but this responsibility does not eliminate their effect on our lives.
In the same way that our internal thoughts define our experience of existence, so the external elements exercise a similar influence. Space and time have an impact regardless of whether or not the individual is willing to recognize it. Humanity cannot be fully autonomous agents in this world apart from the freedom of identity as children of God. Even then, freedom is not defined in the sense of isolated independence, but in the sense of harmonious interdependence through which beauty is released into the world (shalom).
Authority through Identity
Authority flows from this sense of restored identity (because this enables the humility to be under authority). Power flows from information (or what is mistakenly called knowledge). Both provide a means of interacting with the world, but only the first has potential to do so in a way that brings life.
But because we have mistaken information and definition for knowledge (instead of knowing through intimate acquaintance), the human efforts to express power in this world have led far too often to devastating outcomes. The problem is not in the attempt to define our experience but in our attempt to let our experience become the standard of definition. When we have no idea who we are, it is impossible to tell the rest of creation what it should look like.
That is why the restoration of the individual to life must precede the ability of that individual to bring life to the surrounding world. Only those who have found a sense of internal wholeness or integrity can be safely entrusted with the stewardship and authority over that which is external to themselves.
Those seeking to educate individuals who would form culture instead of destroying it, who will build communities instead of fostering prejudice, who innovate with artistry rather than mere functionality…would do well to consider shifting the focus of education from the study of explanations to the study of individuals (that which cannot be divided). One cannot see the unity of the world without first seeing the unity within. One cannot reflect beauty without first having the capacity to encounter it. One cannot walk in authority without first abandoning the illusions of power.
Until the individual has been persuaded of the goodness of the creator – and subsequently the creation (including all of its brokenness), this illusion will be difficult to address. The fundamental choice of humanity is, therefore, one of faith: either in the ability of self to define good and evil on behalf of a broken world or in the ability of love to restore all things through a cultivation of union with the source of life (Colossians 1:19-20).
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.
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).
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!