It’s not enough for a Christian to feel “desperate for God”. That phrase has become popular in our conversations and worship. It’s a good phrase, but it falls short.
It seems that for many Christians, feeling “desperate for God” has somehow become a stopping point. There is no following through to be dedicated to God.
I am desperate for God. As I write this, I currently feel desperate for God, but what will happen as a result of my felt desperation? Will I rise early and stay up late seeking God? Will I be more careful to avoid time wasting activities in order to see God. Do I really believe that Jesus is all I need? If I believe that, then why do I sometimes fall so short in being dedicated to God?
Jesus addressed seven churches in Revelation, chapters 2 & 3. He gave them the remedies to correct the problems that existed among them.
As we consider what Jesus told them to do, it’s important to consider what He didn’t tell them to do. They were in desperate situations, and Jesus gave them the remedies.
Jesus didn’t tell them to:
1. Buy a new book about how to be desperate for God.
2. Drive somewhere to receive an anointing that only certain people can give you.
3. Seek to be “refreshed” by attending a certain event.
4. Pray that the Spirit would fall upon me in a fresh new way. (to solve my problems)
I am not opposed to new books, receiving prayer, attending events, or praying to be filled with the Spirit.
Consider the exhortations that Jesus gave to these churches:
Revelation 2:5 (NKJV) Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.
Revelation 2:10 (NKJV) Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Revelation 2:16 (NKJV) Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
Revelation 2:25-26 (NKJV) But hold fast what you have till I come. 26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations–
Revelation 3:3 (NKJV) Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
Revelation 3:11 (NKJV) Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
Revelation 3:18-20 (NKJV) I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
All the remedies that Jesus gave them required them to seek Him. Jesus didn’t “fix” them. He told the to “stop doing the bad stuff, quit neglecting the good stuff, and re-dedicate yourself to doing what is important”.
It’s a healthy thing to realize your deep need for God. Jesus said, “Without Me, you can do nothing”. (John 15:5) Most Christians agree to that statement, but we fall short in living like we believe it.
Revelation 2:17 (NKJV) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ‘
May I encourage you…being desperate for God isn’t enough. It’s just the starting point. Decide to turn your desperation into dedication, and Jesus will meet you in ways you’ve never known.
I just started teaching through the Book of the Revelation. It’s a book that reveals Jesus, hence, “The Revelation”. Chapter one is all about Jesus introducing Himself via a vision to John. John had spent 3 1/2 years with Jesus during His incarnation, but now he was seeing the exalted Christ in all His glory.
Upon seeing this fresh vision of Jesus, we read of John in verse 17, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead”.
Each Sunday, at the end of the sermon, I receive questions via texts, and this last Sunday, someone asked me if verse 17 refers to what has come to be known as “being slain in the Spirit”. That is a conversation for a different time, but it did make me think about why some people pursue spiritual or so called spiritual experiences. I do believe that someone can be overcome by the presence of God, as John was here. Conversely, I also think that church leaders can manipulate desperate people into experiencing something that isn’t from God, but that is soulish, and in some instances, even devilish…but all that is secondary to the main point I want to make.
John didn’t go looking for an overcoming experience with Jesus. He simply encountered Jesus, and then was overcome with the person of Jesus. The experience was from heaven, and was real, and undoubtedly unforgettable, but the main point is this: John didn’t pursue the experience, he experienced Jesus, and an experience followed.
I have been in churches where “so called” spiritual things were happening: people being slain in the Spirit, groups of people speaking in tongues, healings, etc. I believe that some of it was real, but that a lot of it wasn’t. I have been “overcome” by the Spirit, and have been deeply touched by the Holy Spirit, but I was never “looking for a touch”. The experiences were memorable and life changing, but I never read in the Bible that we are to pursue an experience with Jesus, but rather, we are to seek after Jesus.
Some may ask, “Why does it matter”? It does matter.
First, the Bible says to “seek first after the Kingdom of God”. (Matthew 6:33) That is clear.
The Bible says to draw near to God, and He will draw near to you”. (James 4:8) That is clear.
Secondly, it matters because when Believers seek experiences, they can unwittingly be led astray because their focus is off. A Christian can have a legitimate “overwhelming experience” with Jesus, and be radically blessed, but the danger therein is that that same Christian can become an “experience chaser”, and that can be a very slippery slope that leads into unbiblical and even devilish pursuits.
In Acts 18, Simon the Sorcerer saw the Apostles ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit, and offered them money so he could experience what they experienced.
18And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Simon wasn’t seeking after Jesus, he was seeking after an experience, and he was sharply rebuked by Peter.
Why is that some Believers think passing around venomous snakes is a good idea, or even a Biblical idea? I cannot and will not judge their motives. Undoubtedly, some Christians are truly seeking God, but their lack of Biblical discernment leads them to pursue foolish and dangerous pursuits. There are a myriad of other examples, many of which are sanctioned by pastors in pulpits, but that are in no way sanctioned by God in His word.
My biggest concern is this: Both pastors and congregants can easily become people that chase experiences. Pastors hype up their congregations with either sinful or neutral props, words, and environments. The focus becomes chasing the experience, and everything starts revolving around duplicating a previous experience. This is foolish. It is the “tail chasing the dog”.
Pastors, you don’t need to hype up your church into a frenzy or even into a “feel good”. That isn’t the goal. Be a faithful pastor and study to show yourself approved, and then teach the Bible so well that the people have an amazing fresh and powerful revelation of Jesus. Jesus told Peter, “Feed My sheep”. (John 21:17)
Congregants, if you have had some amazing experience with Jesus, that’s fantastic, but we are not told to seek experiences, we are told to seek God. Be a faithful Christian, and seek Jesus. If He wants to give you an “overwhelming experience” then that is up to Him. Your part is to draw close to God.
It seems as though many churches today major in “chasing experiences”, and minor in seeking Jesus. We don’t need “soulish hype”, we need a “spiritual revelation” of the exalted Christ. Check your Bible: the men and women who encountered God were not people looking for an experience, but were people who encountered God, and as a result, had an experience.
We don’t need hype, we need revelation.
A wise philosopher has said with truth that “knowledge is power”. Koheleth was equally realistic, however, when he said, ” In much wisdom is much grief, and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow’ (Ecclesiastes 1:18).
In this “present evil age”, (Galatians 1:4), knowledge not only opens the eyes, it fills them with tears; for the more discerningly we perceive, so the more painful mystery we find underlying human life. Yet the old adage is wrong which naively avers that “where ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise”. Such bliss of ignorance is the “fool’s paradise”, which never lasts long, and “great is the fall thereof”.
There is a knowledge which opens the eyes to that which transcends all mere human discovery, and which at the same time comforts the heart with divine reassurance concerning the present mystery of things. Christ has come- Son of God and Savior of men. In Him is the answer to our human sin problem. In Him is the answer to our race’s heart cry after God and the basic truth of things. In Him is the answer to the groping and sighing of the soul after peace and joy and certainty and ultimate self fulfillment.
To know Christ as the Calvary Sin-Bearer, and as the risen Savior who personally indwells the heart, is of all knowledge the most blessed. Already He is the clear answer to many of life’s most poignant problems, and He is the implicit pledge of ultimate divine answer to them all. Compared with knowing Him, all other knowledge is insignificant, incomplete, and eventually unsatisfying, as every philosopher who ever lived has realized before he died.
Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Him. To know Jesus as a living reality in the heart is life eternal and heaven begun below.
Jay Sidlow Baxter, from his book “Going Deeper”, 1959.
I was 16 when I went away to the Young Life Camp called Woodleaf, north of Sacramento. I had been attending Young Life meetings which were connected with my high school, Valencia High School in Placentia, CA.
The meetings were mostly fun with some singing of popular songs off the radio. A lot of the popular kids attended the Young Life club meetings, and some of them invited me to go. Someone would usually do something crazy like swallow a live goldfish or something. There would be skits and other fun things. Then there would be a talk at the end, and the talks would be about Jesus. I don’t remember many details of those talks, but they were about Jesus.
We went away to summer camp in 1972, and the camp was fun. We rode mini motorcycles, swam in a pond, played team games, etc. There were also nightly meetings which included skits, music, and talks about Jesus. I don’t remember many details of those talks either. In fact, there were a lot of things I didn’t pay much attention to in those days. They were difficult days.
My parents had divorced when I was in Jr. High, and I kind of checked out of life emotionally. In high school, I clung to my girlfriend, and to sports, and that was about all I remember paying much attention to. I was confused, lonely, and insecure. It was hard to live in the moment. I pretty much tuned a lot of things out. I had already experienced drinking alcohol at an early age, and was very susceptible to dealing with the pain of life in an unhealthy way. Reality was a bit much for me to handle.
But somehow, those talks about Jesus in the summer of 1972 cut through the confusion and pain that I was experiencing, and on the bus ride home from camp, I talked to God. My prayer wasn’t theologically deep, but it went something like this: “O.K. Jesus, if you are really there, I am ready for you”. I didn’t understand a whole lot about Jesus, but I had a strong sense that if He was real, I needed Him.
Experiences can be hard to prove, and they probably don’t need to be, but I still remember what happened next. I felt something physically happen in me, almost like standing under a cold waterfall. I didn’t lose control or have some ecstatic experience, but I did experience a physical sensation that followed that simple, sincere prayer. As I now understand it, I had become born again.
And so, my journey of faith began…
I am a follower of Jesus, and because of that, I get lumped into a large pool of people that go by various names. They are called Evangelicals. They are called Conservatives. They are called Homophobes.
A lot of what these people do embarrasses me, angers me, and leaves me shaking my head. I do not resonate with most of what they do. I do not prioritize life the way that they do. In fact, I actually hate some of the things that are done in Jesus’ name. I do not associate with them in many of their activities, and yet, because of a common shared faith in the person of Jesus, I am united with them in a bond that will never pass away.
The bottom line is this: though I do not sympathize or empathize with many (called) Christians, I am united with them by a shared faith and a mutual indwelling of God’s Spirit.
I cannot dismiss myself from them simply because they do things that I think are foolish. To do so would mean that my valuation of them is based upon a philosophical agreement, rather than the bond of Christ. To dismiss them would be to value my opinion over the truth of what Jesus prayed for and what Paul the Apostle declared: We are one in Christ.
I must be willing to be guilty by association to those who would paint me into the same corner as others with whom I disagree on many levels.
But this is the lesser of things to consider. To many, Jesus is guilty by associating with us.
When Christians do stupid things, He gets blamed, maligned, and mocked, yet He never disassociates Himself from us. When I do foolish things, He never turns away from me.
Jesus is willing to be mocked, blamed, misunderstood, and mis-characterized by the masses that see the foolish things that His followers do and say, often in His name.
If you are a Christ follower, it’s not about you, it’s about Him. Do not divorce yourself from those whom Jesus indwells, simply because they do things that embarrass you. Following Jesus isn’t all about you finding people that agree with you on every point. Following Jesus is to recognize the Church Universal, and to love her in spite of all her failings.
Though it isn’t right, Jesus is willing to be guilty by association. How about you?
God calls His people to different tasks, and He gives them different gifts by which they may serve Him, but gifting is only one side of this equation. God gives the calling and the gifting, but we must grow into these callings, and we must develop the gifts He has given us. We must also grow in the grace of God.
Let me offer a hypothetical example. A young man is called to be a leader in his church. He senses that calling even as a young teen. The sense of it is strong, and he is sure of it. But with that calling, the young man must grow spiritually. He must respond appropriately. There must be self discipline. There must be growth. Most importantly, he must learn to live in the grace of God for himself. He must be OK with who he is as a person. His victories must be tempered with the knowledge that God’s grace has enabled him. His failures must be met with a sureness that God’s grace pardons him because of Jesus. He must be sure to pay attention to God’s timing.
Let me offer an illustration. A young boy wants to be a soldier. He is intelligent, and a committed patriot. He studies weaponry and battle tactics. Because the army (church) is short on soldiers (servants), he is enlisted and outfitted. He is committed, but he hasn’t grown enough (matured enough) to be effective. He stumbles with boots that are four sizes too large. The gun is too heavy to carry. He fatigues in the battlefield because he doesn’t have the strength to carry the over-sized backpack. Instead of being an asset, he now becomes a liability. Not only can he not do his job, but he endangers his fellow soldiers who have to constantly rescue him. His comrades cannot depend on him. They may even begin to resent him; not because they don’t like him, but because instead of helping, he actually makes warfare (ministry) more dangerous (difficult).
Editor’s Note- God disciplines His children for their good. Any loving parent knows this. When a person turns from their sins, God forgives immediately, but their full return to life as they knew it before might take a while, or, may never happen. That doesn’t mean that life after discipline and repentance can’t be good, indeed, it will be good….but may we not dictate to God what that ought to look like or when it should happen. Rather, may we believe that God will do what it right and good, and that He will do it at the perfect time.
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.
1 Lord, You have been favorable to Your land; You have brought back the captivity of Jacob.
Lord, you have been merciful to us. We were in Babylon because of our sins. I was away from my good life, my family, my friends, everything that I loved. I lost my job. You have disciplined us in your love, and now that time of discipline is over. Thank you.
2 You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. Selah
3 You have taken away all Your wrath; You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger.
You have forgiven us. You no longer see the sins that caused us to be taken away. Thank you that that season is over.
The Supreme Court Of The United States (SCOTUS) has decided that gay marriage should be allowed and supported in the United States. The predicted vitriol has surfaced from both sides of the argument. I think that God hates vitriol, no matter where it comes from. Actually, maybe He hates it more from those who bear His name.
Some are saying that the SCOTUS decision doesn’t affect me as a Christian or as a pastor. They are wrong…it affects me greatly. Life in the United States has changed, and it affects everyone, whether they have thought it through or not. The SCOTUS decision was a defining moment, and a pre-existing trajectory has been reaffirmed that I believe will bring negative results.
Simply put (according to what I believe) the Supreme Court of the United States has approved something that God disapproves of. The country in which I live has yet again reminded me that I am a pilgrim and a sojourner. I already knew that, but I feel it more deeply today.
If I am wrong…if there is no God, or if He exists but doesn’t care, then I have worried needlessly and preached incorrectly. But if what I believe is right, then the SCOTUS has acted in direct contradiction to the principles of God, and there will be negative consequences regarding their decision.
If there is a God, he is not mocked. If there is no God, then no worries, right?
The world is full of negativity and sadness. That is a huge understatement. Even the Church has plenty of sad challenges within its four walls; God’s people are not immune to tragedy and setbacks. I have pastored since 1989…I have seen much within the church that can break one’s heart. Many times, my heart has been broken over the effects of sin within the church.
It seems that in the minds of some church leaders, the solution to sadness and negativity is to never talk about it. I think that the motivation to encourage people is a good intention. People need to be encouraged, and church is a great place for that to happen.
All that being so, I am concerned about what I believe is an unhealthy trend in many churches. There is a deliberate avoidance in talking about sin or judgment. The Body of Christ isn’t warned against straying from God, but instead is taught about how Jesus can improve your life. The unbeliever isn’t warned about fleeing the wrath to come, but is told that Jesus will fill the emptiness of their heart.
I DO believe that Jesus improves the life of His followers, and that he DOES fill a believer’s heart, but that is NOT the full preaching of the Gospel, nor is it the full counsel of the Word of God.
I think that some pastors are failing.
I don’t say that because I feel superior to anyone. I say that because some pastors are not teaching their congregations all of God’s Word, but only selected portions. In doing so, they are not making mature disciples, but only meeting the felt needs of the people. They are teaching from the Bible, but they are not teaching the Bible. There is a huge difference between those two practices.
Chicken Legged Disciples and the search for deeper teaching…