The Apostle Paul amazes and humbles me as I read his words in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. His earnest desire was to press forward and become all that a disciple of Jesus can become in this life. He had no desire to be average or mediocre. He detested the very idea.
Paul humbly but intensely breathed his great desire, with passion and longing with words like: “That I may gain Christ.” … “That I may be found in Him.” … “That I may know Him.” His Christian faith was an ongoing, exciting journey with God, as he testified: “I follow after; I press on toward the mark… I have not obtained…. I am striving to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me.”
An alarming number of people who identify as Christians across the world are complete strangers to the desire, the longing and the Spirit which drove Paul forward each day. Many are content to believe that this is as good as it gets and that we should just be thankful and cultivate what we already have. Why are so many Christians deaf to the clear appeals in the Word of God concerning spiritual desire, longing and progression in our walk with God?
Why are we so quick to accept the view that we have arrived at some spiritual plateau and that we just need to maintain what we have in Christ? Some days it feels like the Church is in a holding pattern just waiting to land in heaven – going round and round in circles waiting for their home-coming. Have we forgotten that Jesus brought heaven here over 2,000 years ago and commissioned us to tell the world that the kingdom of heaven is here?!
There also exists a strange view in the Church, which has been with us from the very beginning, that assumes because we know chapter and verse and may even be privileged to understand the original Greek or Hebrew – that we also possess the content, the experience, and the powerful reality of the Word of God. The spirit of the Pharisees lives on and I think this is one of the deadliest, most chilling breezes ever to blow across the Church!
There has never been a time in the history of Christianity when believers have known so much about God. We have dozens of different translations of the Bible at our fingertips; thousands of Bible commentaries and books; computer programs that can search every word in the Bible in two seconds; devotional books written by people who have had very special experiences with God.
We have so many wonderful teaching institutions where we can absorb more information about God and ministry in a few years than most can in a lifetime. In fact, if spiritual vitality were judged by the amount we know about God, we should be seeing an unprecedented movement of God’s Spirit right across this nation and many others!
The reason we are not seeing such a revival is clear. The Bible, and all of history, tells us that the only thing that will bring about revival is the fire of God being ignited deep in our souls. When that happens all that wonderful knowledge about God is suddenly and supernaturally transformed into something that is truly ours.
We no longer have to just believe it because it’s in the Bible or because some respected author or preacher says so. We know it’s true because the Spirit of the living God has burned it into our experience. When we have become convinced that our experience of God is complete, our spiritual life stalls. When we forget that our journey into the heart of God is progressive and dynamic, then we will not grow in our relationship with the God and we will fail to fully embrace the mission of Christ.
We may have heard truth that we are just not willing to act upon. As a result, we are brought to a dead halt in our spiritual journey. We dry up on the vine. If there’s something that we will not do for Him, some confession we will not make, something we refuse to straighten out – something we lack the courage to do for God’s glory – then we might still be saved, we might still be heaven-bound – but we will come to a sudden stop in our spiritual journey this side of heaven.
People are sitting in Church buildings all over this country each week having made no significant spiritual progress for years. Many have been rendered useless by accepting a chronic state of discouragement. As a result, they’ve become resigned. They have rationalised their situation and are convinced that this condition is normal for all Christians. If we are in this category – we are believers, but we’re not believers for ourselves.
We say we believe in this progressive, victorious, abundant Christian pilgrimage … but we’re forced to concede it’s for others, not for us. We’ve gone forward to every altar, we’ve been to all the seminars and conferences, we’ve read all the latest books, but the blessings and joy and wonder and power and effectiveness of kingdom living seem to be for someone else – not us.
What Jesus is saying to such people is exactly what He said to the man lying by the pool at Bethesda, “Do you want to be made whole?” Jesus made that man whole and raised him up because he wanted to be healed and delivered more than anything else in the world! If Jesus had found in that man the same attitude as He finds in too many Christians today, I believe He may have passed him by!
Another reason why many of us make no progress with God is that we’ve joined the ‘Respectability Club.’ We’ve learned the art of ‘becoming adjusted.’ We’ve chosen to be cool and proper, poised, self-controlled and well-rounded. We would never want anyone to think that we’ve taken an extreme position, particularly in spiritual matters. For many years, I accepted just an average spiritual state and I had no deep desire for God.
So many Christians are living like that today: ‘going to Church’ week in and week out and rarely feeling an extra heartbeat; rarely feeling any kindling of Godly desire or passion. God made it clear to me years ago that unless I was willing to surrender to Him absolutely and allow Him to move in and have His way, I was never going to have the spiritual adventures like those who have been explorers in His kingdom. God will light the fire when we lay on the altar.