I preached this message at ‘The Gathering’ in the Strand Centre at 6:30pm on Sunday 23rd July 2017.
The last time I spoke, about a month ago, we explored 1 Corinthians 12-14 so that we could understand more about the spiritual gifts as “learner charismatics”. Among other things we discussed were:
- In the Greek, these spiritual gifts are called “charismata” meaning “gifts given by grace”, hence they are undeserved and are not markers of being a particularly “good” Christian!
- These gifts are given to build us up individually and collectively, and sometimes to help us in our ministry to others who are not yet Christian.
- Paul exhorts us to desire spiritual gifts and particularly those that are of most use in our ministry roles, such as the gifts of healing and prophecy.
I have been tremendously encouraged by the prophecy day where many of us started to learn to use that gift, and more generally since then as we’ve shared prophecies, interpretations, experienced healings and prayed for others in turn.
In Romans 12:6-8, Paul writes:
6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
I encourage you to read the whole chapter because it is a wonderful summary of how we are to live as God’s people under His grace, but this passage in particular indicates how God is teaching us, discipling us as we use the gifts he has given us. The translation doesn’t quite capture the sense of the original Greek, because this is another example of the Greek present continuous tense. Last time, we saw this in the verse:
Seek [and keep on seeking], knock [and keep on knocking] …
This time the sense is
If God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out [and keep on speaking out] with as much faith as God has given you.
The reason I equate this with discipling is because faith itself is a gift from God, as is made clear in the passage. As we operate in that faith and are encouraged in small ways, God enlarges our faith encouraging us to explore our gifts further. It is a continual process of being apprenticed in the ways of God.
I want us to look ahead a little to the mission in September. We are going to see healings, amazing prophecies, confirmation of God working tremendously in people’s lives – and most importantly souls being saved as people respond to the gospel message. And ahead of us we have this time of prayer and preparation, as we practise using our gifts and are built up in our faith in turn.
I know however, there is still some lingering doubt that each of us is somehow not good enough or are not special enough to be able to heal, or prophesy, or teach, or speak in tongues. I know that because that was Rach’s response when she received an answer to prayer for healing someone else. I want to spend a little time tonight dissecting that.
God, in his infinite wisdom, has a history of using the most unlikely people – often seriously broken people – to perform tremendous deeds, in order that God might be glorified. We are not worthy in and of ourselves, but that is the point, that is grace in operation, and it ensures that neither we nor those who experience what God does can be in any doubt that it is God acting powerfully through us as imperfect conduits of his love. Indeed, one of the themes of the Old Testament is how God chooses the Hebrews whom He describes as “the least of all the peoples” and yet through them does wonderful things, including building them into a powerful nation. And yet, repeatedly they forget their humble beginnings as slaves and grow arrogant and are punished for turning away from God.
And there are similarly unlikely individuals whom God uses mightily, such as David who wasn’t even deemed important enough to be presented to Samuel – a real-life Cinderella story, yet David was anointed king. I am sure that you have heard it many times before, but it is worth reading the following prose again to you:
The next time you feel like GOD can’t use you, just remember…
Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer..AND
Lazarus was dead!
I want to focus a little more on Paul and Peter because they reveal something important to us about how God operates in our lives.
Paul, humanly speaking, was everything that we might equate with a spiritual Godly person. He was a devout Jew, studying under the most prominent Jewish teacher of his age, who knew scripture thoroughly, was unrivalled in zeal for his faith, and who was obedient to his leaders in preaching the true faith and correcting those who were leading others astray. And yet in striving for religious perfection, he had got it all so wrong. Miracle-working, Spirit-filled preachers of the gospel were not sufficient to persuade him of that – it took an encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus to shake him to his core and to reveal through all that brokenness, who God was raising him up to be. And even after that encounter, we see throughout his letters the continual process of discipleship that followed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – a process that continued throughout his life. He talks openly about his struggles in Romans 7:
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power[e] within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Some of the most memorable passages in Paul’s letters deal, directly or indirectly, with the battle within.
Peter, in many ways, is the polar opposite of Paul. Peter knows he is a worldly and sinful man, and says as much to Jesus. He is rash, acting on impulse in every situation and yet is almost post-modern in his complexity and contradictions: bold on the surface, but deeply fearful within; an alpha-male lost in the world, but inwardly aware of a deeper truth and cautiously open to spiritual enlightenment. If you want to understand young men and teenagers of today, studying Peter will reveal a great deal.
Peter, this big-hearted brash but fragile creature, is broken utterly by his denial of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross. But shortly after, he is restored in his encounter with the risen Jesus, and after being filled with the Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost he is able to walk in his new kingdom identity.
And I think this is an important pattern for us to recognise as we think ahead to the mission and the evangelism and ministry of which we will be a part. For all the miracles Jesus performed during his earthly ministry, for all the great preaching and enigmatic insights into the nature of God, many walked away – perhaps encouraged with a warm fuzzy feeling that they should do better. The disciples even, having spent years at the centre of Jesus’ ministry were spent, shattered, broken at the cross. It took an encounter with the resurrected Jesus to really convince them of who they were destined to be. Even then, in Matthew 28, just before Jesus’ gives the disciples their Great Commission we read:
16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
It took the Holy Spirit poured out upon them for the disciples to live the resurrected life they had been called to.
The cross reveals our brokenness to us.
It takes an encounter with the resurrected Jesus to restore us and reveal who we are made to be.
It requires the Holy Spirit to enable us to walk in our kingdom identity.
As we think ahead to the mission in September, for me that highlights a pressure-free approach to evangelism. Just as I can’t give you directly an experience of being me on my wedding day or the birth of my sons, we can’t give anyone directly an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. As imperfect as we are, God will use each of us to break down the barriers that make that encounter possible, but whether in healing, prophesying or preaching, there is no pressure on us to perform. Because the healing is not the thing; the prophecy is not the thing; how well we speak is not the thing – God is in control of the only thing that matters: namely revealing the resurrected Jesus to whomever he chooses and following that with his gift of the Holy Spirit. I can’t do that for anyone; you can’t do that for anyone; only God can.