For decades, maybe centuries, the church has gathered weekly around a sermon. Our reasons are noble: We value the Scriptures and know that our lives are to be anchored in truth. But the study of the Scriptures is meant to launch us into an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.
In that moment of connection, we obtain life. Without encountering the One to whom Scriptures point, we are a people to be pitied. As Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” John 5:39-40.
Nearly every leader wants revival in one way or another, and many want healings, deliverances and miracles. But it’s hard to have the same fruit as the early church when we value a book they didn’t have above the Holy Spirit they did have.
That statement is not intended to get us to put less value on Scripture. That would be a great mistake. I simply point to the fact that without the Holy Spirit, the Bible is a closed book. The Bible was written in such a way that only those in relationship with God have ongoing access to its mysteries. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see truth. Jesus is the truth we long to understand. Jesus Christ is perfect theology.
The church camps around the sermon; Israel camped around the presence. Learning to recognize, treasure and carry this presence is at the heart of the Christian life. Recalibrating our hearts to this supreme value affects everything.
I don’t know any leader who would deny that our greatest treasure is God’s presence. Yet to camp around the presence of God in our personal lives, as well as in our corporate gatherings, means He is the reference point for all that is said and done—something like due north to the compass. God’s presence may be central in theory for many of us, but it is time for it to also become so in practice. It must be measurable.
We know instinctively that our encounter with God is what changed us. For some, it was a “road to Damascus” experience—extreme and hard to miss. For others it was much more subtle, like the internal realization of God upon them that made repentance possible. At that point, they were forever changed. We owe the people we serve an encounter with God, and for that to be a consistent outcome of our ministries, we must be full of the Holy Spirit. Fullness is measured in overflow.
Many have stopped short of a divine encounter because they were satisfied with good theology. I became painfully aware of this truth in 1987 when I attended a John Wimber Signs and Wonders Conference. Of the many conferences I had attended through the years, this was the only time every teaching I heard was one I had already taught. Even some of the illustrations were the same as mine. It was eerie. I left somewhat discouraged, as I became aware that I had good theology, but they had fruit for what they believed. People were set free just as when Jesus ministered here on earth. Painful as that lesson was, I discovered I had to learn to put a demand on what I believed. Encounters with God were essential. Living a lifestyle of risk would be required to get me where I wanted to go.
Cultivating Awareness of God
The cultivated awareness of His presence is vital. To be truly effective, this awareness should be learned when there is no ministry. It is to be developed in the context of relationship, not performance/ministry. What we learn when no one is watching will qualify us to lead His people when everyone is watching.
Too many cry out to God for gifts, breakthrough in meetings and fruitfulness in evangelistic campaigns, but show little zeal for the Holy Spirit outside of ministry. He is to be encountered, experienced, known, followed and affectionately embraced. To show passion for God only in ministry is professional intimacy. And we have a name for those who are intimate as a profession.
Consider Jesus’ times on the mountaintop alone. The Father declared before Jesus had done anything: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” Matt. 3:17. He had already found pleasure in the heart of His Father outside of the context of ministry. We have the same opportunity to capture the heart of the Father just because of our delight in who He is. The ministry that comes out of His acceptance is far greater than the ministry that works for His acceptance. Love serves from favor, not for favor.
The Dove That Remained
When Jesus was baptized in water, John the Baptist said, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him” John 1:32. The Holy Spirit, Himself, who inspired the Scriptures, described His relationship with the Son and the Son’s relationship with Him with these words, “And He remained upon Him.” This is significant because it implies that there was never any reason for the Holy Spirit to withdraw from Jesus.