The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen
The Naked Church – Chapter 18 – Clothed with Power
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do
what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these
because I am going to the Father, and I will do
whatever you ask in my name.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – The voice on the phone was calm. “Reverend Jacobsen, this is the emergency room at Kaweah-Delta Hospital. There’s been an accident involving people from your congregation. Could you come down here right away?”
Even beneath the nurse’s professionalism flowed an unmistakable current of urgency. I phoned my co-pastor and left immediately. As I drove I began to pray. Only then did I realize how little I knew about the situation into which I was headed. Who was it? What kind of accident?
The Spirit of God knew better than I, so I let him do the praying for me as I opened my heart to God’s presence. I was almost there when the thought raced across my mind: “I want that child to live.” What child? Was that you, God?
After I identified myself to the emergency-room nurse, she led me past the suffering-filled rooms to a young couple standing in a busy corridor. Fear and despair filled their faces. Behind them in an examination room lay their only child, not even two years old. The sheets around his head were crimson with blood.
Through their weeping they pieced together the circumstances for me. Their son had been playing outside near the shoulder of their quiet residential street. A jeep had inadvertently strayed off the road onto the shoulder, running over Jeffrey’s head and crushing his skull.
The doctor confirmed what anyone could sense in the air— death was imminent. As my co-pastor arrived we prayed in the hall, asking God to heal Jeffrey. When we were done the father wanted to go outside and collect his thoughts. He asked me to accompany him.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – As we came to a busy intersection God spoke to me: “Have the father pray for his son right now.” My heart was pounding. “Jeff, I feel that God wants you to pray for Jeffrey right now.” On one of Visalia’s busiest street corners we held hands and prayed. It was short but powerful, and immediately tension gave way to peace. We hurried back to the emergency room.
Jeffrey still lay in the examining room as people scurried about him. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“Just a minute or so ago Jeffrey almost died. He went into arrest and the medical people thought it was over. Then all of a sudden he revived. They’re taking him up now for surgery.”
Even though the situation was still critical and the doctors told us that Jeffrey’s chances were very slim, we were convinced that something had changed. The spirit of death was gone. During his quick recovery we continued to bathe him in prayer that the brain damage the doctors said was likely would never materialize. It didn’t.
Though the miracle here was neither complete nor indisputably verifiable medically, no one who was involved doubted God’s intervention. As much as it testifies to God’s working, however, it raises another question: Why could God show us to pray on that street corner in order to save Jeffrey from death, but not heal his skull completely?
Why Not Today?
Let me admit at the outset of this chapter that my hunger in the area of supernatural power exceeds my experience. Though I’ve been fortunate to be a witness and beneficiary of many indisputable miracles, I’m presently involved in needs for healing, both physical and emotional, that have not yet been fulfilled despite intense prayer.
Many people take that as reason enough to question the availability of God’s power today. I don’t. The church today, captive to all the distractions we’ve talked about in this book, is not living in biblical normality. We are not as full of God’s power as we should be. Prayers go unanswered not because God has changed his plan but because we haven’t learned how to let his power flow through us.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – We are a generation mostly won to Christ through the persuasion of orators, not the power of God’s presence. Paul warned us that such people would have the inclination to put their trust in man’s wisdom instead of God’s power. And that we do. Our models of success are found in spellbinding personalities, diligent planning, or good old-fashioned hard work. Many believers have never witnessed an outright miracle, and consequently they think of prayer as nothing more than the pronouncement of blessing on their own efforts.
To make matters worse, many who talk of God’s power being used today discredit that theology with financial abuse, immorality, egotism, and false claims of success. Some are charlatans who fake God’s power for their own gain. Many others may be well-intentioned but haven’t learned the difference between an emotional frenzy and the Holy Spirit.
We also face the disappointments of our own past unanswered prayers. Even when we were the most sure that our requests were not selfish, and we sought God with all our heart, our prayers were powerless to change the circumstances. To pray in expectancy again we need to get past these disappointments.
Certainly these problems make it difficult to flow with God’s power, but not impossible. The evidence of Scripture must outweigh any lack of evidence we find in our own experience. God does want us to participate in his power, and we can find it again if we will mine the depths of his presence like a prospector after gold.
Learning to be vessels of God’s power does not come naturally for any of us. We cannot expect to walk in spiritual reality with the same methods we use in the material realm. That’s like trying to use the same rules underwater that we do on land. They just don’t work.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – We learn to navigate on land even before we can remember, and doing so becomes second nature. But put us underwater and everything changes. Instead of gravity forcing us down, buoyancy pulls us up. Speech is unintelligible underwater, and breathing itself becomes a calculated activity. Walking is a nearly fruitless endeavor and running is impossible. To move effectively in water you have to learn to swim.
In the same way, our life in the material world leaves us unprepared for the supernatural. Though being born of the Spirit opens us to the reality of the spiritual world, we must still learn to move in it. Seeing how it works will not only give us direction for how we can change but will show us why some of our past expectations have not been met.
Here are six characteristics that will help us gain an understanding of how God’s power can flow more effectively in our life.
1. God’s power cherishes intimacy above activity. Life in the material world prefers achievement to relationships, and so it is natural for us to prefer doing things for God instead of letting him work through us.
Jesus taught us another way: “If you remain in me… ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). God’s power flows only out of intimacy. All the seminars, techniques, and outlines in the world won’t replace that reality. Loving and obeying God is all that is necessary to his working in us.
“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:5). Miracles happen not because we’ve learned to obey all the right rules but because we believe God. Throughout this book we’ve dealt with the many elements in Christianity today that distract people from intimacy. Those distractions exact a price—the power of God’s life. For the most part Christians today live fragmented and disjointed lives, seduced as much by the busyness of the church as the pleasures of this world. Hudson Taylor drives the point home: “An easygoing, non-self-denying life will never be one of power.”
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – We kid ourselves if we think we can move in God’s power without cultivating a relationship with him. That’s where he purifies us, equips us, and fills us with his presence so that we don’t have to live our lives out of our own resources. If we won’t come to him consistently we shouldn’t complain when our prayers don’t move God to action.
Clothed with Power ~ 213
Only in his presence can our faith be nurtured, and over and over again Scripture tells us that God’s work in us is a marriage of his grace and our faith. Our old nature says, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but the Word calls us to “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). The primary realities of this universe are not observed by physical senses. God’s presence works at a far deeper level than eyes, ears, and rationalism can touch. Faith is our link to what is unseen, helping us to see God’s will and giving us the strength to obey it.
Faith today is sorely misunderstood by those who think it to be a spiritual force they can use to fulfill their own pleasures. They are always trying to prove faith by positive confessions (which often end up to be outright lies) and by token acts. But nothing could be more futile. Faith is not our means to earn anything from his hand. Rather it describes an entire relationship with God, one that is based on grace, trust, sensitivity, and submission to his will.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – Not only does God’s power flow through our relationship with him, but it is also the conduit that lets us share that power with others. Often when Jesus healed people he was moved with compassion. What moves us when we pray for others? I know I’m often bombarded with an awareness of how bad I’m going to look if nothing happens. God’s power doesn’t move freely in that environment.
At other times I’ve prayed for a miracle specifically to avoid more costly personal involvement. My prayer was not an extension of my compassion but a substitute for it, like asking God to heal the beaten man on the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan because this would be easier than bandaging the wounds and paying for his stay at an inn. The early church regarded selling their property to help one another in financial need as a miracle just as real as multiplying the loaves and fishes. Until we’re moved enough to spend our resources, chances are we’re not ready to rely on God’s.
Our own intimate relationship to God is the well out of which spiritual power flows. Without it, all our efforts and petitions will never come to pass.
2. God’s power is all-inclusive. God’s power cannot be selectively received. That explains why many people pray for godly things, only to be disappointed when they don’t happen. We can’t limit God’s working to just one area of our lives. Unless we are as concerned for God to heal us of our sin and selfish ambitions as we are our diseases, we cannot expect him to just be there when we want him.
“Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry…. I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague” (Jeremiah 14:11,12). For years the Israelites had served their own pleasures, ignoring God’s warnings. Now in their crisis they wanted him to make everything better. But God told Jeremiah that no amount of prayer would now summon his action.
God is not a genie whom we can call out of a bottle to help further our selfishness. When we invite him to work in our behalf, he comes to every area of our lives to make us like himself. Those who want to restrict him to their own personal comfort really misunderstand just what kind of God he is. It is a subtle rebellion, to be sure, but one that still denies us his power.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – That’s why it is ridiculous for us to ask if God wants to heal everyone. Certainly he is a healing God, but there are times when God looks past our temporal circumstances to heal the greater diseases of selfishness and sin in our lives. As with surgery, some healing comes only through further pain.
3. God’s power is released by his activity, not his ability. God can do anything. His power over creation is total and complete. He could turn this book into a piece of chocolate cake, but I doubt that he’ll do it no matter how badly you might want him to.
Faith doesn’t rest on what God can do but on what he is doing. Abraham was commended for his faith, not for the son he wanted, but for the son God had promised: “[He was] fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:21).
That’s why intimacy is the link to God’s power. Until we see what God is doing in a given situation, we have no basis to be confident about its outcome. Jesus himself lived that way: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). God wants us as well to know what he’s doing, so we can cooperate with him. Listen to him when you pray. He will show you, and then you can proceed with confidence.
Clothed with Power ~ 215
Generalized promises won’t suffice in this setting, nor will our own conclusions about what we think is best. God’s work is too personal for such questions, and his wisdom too great. He considers more variables than we could ever hope to comprehend, picking the best of all possible answers. And, as we said in the last chapter, his greatest priority will not be providing for our personal comfort, but transforming us into his image.
4. God’s power flows through obedient people. You cannot read the Bible and find support for the idea that God will do his work regardless of how people respond to him. Ephesians 3:2O says, “To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” The New Testament is an appeal for vessels, people through whom God’s power can work, to bring his will into the reality of human experience.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – One of the greatest deterrents to people growing in their use of supernatural power is the attitude that no matter what we do, God’s work will still be accomplished. Such thinking is only thinly veiled fatalism. People who believe this are the ones who blame God for babies born deformed or a young father dying in a car crash. But God is not responsible for either of these. In an otherwise-excellent book on God’s nature, The Autobiography of God, Lloyd John Ogilvie falls into a trap that keeps many believers from seeking God wholeheartedly: “If God wants it, no one can stop it. If he doesn’t there’s no way you can pull it off anyway. So relax.”
Though I agree with Ogilvie that human effort cannot perform God’s work, I cannot agree that everything in this age conforms to God’s will so easily. “The whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Satan is the cause of the anguish of this world, and yet one of his greatest deceits has been to get people to blame God for it. He is not greater than God in moving history toward his defeat at the second coming of Christ. Until then Satan is the ruler of those who belong to this age, and through them he seeks to destroy the work of God.
Through us God wants to prevail over him, but this does not mean that we win every battle. About his attempts to get to Thessalonica, Paul said that Satan thwarted him three times. He didn’t say that it wasn’t God’s will-only that he had lost a battle.
5. God’s power is simple. Part of the reason it is difficult for us to flow with God’s power is that we are so awed by it. We don’t see how simple it is for God to heal cancer or emotional scars, so we are overwhelmed by it all. We can’t imagine God working through us in power; so consequently we don’t let him.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – Jesus tried to drive home that point to his disciples on one occasion. After miraculously satisfying the hunger of 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus sent his disciples across the lake. In the middle of the night he came to them in the midst of a storm—walking on the lake! They were terrified as he walked up to them and climbed into the boat. Immediately the storm ceased. In Mark 6:51,52 we read, “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves.”
What about the loaves? Jesus was showing them how easy it is for God to change the natural world. He didn’t want them to be awed by God’s power, because he wanted them to use that power, and he knew they would never do so as long as they were so amazed by it. If that was true for them, it will be much more difficult for us.
They lived at a time when almost everyone accepted the fact that unseen forces controlled the actions of matter. Even the heathen feared that the dimming of the sun during an eclipse resulted from angry gods. Now we know that such is not the case. An eclipse is merely the result of the moon’s predictable orbit crossing between earth and sun. For them an eclipse was a terrifying surprise, but we can pinpoint the exact time and location of any such future occurrence.
For them to believe that devils inhabited people, that water could be made into wine, or that a lame person could be instantaneously healed by Peter’s shadow falling across him was not as great a jump as it is for us. We “know” why people are sick; we can diagnose it medically and even prescribe treatment knowing the statistical odds for its effectiveness.
For us to imagine God intervening in that process is staggering, and is probably our greatest deterrent to the miraculous. If we’re not looking for him to move, we probably won’t recognize him when he does. Somehow we need to recapture the childlike wonder of knowing that our God is big enough to do whatever he wants to in his creation.
6. God’s power is practical. It is not some mysterious unobservable force. One day a woman touched Jesus’ cloak as he passed through a crowd; she sought to be healed of incurable bleeding. The moment she touched him she was healed, and Jesus whirled around to find out who touched him. The disciples were confused by the question because the entire crowd was pressing against him. “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me” (Luke 8:46).
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – Jesus knew when God’s power was at work. He said we could expect that same power to flow out of our lives: “Whoever believes in me… streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38). That’s the essence of power. It is not our words or our actions, but the flow of God’s Spirit rising out of us to touch others. I’ve prayed for people possessed by demons, saying all the right words with tremendous authority in my voice, and have seen nothing happen. At other times I’ve just quietly worshiped God as that flow of life poured out of my being and shattered the powers of darkness.
Once you’ve had some experience with it, you’ll be able to tell when God is moving through your prayers and when he is not. When he’s not, stop for a moment and reexamine the situation. Are you following what God wants to do? Does he have something else to reveal? Ministering God’s life is not playing some mystery game. We can know what’s going on and can cooperate with him.
A Lesson from the Trenches
The best training ground for moving in God’s power is not in the sanctuary, but in the street. For too long, the gifts of the Spirit have been used like toys in the nursery instead of weapons in battle. You don’t learn to move in the supernatural at seminars— you learn by doing. That’s where Jesus put his disciples. Let’s look at one of those instances and what Jesus taught his disciples about growing in his power.
Mark 9:14-29 tells the story of a young, demon-possessed boy tormented by seizures. The disciples had already prayed for him unsuccessfully when his father brought him to Jesus. When the demon saw Jesus, he threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground frothing at the mouth. Jesus calmly questioned the father for a few moments, getting the facts and challenging him to believe in God. As a crowd began to gather Jesus rebuked the demon, causing it to shriek, shake the boy violently, and finally depart. The boy lay motionless. Many thought he was dead, but Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up. What can we learn from this encounter?
1. Get involved with people in need. People who say the church doesn’t need a miracle today aren’t spending time with anyone who really needs one. When you see human need in light of God’s love, you won’t be able to sit back unaffected. The disciples got involved, even if unsuccessfully. But only people who are willing to risk failure in the use of supernatural power will engage the process to grow in its use.
2. Be convinced of God’s objective. After the disciples failed, the father took his son to Jesus. Jesus reaffirmed God’s desire, and they got back to the task. Too many people assume that their failed efforts are an indication that God must have a different objective. Seek God until you understand what he wants to do and how he wants it done. That’s information which his Spirit wants to give you.
3. Get the facts, from the situation and from the Spirit. From the father, Jesus found out about the boy’s condition and built faith in the father. Was it during this time that Jesus looked to see what the Father was doing? I think so, for he never approached needs in exactly the same way. He treated each person as an individual.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eighteen – Some were healed on the spot, others later; some by a word, others by washing spit-based mud out of their eye. I’m convinced that the differences in form were more than just God’s desire for variety. Jesus was ministering at a level far deeper than people’s physical need, and how he met that need advanced his work in other areas of their life as well.
4. Don’t make a show of it. As soon as Jesus saw a crowd begin to gather, he took care of the need quickly. Jesus didn’t showcase needs as demonstrations of his power. He didn’t use people’s needs to draw crowds, but rather to change lives. He spoke in parables so that only the hungry would understand. God’s power often works in hidden ways, so that people who don’t want to believe him will have the excuse not to. Remember, he wants us to love him for who he is, not for what we can gain from him.
5. As long as you’re convinced of God’s desire, stay with the need. This is probably where the disciples let down. If the boy was flung into convulsions when they started to pray, they probably thought their prayers were only making matters worse, so they stopped. Could this be what Jesus referred to when he said that this kind comes out only by much prayer? Prayer must continue until God’s will is carried out. How often the Word challenges us to persevere, particularly as it relates to prayer!
We cannot expect the enemy to give in so easily, especially when God reveals his will. He is a thief and will always try to steal God’s power.
To learn perseverance, we must stop seeing our prayers as requisition forms laid on the desk of a supervisor. If that’s all prayer is, there is no reason to give God more than one prayer to act on. True prayer is the vehicle by which God brings his power into our circumstances. Our perseverance challenges whatever resists God’s will in us or in the circumstance. That’s why many of the prayers for miracles in the Bible are directed at the sickness, storm, or demon: “Be healed. Be still. Be gone.” Perseverance doesn’t wear God down with our requests; it wears down what resists him in our world.
How long should you persevere? Until you’re convinced that the outcome matches God’s desire. We prayed with one demonplagued young lady over a five-month period until she was free. There are healing needs around my life today that we’re still praying for. By and large, however, all-night marathon sessions don’t prove very effective. If there doesn’t seem to be clear direction as to how God is moving, retreat to some times of prayer and fasting so that he can give further wisdom. Then come back to the need later.
Perseverance also means standing with people if the hoped-for miracle doesn’t arrive at all. Don’t dare blame their weaknesses or failures as a reason and abandon them in embarrassment. Live with them in Father’s love beyond their disappointment until the day when we are all complete in his presence.
6. Finally, learn from your efforts. The disciples did that. They came to Jesus afterward and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” That’s why it is always best to pray with a team (two or three) who can then discuss the results later. Let God show you what you did right and where you missed him, so that you can be more effective in the future. Include some inexperienced people among you so they don’t have to stay that way.
With eyes tuned to the supernatural workings of a loving Father, we will see his fingerprints all over our lives. The early church lived in awe of God’s working, demonstrated as much by the fact that the rich were giving to the poor, as by a lame man being healed at the temple.
Walking in intimacy with the living God will restore the loss of spiritual power, all too prevalent in the church today. He wants to de-mystify supernatural power, so that he can help us walk in his kingdom and advance his will in the lives of people around us. Let him teach you how.
Produced with permission from Wayne Jacobsen.