Possibly one of the biggest problems amongst Christians today is that God is not really FIRST in our lives. He is not our priority EVERY TIME and He is not our CONSTANT pursuit. His will is not our PRIMARY concern and His passion for the lost is not our CONSUMING passion. In short, many of us find it too hard to love the Lord our God with ALL our heart, and ALL our soul, and ALL our mind and ALL our strength. Is it any wonder then that instead of pursuing God deeper and surrendering ourselves more completely to Him, we settle for less and mistake strong emotions for presence and anointing (though presence and anointing are often accompanied by strong emotions), bible knowledge for biblical wisdom (though bible knowledge is the foundation for biblical wisdom), intellect for spirituality (though spirituality and human intellect are intricately intertwined), random chitchat for Christian fellowship (though Christian fellowship often includes some random chitchat) and event-based outreach for true Christian witness (though Christian witness can be achieved through events). While contentment is a good thing, it must not prevent us from going further and deeper with God, and going wider in our ministry and witness. God is constantly doing a new thing, are we keeping in step with His Spirit or simply hanging on to the old because it is easier, more convenient and gives us a sense of security?
There are quite a few worship songs these days in Charismatic circles about the atmosphere, the environment in the room when Jesus walks in, etc., all focused on feelings and experience. I appreciate the fact that they help us remember that corporate worship is not just about singing enthusiastically but also about experiencing God in a personal and even tangible way, after all God is so real. You just cannot sing to God without feeling anything in your heart, He is not a stone tablet or an inanimate idol! What is important though is that while we lead people into the presence of God, leading them to experience the Lord personally and warmly, we must also lead them through other types of songs to make sure that our Christian faith is not founded upon feelings and emotions but primarily upon the foundation of the Word of God. For instance, we need to remember that our faith in God is founded upon the redemptive work of Christ on the cross – a historical fact that remains unchanged no matter what we may feel in our hearts. Negative feelings do not negate the historical fact. Our circumstances do not change our identity as children of God – deeply loved and highly favored. We also need to remember that we receive grace in order to give grace, it’s never for personal consumption only. Don’t you feel annoyed when some think that it is all for their own benefit? We receive love to give love and we receive hope to give hope. Jesus is the Light of the world and He tells us “you are the light of the world, so let your light shine!” (Jn.8:12; Mt.5:14-16)
Is there an over-emphasis on atmosphere and emotional experience in church worship today? Are we manufacturing it deliberately, creating moods with our music and our sound pads, writing lyrics that encourage the seeking of an experience? I love good flow in worship music, in fact I believe in it so much I named my former worship team, FLOW. And I would do it again with my next team! I believe that corporate worship in church services should lead worshippers from the outer courts into the holy of holies – the deeper place where we encounter Holy God and quietly hear Him speak and He does speak to us through His still small voice, not only from the Bible, though whatever we believe we hear from Him must never contradict the Bible. When He does, everything changes, our lives are transformed. I love 1Cor.14:25 where the non-believer saw amazing things happened in church, the exercise of spiritual gifts, and he fell to the ground, worshipped and exclaimed, “Truly God is amongst you!” Wouldn’t it be great if both church members and visitors in our churches leave every Sunday exclaiming, “Truly God is amongst you!”? I would love that – and I have prayed for it many times. Yet at the same time, I am truly concerned that we might consciously or unconsciously over-emphasize atmosphere and experience and make them the all-sufficient end in themselves. And when it comes to the Bible, we appear to be a lot less enthusiastic. How do we check ourselves? Just look at the lyrics of the songs we sing in church. How much of it focuses on experience – and I’m not saying we shouldn’t emphasize experience and encounter – they are important, crucial even, but we must not OVER-emphasize it. And do our lyrics cover the whole counsel of God’s Word or just the parts of the Bible that are inspiring and encouraging? We have many songs that focus on the cross – about the love of God demonstrated on the cross, Jesus paying the price, His death and His resurrection and the empty grave. That’s all good. But what about the cross we are to carry today as Christians? What about the price we are to pay living the truly Christian life, serving God wherever the Spirit leads us including places that are challenging, uncomfortable and even life-threatening like how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil? How about songs about putting to death the carnal man in us, songs about living holy lives in eager anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ, and in anticipation of His final judgment? How often do we sing songs about that? When we don’t, we are skewing the worship experience and worshippers only learn a few things and not everything about God through our corporate worship and songs we write. No wonder shallow faith is not uncommon amongst God’s people today! While we emphasize the importance of experiencing God in corporate worship, let’s be careful not to over-emphasize it. I find this philosophy I heard about three decades ago very helpful: “All Word and no Spirit, you DRY UP. All Spirit and no Word, you BLOW UP. But with both Word and Spirit, you GROW UP.”
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” – Acts 2:44-45 NIV
People often talk about how the church today should return to biblical Christianity in the New Testament. For instance, we should see the same or more miracles, signs, wonders and exercise of spiritual and power gifts today than what were recorded in Acts. I agree, we really should. But what about Ac.2:44-45? Should we not see the same or greater generosity amongst believers today than what was recorded in Acts? “… had everything in common… sold property to give to anyone who had need.” Is that even possible today? How far can we go with this? I have heard of pastors urging and people selling property to live in a cheaper home in order to give money to build a multi-million dollar church building. But I have not yet come across people selling property to give directly to the poor. Truth is, more often than not, these two verses are ignored – they are seldom preached or taught. Even in our study of the Ac.2 passage, we tend to focus our attention on other things in the passage and say little or nothing about verses 44-45. But Pastor John Gray of Relentless Church went against the grain and did something quite unheard of – asking those who were in need in his church to take as much as they needed from the offering baskets (see https://www.christianpost.com/news/relentless-church-pastor-john-gray-knocks-pulpit-pimps-lets-members-in-need-take-from-offering-baskets-228772/). What will we do today? Do we give to those who are in need? Do we give from our spare change or do we give till it hurts? Is our church known for generosity? Will we astound the world with our selfless giving? Why shouldn’t we.
How do you make a difference wherever you go and wherever you serve? First, you gotta know if God wants you to make a difference, and make a significant contribution. Once you have that settled, you move on. As far as I am concerned, the Lord wants every one of us to make a difference wherever we go. Second, you seek the Lord. Ask Him to show you what you are called to do in that particular church, ministry, company or organization. Ask for a revelation from heaven, a dream, a divine blueprint, a vision. Third, after having received the revelation, dream, blueprint or vision, don’t rush into it. Seek the Lord and ask Him to give you His timeline and His strategy. Imagine Noah rushing off to build the ark without waiting for God’s instructions on how to build it and when to build and float the ark. It would have been a disaster! Fourth, once you know the ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘how’, you just go and do it boldly, courageously, yet gently and patiently. Above all, love much, as much as you can. Don’t compromise. When you hit a wall, pray; when someone goes against you (including people who had been good friends and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ), pray more; when the enemy hurls all kinds of things at you, pray even more. Don’t give up. Don’t stop believing. Don’t let the devil win. Ask God to lead the charge, ask Him to give you the breakthrough and trust me, He will. Fifth, once you’re into it and doing the very thing God has asked you to do and to do it the way He wants you to, take a step back and watch God in action. Walk by faith, not by sight. And finally, give all the glory to God because you will see success! Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and go on to the next thing God wants you to do, and continue to make an impact, make a difference, dream God’s dreams and change the world around you. And when you are gone one day, may the Lord’s work and legacy continue because someone caught the vision and they will take your place. Hallelujah!
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Mt.19:26
I heard a story from well-known YWAMer Floyd McClung many years ago. He was visiting Stockholm probably back in the 80s or early 90s when prostitution was legal and pervasive in Sweden. One evening, he attended a prayer meeting in a small church where only a handful of people were. Someone started sharing about how rampant prostitution was and the effects of it on their country. Others added their views and talked about it in great detail. At some point, Floyd noticed an old lady sitting quietly throughout the entire discussion, listening intently to what everyone was saying. After some time, suddenly she spoke up and said, “it appears to me that you are all more impressed with the devil and what he is doing than you are with God! I thought this was supposed to be a prayer meeting!” As the Lord brought this story back to my mind, I thought hey, this is so relevant to our situation in Singapore now. Instead of being unknowingly impressed with what the devil is doing, we need to be impressed with the greatness, the power and the authority of our Almighty God! He is our Victory and He will fight for us, we only need to be still. (Exo.14:14)