Disclaimer: This entry is long. I have been debating whether or not to write it for a few days, and came to the conclusion that I needed to… so take it for what you will. For some of you, these thoughts are new… for others, old truths… and for me, just another round of things jumping from my mind onto the page.
I have been utilizing my time in transit by tackling some of the more narrative books on my reading list. I’m about midway through Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens…. Jackie Pullinger’s memoir.
First off, this woman is insane. Good insane. Like God asked me to get on a boat with no destination and get off wherever He leads me ….so I did …. insane. I admire her faith, and I am both challenged and inspired by her story. What strikes me most about her experiences thus far is the fact that she had to push aside what she knew about Christianity in order to allow God to have His way.
She was in the midst of the drug lords and darkness of the Walled City, and people were meeting Christ. Yet, they were not becoming stereotypical Christians and she had no idea how to minister to their needs. At first she tried to disciple them through scripture and church, but soon realized that that didn’t work. One boy remarked: “I wanted to know Jesus, and you gave me a library”. Many of them couldn’t read, and if they could they didn’t have the time because of the demanding lifestyle it takes to survive on those streets…
“The idea of finding a quiet place to study their Bibles and contemplate the Almighty was a joke. But praying in a new language is essentially practical, because they could walk along any noisy Hong Kong street and no one would notice” (79)
They didn’t know scripture or theology, but they knew God and were intimately interacting with the Holy Spirit throughout their daily lives. Imagine walking down the streets of the your city on your way to work, praying aloud in the Spirit under your breath, utilizing your time in transit to communicate with God…
A year ago, even a few months ago, I would have totally dismissed the idea. Now, I kinda chuckle to myself at the thought because I understand where she is coming from and why a friend/mentor of mine insisted that I read her book.
During a summer discipleship class, our instructor encouraged us to build up our discipline to pray in the Spirit at least one hour a day. I almost left the room because I felt that his suggestion was both ridiculous and offensive… and I told him so. He pleaded with us to just give it fifteen minutes a day and as we assessed whether it was profitable, then we could decide whether or not to build up to an hour. That’s exactly what Jackie Pullinger began doing while she was struggling with her ministry in Hong Kong… she was filled with the Spirit, pushed the experience aside, and later re-acknowledged the gift and committed to fifteen minutes of prayer a day.
“After about six weeks, I noticed something remarkable. Those I talked to about Christ believed. I could not understand it at first and wondered how my Chinese friends suddenly improved, or if I had stumbled on a splendid new evangelistic technique. But I was saying the same things as before.
It was some time before I realized what had changed. This time, I was talking about Jesus to people who wanted to hear. I had let God have a hand in my prayers, and it produced a direct result. Instead of my deciding what I wanted to do for God and asking His blessing, I was asking Him to do His will through me as I prayed in the language He gave me.” (65).
Jackie Pullinger surrendered what she knew to God’s will and began seeing results. The boys she interacted with were doing the same, not because she suggested it, but because God had been filling them with the Spirit and giving them new languages as they were coming to Christ. I am by no means suggesting that we should throw our devotional lives and intellectual understanding of scripture out the window in exchange for a deeper prayer life or that there is only one way to pray effectively… balance is definitely important and should not be overlooked, but I do think that there is a lesson to be learned here.
There is something to be said about surrendering one’s plans to the will of God and allowing Him to guide your prayers and direct your path. There is a power that comes when we stop trying to commit to changing things by our power and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. I think that Oswald Chambers addressed this topic in his classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest more eloquently and accurately than I ever could.
“THE AFTERWARDS OF THE LIFE OF POWER
“Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now;
but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.”
JOHN 13:36“And when He had spoken this, He Saith unto him, Follow Me” Three years before, Jesus had said, “Follow Me,” and Peter had followed easily, the fascination of Jesus was upon him, he did not need the Holy Spirit to help him to do it. Then he came to the place where he denied Jesus, and his heart broke. Then he received the Holy Spirit, and now Jesus says again, “Follow Me.” There is no figure in front now saving the Lord Jesus Christ. The first “Follow Me” had nothing mystical in it, it was an external following; now it is a following in internal martyrdom (cf. John 21:18).Between these times Peter had denied Jesus with oaths and curses, he had come to the end of himself and all his self-sufficiency, there was not one strand of himself he would ever rely upon again, and in his destitution he was in a fit condition to receive an impartation from the risen Lord. “He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” No matter what changes God has wrought in you, never rely upon them, build only on a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, and on the Spirit He gives.
All our vows and resolutions end in denial because we have no power to carry them out. When we have come to the end of ourselves, not in imagination but really, we are able to receive the Holy Spirit.“Receive ye the Holy Ghost”- the idea is that of invasion. There is only one lodestar in life now, the Lord Jesus Christ”
Oswald Chamber’s words are so rich that I really don’t want to elaborate on them too much, but I would like to relate his wisdom to Jackie Pullinger’s experience. She went to Hong Kong because she was intrigued by the possibilities. She found herself struggling, yet persevering because of God’s grace and provision. She was getting by in life, but wasn’t seeing people come to Christ. None of her attempts at gatherings or studies worked out the way she had planned, and she was frustrated. Then, she finally reached a point where she allowed God to have complete control over everything in her life including her prayers and He imparted to her an increased power for her life. She found herself finding favor with drug lords, seeing people delivered from their addictions, and watching as lives were being changed by God. She was walking in the power of life in Christ.
Disclaimer2.0: before you read any further, I am going to be a bit bolder and more honest than I normally would in a blog entry- simply because I feel that I should because there may be someone who reads this who thinks that I am insane and will receive an inspiring affirmation of that sentiment.
God has been speaking to me alot over the last semester about the difference between deciding to follow Him and living a life in Him. When we decide to follow Him, we accept the gift of salvation. As humans we are capable of physically stepping towards God in the external sense. It is He who has to change us internally, to transform as from the inside out. And, we cannot truly follow Christ until we stop using our flesh and bone to propel our steps. Peter was following Christ, yet he was still incapable of following Christ… and then he received the Spirit and was able to respond to the command to follow Him and pioneer the early Church. When we completely surrender and allow His Spirit to invade all that we were, are, and will ever be, we allow His power to flow through us and continue to build His Kingdom here on earth.
I remember when I made the decision to physically move toward God, and I remember dozens of times when I, like Peter, denied who He was and could no longer follow. Many of my plans did not work, and my efforts came up short. There are times in my life where I stood still, or sat still- on the roof generally, long enough to allow the Spirit to move enough for me to move a step, but then returned to my own man power. I felt God move or heard His voice, and surrendered some…. but not all and I fully agreed with Martin Luther’s sentiment that surrender is a daily necessity because I was incapable of surrendering more than a portion of my life at a time. I remember hitting rock bottom, and relying on God alone out of desperation and being in that sense of utter despair. Eventually, I surrendered enough to God to be filled by His Holy Spirit. Like Jackie Pullinger, I dismissed the idea that the gifts I had received were useful and continued to pursue the plan that I had designed for my life. I included the things that God revealed to me that I thought were important, and I used the gifts and wisdom He had given me only when it was convenient. I had decided to follow without being willing to follow beyond my capabilities and expectations.
In His patience and love, God has been pulled me closer to Himself and as I remain in Him, He is teaching me how to allow His Spirit to work in and through my life. While seeking some time with Him at the altar a few months ago… God asked me the same question that Oswald Chambers mentioned in his book years ago “I am willing to go to death with Thee, but- [am I] willing to be identified with Thy death so that I may sacrifice my life to God?” He said “I know that you are willing to die for me, but are you willing to live for me? in this life, where you are now?”. My initial response was of course… and then the ‘what if I asked you this…’ scenarios began to come to mind…. and I was mortified at the fact that my willingness to follow God was conditional… I realized that I was incapable of following Him and that I needed His Spirit to guide me or I couldn’t follow.
The truth is that this realization was a pivotal moment for me this semester. Following the revelation that I needed to follow God with a new vigor that only His Spirit could inflame, I was lead into a spiritual desert. I had tried every discipline I knew to try to pull myself out of this funk and I was still feeling distant from God since our “you aren’t willing to live for me” conversation. Later when our small group decided to challenge one another by making a commitment to a new spiritual discipline, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I pulled one of the leaders, a close friend of mine, aside and told her of how my summer instructor issued a discipline challenge to us and I wanted to try it. To be honest, I was out of ideas and I missed hearing God’s voice. I decided that for my discipline challenge I would commit to praying in the Spirit at least fifteen minutes a day. I told my small group that my discipline of choice was something else prayer related in order to not bring up an uncomfortable topic, but the leader knew the truth of the challenge I promised to fulfill.
Praying in the Spirit is something that I have done ever since I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and received the gift of being able to pray in tongues, but I didn’t do it on a regular basis. Essentially my approach to praying in tongues was ‘when times get desperate and I don’t know what to pray- or when I feel like God really wants me to- then I will, but I don’t necessarily like doing it’. It made me feel stupid, and even though I saw the benefits of it, I didn’t see the point in making it a daily ritual. It was a special occurrence, not a regular part of my faith…
Except I went through a period of time in the spring of last year where I had hit a point of hopelessness regarding my situation at home and my summer plans .. then I had utilized my prayer language quite often because I did not have words to address the situation. During this time period, I noticed God’s supernatural presence in my life more often. Other gifts that I had once purposefully clenched were reappearing with a new consistency and clarity… but I was afraid of losing control… I thought I was in full surrender… but I wasn’t because I was too afraid of living for Him and in His power.
So earlier this semester, while in a spiritually dry season, I made a promise to try this challenge. Honestly, I saw no immediate difference and I still felt rather stupid and I remained in the desert, but I promised to try this challenge and continued to pray for at least a few minutes a day in tongues. Soon I realized that my discomfort with this awkward discipline became an enjoyment. The minutes multiplied… My life was simultaneously getting more unusual. Certain conversation topics were following me everywhere and the opportunities to talk to people about areas that I am knowledgeable in were popping up constantly. My words were really impacting people and doors were opening to build relationships. I also began to notice more frequent and direct answers to prayers. I found it weird, but didn’t think much of it. Until I read Jackie Pullinger’s comment in her book about her experience with the fifteen minute challenge and it instantly clicked. Funny thing is that before I even bought the book, I found myself with a new strolling pastime, praying in the Spirit as I traveled from place to place. I have seen the difference in my life that occurs when I give myself the time to pray every day in a way that aligns my spirit with God’s will… in a way where I can only control the fact that I’m praying and I have no idea what I am saying or asking for… in a way that requires complete surrender.
I’m not there yet, but I’m learning. It’s amazing to see how God so gently instructs me. For instance, on our mission trip, I was praying for something, but saw no results. So, my last resort was to pray in tongues, but the scope of my prayer was specific instead of being open to God’s solution. I prayed in another language, yet my heart was framing the prayer through the scope of “God this is what I think needs to be done, Holy Spirit show me how to make my plan happen”. God took this as a teaching opportunity, granted my request and I soon realized that my plan wasn’t the solution to the problem. He asked me to pray again, with someone this time, using the prayer language that He gave me. I was too ashamed and afraid to do so… and by the time I was willing to live for God in this way half of my missions team was in the room and I had already missed the opportunity to see the reward of an answered prayer. While God assured me that He would answer the prayer, He gently taught me a lesson in timely obedience as the day continued…. and redeemed my shortcoming by allowing me to share with others what He has done in my life.
I’m continually learning what it means to live for God and in His power. I am willing to live for Him, only because His Spirit is directing me and can push me to new heights. One of the ‘ what if scenarios ‘ that God asked me about at the altar was “what if I asked you to lead short term mission trips, would you do that for me?”. Because I was praying, and because He taught me that very important lesson in timely obedience, I followed His instructions just in time.. perfect timing… to apply for and receive a job this summer… leading short term mission trips…. God fulfills His promises and guides the path of those He loves. The question is whether or not we have surrendered enough to walk in the power of His Spirit…
As I close, I want to make a clarification that my intention in writing this entry is not to suggest that speaking in tongues is the source of power and that everyone should speak in tongues to receive power. Paul did say that he desired all to speak in tongues, and I desire that for everyone as well, but I must admit that I still am not sure if speaking in tongues is a gift that everyone receives. So while I used my own experiences and the Pullinger story to express the impact of praying in the Spirit as an example, my emphasis is on the nature of surrender that comes with that type of prayer. Complete surrender makes room for an impartation of power… if we can continual be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk out that power… then we can truly live for God .
And as I am discovering more and more each day… Jesus is so worthy of all of us.. every aspect of our lives because He took our death so that we could live for Him… and living life for God is so much more exciting than trying to get by on my own. =]
“This time that I have left is all I have of worth
I lay it at Your feet, Lord, it’s less than You deserve
And though I’ve little strength, and though my days are few
You gave Your life for me so I will live my life for You
Like You spilled Your blood, I spill my heart
As an offering to my King
Here I am, take me as an offering
Here I am, giving every heartbeat for Your glory”
- Alabaster Jar, Gateway Worship
I apologize for the length of this post, but not for the nature of its content because I know that God wanted me to write this. If you have any thoughts on or questions about this entry or why I felt as if I had to write it, please let me know.