A few years ago I was invited to address a congregation on the north end of Seattle. The largely young and ethnic audience appealed to me, and the church was almost within walking distance of my home. I gave it a hearty thumbs up.
The actual experience—how can I put this delicately—was memorable. Seated on the front row, I was nearly deafened during the worship by a set of tower speakers that seemed better suited for a collegiate sporting venue. The instinct to cover my ears was overwhelming—and was suppressed only out of a concern that this not-so-subtle gesture might be bad form for a visiting speaker.
As the worship continued, however, my attention shifted from the excessive volume to another, more serious, concern. All around me, exuberant (and very sweaty) worshippers were chanting, “Fire come down! Fire come down!” A distinct feeling of unease settled over me.
More specifically, I wondered what would happen if God actually responded to our request. Would we even survive?
Summoning the presence of God, be it to our church or to our city, is not an inconsequential act. When God visited the Congolese town of Ibambi in the 1950s, in response to what missionary Helen Roseveare called “increasingly desperate prayer,” his arrival was marked by a hurricane-force wind.
“It was frightening,” Roseveare recalled. “We heard this hurricane coming [but] when we looked out, the palm trees were standing absolutely still against the moonlit sky. It should have been pitch black and stormy. Then the building shook and the storm lanterns started to sway. There was a terrific noise and a sense of external power all around. We were all frightened—there must have been about 5 whites and 95 Africans present.”
At that moment, mission field leader Jack Scholes stood to his feet and said— “’This is of God. Just pray…don't fear, and don't interfere.’ A force came in and we were shaking. You couldn’t control it. Some were even thrown to the ground…”
At the end of the day, transforming revival is not about what we do, or even what God does. Rather, it is about who he is.
Until we come to grips with the fact that God is not a religious mascot, or a benign, chameleon-like deity willing to adapt himself to prevailing societal notions, our prayers for revival will go unanswered. Until now, we have been addressing our letters to a person who doesn’t exist.
But here is the good news. If we really want to know God, he has promised to be found. His Word and his world are brimming with self- disclosure. He asks only that we take the quest seriously.
Discovering the True God
God’s greatness is revealed in three primary areas—his being, his character, and his deeds. To understand him in his fullness requires that we explore each of these dimensions.
The Greatness of God’s Being
Given the inherent limitations of our minds and experience, God’s being is difficult for us to process. How does one grasp the reality in which a higher dimensional being operates?
Before we throw up our hands in defeat, it is important to bear two things in mind: 1) the magnitude and majesty of God’s being can be inferred from the slightest glimpse, and 2) neither salvation nor intimacy require that we understand God’s being fully.
In the first instance, we need to see just enough of God’s being to blow our minds. By getting a sense of how amazing and beyond common experience God is, we are less likely to underestimate him. The result is a more sober-minded approach to prayer and other forms of divine interaction.
Although nature is filled with examples of God’s greatness (a point David addresses eloquently in Psalm 8), other tantalizing glimpses into his higher dimensional reality are found in his Word. In Genesis 28, for example, Jacob is filled with awe over a vision of a “ladder” or “stairway” transporting angels between heaven and the earth. In Ezekiel 1, the prophet speaks of “an expanse” that is spread out over the heads of remarkable, wheel-linked creatures—an expanse that is “sparkling like ice, and awesome.” The New Testament describes Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17) and John’s astonishing vision of heaven (Revelation 4 and 5).
God’s power attributes (e.g., his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence) are so mind-bending that our only reaction can be to kneel in worship. The reason these unfathomable characteristics do not impede our ability to relate to God is because spiritual intimacy is rooted in his moral attributes (e.g. love, justice, and kindness).
The Butterfly Nebula has a 250,000 degree core surrounded by crystalline ice. It remains an enigma to astronomers.
Photo Credit: A Zilstra, ESA,NASA Hubble
The Greatness of God’s Character
We examine God’s character in order to learn something of his ways —why he does what he does. This is what Moses asked God to help him with in Exodus 33:13. If we don’t know how God thinks and feels about things, we will invent and project our own morality.
Today, much of what we believe about God is filtered through the rationalized appraisals of prevailing culture. This is particularly evident in modern Church teaching on holiness. Wanting to exorcise the demons of legalism (a healthy thing), ministers have “graced-up” their preaching to the point many Christians have abandoned their fear of God (a decidedly unhealthy thing).
In our preparations for revival, we cannot overlook the fact that God’s actions will always be linked to his character—and this character is the product of adherence to standards and principles that reflect the wisest possible course. His virtuous choices stir wonder and worship among the heavenly hosts (Luke 2:13-14; 1 Peter 1:12; Rev. 5:11-12), and represent the moral high ground of the universe.
If we ask this God to come to us, he will not change his clothes beforehand. He can only come as who he is.
The Greatness of God’s Deeds
God’s power to deliver and provide are well documented in both Scripture and Church history. In Psalm 145, David speaks of God’s unfathomable greatness being revealed through “mighty acts” (verses 4, 12), “wonderful works” (verse 5), “awesome works” and “great deeds” (verse 6).
And God is still at it today! Over the past fifteen years, I have personally encountered credible accounts of healed reefs and streams, angelic visitations, the multiplication of food, restoration of wildlife, ending of insurgencies and terrorism, supernatural lights and glowing foliage, springs bursting from the earth, dramatic healings and deliverances, homes and churches shaken by God’s presence, weather miracles, and much more.
Lacking any direct experience with these mighty works, many Christians have formed an image of God that is greatly diminished. This has served to both dampen their expectations, (a crucial revival trigger-point), and prevent them from testifying of God’s “awesome works” to the next generation.
Brothers and sisters, it is time to get to know the true God! Let us resolve to exchange our imaginations about his mighty works and presence for actual memories. A people with a diminished God is a people without a testimony, and a people without a testimony is a people in eclipse. Let us find him!