We have been looking at Holy Spirit-empowered missions. So far, we have discussed Spirit-empowered teams that require Spirit-empowered-unity. This week we get to the thing that I am sure many people have been waiting for, something much more interesting—Spirit-empowered action. Action is what most of us want. We want to exercise the miraculous power that God has promised, that we read about in the Bible. We want to speak a prophetic word that unlocks the future. We want to cast out demons, we want to raise the dead. These are good things to desire. No question about that. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 12:31, Paul tells us to “Earnestly desire the greater gifts.” But then, he goes on to say, “And I show you a still more excellent way.” That is the verse leading into chapter 13, Paul’s wonderful call to love. He points out how useless all the gifts are if we do not have love.
The Holy Spirit does give His gifts to people but “as He wills.” (1Cor 12:11) In fact, the whole point of chapter 12, describing these wonderful gifts that manifest the power of the Holy Spirit and give glory to Almighty God, is that the gifts are not for individuals to use as they want to but are given to the community of believers, the Body of Christ. Chapter 14 continues that theme with comments about discerning whether or not a prophetic word is actually from God or not. The process of discernment can only occur when you have a group, a community, a team of people working together in unity.
I have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in my ministry. I have prayed for people to be healed and they were. I have cast out demons. But these things do not happen frequently. I used to be envious of people who had miraculous ministries, who regularly prayed for the sick and they were healed, who regularly cast out demons. But over the years, I have learned that that is not the way that God works through me—at least most of the time. It is up to Him how He uses me.
What I have learned through the years is that there is very little that can compare with the joy that comes through working together in real love, in Holy Spirit-empowered teams; especially when everyone is completely committed to what God wants and has set aside all of their desires, their pride and their fear. These are the things that I look forward to in ministry—not my own expression of power but a team working together well. If you want to see the power of the Holy Spirit manifest in power through your ministry, do not seek that power for yourself. Seek, rather to function in a team and to love the members of your team, to be of one heart and one mind with them. In that context, you will see the power of the Holy Spirit manifest in action. Many times, in such a context, you will not even notice that you are exercising gifts or that the power is flowing. What you will notice is how God is glorified. The Holy Spirit wants to work in such a way that attention is not drawn to Him or to us who are His instruments. He wants all honor to be given to God the Father. This is the message of what I often refer to as the “Handbook on the Holy Spirit”, 1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14.
Still, there are people who have powerful ministries, who regularly work miracles. When confronted with such ministry, we are made to feel that our faith is weak, deficient, or lacking. We wonder why we do not have the faith needed to work miracles. I, personally, have struggled with this.
We want heroes. We get caught up in hero worship. This is why great athletes are so popular. It is why rock musicians or movies actors have huge followings. For us who are Christians, we want our heroes to be great preachers or those with wonderful charismatic power. It is this desire for heroes that packs out stadiums and big churches. I am not saying that our desire for heroes is bad—it is part how God made us. I do say that such hero worship can take our eyes off of God who is truly our ultimate “hero.” Focusing on human heroes can easily turn into idolatry. In fact there is a whole nation to the north of us that has turned such idolatry into its state religion as I have written in the past. Let’s look at what the Lord says about this.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:15-23)
This is a clear indictment of those who have great charismatic ministries but lack love. The fact that a person is able to work miracles says nothing about his or her true spiritual condition. The Lord tells us not to look to the ministry but to look at its fruit in their lives. I have known of people who had great preaching or healing ministry but their private lives were hellish. They beat their wives, have been in adulterous relationships or even harmed people physically, some are crooks. These are not the fruit of the Spirit working in their lives. These things do not give glory to God. Over the years, my heroes have become those whose lives embody sweetness, joy, love and peace. Many of these people are so focused on God that they are not active in public ministry. They work in silence and obscurity.
But what about the challenge to have faith that can move mountains, uproot trees? Let’s look at two passages. The first is Luke 17:5-6. (Matthew 17:19-20 is slightly different but the message is the same.)
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.”
Jesus thinks of the smallest thing that comes to mind to illustrate how much faith is needed. We often misread this passage and, like the Disciples, plead with God to increase our faith until it is as much as a mustard seed. But that is not what Jesus means here. He is really saying to His Disciples (and to us), “Stop worrying about whether or not you have enough faith. You already do! Everyone has more faith than the size of this tiny little mustard seed.” Faith is not the issue. The issue is, as we learn through all of the Scripture, obedience. If we are obedient to God and function in that obedience, we will be able, when necessary, to move mountains and uproot trees. If our attention is focused on what God can and does do rather than on ourselves and our weakness, we won’t care whether or not we work a miracle. All we will care about is our obedience to God. We already have the needed faith.
There is also another aspect to faith and we read about that in Romans 12. Let’s look there.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith. (Romans 12:3-6)
Paul writes in verse 3 about God allocating to each of us a “measure of faith.” In verse 6, he writes about exercising our gifts “according to the proportion of [our] faith.” That does not sound like there is a lack of faith but it clearly speaks of different “faiths.” Paul tells us not to compare ourselves with others but to have an honest perspective on our abilities. God has given some people great faith to work miracles, to raise the dead, to cast out demons. He wants them to exercise that faith. He is also telling them not to be proud and us not to worry about the fact that we do not have that particular faith. He apportions to us a different type of faith. I do not have the faith that leads me to expect my prayer for physical healing to work miracles but I do have the faith to believe that God will work through me—usually in a team with my wife or others—to work inner psychological and emotional healing; to set people free internally. It is up to me to exercise that faith and not try to exercise a faith that God has not given me. Others in the group will have that faith.
Fundamentally, we are all to work together as the Body of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Spirit-empowered action follows on Spirit-empowered team work, which, itself, follows on Spirit-empowered unity. Be one with those with whom God has placed you so that you, together, will act in the power of the Holy Spirit and see God glorified through you.