First posted over at Patheos Evangelical:
In response to Roger Olson’s thoughtful observations about American evangelicals being embarrassed by the supernatural on Patheos a few weeks ago, I found myself nodding my head in agreement. I share his concern and happen to believe that this is really the reason why many American millennials (my generation) are leaving the Christian faith. They find it so unbearably powerless. Few things annoy me more in church when I hear a robotic, lifeless prayer for someone who desperately needs a miracle. I can tell in my deepest heart when someone prays for healing whether or not he or she actually believes that God at the very least might intervene and heal supernaturally.
However, having been a part of several Christian churches in the United States ranging from Mennonite to Baptist, from Assembly of God to Anglican, I do understand some of the hesitancy and skeptical attitudes regarding miracles because of the heavy influence of rationalism and other naturalistic worldviews in our culture. Yet now as a graduate of an interdenominational School of Ministry which fosters a dynamic prophetic culture and has as part of its core curriculum intentional activation in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, allow me to provide some counsel to help spiritually hungry believers over this hurdle.
If you belong to a church which firmly holds to cessationism, what I offer here will not register. The theological chasm that exists between the active operation of the gifts of the Spirit, specifically the supernatural ones, and the doctrine which states that such gifts ceased with the death of the last apostle is indeed wide and it is another conversation for another day. Yet I would conjecture that an increasing number of people do believe in the continuation of the gifts but simply do not know how to, as John Wimber might put it, “do the stuff”. If that’s you, here are a few suggestions.
Remember That The Holy Spirit is in Charge
Too often Christians in the West seem to have more of a belief in the devil’s ability to deceive them than in the Holy Spirit’s ability to lead them into all truth. This is an unnecessary paranoia. It is also a curious thing to hear some Christians I know talk of spiritual activity, whether angelic or demonic, as some kind of psychosomatic phenomenon, or they default to thinking anything supernatural must be evil. Psychics, tarot card readers, and witch doctors are the counterfeits; Satan can only pervert the real. The Holy Spirit is the real thing and Christians are filled with him and He can be trusted to lead all those who sincerely confess Jesus as Lord into the truth about the spiritual realm and the supernatural, which God made.
Address Excesses and Abuses and then Move on to Proper Use in a Practical Way
This is the giant elephant in the room so let’s deal with it. We have all watched in horror as television ministers with bad hair and even worse doctrine manipulate people into emotionally charged experiences, whipping them up into a frenzy as they claim to be moving in God’s power. Then the evangelist asks you to send him a check and promises that you will receive some “glory water” or a sizable financial reward in return. Yes, as with everything else in the Bible, the supernatural has been abused. But as Olson mentioned in his piece, the old saying about disuse not being the solution for abuse means that we must find a way to properly use the supernatural. What does that look like?
For starters, the most important thing to remember when ministering to someone in the power of the Holy Spirit, whether in healing or prophecy or in any other supernatural gifting, is that the person being prayed for encounters the love of God and is pointed to Jesus. The goal is to exalt Christ. You can tell when someone has a spiritual gift that they use for their own personal gain or to draw attention to themselves that that person is at best operating with impure motives or at worst is a false teacher. Anyone truly led by the Holy Spirit will always desire to bring glory to Jesus, not to himself. Perhaps to begin, when you pray for someone to be healed, have compassion and believe, like a child believes, that the person you are praying for will be healed. Call upon God and ask Him how to specifically pray. The more you do this the more you will engage the tension but will sense that still small voice of the Lord leading you.
Submit to the Holy Spirit and Create Environments to Experiment
A great way to continue activation in these gifts is to create environments within the church where everyone can learn in community. Keep Sunday morning for worship, the proclamation of the Word, and the celebration of communion, but maybe on a weeknight gather a group of parishioners and start exploring healing and prophecy with the Holy Spirit. I have seen prayers for healing and prophetic ministry modeled beautifully on several Alpha courses I have been a part of, and there are also great, biblically sound training materials available on how to do this in other contexts. Chris Gore’s Walkingin Supernatural Healing Power and its accompanying practical guide is a great place to begin learning about healing from a seasoned pastor who knows what it is like to pray for healing for many years and not see a single person healed but does see miracles regularly now, and Kris Vallotton’s handbook Basic Trainingfor the Prophetic Ministry is a solid, thorough resource with respect to prophecy.
The Apostle Paul said he wished everyone in church would speak in tongues but he also told the Corinthians that he would rather have them prophesy (1 Cor 14:5). Therefore, people needed to learn how and be trained. Just as new Christians do not internalize the Bible and theology overnight, flowing in the supernatural is a learning process which takes time. In the same way that people need a safe place to ask questions and study the Scripture when they first receive Christ, so too with the activation in the gifts. The responsibility lies with church leadership to seek the wisdom of God for just how to approach this because they know their congregation and what format and teaching style will suit best.
You will make mistakes as you learn. Do not sweat it. When messes happen, as they inevitably do, we have to be willing to clean them up. I have known people needing deliverance from their last deliverance because they have been prayed for in ways that were harmful, usually by people who were enthusiastic to see someone healed and in their zeal they wounded the person they were praying for, especially if said person was not healed after they prayed. This is disappointing but to stop praying in faith for people because some have been wounded is to functionally opt for disuse and revert back to being embarrassed about the supernatural.
Confront the Tension and be Willing to Live in it
Sometimes people do not get healed and it is heartbreaking. Engage the pain with the Holy Spirit and keep believing and praying fervently anyway. When someone attempts to give a prophetic word they might miss it and get it wrong. Keep going after it anyway. God will cover you in your mistakes and if you are willing to learn, take correction, and persist in the pursuit you will get better at it. You are not going to deviate from Christian orthodoxy if the spirit in which you prophesy aligns with 1 Corinthians 14:2; and you will not irreparably damage someone if you make it your aim to edify, exhort or console him or her. Most importantly, every word from the Lord must be tested against the scripture and the Bible is always the reference point for processing such words, and God will never contradict what he has said.
No one likes living in the pain and tension of unanswered prayer but if our faith is not expectant even after years of struggle, what good is it? We do not have a choice to not live in this tension because only in tension can momentum spring forth. We may look like fools as we try, but that is what we signed up for when we received the revelation of Christ crucified. It is a stumbling block for many people, but it is the power of God for those being saved. Embracing the supernatural does indeed mean dying to the desire to be respected by men. Even the most intellectually astute, articulate Christian apologist will be hated by men if he bears the name of Christ.
Moreover, I can only imagine what bystanders must have thought of Jesus (probably that he was off his rocker) when he spat in the mud and then wiped it on the eyes of a blind man to minister healing to him (John 9:6-7). That was not some ancient Near Eastern cultural practice. He did what he saw his Father doing, and Father clearly told him to do it that way. Other times Jesus said the word and the person was healed. Yet other times he touched them and they were cleansed.
Jesus is our model for ministering in the supernatural and it was never a formula with the Holy Spirit back then when he was walking the earth and there is no formulaic prescription for us today. We have to be willing to cooperate with Him in relationship, listen to what he says, and then obey and watch what He does. Having witnessed and been a part of several miracles both here in America and overseas, I can personally attest that is no greater cure for embarrassment than seeing God’s miraculous power manifest in front of your own eyes. It will transform the way you see and live your life and, as the Moravian missioners used to say, the Lamb who was slain will receive the reward of his suffering. Surely Christians in the West, even those skeptical of the supernatural, want to see that happen.