I’ve been unavailable for a while. I haven’t been gone, I’ve just been sick. Without going into the list of physical ailments which have assaulted me, let me get to the core of the matter – I think it’s because of the season I’ve been walking through.
This season began for me last spring. I was working on the House of Prayer Centers project, things were going well, and new opportunities were springing up. A prophetic mentor of mine was encouraging me to take more risks with the vision and abilities that God has given me. He charged me to be bolder and more forward about putting myself and my vision out there. So I prepared some new material, and began meeting with people who could help me make it happen.
At that point a dear friend and Spirit-led confidant of mine challenged me to stay off the road of self-promotion – in fact, he asked me to accompany him up to the mountain of sacrifice. He explained that he was being called to simply open his hands and let everything go, at a time when our efforts in the ministry we both partnered in together seemed to be taking off. He confronted me clearly and firmly about the path I was beginning to take with the House of Prayer Centers: we didn’t need more self-effort or self-promotion, that road would only lead to compromise after compromise, until a point where God wouldn’t be in it at all. He challenged me to join him in bringing our visions to the altar and letting them go – into the flames.
I had to consider his admonition carefully. He is like a brother to me, and we both were working and praying and ministering together to see these visions come to pass. I struggled with his point-of-view. I knew that everything needed to stay continually on the altar before God, so why did I hesitate?
I thought of so many opportunities that I’ve turned away from because I’ve always held to the centrality of a sacrificed life. I thought of the time my wife and I were approached by a Christian promoter. He took us to lunch after we had led a particularly good worship time, and he offered to be our agent. He said that he had the connections in the Christian world, and we had the goods. He said that he’d book appearances for us and manage our schedule; he said that he’d take care of negotiating fees, and said he’d work his contacts to definitely get us a recording contract. We’d make albums, lead worship at conferences, festivals, and in the larger churches, and he’d get 15%.
Dionne and I prayed about it, talked about it, and wrestled through together to an answer. We had to tell the Christian promoter that our ministry and gifting were dedicated to God alone. If God wanted to promote us and get us recording contracts, we would be thrilled to follow His leading. But we didn’t feel right signing an agreement with a promoter to make it happen. He protested that this WAS God offering us the opportunity – that this was the way it happened. We had to gently decline his offer to make us into Christian worship celebrities.
Then there was the time when I was offered a full scholarship at Fuller Seminary. I prayed it through, again with tears, and decided that I’d rather be equipped and ordained through faithful service among real people in our local church rather than going away for the purpose of getting a piece of paper at a theology school.
There was another time when I had been working with a county-wide Christian ministry that developed and offered social services as an outreach of the local churches. I worked with a team of developers, and we structured many various outreach programs based on real needs around the county. It was both exciting and fulfilling, until we put the finishing touches on a proposal for a care ministry for AIDS patients. In the development stage we had already started an AIDS support group, which two of us were leading, and it had a very good response from the community. Unfortunately, the county-wide ministry came back to us with a difficult response. They said that they wholeheartedly supported the idea, but that it was too politically charged among the churches which cooperated together to make their ministries possible for them to go ahead with it. They recommended that we form a coalition of local churches that would stand behind this kind of ministry and sponsor it.
The decision to try to make this happen on an independent basis with a coalition of churches was difficult. We understood their difficulty with the effort, even though it soured in our stomachs. Their response smacked of the kind of political and moral hypocrisy within the church community that pushed the very AIDS patients we were seeking to help into the darkness without help or hope. We persevered, and contacted every pastor in our city with an invitation to meet together to discuss the possibility of forming a Christian coalition to provide practical and spiritual help to local AIDS patients. When the Monday evening came around, we had a very good turnout of local pastors comfortably crammed into my living room. Although some demurred after our presentation, most of the pastors were receptive to our plan. There were many beautiful responses from pastors from so many different denominations. There was not a dry eye in the room. The meeting ended better than I could have dreamed, with pledges of direct oversight from three different churches and pledges of regular help and support from many more.
The life springing up from the Christian community ready to help and support AIDS patients was exciting and humbling. I worked with my team to find space among the committed churches for the ongoing AIDS support group, and began to organize the many volunteers who were calling and coming to meet us from the different interested churches. This was until my own pastor called. He wanted to meet about the AIDS ministry. I had talked about the whole idea with him. He was at the pastors’ meeting. He seemed to be behind us in everything. But not now. He challenged me to give the whole thing up. He told me that I would be taking on a huge stigma in the eyes of the Christian world, and that I would only always be known as the AIDS minister. Mentioning in passing that he didn’t really want his own church and pastoral team identified so closely with AIDS ministry, he charged me to bring this vision to the altar and let it go into the flames. He encouraged me that I was called to greater things – he prophesied to me that God was bringing me through a season of pruning – he called on me to lay it all down and call it all off. It was very painful. I sought it out before God, and tearfully handed it all over. I knew that it all had to be His work; it all had to be only by His power; it all had to be through and by Him, or everything was in vain. After I cried and prayed, prayed and cried, and handed it all over to God – I called everybody and cancelled everything.
There was the time when we had led a weekly prayer meeting crying out for more of the presence of God among us. In addition we were leading worship, overseeing the home group ministry, running the café ministry, and had started a school as a part of the ministry of the church. The power of the Lord broke out among the children, with repentance and reconciliation between brothers and sisters, between cousins, between former friends… it was beautiful, it was powerful, and we had to give over the whole school day to this sovereign work of God. Then the outbreak began to move through the children during regular services in the church. We saw a release of new freedom in worship; we saw healings and deliverance; we saw families reunited and a new thrust of outreach that led us out into the streets. Soon homeless youth were giving their hearts to the Lord and we were taking them into our home. God moved in such a powerful way that it touched the whole city. I can’t even go into the huge outpouring of God’s Glory that we saw; but at the height of it the head pastor decided that he needed to close down the church.
I was devastated – the outpouring of the Love and Power of God that we had yearned for; that we had prayed for, for years, had broken through – and had resulted in the end of everything. I wept yet again, I prayed and wrestled, I cried out to God and He answered. He told me that He didn’t want a good ministry. He wanted a harvest of good ministries. He said that He didn’t want a good worship team – He wanted a harvest of good worship teams. He told me that He didn’t want a great café ministry, He didn’t want an amazing home group community, or a wonderful school… He wanted a harvest of great café ministries, amazing home groups, and wonderful schools. He told me that if I would plow all of these into the ground, He would sovereignly bring up His harvest. So I let everything go, and let them all fall into the ground – I let the rain pound down around me while I dug everything into the soil. I wept and let go; I cried and dug everything under.
I feel like I’m a veteran at the altar of sacrifice. I feel like I’ve consistently let go and let God take everything — all along the way. But I still don’t know about this philosophy. Is it from God or is it just a good idea? Does God always require everything to die? He provided the sacrifice for Abraham, so that Isaac might live. Does God demand that everything be always given up, always to be ended, the promise always to be unfulfilled, always never bearing any fruit? God gave His own son to be the perfect sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus was substitutionary, like the Ram on Mount Moriah. Is Jesus’ sacrifice enough, once and for all? Or do I truly only follow Christ by bringing everything in my life, daily, to the altar?
So last spring, after seeking it out before God, Dionne and I went with our friends out to the Jetty by their house. We brought the plans, budgets and proposals for all of our ministry dreams. We agreed together and consecrated ourselves to follow God alone. We gave up all of our dreams and plans, yet again, into the strong and capable hands of God. Then we lit the fire. Piece by piece we declared what was printed in full color on the many pages, and put them into the fire. We declared our confidence in God alone, and His promises to bring the ultimate harvest in and through our lives. Not by the might of man, or by our own power, but purely and specifically by the Spirit of God.
Through the summer I watched as the new plans for success died away; I sat by with open hands while one by one all the possibilities came to nothing. Each avenue of resource dried up; every sincere offer of partnership faded into empty words; all of the forward momentum ran into dead ends. It was little wonder that I didn’t want to write about it all in ministry updates or on my blog. Don’t get me wrong — I didn’t stop pursuing the promises of God for my life. I stopped pursuing them at any cost. I didn’t stop working and dreaming. I stopped obsessing about MY ministry and what God wanted to do through ME. By the fall everything was basically at a standstill.
At this point all I know is that God is going to fulfill His promises. Yes, I will continue to do my part, but I won’t give my all to the vision. I am giving my all to Jesus, and to Him alone. God is going to complete the work that He has begun in my life and in yours. God is going to complete His plans in the earth, in and through you. He’s going to do it in and through me. Because He is faithful.
What’s more, I believe that we’ve been under so much resistance recently because God is about to bring us into the breakthrough that we’ve been crying out for. We’ve been losing our jobs, we’ve been under accusation and criticism, we’ve been sick and in pain, and so many other things have been coming against us because God is about to do something big. We won’t see this coming breakthrough if we’re trying to make it happen. We won’t get it if we’re out there promoting ourselves. We won’t see His deliverance if we’re trying to push things through in compromise. It’s only as we stand and look to Him, not to any ministry, that He will bring us into His promises. It’s only as we give everything over to Him that He is able to fill our hands with all that He is, and all that He wants to give us. God is going to do this. We can lay it all down — because He is faithful, and we can trust Him.