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Longing for the Deep
Many Christians are unaware that a deep end exists. They have become so used to living in the shallows that they think this is the norm. Perhaps this is not all they expected when they were first born into the pond, but they are generally content to paddle until they get to the big pond in the sky. Occasionally they hear rumors that there is a deep end, they meet the odd person who claims to have come from the deep end, one or two of their fellow shallow-enders have even left them and said they are off to the deep, and every now and again they wonder, So how do I get to this deep end? Or perhaps you're like that beautiful carp: gasping and desperate for the deeper waters. Like the pope in Robert Browning's poem "The Ring and the Book," you're crying, "Well, is the thing we see, salvation?"
Billy Graham once wrote,
Everywhere I go I find that God's people lack something. They are hungry for something. Their Christian experience is not all that they expected and they often have recurring defeat in their lives. Christians today are hungry for spiritual fulfillment. The most desperate need of the nation today is that men and women who profess Jesus be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Billy Graham's global itinerant ministry perhaps gave him a better insight into the condition of the church than any other twentieth-century Christian leader. First, he rightly identifies the desperation in the lives of many Christians. Second, he suggests that a failing church has implications for influencing the nation. Third, he offers a resolution—immersion in the Holy Spirit.
It is because of these first two insights, desperation in our lives and a failing church, that I have written this book about the resolution, the water for our gasping lungs: God's Holy Spirit. It is my intention throughout this book to deduce from Scripture and the church's testimony the reality of an essential, personal, tangible, repeatable Pentecost. We are searching for that place of encounter, depth, and intimacy with God—that place of power to serve, that place of character to conform us to Christ, that place from which we may live, move, and have our being in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
There must be more!
Johann Christoph Blumhardt was responsible for steering an extraordinary awakening in his little village of Mottlingen, Germany, in the late nineteenth century. Accompanied by signs and wonders, this renewal sent shock waves throughout the country, and many thousands traveled to the village specifically to meet God, confess their sins, and find personal spiritual renewal. As with Billy Graham in the following century, Blumhardt incisively recognized that the church was asleep, wretched, lukewarm, blind, and poor, living below her birthright, failing herself and her Master and the lost world, because she had failed to avail herself of all that the Holy Spirit would, could, and should bring. The key to Blumhardt's authority and influence stemmed from his discontent with the status quo of spirituality, and from his persistent prayer for and pursuit of the depth of the Holy Spirit. Listen to him on his knees, beseeching God for more:
I long for another outpouring of the Holy Spirit, another Pentecost. That must come if things are to change in Christianity, for it simply cannot continue in such a wretched state. The gifts and powers of the early Christian time—Oh how I long for their return. And I believe the savior is just waiting for us to ask for them ... When I look at what we have, I cannot help sighing ... Oh Lord Jesus is that the promised Spirit for which you hung on a tree? Where is the Spirit that penetrates nation after nation as swiftly as at the time of the apostles and places them at Jesus' feet?
This prayer, this pursuit, this rediscovered power, brought deliverance to the captives, salvation to the lost, and renewed hope and joy to the believers. It also shook the nation, prophetically challenging the inexorable advance of a bloodless, Bible-less, God-less liberal Protestant theology.
One of the great expositors of the church, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, once thundered at those Christians who claim to have it all, who claim that there is nothing more of God to receive and experience, "Got it all? I simply ask in the name of God, why then are you as you are? If you have got it all, why are you so unlike the New Testament Christians? Got it all? Got it all at your conversion? Well where is it, I ask?" His point is incisive: If we have what the first Christians had, why do we not do what they did? We must conclude that either God gave them more than He has given us, or we have failed to avail ourselves of what He has given us.
Lloyd-Jones was thinking particularly of what he and others call "baptism in the Spirit," a term that I hesitate to use. He believed that this was a specific experience, often following conversion, which was repeatable, definite, tangible, and manifested in some particular, sensorily perceptible manner. It issues in changed countenance, bold speech, and specific gifting. It produces deep assurance—beyond mere assent to truth at conversion—that we are children of God and ultimately directs attention away from the recipient to Christ. The strident Calvinist John Piper, in a sermon series on Acts, has similarly spoken of baptism in the Spirit as "an overwhelming experience of the greatness of God, spilling over in courageous passionate praise and worship."
My main hesitation with this teaching, although I do not question the reality of the experience, is that it is too often reduced to a once-only experience, subsequent to conversion—although Lloyd-Jones believed it was repeatable. I believe this encounter may be initially consciously "experienced" with conversion (see Acts 19:6f.; 10:44f.) or subsequent to conversion (see Acts 2; 8:4f.; 9:17). It may be an overwhelming event or a progressively deepening encounter. At the swimming pool, my son Nathanael jumps into the deep end, while I prefer to lower myself in more slowly. The net result is the same, however; we know we are in the water and not on the edge. I simply do not believe it is a once-only "second blessing" (another term I will not use). It is, rather, a constantly repeatable, deepening experience of God's Spirit, who brings a greater revelation of the person and work of Christ, a blazing love for Christ, a greater and more effective empowering witness to Christ, and a transforming conformity to the character of Christ.
For instance, I remember well the first time I kissed my wife, Tiffany, on the eve of our engagement, but it was not to be the last time! If it had been the only time, I would have been the most delighted of men, and it would have been memorable—but, praise God, it was not unique, just the memorable start of even greater things and a deeper intimacy to come. So I believe in the baptisms of the Spirit, the fillings with the Spirit, the anointings of the Spirit, the ever-increasing, ever-deepening immersion into God. Bishop David Pytches famously said, "Yes, I believe in the second blessing—it comes after the first and before the third."
If one wants specifically to name such an experience and such a life, which I believe is the recognition and activation of the Spirit who dwells within every believer (Eph. 1:13; 4:13), then I think something like "filled with the fullness" would be more biblically legitimate. Paul reveals this dynamic tension of being filled with what we are full of in Colossians 2:10, where he says that through Christ we are filled with the fullness of Christ. However, in Colossians 1:9f., he prays that they may be filled with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that they might know and serve Him better, bearing fruit and being empowered by the might of His glory. In Ephesians 1:23, Paul says that we, His body the church, are filled with the fullness of Christ, but he also prays in Ephesians 3:19 that we may be filled with the fullness of God and exhorts us in 5:18 to be filled with the Spirit.
This ongoing experience of God is the longing of so many Christians, the need of the nations, and the gift of God through Christ by His Spirit. But unless we are, like the psalmist (Ps. 42:1f.), consumed by desire for the streams of the living God, the chances are we will never know how these waters satiate and we will live our Christian life parched and cracked and trying in the flesh to hang in there until we reach heaven. Unless we are filled by the living waters of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised would flow out, not in (John 7:38), we will never be the blessing God intended us to be. We will never water and transform the dead and barren deserts around us into life, as we see with the river that flowed from the temple, turning the salty seawater fresh (Ezek. 47:8).
A powerful tradition of "more"
Recently I have been gripped by a worship song by Tim Hughes called "Consuming Fire," which has captured the hearts of many in articulating their yearning for more of God. Beginning with the line, "There must be more than this: O Breath of God, come breathe within," this prayer in song invokes the Holy Spirit to come and establish in us a greater sense of God's presence, a greater anointing of power, a greater deliverance from bondage, and a greater release in worship. This theme should always be a prayerful song on the church's heart and lips. Tim Hughes' contemporary song has a long pedigree. One of the most ancient and beloved hymns, "Veni Creator Spiritus," comes from the ninth century and was written by Archbishop Maurus, a devout monk and noted theologian who knew the need in the church for an ongoing Pentecost:
Come, Creator Spirit,
Visit the minds of those who are yours.
Fill with heavenly grace
The hearts that you have made.
This prayer in song continues by asking for a visitation and extension of the work of the Spirit, inflaming our devotion, transforming our characters, equipping our service with gifts and power, enlightening our minds, filling our hearts with love, delivering us from darkness, directing our paths, and entering us into intimate union with God. The authority of the hymn is seen by its unique usage across a millennium and as the only Roman hymn adopted by all Protestant denominations. But for far too long the church has been singing such songs without intention, expectation, or appropriation. We must learn to sing these songs, not out of tradition, but in travail, longing for and begging God to visit us.
Many church luminaries knew they did not have it all and longed for a closer, fuller walk with their Lord. Marked by holy discontent, their search was not in vain. Their experience of more of God was made evident in personal delight, strengthening to the church, salvation to the lost, and glory to God. We can point to John Wesley who, after years of fruitless gospel ministry and personal moral defeat, had his heart "strangely warmed" by God's anointing at Aldersgate in May 1738. Immediately he sensed he had moved from the faith of a slave to the faith of a son, and with this newfound anointing he subsequently shook the nations with apostolic authority. In 1721, Jonathan Edwards entered a season of experiences of God, beholding the loveliness and beauty of Christ. Given a deep revelation of the majesty and meekness of Christ, he was "swallowed up in God." These experiences set the trajectory for his whole life and issued in the precipitation of the New England Awakening and his massive production of some of the most significant and respected theological works in the church. D. L. Moody, already an established and effective minister in Chicago, recalled the street in New York where, in 1871, following a time of deep crying out for more of God's Spirit, he had such an encounter with God that he was never the same again: "One day—oh what a day—God revealed himself to me." His subsequent evangelistic ministry in America and the United Kingdom, particularly London and Cambridge, was marked by many significant conversions. The most effective evangelist in the twentieth-century church, Billy Graham, drew the attention of the woman who would become his wife when both were students at Wheaton College. She said, "There was a seriousness about him; there was a depth ... he was a man who knew God; he was a man who had a purpose, a dedication in his life; he knew where he was going. He wanted to please God more than any man I'd ever known." Such consecration, devotion, and passion for God brought a rent heaven over this man's life and ministry. One man's pursuit of God can influence the nations for God. For all these men this would not be the end of their search for more of God, but they would never settle for less.
One could argue that in each case this was a special anointing, for a special person, at a special time. Perhaps—but it could equally be argued that it was the anointing which made these ordinary men extraordinary. That said, what these notable persons experienced was what hundreds of anonymous folk also equally experienced along with the famous apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2). It was what all the unnamed experienced when the Spirit came to Cornelius's household (Acts 10). It was the same for the nameless converts at Samaria (Acts 8) and for the nameless converts at Ephesus (Acts 19). Thus, while the experience may make some exceptional in God's purposes, the actual experience is not exceptional.
Additionally, while these particular experiences by these particular men were of particular remembrance, a study of the lives of such men shows that experiences like these were not always unique for them and that these men continued to encounter similar experiences. And it is this that we are after: the ongoing experience, the ever-deepening intimacy with our Father.
No more—enough is enough
Some years ago I gave a series of talks on Ephesians at a conference. I noticed after one talk that I was not being received well by certain individuals who were telling others I was not "sound." During my talk on Ephesians 1:15f., which I had called "More," one person in the front row actually groaned and was so manifestly irritated and indignant that I had to ask him to calm down and wait until I had finished. When I met with him afterward, he expressed concern that I was teaching false doctrine. I was flabbergasted. Brought up as a strict Baptist with Plymouth Brethren influence, I regarded myself as a conservative evangelical touched by renewal. I was giving a detailed exegesis of Ephesians based on the Greek text—but clearly I had said something deemed to be heresy. It turns out that the whole issue had been brought about by my assertion that Paul had a double perspective in Ephesians: What they have in Christ and what they may have in Christ. Clearly my challenger did not believe there was anything more to be had.
Those who question whether there is anything "more" do so for several reasons:
1. They think that to speak of "more" undermines the finished work of Calvary.
2. They think that the presentation of "more" means only "second blessing," and view this as unscriptural, elitist, and Gnostic.
3. They think that to teach or expect "more" is to inculcate the egocentric, materialistic, hedonistic, consumerist mentality of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
4. They think such teaching is an abstraction from the Great Commission, in which we end up focused on spiritual frisson rather than on sending mission.
5. They think that, like the Corinthians, we are guilty of overrealized eschatology and need to be brought back to basics.
6. They think that, like the Colossians, such teaching is an addition to the gospel and is therefore a subtraction from the gospel.
7. They think that to speak of "more" is a sign of immaturity, even insecurity, in one's faith, and a failing to appreciate the finished work of the cross. Indeed, some suggest that those who ask for more ask because they may not have Christ already.
Now, these are all important points, not without some basis, which charismatics must respond to and make sure they are not prone to. Throughout this book I will try to address them. While we must heed these concerns, however, those who protest the notion of "more" must heed our questions too.
Is it possible that those who reject the charismatic experience do so because of one or more of the points outlined below?
1. Perhaps they are selective in their reading of Scripture—biblically reductionist. They read Scripture through a narrow theological filter and, while making the cross central, actually fail to see that the cross is the door, not the room.
2. Perhaps they themselves are deficient in their experience of the Spirit and make their inadequate experience the sole basis for what is sound.
3. Perhaps their own emotional, sociological, psychological, and theological matrix has made them suspicious of experience, feelings, and emotions.
4. Perhaps they have absorbed the rationalist Enlightenment mind-set, and they want to put God in a theological, hermeneutical, dogmatic box, not realizing that the Spirit blows where He wills and breaks out of boxes.
5. Perhaps they function from what I term a "biblical deism"—God being absent from the world apart from His word written, read, or heralded.
6. Perhaps they are truly satisfied with their religion—but is this reduced to gratitude for salvation, giving the gospel, and gritting their teeth till glory?
Excerpted from more by Simon Ponsonby. Copyright © 2009 Simon Ponsonby. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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Posted June 1, 2011
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