I have recently returned from a week away at the New Wine Christian Conference in Shepton Mallet. This translated into a whole week of thousands of Christians gathered together camping or caravaning, and dedicating their time to God in worship, prayer, learning and seeking intimacy with Him. There have been many highlights for me during that week, as there have been also many disappointments. I have experienced two parallel worlds and within those two realms: the spiritual and the natural, I have witnessed two parallel forces at war with each other.
I saw a man whose worldwide reputation for having a great anointing to produce miraculous healings, not only precedes him, but has become more powerful in his followers’ hearts and minds than the source of his anointing. This same man delivered a message before praying and ministering to people, and faced with the apathy and lack of response from his audience whilst preaching, he started mocking us and impersonating on stage any member of the audience by clapping and congratulating himself with every statement, and then, moving a few steps away, he would become the speaker again. This went on for a while, until eventually, the audience bought into his game and “subtle” tactic, and started clapping periodically with no more prompting needed.
I believe that the word of God is the Truth, and the bible tells us that the word of God never goes back to him empty. How can it be then that the same person through whom the most spectacular healings and deliverance were taking place that evening, had to practically bribe his audience to make it look like the message he was delivering was piercing through their hearts and releasing the power of the Holy Spirit into their souls? Could it be that pride had got in the way? Could it be that his message was too heavily focused on the proclamation of a prosperity gospel whereby hundreds upon hundreds are drawn in by the relentless marketing of miraculous healings, signs and wonders, as if promoting a new magic pill that will guarantee an illness-free life? Could it be that had this speaker spoken of Christ’s unambiguous words in Luke 9, 23 and Matthew 16, 25-26 ( “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”, AND, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What good would it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”) these would have pointed all too clearly and inequivocally to a very difficult journey of humility, repentance, selflessness and most definitely, sacrifice? Not such great themes to be advertised, if you want to guarantee a venue packed to the rims. Could it be that this prosperity gospel does no longer give us a faithful portrayal of the Father’s heart, and because of that, whilst healings are taking place, those with the anointing are totally overlooking and neglecting that part of God’s children which really needs drastic and miraculous surgery? OUR HEARTS AND MINDS.
And yet, meters away from where this man was speaking, I was privileged and blessed enough to witness the mighty hand of God exalt in front of our very eyes this 22 year old kid, whom most of the hundreds listening had never heard of, as he humbled himself by admitting his past addiction to Internet pornography. Everyday, this man would open the morning session in the smaller venue, and pray before God that he would only speak those words God wanted said, or else he should be struck by lightning there and then. As he humbled himself, the Lord immediately exalted him. He would recite in wrap form a whole series of powerful statements which could only have come from the heart of God for his bride, the church, and for his children. This young lad’s witness was very costly, because he was radical in his statements, but had to make himself very vulnerable and transparent first, in order to gain credibility from the audience. Whilst the other man had to continuously prompt us to give him applause, this kid got a standing ovation and a roar of clapping every single morning he conveyed to us God’s heart. It was powerful, it was pure, his words carried authority and every single one visibly poured from a clearly contrite and repentant heart. In short, he was, and am sure will continue to be, a supernatural source of inspiration for so many Christians and non-Christians out there.
Bearing in mind the fact that I spent all that week amongst thousands of Christians, I witnessed things I did not like, which made me realise why so many of us are still under such bondage when it comes to being the light and the salt to people. We struggle to trust that God will protect us and see our ministries through, as we take that leap of faith and no longer operate under someone else’s mentoring, guidance or control. Yes, as Christians we need to live and operate under the council, love and fellowship of other Christians to guard ourselves from temptation, going astray or simply to be accountable. However, there are so many things that have become dogma amongst ourselves, so many lies that are so widespread, that we have mistaken them for the truth; so many people out there Lording it over the rest, that the enemy has us right where it wants us: In this way, we remain with our mouths shut and scared to step out in faith to bring the love of Jesus to people, pure and simple. A love that will break the shackles of legalism and the numerous attempts of a few to control and restrict the blessings and gifts that thousands who have accepted Christ in their lives are rightfully entitled to. Why are there so many of us that will go to the other side of the world to be healed or to witness supernatural activity? Did Jesus not tell us to pray in a quiet place, and not publicly as we attempt to look righteous to those around us? Did he not die so that we could be reconciled with the Father and in that way do without, for once and for all, the many rituals and pecking orders of access to the OMNIPRESENT GOD? Why then don’t we obey the word of God and dedicate more of our time to private and personal time with our Heavenly Father who so longs for that intimacy, personal repentance and devotion in all of us? Did Jesus not die to cut out the middle-man? Who and where does it say that in order to pray, one needs to receive training?
The night of the miraculous healings, those who did not need prayer (Is there such a person?) for a specific condition, were invited to pray for those who did. So I turned round and together with another lady and a man, we prayed for an old man who had prostate cancer and severe backache. Interestingly, we were asked to wait by the main speaker until given the prompt to start praying, which I thought was bizarre since the Holy Spirit was there all along. As our prayer for healing was well underway, the person being prayed for stopped us mid-flow to alert us to the fact that he trains people in how to pray and we were doing it completely wrong, and then he proceeded to give us a few clues as to what and how to say it. Have you ever heard such nonsense? To this, one of us replied: Why then don’t you pray for yourself? We continued to pray for this person and he confessed he did not feel any better, so the person presiding the whole evening asked all those who were still not healed to be prayed for again. To which I thought, don’t you think God is more than able to hear our prayers the first time round? Maybe the reason why this man’s ailments have failed to be healed is not so much to do with the manner in which we have prayed for him, but the wrong attitude he is harbouring in his heart towards other Christian brothers and sisters who by the grace of God are doing the best they can.
When and why did faith turn so incredibly constrained, restricted and complicated? Are we trying to draw people to the love of Jesus or put them off for life? I will give you another example of another practice which puts people, specially those who are already Christians, into serious bondage and self-doubt. I am talking about the so called occurrence “being slain in the Spirit” when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person and they fall over. The intensity of this experience and the duration varies but that is the general gist of it. I believe that the power of God’s presence can bring this about, that and so very much more. We are talking about the God who made the stars and the heavens. I am not going to deny it happens, because I have witnessed it myself on so many occasions. However, in certain Christian environments and circles it has become so widely accepted as the primary sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence that the essence and purpose of praying for someone has been lost and misunderstood along the way.
Let me give you an example of this. I went forward for prayer one morning, which is not an easy thing to do, although again, such pressure is put upon people to come forward that there is a danger of it becoming a mechanical practice as opposed to the result of hearing God’s prompt and obeying it. It does take courage, I believe, if you are asking someone to pray for you for genuine reasons, to go forward and share your heart out with a total stranger. That is what I did that morning. The lady that prayed for me placed her hands on my back and my stomach tightly, so that as she prayed, she could gradually start to let go. When she saw that my body remained pretty much at the same angle, and that I was not going to fall to the ground, she suddenly disappeared, and left me there with what I strongly felt was a wounded heart and most certainly unfinished prayer. It was mechanical, it was predictable and it most certainly did not leave me wanting more of Jesus. Thankfully and by the grace and mercy of God, that disappointing experience and so many others could not separate me from the love I feel for Jesus. Also, I have been a Christian long enough to know that because we are human, we make mistakes, and that just because a few of us are happy to carry on like this, it does not mean all Christians are the same. Far from it. However, had I been someone feeling slightly suicidal and received that kind of superficial and mechanical prayer, I may well have ended in a worse state than when I went forward for prayer.
I know Christians who constantly beat themselves mentally because they have never been “slain in the Spirit”. They feel they are not good enough, holy enough, repentant enough, blessed enough or worse still, loved enough by God. Those who have been through that experience make such a fuss about it, the be-all and end-all of an intimate relationship with the Father, that for those who have not been there, it becomes a source of condemnation and serious bondage having the opposite effect of what prayer was meant for. And then, there are some who when faced with people who have not been “slain in the Spirit”, confront them and proudly say: “You just need to relax your body and let go”. Do you really think that if God wanted me to crumble on the floor, HE is not able enough to do it without me having to help him out a little?
It’s not about our falling down, it’s about what we do when we get back up. That is in our hands and those of the believers around us. I have seen so many Christians “Slain in the Spirit” whose attitude, behaviour and lack of compassion for others have remained just as bad after that experience, THAT one can only question whether it was indeed the Holy Spirit that brought about their falling. If it was the Mighty Hand of God that touched that person, how come their lives remain unaltered and their hearts are still made of stone? The proof is in the pudding as they say…
Why do we limit God’s love and awesome power to a few manifestations? Who are we to say what is right and wrong in a person’s intimate relationship with the Father and by the same token, who are we to expect another person to experience the same as we have, or else they cannot be called true Christians? When did we become so Pharisaical and domineering that the very freedom we proclaim Christ has brought to us, becomes bogus and tainted by our eagerness to control and put down others?
I can’t finish this post without mentioning the biggest source of bondage that takes place amongst fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The issue of financial giving. Everything always comes down to money and church circles and faith related issues are sadly no different. There are many who give, and like the Pharisees, use this as a source of power and control to manipulate the outcome in people’s lives, the local church, the way things are done, etc, etc. There are many who give, but not cheerfully, for with the price of their generosity they expect to have purchased a special honorable treatment by everybody else and the power to do and undo as they please. That is not the kind of giving Jesus spoke of; that is not giving cheerfully and trusting that God is wise enough to use those resources as He will. This kind of giving has become a tool for manipulation, power and self-adoration and respect imposed and expected from others. The aim of this giving is not and never was to bring gory and praise to God, but simply to the person who does the giving. Those who tithe or better still give abundantly, should not shout it to the four winds or expect their friends to worship the ground they walk on, for if that is the attitude with which one gives and then judges and condemns others who do not give as much as they do or do not give at all, their giving will become a clanging cymbal or a gong, for whilst they are giving they are also withholding love and forgiveness, and brewing resentment for their brothers and sisters who don’t.
Was there “New Wine” being poured out during the New Wine conference? I believe there was, but I also believe there are still thousands around us who have put God in a box and made themselves the center of the praise and glory which only God is worthy of; there are still those around us who cling firmly to their old wineskins because shedding them would be an all too painful experience and why go through such heartache and painful transformation, when you can make the world believe God is doing amazing things through you, even as you remain totally unchanged within? But of course, the world cannot see that. Oh but God can! For God does not look at how things appear, but He knows and sees how they really are! Praise and glory be to God! Forever and ever. AMEN