Are you hungry to see God’s power displayed—through you?
A few decades ago, I was speaking at a few, small meetings in the Faroe Islands and I was told that a man there had an unusual collection of old films and that some of them were recorded at meetings of “Latter Rain evangelists”. I knew about these evangelists because they made a great impact in America shortly after World War two. The movement became widely recognised about the year I was born, 1948.
My parents were impacted by these evangelists and their healing, miracle-working power. (They were called Later Rain evangelists because they thought that the founding of the nation-state of Israel that same year was a sign that Jesus would return soon. They believed that the power they were experiencing was the power of God as predicted in Joel’s prophecy, that God would send the “early and the latter rain”.) I was eager to meet the man with the films and had the privilege of watching an astonishing film of A. A. Allen.
He was preaching in a tent meeting where the emotions were high; people were shouting and crying and falling and leaping up and down. (This revival movement was marked by ecstatic emotions and impacted society in rural and small-town America.) The visual recording was particularly clear for that era and, at one point, focussed on a blind woman who was led to the stage. As A. A. Alan prayed for her, her milky pupils became completely clear over a period of about five seconds. The tent meeting went even wilder! There was no way that was a fake or staged event.
Some months later I was visiting my parents in Colorado and told my dad about the film. I was surprised to learn that Allen had visited the small town where my dad grew up and conducted a “healing crusade”. Even at that early stage, before my parents were married, Dad had a nice car, so the pastor of his church asked if he would be Allen’s driver for the days he was in town.
Dad was honoured and looked forward to meeting the celebrity evangelist. But, before long, the eager anticipation gave way to disgust. Dad wouldn’t say much— but he did say that the man’s morals were “lower than a snake’s belly”.
During the same season of that visit to the Faroes, I had the privilege of working with a team of leaders who were strong in evangelism, worship, creative arts, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We had a series of meetings that were marked by people giving their lives to Jesus, by prophecies and words of knowledge, and by deliverance. It was a very exciting time and it provoked me to “earnestly seek the greater gifts” of the Holy Spirit, as Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers to do. I began to “move in the word of knowledge” more and more. But it required a lot of effort for me to “tune into the spirit”.
One evening I drove about two hours to take a meeting north of London and, as I drove, I prayed and determined that I would prophecy with “words of knowledge” after I had preached. I closed in prayer and then welcomed people to come forward for prayer and I gave each of them a “word from the Lord”. People were very happy and thanked me profusely for “being obedient to the Lord”. I left the meeting with an irritating uneasiness that I could not ignore. So, as I drove, I thought and prayed for understanding.
I remembered some of the content of a book, The Latent Power of the Soul, by Watchman Nee, that I had read some years before. As I understood it, he was saying that we can confuse the spirit with the soul and the soul with the spirit. One result is that we can think we are being used by the Holy Spirit when we are not working in the spirit at all. In my case, I could be working so hard to “get words of knowledge”, or “prophecies” for people that it could be a soulish exercise of tuning in to their hopes and dreams. Then I could tell them exactly what they hoped to hear.
I know the idea expressed in the paragraph above will sound strange or even heretical to some people, but that idea about the power of a soul-to-soul connection explained a lot to me. It could also explain the occasional power and accuracy of some mind-reading, fortune-telling, and other apparently super-natural experiences.
I want to be completely clear: I am not saying that the Latter Rain evangelists were moving in the power of the soul. I believe that movement was initiated by the Holy Spirit. I also believe that the reputations of some of those evangelists would provoke faith in the hearts of people with spiritual hunger and God would honour that faith. “As your faith is, so be it unto you!” is a general spiritual law. Sometimes, that phenomenon continued to produce genuine fruit, even when the evangelist was actively sinning.
What concerned me on that night as I drove home is that I was seeking a reputation for “moving in the power of the Holy spirit”. I admired my friends who were exercising that sort of power; I could even say that I envied them! That thought led to a more troubling revelation. I was wanting God to put his visible stamp of approval on me!
If I am not comfortable with who God made me to be; if I am not secure in my identity as God created me and adopted me, then I can stray into seeking God for signs and wonders that will demonstrate that I am an important and powerful man of God.
I concluded that insecurity can be a powerful motivator for seeking the gifts of the Spirit. Without correction, that motivation can lead to apparent power, but of the wrong sort. It can also lead to demonstrations of power without godly character and that can be disastrous.
In more recent times I have had conversations with a respected prophetic person who stated this phenomenon very well: “If I concentrate with all the power of my soul on another person, I can begin to “read” what they desire. Then I can prophecy what they are hoping to hear.”
That can build a reputation but won’t build the Kingdom of God.
I have concluded that I should continue to do as Paul exhorted in 1 Corinthians 12. I should “earnestly seek the greater gifts” of the Holy Spirit but I must guard against that becoming a selfish desire. It is not about my reputation or my security and identity. I must be simply willing and eager for the Holy Spirit to work in and through me in any way He likes. But I will not work at that goal; I will work to develop Christ-like character. I will aim to concentrate on dying to myself daily.
If I stay focussed on that goal, then God can use me in any way He chooses, and it will not lead to the dangerous arrogance that has snared so many in the history of the Christian faith.
If you are hungering for more of God’s power, then it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “Why?”