WHAT CAUSES BARRENNESS IN THE CHURCH?
When we talk about putting down roots or laying foundations, we often think of staying put in one place. Our God is not a camper. The tent of meeting in the Old Testament was a simple structure designed to be easily erected and dismantled as His people followed the cloud of His Presence.
The more formal structure of the temple was designed to enable people to come to grips with the same phenomena. The presence of God was enshrined in mystery within the Holy of Holies. People waited with bated breath for the reemergence of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. The smell and spectacle of the sacrifices added to the drama of coming into the very presence of God. People were brought to that place of awe-inspiring worship as they became involved with the ongoing pageantry of the manifest presence of God in their midst.
The supernatural was commonplace. Men and women both spoke with sharpness and clarity in their representation of God. Words were backed up with power and anointing that saved lives and brought deliverance from occult powers, famines, disasters, and human oppression.
The Dominating Theme of Scriptures
This essence of pure relationship and raw power between God and His people has been the dominating theme of the Scriptures. Only the form and style have changed throughout the generations from a handmade stone altar roughly put together with materials on hand by individual men such as Abraham, Jacob, and the prophets, to the designer places of worship expressed in the tabernacle and temple.
At times these places of worship were inspired by a revelation of God's grace, mercy, and calling, such as when Jacob-in-transition-to-Israel finally came to understand the desire that God had for relationship with him. In other times and places, altars were built upon the sites of intense spiritual warfare and upon battlefields as sacrifices were offered to God on the burning embers of false gods and idol worship. Mount Carmel and Gideon's hometown became places of cleansing and purification as the enemy was driven out and the name of the Lord revealed.
Continuity from the Old Covenant to the New was established in the person of Jesus, who became the temple of God wandering amongst a guilty and sin-ridden people. "Destroy this temple and God will raise it up in three days," He said, referring to Himself (see Jn. 2:19). Something had happened in the hearts of the people between times. A creeping institutionalism had given way to form without power, to style without substance, and to a performance mentality that elevated men, not God, in the presence of the people. People did things to be seen of others; rules of behavior governed the lives of many. Leaders had become blind guides, searching the Scriptures without prophetic insight. Those who most desired the coming of the Messiah missed Him because their interpretation of Scripture was not mingled with worship, the manifest presence of God, and prophetic wisdom.
The Cycle Continues
God walked among them, but they had not been trained to recognize His presence. All their teaching and distilled wisdom down through the years had left them without the faculty for discerning the glory of God. Even when they saw signs and wonders and Jesus graciously asked them to believe in those signs as part of their journey to a wider, deeper revelation of God's presence, they could not bring themselves to part from their institutional mind-sets.
So the early Church grew up next to a hidebound institution that continued thinking that it alone held the glorious tradition of the truth of God. The old persecuted the new, which in turn eventually came against the newer works, which in time grew to be the oppressors of new moves of God till the present day. The chronicles of the Church are littered with stories of new moves of God erupting in the earth through orthodox persecution and then settling back into conventional, narrow-minded religiosity.
Only the presence of God can prevent institutional Christianity from reducing truth to a set of rules and worship or to a meaningless time of singing without awe.
Only God's presence can enable believers to confront the enemy and the evils of mankind with a powerful expression of truth combined with supernatural power. Only God's presence is the glue that holds us all together through tensions, conflicts, and the violence of being on the front line of the battle against a depraved and intimidating foe.
The Mystery Fades
We have lost the glory, the majesty, and the mystery of all that God is within Himself. The temple gave way to the synagogue and the mystery began to fade. Word stopped leading us to worship, and in time the dynamic revelation of God became a rote to live by as we waited for God to come in final deliverance. Today's worship precedes the Word and in many places has become the platform for the teaching and the ministry of people. Our churches have lost the art of ministering to the Lord in worship and discerning the voice of the Lord in our midst (see Acts 13:1-2).
People went to the temple to participate in the mystery and the majesty of God. They went for three main reasons: to worship, to make an offering, and to pray. In the synagogue they went to hear the word of God (i.e., for teaching), to get their needs met, and to have fellowship. In the temple, the instruction and communication of God's word always led them into an experience with God. In the synagogue, it often led them into debate and discussion about God. Meetings became man-centered instead of revolving around the presence of God. Even today in many of the newer churches, if the meeting has a lot of content and activity, it is often the worship that gets squeezed. People go to church for good teaching or fellowship. Our society has created intense loneliness, and people are hungry for companionship. Accordingly, it is easy to justify making our meetings into a designer-style atmosphere to attract people.
I am not against this in principle. I think all our meetings should be aimed specifically at God's desire to do particular things and achieve specific objectives. I am against stereotypes that do not bring us into the creative presence of God. We must regain the capacity to live in the manifest presence of God. The teaching of the Word must lead people into an encounter of God Himself, not just into an experience of the church.
God Causes Breakthrough
God has always set people within the framework of tabernacle, temple, and church who would act as catalysts to cause breakthrough into the manifest presence of the Lord. When people look at us, they should see Jesus. They should observe His love in the way that we live together. The entrance of God's Word should produce hope, faith, life, and health to every part of our being. The presence of God is life to us. When we lose His presence or, even worse, if we have never grown up with the reality of His glory, it is inevitable that we would use the Word to relegate the supernatural to a future time of glory in Heaven rather than glory now.
God sits outside of time. He has never not been full of glory. He is altogether glorious. Everything He touches carries the fragrance and the passion of His manifest presence. He is wonderful, awe-inspiring, and magnificent. Our meetings must reflect the glory of His unchanging nature. I love to meditate on the nature and character of the Lord. For me, He has come to be the kindest person I have ever known. He is kindhearted, gracious, loving, good-natured, and benevolent. He is generous, cordial, approachable, and thoughtful. He is slow to anger and swift to bless. He sees the good, acknowledging the treasure and the worth in people. He inspires confidence, renews our self-worth, and puts a smile on our hearts. He is captivating, beautiful, and completely lovely. He is strong, powerful, a force to be reckoned with, a conqueror and overcomer. He is a paradox - a fierce and mighty warrior dressed as a lamb; the king of glory and a bruised reed; a son, a servant, a prophet, a priest, and a king. The fear of Him is the beginning of wisdom, yet His laughter makes us wriggle with pleasure. He continually brings us to points of vulnerability and weakness so that His sheer joy in Himself can be our source of strength.
Our meetings very often do not reflect His nature, but ours.
They focus on our needs instead of celebrating who He is in our midst. How many of our people take time out during the day to spend just a few minutes in silent worship and awe of God? Whatever God is, He is infinitely. It is impossible for God not to be everlasting, endless, and eternal. He is the greatest endless and eternal expression of goodness, kindness, and grace. He is everlastingly kind and merciful, eternally loving. He loves infinitely and without boundaries. There is no end to the kindness of God.
He is also totally perfect. He never does anything partway. He completes everything He starts. "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it [literally, perfect it] until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). He does everything perfectly. He is infinitely and perfectly good. He has perfect love and grace. His love is complete, wholesome, and endlessly perfect! He is always loving because He is infinite and perfect.
He is immutable. He never changes. What God was, God is and God will be. There is no shadow of turning within Him. He is unchanging. What a relief! We all have experienced the fluctuating fortunes of human relationships and been both blessed and burned. I love the ongoing continuity of God's affection for me. He put me in the one place where I could relate to Him in all of my changeableness. He put me into Christ so that His unchanging, infinite, and perfect love could become a constant to me as I grew up in Him.
He is never indifferent. His silence is just His silence.
Never mistake His silence for detachment. He is never aloof and unresponsive. His silence is often a means to draw us into meditation, which becomes the prelude to worship and the entrance of revelation that then brings change to us. What changes us the most is the unchangeableness of God! Whenever I reflect on the unchangeable nature of God, I want to cry. His constancy and dependability always make me resolve to be like Him.
He brings peace to me by His constancy. I feel my heart settling down into Him in the turbulence of situations and events. In crises and conflicts I find myself wanting harmony and love rather than just resolution. To agree to disagree and remain loving friends is a sure sign that God is among us and that we are in love with Him.
God is endlessly enthusiastic about people. He has a boundless, unremitting energy. He never stops working, yet He exudes rest and peace. He rests in and through His work. I am never quite sure where my rest in Him gives way to His rest in me. (Oh, I love Him.) On the seventh day He rested from creating, but He never ceased from maintaining what He had made.
It is typical of God that man's first day of creation and life should coincide with God's rest. Our first day began with rest, and a prime part of our relationship with God is to enter His rest. One of my personal goals is to be one of the most restful, peaceful people on the planet. Since I have discovered rest as a major part of my relationship with the Lord, my output has increased significantly. Rest maintains worship, adoration, and focus. It promotes a God-consciousness by the Holy Spirit that increases productivity without detracting from fellowship. The more we rest, the more we get done. Time spent resting brings us into a place where God can do in seconds what we could not do in hours under the anointing.
The more we rest, the greater the power to break through.
The greater the rest, the more God prepares things around us by His hand. His wisdom increases as we sit and relax in His presence.
I once was sent a complicated brief on certain conflicts and situations in a particular church. This was followed up by a meeting with the leaders where I was expected to give some kind of godly perspective and Solomon-like wisdom. I never read their pages of problems. For some reason I spent several days resting and meditating though that and other work were piling up. On the day of the meeting, I discovered that they were coming to visit only when I looked in my diary. (I am not normally like this we run a very efficient office, though that is due more to Carole, my personal assistant, than myself.)
In the meeting with these guys it was clear there was a significant measure of conflict and tension. We can communicate peace only if we have it. I cannot remember what was said in that meeting only that peace, love, and understanding broke out amongst the brothers. Harmony precedes resolution. I remember saying to the Lord afterwards that I wished I had taped the meeting because some of the things I said were brilliant! He smiled. He knew that I knew that the wisdom was His and that I was content just to be a vessel and vehicle for His presence. He loves with a boundless consuming love. He hates with a terrible consuming fire. The anger of the Lord burns against unrighteousness and sinful activity. The mercy of the Lord in including us in Christ is eternally breathtaking and wonderful. To rest in the finished work of Calvary is a wonderful privilege. Lack of the presence of God is a major cause of barrenness.