I was talking with two of the pastors of a large church some time ago. The subject turned to discussing why it seems we change so slow after hearing so many sermons week after week in church for years. We asked ourselves: why is it so? What’s missing? Why do the sermons have so little effect on our hearts? Just imagine, if we all were transformed to become 20% of what each sermon was raising for us as a standard, we would be giants of the faith! But why isn’t it happening? What is the lacking ingredient that will lead us to living transformed lives?
I replied by saying that I think it is the lack of prayer in the church – if people came together more to pray, then hearts will change and become more responsive to God and His Word. Although my answer was heading in the right direction, I remember having this sinking feeling that I really did not truly find the solution, I felt my answer was weak and inadequate. And it frustrated me.
More than a year has past since then and the question remained in my heart. From time to time I would visit it looking for answers, but I did not seem to get anywhere. Until a few weeks ago.
It all started with giving a prophetic word to a pastor about studying and seeking to manifest the glory of God in meetings. What God said to this man of God kind of intrigued me and my heart started thinking about the glory of God in meetings and its power to affect people’s lives. I then decided to do a study myself on the glory of God.
The revelation I got next startled me. It was the answer to the question asked earlier. Why aren’t people in the church (including me) changing much after hearing myriads of sermons. Why aren’t we transformed?
God started to unfold an exciting answer. He took me first to Exodus 29:43:
“And there I will meet with the children of Israel,
and THE TEMPLE SHALL BE SANCTIFIED BY MY GLORY.
Then God asked me some questions to which He also gave the answers:
What was the temple sanctified by? – My glory
Who is My temple now? – each of my children
MY PEOPLE SHALL BE SANCTIFIED BY THE MANIFESTATION OF MY GLORY in the meetings or in their own time with God.
He then proceeded. He said me: Let me show you the equivalent of this from the New Testament:
2 Corinthians 3:18
But we all, with unveiled face,
BEHOLDING as in a mirror THE GLORY OF THE LORD,
ARE BEING TRANSFORMED INTO THE SAME IMAGE
from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
How are we transformed into His image? BEHOLDING THE GLORY, WE ARE BEING TRANSFORMED!
God is giving us one of the keys for transformation – the manifested and encountered glory of God. What is the glory of God? I like to define it as the manifested overwhelming presence of God. Observe that I did not say just the presence of God.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIS MANIFESTED PRESENCE AND HIS MANIFESTED GLORY
There is a difference between the presence of God (which varies in degrees of intensity) and the thick manifestation of that presence in a overwhelming way, which is what I call the glory of God. I have personally experienced the vast difference when Jesus came in my living room many years ago – the very air in the room was thick and it looked like each air particle was charged as if with electricity, it felt like each particle was material and you cut through the air with a knife. I have also experienced the great feeling of freedom, peace, rest and intense mental sharpness that came upon me when God manifested His glory cloud before my very eyes twice in my living room.
I have also been blessed to take part in a number of church meetings where the glory of God descended. It manifested in each meeting in a different way. In one meeting, everyone was on their faces, praying with strong intensity and urgency, repenting of their sins. The reality of our sinfulness was deep, in our face, so that we could not run away from it and it literally scared us. Its effects in offending God were serious and dangerous. People were screaming in the building under the intensity of God’s presence and eternal consequences were very real to us.
In other meetings, the glory of God was so intense over the meeting that preachers could not preach, people started weeping, people’s faces started looking whiter than normal and they seemed to be so baptized in the reality of eternity, that they seemed to be more aware of it than of their earthly reality. I remember I brought one unsaved person to one of these meetings, he was a very self confident person and really enjoyed partying and living it up. But he was so shaken by what was happening in church that he was too afraid to go and even shake hands with the pastor, it took repeated convincing till he did it for a short time.
In other meetings, the glory of God was so liberating and freeing to our spirit man that our problems seemed minuscule and the joy and happiness we felt almost made us feel like we are about to explode.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
In our meetings, we tend to focus on another key to transformation, called the Word of God. It works, but slowly, because it is not meant to be used alone, but in conjunction with the manifested overwhelming presence of God.
We endeavor to bring the presence of God as well through worship, and we do that up to a point, because we tend to sing only around 5 songs per service after which we stop and move on with the service.
The Word of God is powerful, yet the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Therefore the Word must be accompanied by the manifestation of the Spirit or it just does not have the same effect without it. A minister who soaked Himself in the Spirit of God and tarried in His presence can bring the Word much more powerfully than one who didn’t.
OUR PRESENT CHALLENGE IN THE CHURCH
God showed me that our present challenge in the church is two fold:
1. MANY OF HIS PEOPLE DON’T TRUST GOD
Many of God’s people have strongholds in their mind and hearts which have been built during times of disappointment with God (or so they perceive it to be). These were those times when they prayed and but God did not seem to come through for them. They feel they have done all that they can do and God did not come through for them. At least that is their perception. What they fail to realize is that maybe what was spiritually necessary to bring a breakthrough in their life was not lived in reality – either due to time limitations, distractions, weakness, lack of faith, lack of knowledge, lack of perseverance, etc, etc. The missing factor might have just escaped them.
Secondly, they were created to be interdependent on the body of Christ, who is called to minister to them. If the body of Christ was weak at the time of their need, they did not receive what they needed at the time because there was need for more power than it was available in the body of Christ where they attend. We affect one another by the level we have in God, each member of the body affects the rest of the body. We are all supposed to give something back to the Body for the Body to function at its best. Sometimes we allow a few to do most of the work and they are overloaded and struggle to have enough time with God to bring what each person needs. Laziness in the body of Christ has caused burnout to other members in the body who also try to do their part.
2. THE PASTORS ARE TOO BUSY TO PAY THE PRICE IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD
I am not condemning pastors here. I realize that the present church structure puts a lot of duties and restrictions on their time. It’s not just them that need to change, it’s the whole church structure as a whole, including the church board and the expectations of the congregation. What is needed is a shift of church values, more towards spending time with God than spending time with and for each other. We can spend time with God while we are with each other as well. The church has developed a demanding attitude towards the leaders of the church they attend, expecting to find a wide range of services or they will leave if they are not satisfied. This is a selfish, ‘give me, give me’ attitude, while not many seek to find how they can fill the gaps where the church is weak.
Pastors today have way too many responsibilities. They are expected not only to be pastors, but to be CEOs of the church organization and maybe a number of other side businesses or ministries as well. They are expected to be deeply involved in knowing everything about every church department – or choose to be so in some cases out of fear of loosing control (granted that can be a reasonable fear as long as there are Judas in the church). They spend far too many hours in the church offices, managing, administering, making decisions or counselling people and far too little of that time is spent alone seeking God. It’s almost like they are expected to give even when they don’t have much to give. Or they expect this of themselves. Some even enjoy being this busy, as it gives them a great sense of fulfillment and importance and for some it is a way of running away from painful heart issues of the past.
I am talking also from personal experience here, having been a senior pastor in a church of around 100 people. I made most of the above mistakes and I bowed down at times to people’s demands for more fellowship, more leaders meeting, more events, etc, etc. After God told us our mission as pastors in that church has come to an end and delegated the church to another pastor, God started to speak to me, since now I was not so busy and He could get my attention in a more effective way. I was praying three hours a day and abiding in God as much as I could throughout the day, but I was so focused on what we were doing that I did not take time to listen and hear God about the church as I should have. I was a young, inexperienced leader.
God started to talk to me now that He had my attention that we should have kept things simple – prayer, evangelism, discipleship. Instead, we delved into doing various events, translation and humanitarian projects that were not necessary and kept us busy. I got so busy with all the humanitarian paper work that I started to resent people coming to our door for counselling or calling on the phone. God rebuked me sharply and told me: What did I call you to serve, people or papers? I answered while swallowing hard: People. He answered: then go and answer that door with joy!
Well, at the door that day was a young man who came to our place often after school, very hungry for God, but he seemed very childish and to be honest, I did not see him as leadership material. Fast forward now 18 years later and he was an assistant pastor in the same church. I now realized that all those talks about God in a very casual setting built something in this man that bore fruit in the distant future. I have learned from this to never put administration over people and to treat everyone as special since we never know who will turn out to be a great leader. God specializes in taking the low amongst us and raising them high. I have decided I will never look only for leadership material in people because sometimes it is not visible at the time I am looking, but it is hidden within them and one day God will bring it to the surface in some. I can’t assume anything about anyone.
Let’s take a look in the revision mirror and see what leaders did in the early church. Peter makes it very clear how he treated church responsibilities and understood his role and the boundaries of it very well. Let’s look at Acts 6: 1-4:
“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “IT IS NOT DESIRABLE THAT WE LEAVE THE WORD OF GOD AND SERVE TABLES. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; BUT WE WILL GIVE OURSELVES CONTINUALLY TO PRAYER AND TO THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD”.
It’s interesting that when the number of the disciples was multiplying, the leader did not allow their workload to multiply with it, but they delegated the work and they stood firm within the boundaries of their role and what their God given task was.
The apostles did not give the task away to others because they were proud and did not want to serve, but rather because they did not want to be distracted from their essential role: to bring the Word of God and the presence and power of God to the people through prayer.
We need a repentance at the level of the whole church and a returning to the Biblical role of church pastors. Some might be able to start making changes towards the above and direct the church towards a change of values towards valuing time with God more than time with each other or time in programs and events. Others will have more of a battle with the board or the members’ expectations from which they cannot run straight away, they will need to take small steps and then make them larger and larger in time. Some will need to sacrifice programs and events and be willing to upset a few people if they are to seek God’s way in ministry.
Let’s all pray for our leaders and with our leaders that they will be able to return and focus on what they were truly assigned to do and not be forced into areas which will weaken them in bringing what the congregation needs spiritually. And let’s pray God sends them others to support them with the other tasks so they can focus on their vital role.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary puts it this way:
“The receiving and giving of the word of God was enough to take up
all the thoughts, cares, and time of the apostles.”
THE PING PONG TABLE VISION
God went on to show me what actually happens many times in a church meeting when the Word of God is preached. The Word goes out of the preacher’s mouth and when it is about to hit the hearts of the people, it bounces back of the strongholds people have in their heart. The people have allowed these strongholds to be built in their heart in times of disappointment and these are really accusations against God that He won’t do what He says in the Word, as their past has proven – they feel. These are like brick walls of resistance that make the Word of God unable to penetrate.
At times the Word makes a crack in the wall or gets right through it and some people change. But the power needed to demolish the strongholds on mass it just isn’t there in full measure – because the ministers have not been able to put in the time in prayer and humbling themselves or haven’t chosen to pay the price in the presence of God before delivering the message. Therefore, the Word delivered with little empowerment from the Holy Spirit has little effect in overcoming and demolishing the spiritual strongholds in people’s hearts.
God told us that the Word of God is like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces, but imagine a high stronghold, well solidified with beliefs that perhaps persisted over a number of generations in a person’s family.
How long will it take to demolish the stronghold if left only to the use of a hammer? Maybe longer than we have … And that is precisely, He told me, why we need the manifestation of the overwhelming presence of God to accompany the Word: it enhances its effectiveness and produces much faster results in people. He showed me people’s strongholds were like walls of Jericho and the manifest overwhelming presence of God – meaning the glory of God in meetings – was like the earthquake that shattered the walls of Jericho, the stronghold.
We need the glory of God to accompany the Word of God with dunamis power (the power of the Holy Spirit) to destroy the strongholds.
We need the Word with the heavy presence of the Holy Spirit to create an explosion in the stronghold walls of people’s hearts and shatter it to pieces. And that is precisely why we need the glory of God, as dynamite against the strongholds of our hearts, as water for the dry hearts who got lost in the desert of this world, as oil for the hardened hearts that got offended at God, as wine for the wounded hearts that struggle to trust God again.
God never intended for us to use only one or the other of His tools and those only at partial strength. They are all necessary to be used together to accomplish His purposes and used in full strength.
THE HOW TO – EASIER SAID THAN DONE, BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE
This calls for radical change, for all church leadership and for the congregation as a whole. It is not only up to the leaders to pay the price for the overwhelming presence of God to manifest. The worship team has a massive role to pray, the teams that pray during the service have a vital role. Every believer can also experience this at home, if they choose to seek God for it with intensity and focus. It is available to all. But we do realize that the sheep tend to follow the shepherd and therefore, more of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of leadership to show and model the way.
1. BEGIN TO ASK CONSISTENTLY FOR AN INCREASE OF HUNGER FOR GOD
I have heard this from great men of God and I have experienced it myself with overwhelming results. I have asked for an increase of hunger.
God promises to satisfy the hungry, not those full of other things.
In 2008, I was dissatisfied with my spiritual state and started to ask God for hunger. And I kept asking and asking. The result was staggering, but there was one other ingredient in the equation.
2. COMMIT YOURSELF TO WALK IN AN EXCELLENT WAY BEFORE YOUR GOD IN EVERY AREA OF LIFE
At the same time, in 2008, I have also re-committed myself to walk in an excellent way before my God in every area of my life. And I was totally serious about it. I call it setting your face like a flint to only want God and His way, at the loss of all other things that distract. I consciously focused on living as God wanted me to just so I can please the Father. The thought of bringing joy to His heart gave me great joy. And living an excellent – pure and loving – life gives you a very nice feeling of satisfaction.
Within the following two weeks my level of hunger increased so much that I found myself looking for little gaps in the day where I can sneak in more prayer time, more time soaking in God, more time in the Word – between running a real estate business, being the mother of a toddler and a primary school child and managing tenants while my husband was overseas.
The hunger increased and I kept on asking for more anyway, till I felt like I could not do without more of God. I was abiding in God throughout the day apart from spending one focused hour in the morning with God, but it was no longer enough, I wanted more and more.
I began to ask God to not allow even the nights to pass without Him communicating and interacting with me, even in my sleep. I did not want to miss a bit of Him, but have as much as I could. After praying this way for a number of days, I had one of the greatest visitations of my life. Jesus came to me in a dream that had a big life changing impact on me and I will never be the same again because of it. The dream is detailed on this website here
I can tell you I cried for three hours afterwards, feeling my heart much softer towards God and experiencing the love, kindness of God that I have experienced in the dream. The dream changed the way I think about God, myself, ministry, relationship with God and life.
I have also experienced the great privilege of seeing Jesus face to face when He appeared to me while awake and also seeing with my very eyes the glory cloud of God in another visitation. I realize that there were common denominators between all of these experiences that positioned me to experience these wonderful encounters. You can read about my visitation of the glory cloud here
and my face to face encounter with Jesus here
, if interested.
I gave the above example not to brag in any way but to stir your heart and to show you that it is possible to experience the overwhelming presence of God in a life marking way, even just by yourself, at home. I just wanted to show you that anyone can experience a level of the glory if they are willing to pay the price of going after it with hunger.
3. SET YOUR HEART TO WANT GOD AT ANY COST
The Bible says the preparation of the heart belongs to men. I decided that I would set my heart to have God, and have as much as I could of Him. It’s what I call ‘setting my face like a flint‘.
4. ELIMINATE ANYTHING THAT COMPETES WITH IT
When you set your face like a flint, you make a choice to focus your eye on one point (the Lord) ahead of you to the exclusion of all other objects that compete for your eye’s attention. This means that many other dear things in your life that you enjoyed doing, mostly good things, will have to be lost for the greater good of finding Him. Things like too much social media, television, lots of socializing, much time spent on hobbies and other things.
These things are not bad in themselves, and relaxation and fun is necessary in life. But for each of us there is a place where we must surrender some of the things we enjoy if we don’t a mediocre Christian experience. But if you want to win the prize, you have to train and run like one who will win the prize, willing to give up many good things in order to have the best. Some people will say this is unhealthy and unbalanced, but I have found that being in the presence of God brought great peace of heart and mind, lots of joy and great motivation to do my best in loving others and living right in the rest of the areas of my life. In other words, God did remind me when I was neglecting something or someone and told me when to stop seeking Him and when to stop and rest. God looks after your equilibrium if you seek Him sincerely. He even told me to have fun when needed.
Of course, I am not saying that you need to be neglectful of the responsibilities God has called you to, towards your family and church, but make sure that nothing is overdone and thus affect your seeking of God.
Just an example: mothers tend to overdo play dates for their children or shopping or getting lost in myriads of small tasks around the house. We need to place everything against the magnifying glass of eternity and see if it’s worth paying the price you pay for it now. Will you consider it the best investment of your time looking back from eternity into time? Will it be something you will celebrate or something you will regret looking back from eternity?
If you desire to be the vessel through which God manifests His overwhelming presence and power, it will cost you everything. The wheel of your life will truly have to be given in the hands of the Destiny Writer and kept off the wheel consistently, even when everything in you screams to take back a bit of control. You will have to face the possible consequences of such a decision to your comfort and to your lifestyle and be willing to pay the cost. Just like Jesus said: Count the cost before you start building.
I have framed some words God gave me and put them in my living room, it says:
What I do today TRULY affects eternity”
We will never have today back, we can choose to spend it mediocre and in embracing comfort and safety or we can pay the price to have something precious for eternity. We each choose this every day.
You can make this choice to focus on the prize – Jesus – with the most exhilarating hope in your heart:
– that as you seek Him with all your heart, He will let Himself be found by you
– that as you diligently seek Him, He will reward you
– that He will see you as a friend, to whom He speaks face to face, just like He did with Moses
– that He will call you a person after His own heart, like He did with David
– that He will be proud to call Himself your personal God like He says in Hebrews:
“God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16)
– that He will entrust you as a vessel of manifesting His glory in His church, with great results of transformation in the lives of His people
As one wise person once said:
“THE PRICE OF DISOBEDIENCE IS GREATER THAN THE PRICE OF OBEDIENCE”
Whichever way you choose, you will pay a price. The price of mediocrity and slow progress or the price of discomfort and dying to self. The price of disobedience is too frustrating and disappointing, but the price of obedience leads to great fulfillment.
I am setting my heart for the later. I admit, I am trembling in my boots, because I know the dying to self that awaits me, but what else is there? Dying of boredom and settling for a religious routine? Why settle, when there is so much joy, peace and exhilarating resurrection life awaiting us?
Who will at least try to go there with me, trembling or not? I said try because unless you give it a go, you never know what you are missing out on. In His presence there is fullness of joy and pleasures for ever more. Is your life reflecting fullness of joy and pleasures for ever more? If you are like me, the answer is no, we have much to seek for and much to experience out of the riches of His glory.
PS . I would appreciate your comments, reflections on the above and any questions you might have, though I know I don’t have all the answers.