These next couple of posts address whether followers of Jesus should focus on miracles (the expectation of, and participation in, the supernatural work of God amongst us by the Holy Spirit) or the mountainside (intimacy with God as Jesus enjoyed when he escaped to quiet places to commune with his Father – let’s call it a transforming journey of the heart into God’s love in a way which forms us spiritually into the likeness of Christ). Which is the best basis for faith? For kingdom life? For pleasing God? For finding inner peace?
If we say it is one or the other, we are in danger of spiritual under-development or immaturity. In the life of Jesus both mountainside and miracles were integral.
In Papua New Guinea growing up I learnt about the gods of animism as the village people offered sacrifices to appease the duk-duks – men dressed up to depict the gods. Evil spirits needed to be appeased because they were evil, but also because the people chose them as their gods.
We will get the God of our choosing. In other words, if we allow Him to be near in the sense that He could show up at any minute to heal or speak (Philippians 4:5), and live as if this is true with faith and expectation, this is the God we will experience. And it is mainly because faith and expectation have our hearts ready for God and they shape our behaviour. We will consistently put our hands to kingdom tasks, and therefore see God do things. We will actually wait and listen for God’s voice, and therefore hear Him speak.
In the 1890s Fijian missionaries brought the good news about Jesus to Papua New Guinea. For animists open to spiritual power the way was open, through the redemption of the cross, to experience a powerful, resurrected Christ. But less than 70 years later, churches in these islands were a thin reflection of Him. A bell would ring in the village and everyone went to church. But it was awfully nominal, and not nearly as powerful as the black magic of their animistic roots. It was power from the kingdom of darkness, but power nonetheless. No wonder they still consulted the local witch doctor when someone was really ill! The version of Yahweh they chose could only heal in biblical folklore. As a result, they rarely prayed with any expectation for God to heal, and they got the God of their choosing - not good when you really need God to be powerful!
Curiously there was a lot of interest in “outsiders” coming to perform miracles, but it didn’t translate into their own practice because they had chosen a God who wasn’t powerful or present in that way. If there was to be any power they were dependent for it on anointed visitors, and a lot of the time were merely fascinated. This is not to say God didn’t do great things through these wonderfully anointed people, just that fascination is not the same as following. For me this has everything to do with mountainside (or a lack of it) and this will be addressed in the next post.
Let me share a recent personal experience of the supernatural work of God. At Foothills Vineyard Church a team runs a street BBQ reaching out to people in a disadvantaged area of Western Sydney. Over a few weeks several of us on the team prayed at different times with Robyn for healing - she expressed concern about up-coming surgery to address numerous serious blockages in her coronary artery. When Robyn went for surgery the doctors could not find any blockages! This to say, I am a believer in the miracle side of things!
But when followers of Jesus fill their lives with consistent experiences of the supernatural without an overflow into greater inner peace, expressions of love, using their own spiritual gifts, and specifically, evangelism and ministry to the poor, this points to something under-developed or immature spiritually. It says nothing about whether or not God works supernaturally through people – clearly he does! But it does suggest that the way this is happening in our church communities is not helping us make disciples – we are often left with fascinated observers rather than followers praying for the sick and sharing the gospel with the lost with the Spirit’s power. We all love it when the Spirit comes, but is there not meant to be further fruit in the lives upon whom the Spirit comes?
Jesus obviously experienced a lot of miracles, but saw the necessity of a lot of mountainside time if He was to stay connected and involved in what the Father is doing. More about mountainside time and the importance of it in the next post.