I’m realizing, more and more, throughout this DTS, that in addition to material poverty, there is another poverty that is far less noticeable and much more grievous. And that is spiritual poverty. I believe America is really suffering from spiritual poverty. We boast diversity, religious freedom, tolerance, social equality and so many other things, but I believe that somewhere along the lines, we have mistaken “religious freedom” for spirituality. But we must know that practicing religion is not the same as living in and for the Kingdom of God.
I think that many of our churches have modeled after academic institutions, political rallies, and social organizations rather than the New Testament Church instituted by Jesus and lived out by the first disciples. We teach many facts about Jesus, but do we actually know Him as our friend? Is He the first person we call out to when we are overwhelmed, disappointed, or afraid? Is He the one we rejoice with when we finally get that promotion we’ve been hoping for? Don’t we know that He cares about the desires of our hearts?
Has the pulpit become a place to propagate our own values, experiences, social and political agendas and shallow wisdom? Don’t we know that the true Gospel shows us what to value, how to experience life to the fullest, and what true wisdom looks like?
How I fear we have desecrated the cross of Christ in America by making an instrument of torture an icon of comfort and safety.
We have not just watered down the Gospel. We have become a nation plagued by idolatry of self. We have elevated success, individuality, opportunity, and national pride above the truth of who God is – Father, Son and Spirit. Our Caretaker and Comforter, our Intercessor, Savior, Brother and Friend, and our Wonderful Counselor – who ministers to us each day by His blessed Spirit – an aspect of the Trinity largely ignored completely in many American churches.
So how does this relate to Africa? A place where witchcraft, voodoo, and blood sacrifices are very much a reality? There is a spiritual awareness here that I have never seen before. Believers and non-believers on this continent know how very real spiritual warfare is. They have had real encounters with demons and evil spirits. I know that sounds scary and dark and so unlike the Christianity we are familiar with, but that is because we live so unaware of the darkness keeping us in bondage. Spiritual warfare is very much a reality in Scripture. And we are living in the midst of that battlefield, whether we are aware of it or not. And the Christians I have met here in Africa are truly waging a war.
God has been wrecking the images I’ve created of Him – images of safety and comfort and things that I can understand – and has been showing me how unfathomable He really is. The moment we begin to think we have God figured out, we have damned our souls to a lesser salvation, lesser glory, and lesser grace than the Gospel of Christ promises.
My mind has been bent so much in the past few weeks. I have been wrestling with God, my friends. And He has been so patient with my skepticism and ignorance. He is leading me – day by day – into a greater awareness of who He is. And the hardest part for me, as someone who is very thought-driven and analytical – is that this God who I thought I understood so well is so far beyond my grasp of who He is. He is still near in Spirit and love and care – but He will never, ever be understood.
Because He is God and we are not.
It frightens me that I assumed I could fathom all that He is. How presumptuous of me! Did that mindset come from years of Sunday School in which the same stories and characteristics of God were taught? Did it come from an eager interest in theology during my time in college which led me to believe we can explain away God with fancy theological and philosophical jibberish? Who am I to think that I have enough words to explain every aspect of God? He will not be put in a box. Not even by the greatest theologians or the most religious or spiritual of all men.
My heart is for us to be hungry. So hungry that we do not settle for teachings on Sundays, Wednesdays, and other days of the week set aside by the local church, as the primary sustenance for our spiritual appetite. The local church is amazing but it was never designed to spoon feed us truth. The local church was designed to be a community of disciples making disciples.
My heart is for the Church in America to become refusing Christians. Christians who refuse to settle for the constraints of religious practices, structured services, and straight-laced legalism as a means of containing God. Friends, He doesn’t want to be contained – He wants to be explored. May we refuse to be filled only by the sermons we hear, the songs we sing, and the ritual prayers we pray. May we be awakened with a greater hunger for the love of the Father, the friendship of the Son, and the counsel of the Spirit than ever before.
Oh how we need Him! The LIVING GOD! Not the small god of our imaginations, the fake god who is eager to strike us down when we fail or fall short, or the puny god who needs our worship or church attendance for His self-esteem. He is God – He doesn’t need us – He knows we need Him. And He wants to meet every single need of ours. He wants to satisfy our hunger in the scorched places. He wants to give us life to the fullest. And we know these truths because they are revealed in His Word – the best place to discover the heart of God.
It is not up to a pastor or “seasoned” Christian to teach us who God is. We are called to be in the Word and test the spirits on our own rather than relying on one person to feed us our faith. God instituted the Church for His glory and our building up, and certainly pastors are called to shepherd us in the truths of Christ but please beware of basing the foundation of your faith on one man or woman’s interpretation of Scripture. We will each be held accountable, on the final Judgment Day, for our own salvation.
God wants to reveal truths about Himself to you directly. That is why He has given us “the promised Holy Spirit.” He does counsel us with His hand upon us. He will lead us in the way everlasting and He longs to give us the desires of our hearts. Ultimately, He will become our desire the more that we know about Him.
I appeal to you, as someone who loves you so much and who loves God most of all, please seek Him earnestly with every fiber of your being. In Jeremiah we are told that when we seek God with all of our hearts, He will show us great and unsearchable things. In James, we are told that when we flee from the enemy, he will flee from us and when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.
May our hunger run so deep that we feel famished unless we are feasting on the Word. May we lay aside our preconceived notions of who God is and search Him out for ourselves. He wants to awaken us, friends. He wants to prove Himself worthy of all of our love and affections. When we cast our cares on Him, He sustains us. He walks with us into the darkness. He desires to satisfy this hunger completely.
May we submit all that we are to the Lordship of Christ rather than settling for our own kingdoms, which are earthly; which rust and moth destroy. He is eagerly awaiting us, sweet friends. Maybe we are Christians who feel like there must be more than this dull, routine religion. Maybe we have been walking with God for a long time but we have never been awakened to the goodness of His Spirit – to the reality of God as Wonderful Counselor. He wants to give us the gift of continual communion with Him!
May we press into Him, precious friends. His graciousness is unsearchable; His love knows no bounds. He wants to overcome our spiritual poverty with an abundance of spiritual wealth. May we have open hands and open hearts to receive all that we have only counterfeited, for much of our lives, unaware that there is so much more to be known about God. He is limitless! And He is waiting to fill every thing in every way.