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I recently came across a post from a well-known Christian leader based in a major US city that gave me pause. Here’s what he said:
So folks if you want to know the key to seeing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it’s quite simple. I’ll say it to you in one sentence: God comes where he’s wanted. Hunger is the secret. And when a Calvinist or an Armenian or high church or a low church gets hungry, God shows up. God comes where he’s wanted.1
I’ve met the man who said this, spent a bit of time with him even. I respect him a lot. I know he’s done some homework on revival, and I can see how he got to this statement.
But I can’t buy it.
If I’m hearing him correctly, he’s making the claim that our spiritual hunger is the one simple, sure-fire key to seeing God move.
Really? It’s on us?
We just have to muster enough desire? Enough thirst? Enough hunger? All we need to do is want God more, and we’ll see ‘revival,’ just like that? Can it be that easy?
On the flip side, this logic would seem to suggest that if we haven’t seen God move like we want him to, it’s because we haven’t wanted God badly enough.
Where God showed up
I can’t help but wonder about all the moments in Scripture where God showed up when we didn’t particularly want him, or at least weren’t asking for him to come . . .
Like at the dawn of creation – when human desire didn’t even exist yet – and God came to fashion the world and everything in it.
Like when the prophets compared people to sheep, everyone going their own way (not exactly a picture of hunger) and God went out to seek, find and gather us in like a good shepherd.
Like when God in Christ became flesh, full of grace and truth. (Isn’t the point of grace that we weren’t hungry for God, but God offered Godself anyway?)
Like when John says “This is love, not that we loved (or wanted or longed for) God, but that God loved us first and sent his Son . . .”
Like when we were still sinners, turning our backs on God – again, an image which is the precise opposite of hunger – and yet, Jesus died for us.
Like when the disciples were locked down in fear, and the post-resurrection Jesus showed up, extending peace.
I also can’t help but wonder about times we did want God – harder than we ever have – to heal, to restore, to intervene, to change things, to bring justice, to alleviate suffering, to reverse the trajectory of pain . . . and those things didn’t happen. Does this mean our fervent, constant, travailing prayers had no effect? That we weren’t hungry enough?
Name it and claim it?
I think we need to be extremely careful about making this kind of claim as though it can be guaranteed. There’s no room in “God comes where he’s wanted” for humility. For mystery. For the surprise of grace. Perhaps not even room for us to pay attention to God’s desire for us.
Even worse, it seems to me that this level of certainty that human desire is the key to unlocking God’s resources is a mere hair’s width away from a prosperity gospel. “Name it and claim it” is not a great distance from “Hunger for God and he’s yours.”
And then, if God does “come in power,” whatever that actually means, what do we do then? Surely we should get some credit then, right? For getting hungry enough. For working up enough gusto to get God to show up. At last.
Do you see why this thinking is problematic?
There is no simple formula, it would seem. No silver bullet. God coming, or moving in power, or pouring out the Spirit, or bringing revival – whatever name we give it – is always sheer gift. Always.
We can hunger for it, absolutely. And probably should. I’m not saying spiritual desire has no place in how faith is expressed. Far from it! There are many places in Scripture where we see the goodness of longing, seeking, desiring God, and the fruit that’s possible as a result (the prayers we find in the Psalms are a good example).
But we cannot be absolutely certain that what we hunger for will happen – or happen on our timeline. Nothing we have, or can muster up, within ourselves, can make God come.
Thoughts on Asbury
Regarding what’s going on at Asbury University in Kentucky, I have some thoughts. I’ll start with what I think is a key Scriptural starting point for responding to any ‘move of God,’ wherever and whenever it happens.
In context, the following was said by a Pharisee named Gamaliel in response to the miraculous work of the Spirit taking place through Peter and the early apostles:
If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God! – Acts 5:38b-39
Far be it from me to make any claim that what’s happening in Asbury is not ‘of God.’ I won’t even deny that spiritual hunger is playing some sort of role there. From the photos I’ve seen and stories I’ve read, It would seem that God is obviously up to something. People don’t typically spend hours praying and worshipping and crying and doing whatever else they’re doing in that chapel, unless they’re being drawn by something beyond themselves, or perhaps Someone within themselves.
I’m inclined to trust that there is a lot of good work – God-work, if you will – taking place. I trust this includes people turning from sin, and adopting new patterns of devotion and practice that are sustainable for the long haul.
That part is crucially important. The Jesus way is a marathon, not a sprint.
I’ve been swept up in happenings like this myself, like when the westerly winds of the so-called ‘Toronto Blessing’ blew on some of us in BC, back in the mid-90s. It can be exciting, cleansing, healing, freeing. It can galvanize small communities and result in more people finding healing and freedom in Christ, at least for a while.
And, it can be hard to look outward when you’re caught up in it. You don’t want to come down from the mountain. You want to pitch tents and stay put.
But, you gotta come down at some point. What happens then?
I hope that the repentance taking place, if indeed it is, includes not only ‘personal’ sin but sins that are less private. Like greed. Like the marginalization of BIPOC folks and sexual minorities. Like refusing or neglecting to work for social change in the name of Jesus. Like holding onto political power even if it means others remaining trapped in systems that oppress. Like giving in to fear and letting that influence and enforce our self-righteous drawing of lines, and drive our conversations about who’s in and who’s out.
Also, I worry about the spectacle of it all.
I worry that people are travelling for miles to see this thing – and perhaps catch a spark themselves – at the expense of the individuals, communities and needs that are staring them in the face where they live.
I’m less interested in what this is called (eg. revival), or whether it’s judged by armchair experts as being legitimate or not. I’m far more interested in what happens when folks leave the building, go back to their homes, their marriages, their kids, their churches, their workplaces, their neighbourhoods.
I’m less interested in how many hours of endless songs and prayers are taking place, how many classes are cancelled, etc, and far more interested in what the prophet Amos called the people of God to when he said, in effect, “I hate all your show,” and instead, “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”2
Trust and pray
Here’s the posture I’m trying to take on.
I’m choosing to trust that the Asbury community is not meaning to put on a show. Dr. Kevin Brown, the university president, was recently quoted as saying, “The trajectory of renewal meetings is always outward – and that is beginning to occur.” That’s encouraging to hear.
I’m choosing to trust that there is something of God – perhaps a lot of God – in what’s happening to these people. And that it’s probably even spreading to people in other places.
I’m praying that the passion being expressed in worship songs and fervent prayers will indeed spill into the streets, in the form of tangible care and love for those on the margins, whether they ascribe to our creeds or not.
I’m praying that right-relatedness – to God, to their neighbours, to the earth and to themselves – be it centred in Asbury, in Vancouver, or [insert where you live here] will come to resemble a never-failing stream, bringing life to all it touches.
I’m still not sure I’m in a hurry to start praying I’ll “want God more,” but I concede that this isn’t a bad thing to pray for. These days, I am more drawn to pray that I’ll begin to understand the mystery of how much God wants me. And you. And all of us.
I will keep praying that I’ll want what God wants, though.
May it be so.
- I have questions about referring to God solely as ‘he,’ but I’ll save those for another time, and stick with mostly male pronouns for this piece.
- Amos 5:21–24. Also check out Jon Foreman’s beautiful song, ‘Instead of a Show.’
Nelson Boschman is a pastor, writer, spiritual director, jazz musician, wine enthusiast, husband and father of one. He lives in Vancouver.
He is the pastor of spiritual formation at Artisan Church, and a partner of SoulStream, a community that seeks to nurture contemplative experience with Christ, leading to inner freedom and loving service.
This comment was originally posted on his site and is re-posted here by permission.