@narboy96 || worship arts director
Why are we a stoppable church?
No really. If you look at the church in America specifically, it would seem on many fronts we have lost our influence. We're stoppable.
I think you can see our inhibitions from two angles. On the one hand, you have churches who—it seems—the Spirit is really anointing their ministry, numbers are booming, lives are being touched. But then in one fell swoop, scandal strikes.
The pastor caught cheating on his wife.
The worship leader abandoning his family.
The priest caught molesting a child.
The ministry leader caught covering up rape.
Covering up alcoholism. Covering up extortion. The list could go on and on—and behind each of these I've listed above is an actual story I'm thinking of—real churches, real lives, real witness for the gospel, ruined.
What's going on here? An equation I'd like to suggest to explain this is POWER – FRUIT = TYRANT (hold on, I'm gonna be using quite a few equations in this post). These leaders, these churches, had spiritual power. Yet they lacked the spiritual fruit, the character. And so their leadership became tyrannical. This type of way of Christian living always leads to defeat.
On the other hand though, you have churches who seem to have it all put together. Their theology? Flawless. Their doctrine? Theologians would want to write a systematic theology about. They're the nicest people you'll ever meet—perhaps a bit reserved, but they know their stuff.
But you know what? They have zero kingdom influence. I was a part of a church for short while that was like this. The community was majority hispanic, yet guess how many hispanics attended the church: zero. The church very brazenly displayed their church covenant in their sanctuary, boasting of prohibition clauses and the like. But meanwhile, guess how many outreach events or attempts at bridge building there were with their community: zero. The answer was, "Oh, the church down the road will handle it." Literally.
What we have going on here is the reverse problem as the tyrant. FRUIT – POWER = INEFFECTIVE. Powerless.
What does it look like to be an unstoppable church?
An unstoppable church has the character of God. FRUIT
An unstoppable church has the power of God. POWER
A church that has the character of God and the power of God has the Spirit of God. FRUIT + POWER = SPIRIT
A Spirit-filled church is an unstoppable church.
God makes clear in Scripture that when we repent and believe on Christ—when we are saved—the Spirit of God indwells us. Yet for some, they're content to simply leave him there as nice theological fact, without him impacting their experience at all.
Having the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit are not the same thing. The Spirit doesn't want to just kick back on a La-Z-Boy in your heart. He wants to be active. He wants to move through you. To change you. To make you look and smell more like Jesus.
That's why God continually reminds us to be filled with the Spirit in Scripture. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul writes this to them:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Those four phrases I emphasized above all speak to the conditional empowering of the Spirit. Or, in other words, it's not a given. It's something we need to pursue. And even as seen through this passage, I think we can see two categories of what it means to be filled with the Spirit—and I already mentioned them above. We need the fruit of the Spirit (that's the love and the character of God) and we need the power of the Spirit (that's the overflow of his presence in us).
We need both. Think of it like this. You have a bird, right? A bird flies. What does it need to fly? Wings. If a bird has a left wing but no right, it ain't going anywhere. Same if it only has a right wing.
But if the bird has both wings, it can fly and function the way God designed it to.
It's the exact same when talking about being filled with the Spirit. We will be a stoppable church if we try to fly with only one wing (spiritual fruit) or another (spiritual power). But it's when we fly with both that we become unstoppable.
I was a chunky kid growing up. Honestly. I'd come home from Wednesday night church so excited to eat. I'd pop two Hot Pockets in the microwave, pour me a glass of 2%, and take my snack in the shower. Yes, the shower. I was so excited to eat the Hot Pockets and drink the milk that I'd take them in the shower with me.
Needless to say, I wasn't the fittest kid. In fact, those unhealthy (albeit tasty) sandwiches I was putting into my system started to transform me into them. What I mean is, the more unhealthy food I ingested, the more unhealthy I became. What I practiced showed in my life. I guess you really are what you eat.
In the same way, you can tell the fruit of your life by the desires you fulfill. Paul talks about this with the church in Galatia when he discusses this war going on inside of us, our flesh wanting one thing and our spirits wanting another (see Galatians 5).The fruit of the flesh, of sin, are things like "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like" (vv. 19-21).
But then he goes on to explain what the fruit of the life of someone walking with the Spirit, being filled with God, looks like: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. . . . Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" (vv. 22-23, 25).
A Spirit-filled church is an unstoppable church. A Spirit-filled church is overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit.
When we’re squeezed, when there’s pressure applied, what comes out of us?
When the lady drives 20 in a 45 in front of us, does patience comes out, or fits of rage?
When your friend gets promoted at their work is making way more than you, even though you’ve faithfully been in the same position for double the time, does joy for them come out, or jealousy?
When we’re feeling lonely and misunderstood, does faith and self-control come out, or selfishness and lust?
This is hard. This is so hard. Our entire natural selves want what we want. We want to feel good now.
The Spirit inside us wants what God wants, and wants to grow our character into looking more and more like Jesus. It’s not growing in order to be a better person, it’s growing in order to be a godlier person.
It’s only by partnering with the Spirit that we can be transformed. He’s the grower, yes. “We live by the Spirit.” But nothing will grow unless we position ourselves to be poured into by him: “Let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
Until we resolve in our own individual lives to partner with the Spirit in his growing his fruit in us, we can never expect to be a collective church that is unstoppable. It starts with a Spirit-filled life.
an after-class prophesy.
My first real experience with someone operating out of a sense of spiritual power was when I was in middle school with my art teacher Sherri. I went to a Christian school. I grew up in a pretty conservative background that never talked about the power of God, and Sherri was a part of a different church tradition than I had grown up in. So my 100%-correct middle school self (please catch the sarcasm) would try to debate her about different doctrinal topics.
Yet the one thing I couldn't explain away was her gifting. I could tell so many firsthand and secondhand stories of her healing people, speaking life into people, prophesying over things and then those things happening.
But one simple story I remember came when I was in eighth grade after a prayer meeting. She kept me back for a minute because she said she felt God telling her to tell me to go through the book of Daniel and write out each reference to a name of God in the book. I thought this a little strange, but said thanks and went on my way.
At church that night, I was asking our student intern what he was going to be preaching on for the upcoming winter retreat—and to my complete surprise, he said, "I'm thinking about going through the book of Daniel." Such a seemingly small thing, sure. Could it have been a coincidence? The timing seemed to peculiar for that to be. But based on her level of spiritual power she displayed in the rest of her life, I had no reason to doubt that it was truly God working through her. I listened to her word and went through the book; and as a result, I was very prepared for God to pour into me his word that retreat.
God has given us all gifts that we're to use to encourage and strengthen others. That’s why the Spirit even gives us gifts in the first place, to show his power among us through each other.
Spiritual gifts aren't just talents. It's not just being good at music or being able to cook well. It's a supernatural display of God's power working through us in a way we would not naturally be able to operate on our own. It requires a dependence on the Spirit, a seeking out for these things (1 Corinthians 12-14 dives into this on a much more detailed level).
How can we be like Sherri? A Spirit-filled church is an unstoppable church. A Spirit-filled church is overflowing with the power of the Spirit.
It can be tempting to say that if our character is godly, if we’re full of compassion and joy, of fruit, that’s enough. But that’s not what Scripture says: “...who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).
We’re in the church age right now. Jesus is not on earth; he’s in heaven. The Spirit is here, working according to his power that’s at work within us. So if we don’t ask him to do more than we can ask or imagine, that power isn’t going to be at work within us. If we don’t expect him to do big things, why would he? Then if they happen, we’d credit ourselves for our own genius and strength instead of crediting God. We are the agents of God on the earth right now. We’re his representatives.
So what kind of church is one that’s all talk but no power? Certainly not an unstoppable one. Not a Spirit-filled one. Because the Spirit fills us with love and with power, truth and gifting.
"Okay, Nate, this is all great and all. But what does this practically look like? What does an unstoppable church look like?" I'm so glad you asked.
When we look to the early church, they had this concept down. Spiritual fruit and power: they were filled with the Spirit. Take this account from Luke:
"And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
You see the boldness in their prayers. They were asking for power. So first, the Spirit poured out his presence onto them as they prayed, made himself felt, as if to say, “I hear you!” Then they went out and did exactly what they prayed for: healing, performing miracles, conquering darkness with the light of the gospel. They displayed the power of the Spirit.
It’s striking, though, how what follows this prayer is a note about how they shared everything. Nothing one person owned belonged to another. That shows incredible fruit, incredible love. That couldn’t have been a human work. They displayed the fruit of the Spirit. And because of their witness, many people believed.
In fact, that's what it's all about in the first place: Jesus, and trusting him. Paul writes earlier in his letter to Ephesus, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Eph. 1:17 NIV).
This same filling can be for us too. How do we become unstoppable in our worship? All 168 hours of the week, how can our lives be ones that brings the utmost glory to God, brings the most pleasure to God?
That when there's a crisis, we're the first ones the city calls.
That when there’s a spiritual obstacle, our first response is to come together, praying in faith and seeing God do the miraculous.
That individually we respond to our friends and family with a spirit of patience and joy no matter what.
That we have conversations with strangers, delivering to them not just the words of the gospel but the power of the gospel to bring them healing and words of encouragement, exactly what they needed to hear.
Pursue the Spirit.
Pursue spiritual fruit.
Pursue spiritual power.
Our lives should be shaking things up all 168 hours of the week.
By being filled in the Spirit in both fruit and power, we’ll be a community filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. We’ll be a church that’s unstoppable. Because a Spirit-filled church is an unstoppable church.
Because he’s a God who is able to and desires to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
Let’s shake our world around us with our Spirit-filled lives.
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Photo by Kea Mowat on Unsplash