In 1971, the great 20th century preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, brought these remarks to an annual Minister’s conference:
“We must not be content until we have had some manifestation of the activity of God. We must concentrate on this. This is my plea, that we concentrate on this, because it is the great message of the Bible, so substantiated by the lessons of history. That is obviously today the only thing that gives us any hope as we face the future. And God seems to be saying that to us. ‘Prove Me now. Try Me. Risk your everything on Me. Be fools for My sake. Cast yourselves utterly upon this belief.’ Let us put it like this: Do we really believe that God can still act? That is the question; that is the ultimate challenge. Or have we, for theological or some other reasons, excluded the very possibility? Here is the crucial matter. Do we individually and personally really believe that God still acts, can act and will act – in individuals, in groups of individuals, in churches, localities, perhaps even in countries? Do we believe that He is as capable of doing that today as He was in ancient times – the Old Testament, the New Testament times, the book of Acts, Protestant Reformation, Puritans, Methodist Awakening, 1859, 1904-5? Do we really believe that He can still do it? You see, it is ultimately what you believe about God. If He is the great Jehovah – I am that I am, I am that I shall be, unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable, the everlasting and eternal God – well, He can still do it.” (I originally found this quote on Adrian Warnock’s site, but you can read the full sermon here.)
What does a manifestation of the activity of God look like? How do we know God is present to act? The most significant evidence of God’s activity is conversion, when a defiant rebel is miraculously transformed into a forgiven lover of God through the Gospel and the power of the Spirit. Lavish generosity and humble servanthood can also be evidences of God’s activity. People who no longer live for their own glory but for the glory of the Savior display God’s power at work. I’m among those who believe that the gifts of the Spirit described in various New Testament passages (1 Cor. 12, 14, Eph. 4, etc.), such as prophetic impressions and healing, continue to this day. They, too, are a sign that God is active in our midst.
However, I’m sobered and challenged by Lloyd-Jones’ question: “Do we really believe that God can still act?” He is asking if we have faith for God to move among us in clear, distinct, and powerful ways. He is asking us to consider if we are settling for an "appearance of godliness, but denying its power?" (2 Tim. 3:5) At the end of the day are we placing more trust in God’s activity or ours? I find that I can still approach congregational meetings in a way that expecting God’s active presence is almost an afterthought. Maybe you’ve had the same experience.
Scripture explains God’s presence in different ways. Psalm 139 and other passages teach that He is present everywhere at the same time. Quite a feat. But, there are many Scriptural examples of God making his presence known in a unique way. Some of these are expected, as when we gather to share the Lord’s supper or sing His praise (1 Cor. 11:23-32; Eph. 5:18-20). Other times, God reveals his presence and activity in ways that are startling and affecting. In 1 Cor. 14:23-25 Paul seems to assume that will be a regular occurrence in our meetings if we are responding to the Spirit’s leading. Unbelievers will fall down and proclaim, “God is really among you!”
How do we respond to Lloyd-Jones’ penetrating question – “Do we really believe that God can still act?” – without falling into emotionalism or idolizing experience? How do we maintain a balance between celebrating God’s presence among us and expectantly looking for his active presence? In our experience-saturated but God-deprived culture, it’s an important question. That topic is the theme of the main session messages at Sovereign Grace’s WorshipGod06 conference, “The Glory of His Presence.” It will be held August 9-12, 2006, here in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I’ve asked my good friend Jeff Purswell to start the conference with a message on a biblical theology of the presence of God, tracing what God has to say from Genesis to Revelation. I’ll be speaking on Pursuing God’s Presence, and have invited author Randy Alcorn to speak on Anticipating God’s Presence. My prayer is that everyone who attends the conference will leave more confident of God’s constant activity in their lives, and more committed to pursuing a greater experience of that activity. I’d love to see you there. You can find out more about the conference here.
What about you? Where do you need to grow in faith for God’s activity in your life and your church? How have you maintained a balance between celebrating God’s promised presence through ordinary means and an expectation for his supernatural activity in unexpected ways? I’d be interested in your comments.