I just listened to Steven Furtick‘s talk at the Global Leadership Summit simulcast. Steven is the author of Sun Stand Still and is the pastor of Elevation Church, a very large church (10,000+) in Charlotte, NC, that is around the exact age of my church in Lansing (5 years). I have heard Steven preach before and really appreciate his passion for God’s power and for the truth of Scripture. I know that some of my struggle with Steven’s teaching is that he is my age and his church is my age, and there is that hidden twinge of jealousy/ego inside of me, and God makes me work through that whenever this surfaces. But besides this, there is something theological that I really struggle with (and when I say struggle, I mean that in the very literal sense: tension, uncertainty, confusion, humble, don’t have the answers), and it happens to be the main point of Steven’s book, and in most of his keynote talks.
This theological struggle I have ties directly into my experiences as a church planter, as well as a pastor of people living in a fallen world, who encounter struggle after struggle where it often seems God is absent. I am not quoting Furtick on this, but what I struggle with is the general teaching that is out there that if you have big audacious faith believing God will do big things, God will do them. I have thumbed through the Sun Stand Still book and my personal experiences as a planter cause my heart to lock up and make me unable to read this teaching, and make it difficult for me to listen to. I again acknowledge my own sin-issues here, while at the same time feel this topic really deserves both sides of the coin to be presented in order for it to be biblical, and to not cause a lot of confusion and bitterness in people’s lives.
Today Furtick spoke on 2 Kings 3:9-20. In a nutshell this passage says: There has not been rain; there needs to be; Elisha hears from the Lord that the people need to dig ditches and the Lord will fill them with water. Added on to this, verse 18 tells us “this is an easy thing for the Lord to do.” Furtick’s main point of his message to leaders around the world is that we need to dig ditches, with the big audacious faith that God will show up and fill them with water (all metaphorically speaking obviously –most directly applied to our ministry contexts) and he (Furtick) gives example after example of how they did this at their church and have now baptized thousands and thousands of people. His book has a very similar pattern to this.
My struggle with Furtick’s message is that God never promises that He will do this on a regular basis. He brought water when Elisha built ditches because He explicitly promised the water when He gave the command to build the ditches. God never promises that He will do this on a regular basis (for us today), and I think it can be really destructive in people’s lives to teach them that He does promise this. We should not hold God to promises He never made. I don’t know how many people in my ministry who have either left their faith, or who have contemplated leaving their faith, because they prayed for something with all the audacious faith in the world, and it simply didn’t happen: their mom with cancer died, they never got pregnant, they lost their job, their church folded. It’s one thing to get hyped up about this concept in a sermon and look at specific one-time examples of when this has happened, like 2 Kings 3 with the ditches, or the fire coming from heaven in 1 Kings 18, or the sun standing still in Joshua 10, but never in any of these cases did God promise that He would do this every time (that if we have this type of faith, He’ll do it for us). I have found in my life, in my congregation’s life, and over and over again in the Bible that sometimes freshly dug ditches are met with drought, famine, and death. It’s not that God is no longer in control of these situations, or that He doesn’t love us (2 conclusions people make when they think they are guaranteed results from God if they have audacious enough faith), but there is a simple reality that we live in a fallen world (the world is mired by the consequences of sin) and we will live in this fallen world until Jesus comes back and/or we are in Heaven–>Lazarus is raised from the dead in John 11, but the dude still dies a few years after that. The John 11 miracle was a one-time thing, not a promise or formula we can go back to again and again (because this isn’t Heaven yet).
A main facet of my struggle with this topic is that I know I sound like I’m being pessimistic when I say this and I do wonder how the bias of my upbringing plays into this. I want to learn and be stretched in this area and I do think there is a lot I and we can learn from Furtick and others who stretch our faith past our comfort zones. We need to believe God can do the impossible and in faith we need to ask Him to do it on a regular basis. I know I need to be careful not to develop the depressing attitude that this world is merely full of struggle, but also to emphasis that we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33), and guess what–we’re on his team!
I praise God for what He has done in Charlotte through Furtick’s church and I do admire Furtick for the audacious faith He has. I too have prayed audacious prayers and have had audacious faith over my five years, but like thousands of other church planters, am nowhere near 10,000 people in my church. I don’t think we should take our personal experiences (one example of God at work) and then teach them to the masses as the way God works, as if there were a formula, in the same way that we shouldn’t do this with 2 Kings 3, 1 Kings 18, or Joshua 10. Instead we should look at these one-time examples as all the more reason to praise God for his might, having faith He can do these things in our lives as well, but knowing at the end of the day that He is on the throne and He is in control, and we should not hold Him to promises He never made. Rather, let’s hold him to the promises He did make, which are no consolation prize! Let’s remind ourselves of God’s unfailing love for us, given to us through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, which conquered sin and death, and how we are promised this victory, through his grace and forgiveness, both for eternity and for every step of this life as we walk with God. Rather than compare ourselves to other pastors (or tell others to compare themselves to us), or compare ourselves to individual characters’ experiences with God throughout the Bible, let’s take a lesson from when Jesus instructed Peter on this very issue of comparison:
John 21:20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”)
John 21:21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
John 21:22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
So let’s follow Jesus with all our heart and soul, down whatever individual path he may take each one of us.
For further thoughts on this subject, see my Miracle Myths post from a few weeks ago.