I'm often asked how to experience God on a regular basis. I do believe there's an answer, but it's not a simple one.
There's a phenomenal opportunity available to every legitimate follower of Jesus: an indescribable and life-rocking encounter with an invisible, all-powerful Deity. Sadly so few do what's necessary to live in this realm where the Holy Spirit reveals his shock and awe to the children of God.
It seems so many are satisfied living a typical, logical life in the natural realm. The idea that we can be overwhelmed by a Spirit and experience unimaginable manifestations that only exist beyond where our eyes and ears can discern is silliness to them. Twilight Zone. X-Files. Science fiction.
Yet, to others, it's not far-reaching at all. They yearn to meet God in this place but they don't know how to get there. It's those hungry people I'd like to try to encourage.
THE RECIPE FOR ENCOUNTER
RAW, RISKY BELIEF
5 …so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:5 (ESV)
Intellectualism may be the greatest killer of faith and supernatural encounter among those who are truly living for the Lord. Their left-brained approach to invisible and mystical realities rarely works. When it does, you usually have to take the long way around.
My passion is for God to encounter me in ways my natural, logical, intellectual capacities could never predict, gauge or moderate. The moment I limit this to my own understanding or my careful analysis is the moment I've diminished my hope of moving into that spiritual realm that exists beyond what can be grasped.
The “I have to see it to believe it” mantra doesn't work in a “walk by faith, not by sight” Kingdom. Having to understand it before seeing it doesn't usually work very well either.
Of course, I'm not proposing a renunciation of the pursuit of understanding. However, when logical understanding must come first, before the other-worldly revelation that God wants us to experience, we short circuit the supernatural happenings.
While many would argue that seeing is believing, for Christians the opposite is true. Believing is seeing…and encountering, and being shocked by the fire and power of the Holy Spirit!
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 (ESV)
I'll never forget the night many years ago that changed my life. I witnessed God doing remarkable things in the lives of some of my friends. These seemingly normal American guys who were grunting on the basketball court and staying up to all hours playing video games were also undone by an unseen force. I'd watch them weeping in prayer, pacing the church and crying out to God for him to move. These people had tapped into something that I convinced wasn't invented. It wasn't fake. It was real and I had to meet God they way they had.
Alone one night, I paced around the youth room of the church, feeling nothing but desperation. I prayed a simple prayer, the only one I could. “God, you know my heart.” That's it. Over and over I was talking to God using those words, revealing the depths of my hunger in a simple statement. God knew how deeply I desired to know him.
The rest is history. My eternity has forever been altered by that simple yet overwhelming prayer. Shortly after, he flooded into my life in a way that could never be described by using human words, though I'll try. Extreme boldness replaced timidity in a split second. A tangible force shook my being. Passion for Jesus was instantaneous. There was a power source connected to me and I was radiating with fire.
I didn't seek to understand what I was pursuing. I was simply desperate. Hungry. Willing to surrender all. In fact, I told God in the days preceding this momentous experience that I didn't want anything to do with him if he “wasn't all that he was cracked up to be.” I wasn't interested in fairy tales or following some religious icon who didn't heal, couldn't deliver and wasn't omnipotent, good and alive. However, I also said, “But if you are all of this, I will die for you.”
While an initial encounter may not require a disciplined life of intercession, I've discovered that a regular, continual encounter with Jesus absolutely does. It's in the place of fervent, fiery prayer, especially praying in tongues, where the presence of God is constant, and very often extremely intense.
Some may wonder why it's so important to contend for encounter. They may see it as unnecessary and possibly even evidence of an imbalanced or immature person, someone who is driven by emotions or strange, mystical rushes of adrenaline. Oh my, this couldn't be further from the truth. Encounter is absolutely necessary for every blood-bought Christian.
As we walk in great faith and hunger with great desperation, the cries of our heart and the intercession of the Holy Spirit through us will launch us into the place where God can be clearly heard. We can discern his heart. He can reveal mysteries to us. Critical information, some of life and death, is transmitted to us through impressions, dreams, visions or other prophetic means. Simply, if we aren't living in encounter, we are tragically limited to our own understanding, the very understanding the Bible instructs us not to lean on.
But, as we pray in the Spirit, everything changes. The heavens open. God's voice resounds. An inner tremble shakes within. Our daily lives become adventures as God takes the reigns and gives us direction that can only be received via the Spirit.
God resists the proud. This is why I firmly believe the gateway to deeper levels in the Spirit includes many opportunities for humiliation.
I'll never forget meeting a young lady at an event who was a part of another church. She told me she so wanted to experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but had no idea how to do so. She was unpretentious and authentic as she shared her expectancy for what was going to happen at the worship conference we all converged at in Los Angeles.
I don't have space to explain what happened the next night other than to say, this hungry young lady was suddenly, without warning, flopping all over the ground as strange and wonderful new sounds were exploding from her mouth. God's activity in that moment hit her and many others, including myself. I was suddenly on the floor experiencing an extremely weighty manifestation of God's glory that wouldn't dissipate until the next day. The presence of God in that moment was something I can still remember, though it's been over twenty years since it happened.
Humility caused this young lady to dismiss how she might look to the hundreds of people all around as supernatural God invaded her natural self. She wanted God. She was hungry at a level few experience. She was filled.
If you think a very Holy Spirit is going to brood over you and manifest in and through you as you are living an unholy life, you have been terribly deceived. Holiness is absolutely mandatory if we have any hope of God moving remarkably in our lives. This is such common sense, yet so many Christians can't understand why they aren't being consumed by God's Holy Spirit.
You simply cannot watch movies, TV and other media that contains foul language, nudity, coarse joking and other immorality and think you are a candidate for encounter. You are kidding yourself. In fact, why would you want the Holy Spirit if that's your chosen lifestyle? You are only inviting conviction if not judgment.
I encourage everybody to eliminate all secular music and listen to nothing but anointed worship music. I even suggest doing away with most contemporary Christian music and pumping music through their headphones that carries the unusual fire and glory of God.
Those who have taken me up on this, time after time, experience dramatic breakthrough. Those who don't tend to trend downwards.
14 …For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14 (ESV)
Possibly the quickest shortcut to living a life of dramatic, supernatural encounter with God is to sign up as a martyr.
We are called to die daily, to take up our crosses and to love life not unto death. This is our portion as Christians. The key moment in my personal life came shortly after my initial encounter I described above. Do you remember that I told God I'd die for him? He was listening.
From my article Risks of the Upcoming Presence Movement:
One night my life changed forever. In the midst of my amazing daily encounters with Jesus, I found myself in a prayer room at a youth lock-in in Dayton, Ohio. While 300 students were playing volleyball and basketball I was alone in a dark, glorious room overlooking the skyline of the city. God was waiting for me when I waked in.
I paced around praying and worshiping as the presence of God swirled all around me. I never wanted to leave.
Suddenly, as I was enjoying God, walking back and forth in his manifest presence, I heard a voice, “John, I want you to give me permission to take your life tonight.”
I was irritated. My focus on loving Jesus was interrupted by someone with what felt like a terribly different agenda. Little did I know, it was an agenda to grow me up and gauge my devotion.
I shook off that distracting voice, and attempted to enter back into the glory realm. I prayed and worshiped, but the presence of God was completely gone—or so I thought.
Again I heard, “John, I want you to give me permission to take your life tonight.”
Though I clearly understood I was being asked to give my life for Jesus, my emotions were negative. I was distraught, irritated, lonely and even afraid. My enjoyment was gone. However, what I didn’t realize was this—my feelings were not sufficient to analyze the situation. God’s presence had actually increased exponentially in that room of destiny, not dissipated. The fearful judge had arrived and he meant business.
Though I tried to enter back into worship again, it was futile. I heard the voice one more time, “John, I want you to give me permission to take your life tonight.”
Finally, in a state of lonely desperation, I realized I couldn’t live my life without the fire of Jesus burning within me. I needed him. I wanted him, even if it meant the loss of my physical life.
Understand, I was convinced that I was going to physically die that night. It was very real to me.
I told God, “I can’t live without you. If my death will result in the advance of your Kingdom, I give you permission to take my life tonight.”
The moment I said that, his manifest glory flooded the room about one hundred times greater than I had experienced it before. I had experienced the glory and the severity of God, and I was forever changed.
ZEAL FOR THE WORD OF GOD
As I reveal the final ingredient of the secret sauce of encounter, I can feel the naysayers breathing down my neck right now. They are riled up at the thought of focusing on the experiential, on the suggestion that faith trumps logic, on the mystical, invisible and on what they would call hyper-Charismatic fluff.
I'll try to put them at ease. Nothing I am proposing can defy Scriptural truth. If there's ever a contradiction, it must be eliminated. This means that we must be students of the Word. There should be a burning zeal in us for the powerful, eternal and non-negotiable truths of Scripture.
However, while many would hold up the giant family Bible in the air as a defense against the supposed superstition that I'm dealing with here, true Bereans will excitedly search the Word to see what powerful revelations it holds.
From my article What To Do When We Hear Rumors Of Revival:
11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. Luke 24:11-12 (ESV)
Belief and expectancy will result in running as a result of any news that God has moved with great passion. Doubt will always result in resistance, staying away and embracing suspicion.
I often hear about the concept of being a Berean from some who may be considered heresy hunters. Those who are deeply suspicious of any report of a fresh move of God often attempt to disguise their unbelief and mocking spirit with a religious cloak. They say, I’m just being a Berean.
People driven by a false Berean attitude hear a report of a possible revival or outpouring and their immediate response is to discredit it. They pull out scriptures that supposedly renounce any new move of God and declare the participants to be misguided at best, heretics at worst. Others may take a less direct approach by holding back, waiting to see if it passes muster.
That, my friend, is not being a Berean.
I agree that we must be based on the Word of God more intentionally than ever in history. There is too much foolishness out there today in the name of revival. The answer is a people who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and firmly grounded as students in the Bible.
However, I don’t agree that our immediate response to a potential fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God should be suspicion! This attitude can affect even the most godly of people. It’s all too easy to immediately doubt that such a move could be anything more than overreaching hope, hype or sensationalism.
I propose we all have the heart of a true Berean.
Before the stop at Berea, Paul preached about a powerful fresh move of God at Thessalonica. I believe heresy hunters are actually more like the Thessalonians than the Bereans:
2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” Acts 17:2-7 (ESV)
There was an urgent and immediate rejection of the report of resurrection power. Let’s contrast this with the pure hearts of the Bereans:
10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Acts 17:10-13 (ESV)
This is a powerful passage of scripture!
The Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica. This is an important point! Why were they more noble? When they heard the report of a powerful, transforming, new move of God that would change everything in their lives, they received the word with all eagerness!
Their response was not scrutiny, unbelief, jealousy or resistance. They were excited to hear the news! They were so impacted by the potential of such a report that they immediately dove into the Word with the hope of confirming—not disproving—the life altering revelation!
But then, in verse 13, we see the unrelenting Thessalonians actually traveling to Berea to gather people to them in opposition to what God was doing there.
I hope you are truly ready for revival. This is what it looks like. The resistors will show up in force.
The question that needs to be answered is, which camp will you be in? Are you a scrutinizing Thessalonian or an eager Berean?
6 keys to living free from the torment of sin
I’m encouraged by so many of the replies I received from my recent Charisma Magazine series of articles.
People are becoming awakened to their own depravity, and instead of hiding behind the false comfort of unbiblical grace, they are aggressively dealing with their sin. The grace of God absolutely can set us free not only from the penalty of sin but from the act of sin. We can be fully free indeed!
I’m finding myself responding to email after email with the same response to the same question. People are yearning to be liberated from the prison of sinful patterns in their lives—patterns that absolutely do put our salvation at risk if not met head on with the grace and blood of Jesus.
This is why a life of repentance is so beautiful! It leads us right to the cross of Christ. His applied blood completely eradicates every impurity!
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:28 (NIV)
I hear from a lot of people who testify to the power of sin in their lives. They proclaim that they are sinners saved by grace, and that Christians can expect to sin often, every day, for the rest of their lives. No! This is a doctrine of demons that has been embraced by multitudes of defeated Christians.
We are saints saved by grace! We have been given the power to live free from the traps of sin and we can expect to walk in daily sanctification unto holiness. We can absolutely, without question, be free to decide against sin. We should not—must not—sin regularly. What a disgrace to grace that would be!
So, just how can we take steps toward a life free from sin?
It’s simple, but not easy:
1. RESOLVE THE LOVE ISSUE
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9-11 (ESV)
It’s shocking how many people question and doubt the absolute truth that they don’t have to earn God’s love. The true is that we don’t earn it, we abide in it.
When they sin the immediate accusation is that we have failed to the degree that God is now angry, offended and aggressively building walls around his heart so we can’t get near—until we prove to him that we are again worthy of his affection.
What a horrid way to live! When we fail, God is not surprised. He doesn’t approve of our failure, but he doesn’t pass out from shock. He’s not gossiping behind our backs about what we just did. He’s not shunning us until we pay our dues to get back into the club of the redeemed.
Yes, sin is serious and sin is deadly but we have to know that God is burning with passionate love for us and is there to restore us! If we understand this we won’t have to spend a “sufficient” amount of time feeling guilty and shamed until we can crawl back up into his lap.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1 John 2:1 (ESV)
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation– if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. Colossians 1:21-23 (NIV)
2. PRAY ALWAYS
…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. 6:18 (ESV)
This one is simple but not easy. Without having a life of continual, fervent prayer that’s driven supernaturally by the Holy Spirit, our hope of living free from sin is slight.
Long ago as a young burning one for Jesus I worked at a car wash along with several yet to be redeemed people. Everything about that job was negative. The pay was awful, the work was hard and every day was monotonous and boring. In addition to that I had to continually walk way from the small groups of employees when they started sharing dirty stories.
Yet, I remember that season as a breakout one for me. I learned how to be free and full of joy in a vile and miserable atmosphere. I sang worship songs under my breath and prayed nearly non-stop. I learned how to deeply enjoy Jesus and to be jubilant in the face of misery! It was easy to talk to people about Jesus as I was burning hotter and hotter for him every day. It was easy to walk away from inappropriate discussions and to stick out as a zealot—because I was one!
One day, in that season of continual prayer and worship a particularly large and threatening man who worked there approached me. He said, “If you ever mention the name of Jesus to me again, I will kill you!” I simply smiled and said, “I can’t stop. He’s everything to me.”
The favorite part of my day was when I got off of work. Sure, it was nice to be finished washing cars, but that’s not what motivated me. The pastor of the church I attended had given me a key to the building so I went there every evening, all alone, and prayed. I turned on the worship music in the sanctuary, dimmed the lights and paced around and fell deeper and deeper in love with Jesus.
In that type of intentional prayer driven lifestyle it’s quite easy to say no to sin. Life starts “working together for good” as the famous verse in Romans proclaims. It’s interesting to note just what triggers a life where everything works together for good:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-28 (ESV)
When we pray in the Spirit with deep groans of intercession our love of God explodes and our life becomes ordered and full of power.
3. TURN IT OFF
Media is killing the church. I’m saddened and sickened when Christians make excuses to watch immoral and unholy activity on the screen, whether its the movies or the television.
How can we allow ourselves to be entertained by sins in media that required the slaughter and murder of the one we say we love? Foul language, nudity, sexual situations, violence and coarse joking required Jesus to be brutalized and killed—and Christians are gaining enjoyment from it.
If you want to be free from sin, you have to turn it off. Shut it down. Stop watching what is abominable.
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace. 2 Corinthians 1:12 (NIV)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)
4. TURN IT ON
Try an experiment. Eliminate all music, even most Christian music, for a month. For that month listen to nothing but anointed worship music. Have it play night and day in your home, your car, your headphones. Discover a life of passionate worship that never ends!
I love this verse:
And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Matthew 28:9-10 (ESV)
Is this not the cry of our hearts? What would it be like for Jesus to appear to us and say, “Greetings!”
What would it be like in that moment when Jesus shows up in our life in a life changing way? We would fall at his feet as though dead and worship!
Check out this long passage. Read it all. This is the God who we have the free and glorious privilege to worship!
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Revelation 1:10-18 (ESV)
Do you want to be free from sin? Be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day! Be ready for an encounter! Worship him with abandon!
5. BELIEVE THE WORD
The Bible becomes amazing when we believe it!
And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. Ezekiel 3:1-3 (ESV)
Often people are encouraged to read the Bible through in a year. That’s good, but I prefer to read, lets say, a verse for a month. Pray for the lightning hot power of truth to strike me through just one verse that it captivates me for hours, days and a lifetime!
When our life source and enjoyment truly comes from the very Word of God instead of through media and entertainment, the power of sinful desire is diluted. Diffused. Defeated.
…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, Ephesians 6:17 (ESV)
The Word of God is a weapon. God’s very Word, when received, believed and acted on, becomes a sharp sword against the enemy. Sin has no chance!
6. GATHER TOGETHER
Be deeply connected at a life giving, Spirit filled church on fire. Be teachable and accountable and let your iron sharpen others as well.
When we live in a community of holy, burning ones the resulting unity is a force against evil that is something to behold.
Worshiping the lover of our souls with others is something we should never live without!
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. Psalm 27:3-6 (ESV)
As the years come and go, I wonder if I’ll ever see the church my spirit is yearning for.
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24
…“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?…” Mark 11:17
Greeting. Worship. Announcements. Teaching. Dismissal. Repeat 7 days later.
Sound familiar? Yeah, too familiar.
For at least 8 years specifically, and 23 years generally I’ve been teaching, writing articles, writing books, recording podcasts and posting videos about this very subject—extreme reformation in the church. Yet, the church service in nearly every Christian church looks the same (or worse) than it did decades ago.
I’m just about done. Finished. I can’t stand the thought of additional years of church experiences modeled after a wine skin that’s been outdated for years—yet, I acknowledge that it’s all I may have to choose from while I’m still on the earth. Reformation seems to be far off.
The goal is not to hope for a more anointed old wine skin, but rather for such a radical reformation that it looks nothing like what we see today.
Simply, what’s coming will look more like an extreme prayer meeting with people laid out all over the place with fire and tears in their eyes than the casual, tired & predictable worship and teaching services we see today.
Yes, the Sunday service will finally be the Upper Room experience that the burning, desperate remnant has been yearning for. Raging prayer, fervent prayer, passionate prayer will return to first place in the church.
The Trap of Worship | Where's the Prayer?
Did you notice that the very biblical identity of the church was not even listed in the church service model I shared above? Greeting, worship, announcements, teaching…but no prayer. Sure, people say prayers, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean a culture of never ending night and day prayer where every single person is invested with wild passion in ministry to God.
This is the one issue in today’s church that is absolutely maddening to me. I have made this point countless times over the years, yet the prophetic call to action is rejected soundly.
How can we even presume to be a legitimate Christian church if prayer isn’t primary? According to scripture, the church is a house of what? Worship? No. Teaching? No. Fellowship? No. The church is a house of prayer—except in America. Except in the Western world.
Regarding worship I’ll qualify this one time as I dive deeper into this point—I am zealous about worship and affirm it is critical and biblical, without question. I have worship music playing hour after hour as I go through my day. Misty Edwards is leading worship on the screen as I write this, and I love it!
That being said, I am troubled at the attention musical worship receives in the church today. It has become an idol for many and is all too often devoid of a spirit of prayer.
I’ve said before that worship music in its current state can be used as a lazy man’s intercession. It’s entertaining. It feels good. It feels spiritual. Yet, it by no means defaults in spiritual maturity or true worship.
And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.” Exodus 30:37-38
That Scripture is for today. Today’s pop worship culture better take notice. The incense, the worship, is holy. It’s for God. It’s not to enhance our personal experience! It’s not perfume for us, it’s incense for God!
I’ve become increasingly grieved at how popular worship events can draw thousands while prayer meetings draw few. The call to prayer is rejected.
Even more disturbing is how easy it is for people to blend in, raise their hands, dance at the altar and enjoy even truly anointed musical worship—while not legitimately worshiping at all and not being grieved over their immaturity, sin and lack of radical commitment to the cross of Christ. They celebrate some presumed freedom while not being locked in as prayer-driven people, broken and fervent warriors. No sacrifice. No surrender. Just a pursuit of a personal supernatural experience. I’m becoming more convinced than ever that many of these supernatural experiences are certainly supernatural, but not holy.
I’ve witnessed people who are involved deeply in the New Age, engaging in homosexual activity, gossip, watching impure movies or television and a variety of other issues that, at times, would even disqualify them as true Christians, worshiping and dancing with abandon. However, I’ve never seen people who are given to these compromises stay engaged in an Upper Room style, Holy Spirit driven prayer meeting. A culture of burning prayer draws the remnant. A culture of prayer repels the casual. Prayer is that powerful.
This is why I have counseled leaders and others—if you want to know who’s on fire, surrendered and truly following Jesus, throw a prayer meeting. In fact, I’ve actually modified that advice. Now I instruct them to develop a prayer culture. Remove any activity that would allow them to hide or blend in—and call them to the furnace of intercession. I have dramatic stories of how this strategy has rocked our own ministry. Here’s a few.
Demons Can Hide
An amazing young man was on our worship team in a previous church. He was skilled and committed. I was growing concerned about our worship team at that church due to a slight independent spirit that was manifesting. It wasn’t major, but it was growing and I had to deal with it. So, I started mandating that the worship team join us for an hour of prayer prior to the service. I knew that a call to fiery, Spirit-driven prayer would bring issues to the surface.
The young man was immediately resistant. He would suddenly show up late and then attempt to hide in a corner. I noticed this immediately, and decided to gather everybody together to pray so nobody could shrink back from the fire. He stood there as stiff as a board with a blank look on his face. His agitation was increasing as the prayer grew in fervor.
Isn’t it interesting how demons may be able to hide in the midst of worship, and even on a worship team, but can’t stand people praying in tongues in a prayer meeting!
The type of deliverance that comes from musical worship only comes from a lifestyle of ministry to God—of prayer.
And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. 1 Samuel 16:23
Prayerless Worship Teams
We were between worship teams once, so we decided to invite guest worship teams to lead in the interim. What I witnessed saddened me deeply.
We required these visiting worship teams to join us for pre-service prayer, and most of them looked lost, confused and eager to get out. Some would actually leave and hang out in the foyer. Just one, from a House of Prayer in the area, was on their face crying out in prayer with us.
I couldn’t imagine how those teams, who were mostly quite skilled, could even begin to lead a church in worship without a spirit of prayer on them. Prayer was actually foreign to them! Even worse, for many, prayer was troubling to them!
After several weeks of the nightmare, God spoke to me clearly: “Don’t seek out another worship team until I say.”
He wanted us to worship—from a place of Spirit-filled prayer. Worship doesn’t require music. It requires a surrendered heart of continual, burning prayer.
The question was clear: would people still gather together if the musical entertainment was removed in favor of prayer? Most did not, and we were left with the remnant God was after. No longer could people shrink back and hide in the music. Now everybody was unified together in passionate prayer.
That was one of the best decisions I ever made as a leader. We had people who may have been using incense as their personal perfume, and when it was removed, they left too. You see, worship requires sacrifice, and today’s worship culture doesn’t highlight that.
Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. John 12:3
God instructed us to discover true worship without the assistance of a live worship team over a year ago, and to this date we don’t have one—and I’m not looking for one. Now, prayer drives our services, and while we do use video worship from the International House of Prayer, it will always be supplemental. We could proceed with it or without it. So, thus far God hasn’t revealed that it’s necessary for us to have someone leading live musical worship. Simply, we can worship now from a place of intercession, and that is what we are doing. In fact, I can see churches of many thousand people praying throughout their service with video worship playing over them and not even have an in house worship team! I personally think it would be a powerful move.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song.., Revelation 5:8-9
What’s become to be known as Harp and Bowl Worship is truly a powerful way to intermix prayer and music. However, very interestingly we see in the above passage that it’s the creatures and elders who are singing—and it’s the saints who are praying!
It’s the intercession of the saints that results in new songs! This is why the primary focus must be on prayer, not music. Prayer + worship (surrender, adoration) can result in new songs. But don’t confuse musical worship with biblical worship. They are separate though sometimes overlapping realities.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:6-7
The above passage is the perfect example of a biblical church service—in prayer with offerings and sacrifices. Music not required.
Of course, as I’ve tried to make evident, music is biblical and an important supporting element in the right context, but first we must recalibrate the church. Music has been a crutch for too long and has resulted in a lot of lazy Christians.
The singers will sing with a powerful anointing when the church is in right governmental order.
For the people of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of grain, wine, and oil to the chambers, where the vessels of the sanctuary are, as well as the priests who minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers. We will not neglect the house of our God.” Nehemiah 10:39
Prayer Fueled Worship
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! Psalm 95:6
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Psalm 29:2
If you need musical worship to feel close to God, it's an indicator that your prayer life is lacking.
Again, it’s troubling to me that people can enter into worship while, at the same time, resisting a culture of prayer. That should be a litmus test for us. If they can’t pray with endurance and fervency, just who are they worshiping when the music starts?
Worship isn’t about us feeling good. It’s about God being glorified! We lay everything down and bring offerings and sacrifices and worship! No music required!
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; 1 Chronicles 16:29
Our team at Revival Church has prayed in fiery tongues in over 70 Detroit region churches, and our ministry in Manitou Springs was in over 100 Colorado Springs churches. The two hour prayer meeting was intense as we prayed in the Spirit together, non-stop.
Often the pastor would ask if I wanted their worship team to play, or if I wanted a worship CD to play in the background. Most of the time I’d say no. I didn’t want us leaning on the familiar. It was time to go into the uncharted territory of passionate, continual prayer. I knew that when we found a company of people that could enter in and pray on fire in any environment, that reformation in the church would draw nearer.
You see, when we pray in tongues, when we pray in the Spirit, then we can see worship in the Spirit come. Instead of English lyrics, I see waves of spiritual tongues rising up as incense becoming dominant. This is the spirit and truth worship of the hour.
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24
At Revival Church I’m on the hunt for what I call Pavement People. These are the 2 Chronicles 7 people who couldn’t even enter the building due to the glory of God filling it—so they hit the pavement and worshipped. No comfortable chairs, no music, nothing but them, the pavement and God.
As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:1-3
And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Nehemiah 8:6
But today, if there’s isn’t a powerful musical worship experience in the building, you’ll find not only an empty building, but an empty parking lot.
The coming musical worship movement will come from a place of extreme prayer. Maybe it would make sense to sit the musicians down and call everybody to hit the pavement and pray in tongues for two hours every Sunday—and then again on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We will come to the House of Prayer in the fear of the Lord to revere him.
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Psalm 5:7
Maybe after a year or two of Upper Room style prayer, with no musical assistance whatsoever, we’d see a new wine, culture shifting musical worship movement emerge.
Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17
We will be so undone and overwhelmed by the ‘groans that can’t be uttered’ from a life of intercession that the musical worship that emerges will be nothing like we have today.
Everybody will be on their face groaning and crying out, repenting and worshiping with deep groans of intercession as the instruments play over them. From that place new songs will explode out of us!
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Psalm 84:2
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah Psalm 84:4
A Reformed Church Service
So, just what does a reformed church service look like?
It looks like a prayer meeting—because it is a prayer meeting. When people arrive on a Sunday morning, they will see people plastered all over the floor groaning and interceding. In prayer. The kids will be on the floor with them as biological families come together with their spiritual family for hours of passionate prayer. That’s the new, reformed church model! Apostolic leaders will break in briefly with instruction and prophetic decrees that take everybody back into focused intercession.
The church will finally become the House of Prayer that it was born to be.
Maybe there will be music, maybe there won’t be—but, without question, there will be prayer. Raging, continual prayer. And, that culture of Holy Spirit baptized intercession will result in clarity as to who’s with you and who is not.
Sin won’t be able to survive in the camp. Resistance will become immediately evident. Gossip will cease. Pride will die. Personal comfort zones will be threatened. God will be exalted.
From that place of prayer, other secondary events will take place such a teaching services, but they will remain supplemental. Prayer will be primary because, it’s clear, the church is a house of prayer for all nations.
We will be in the church, physically with other Believers, most every day of the week in intercession and new wine ministry!
And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:52-53
So, here’s the model:
Greeting. Fervent prayer. Groans of intercession. Apostolic instruction. Zealous decrees. More groans. Declaration of Scripture. Fear. Trembling. New songs. Brokenness. Repentance. Prayer. Joy. Dancing. Freedom. Repeat again tomorrow.
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! Psalm 96:9
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 7:9-12
Prayer. That is the call of the church. It's time for a prayer reformation. A prayer revolution.
Does the American church have the desperation and the guts to return prayer to first place?
TONIGHT at 6pm! Julia Palermo is going to bring a potent message that will awaken your spirit! You MUST watch a short video of her preaching to a crowd of people—many of which were on drugs and radically demonized. The call is for the firebrands—the generation of youth to lead the prayer movement in Detroit and our nation! Watch here: http://youtu.be/EZ9CClOVNJE
Revival Church meets at CENTRAL CHURCH, 1529 E. 12 Mile Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071.
RETURNING PRAYER TO FIRST PLACE
When our worship leader recently moved on, I made a bold decision. Fiery intercession is every Christian’s most foundational calling, and in place of a typical musical worship environment, the atmosphere is now filled with passionate prayer, decrees and expressions of worship and surrender.
I’ve often said one reason the prayer rooms are empty is because prayer has been relegated to a secondary activity in the church. It’s usually an afterthought. It’s certainly not primary in our nation.
When fervent prayer is returned to first place, everybody in the church will be in the prayer meeting—because the prayer meeting will be THE meeting.
My wife asked me a question the other day that caused me to come alive:
We have Prep Room, which is pre-service prayer, from 5:15pm-6pm. We then roll right into an hour of corporate intercession as light instrumental music is played behind us.
Amy asked, “So, just what is the difference between Prep Room and the first hour of the service?”
Nothing! Nothing at all! I love it! Finally, prayer is the main thing in the church!
I often hear that prayer like this is not for the new Christian—they will feel out of place. That is a doctrine of demons that must be rebuked! The prayer room must be the first stop for every new Christian! It’s absolutely nonsensical to say that ministering to God is reserved for those who have been a Christian for a while! As a very young Christian, I was awakened in the prayer room. Prayer is not complicated, only costly. It is for everybody.
Will musical worship return? Yes, but only as it’s birthed out of burning, groaning intercession. There will be a tremble on the worshippers. Worship will exist in the realm of the Spirit and we will all sing from a place of brokenness, encounter and surrender.
John 4:23-24 (ESV) 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Everything that takes precedence over prayer for the nations is about to be overturned in the church.
This shift in the church will be extremely offensive to those who don’t value connecting with God in prayer. Today’s system affirms a casual connection. In fact, church systems and programs are set up to remove responsibility from the people—to make it easy and costless for them to participate. This is our current American church culture, and it will soon be overturned.
I so often hear angry Christians mention how there should be no leader/laity division—yet, when the call to the body is sounded to serve like a leader, to pray like a priest, to do the work of intercession, to advance with passion and to be in position as a ready soldier, there is a spirit of resistance that often rises up.
I’m all for laity to serve as leaders—but it’s rare to find those who will actually do it. The cost is too high and the return on investment seems to be so low. (We forget that the return on our investment isn’t personal blessing but rather blessing for the nations—and the fruit of our prayer may not be fully realized by them for decades.)
The money changer mindset results in us focusing on self—on using church for personal gain, on expecting ourselves to be served or entertained or blessed instead of surrendering all and praying for the nations.
I’d encourage you to read my article titled God 2.0 where I address the danger of being a Money Changers Church here: GOD 2.0.
Today, worship teams lead while the body engages at the level they prefer. This is about to change—and those who want to be served rather than serve are at risk of great offense. This reformation in the church will change our expectations radically. The body won’t simply sit and soak as others sing over them. We will all do the work of intercession in a corporate setting. It’s not about receiving from God, it’s about ministering to him. This is pure worship.
This shift in the church will result in a violent assault by those who have their pet church focuses, relationships, levels of commitment and expectations threatened. Instead of simply showing up for a Sunday service and enjoying good worship and positive teaching, the expectation is now for everybody to go hard in fervent, violent prayer for the billions of people in the nations of the Earth who are nearing an eternity in Hell. Check out what happened to Jesus when he set the church in order:
Mark 11:15-18 (ESV) 15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
They wanted to destroy him. Their personal blessing was threatened.
If the scriptural call is to pray without ceasing, is it not strange that people so often run when the prayer meeting is called?
The thought of having a two-hour prayer meeting as the primary Sunday service shouldn’t be a strange idea at all if we are already praying the remaining 166 hours throughout the week. It’s simply an glorious corporate expression of what we should already be doing individually. Every one of us should walk into the church building burning, trembling, praying in tongues and coming out of perpetual encounters with God.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) 17 pray without ceasing…
I have extreme patience for those who are struggling to connect with God as they devote themselves to finding him. (Ask, seek, knock)
But, let me be clear—those who complain that they don’t encounter God, they don’t feel God’s love, yet do not devote themselves to wrestling with God in prayer until they break through are without excuse.
No amount of teaching, anointed worship music, positive thoughts or counsel from others will result in a life of encounter with Jesus. Only prayer based on the truth of the Word of God will do that. Others can help you learn about God, but you have to meet him on your own. And, meeting him doesn’t always feel sweet and happy. It will actually burn our flesh and crush every part of us.
Julia Palermo: “People want loving God to be an emotional experience, but loving God has a very practical expression. Obedience.”
John 14:21-22 (ESV) 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”
Intercession isn’t about emotionally enjoying God, though that can certainly happen at times. It’s about work. It’s about carrying the burden of God’s heart. This is what must lead our church services and our entire lives again.
Mike Bickle: The revelation of the Bridegroom filled with tenderness leads some to laziness because they have not seen the revelation of His heart of abandonment or His call for us to be abandoned to Him.
A CORPORATE REBUKE FUELED BY LOVE
God is so zealous about his Bride, his church, that a love-fueled rebuke is coming—and it will hit most every one of us.
The money changers spirit has so infiltrated the church that judgment is necessary just to save God’s precious Bride.
A critical correction is coming to those use the church as their personal blessing machine. In Revelation we see God lovingly rebuke the churches. It’s time for an end-time judgment to hit our churches. Judgment isn’t a bad God doing bad things to bad people. Judgment is an act of extreme, passionate love. Judgment draws the remnant to God, and exposes the pretenders as they run from God. It’s a wheat and tares reality.
Connecting in the church because of good friendships, good teaching, good worship, good programs, good children’s ministry, good environment—and disconnecting when any of that doesn’t meet our standards—is coming to an end.
The Upper Room mandate is upon us—we gather and pray. If prayer is there, so are we—every time the doors are open.
THE LOOK OF THE COMING CHURCH
Again, the 2 Chronicles 7 pavement people are the model of the remnant church. Acts 2 is a New Testament example of it—the whole house will be filled with the fire of God as every single person prays in the Spirit.
Acts 2:2-3 (ESV) 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
This is some of what we can look forward to—and what we can start working towards right now. God is building his church through his apostolic and prophetic remnant and it will be a white hot center of intercession for the nations.
- We will walk into the meeting praying in the spirit, trembling, in the fear of the Lord, often coming out of dreams of God.
- There is no concern for comfort, who likes us or who doesn’t like us.
- Our position in the church won’t matter—we will know our position is on our face in fervent prayer.
- The room may simply be a giant warehouse with a cement floor—it won’t matter. We’ll bring a blanket, throw it down and prepare to encounter God with other desperate people.
- When we enter the room, we hit our faces without prompting, music or no music, and start praying passionately in the spirit for the nations and the burdens on God’s heart.
- Kids may be right next to us, or in a similar environment in a classroom elsewhere. Either option will work just fine.
- An hour or two later, teaching will boldly call us to action as the Word lands on our burning hearts.
- Teaching will be mostly prophetic/apostolic. Prophetic alarms and decrees will be constant and extremely anointed.
- We will all respond to the instruction corporately and prepare to fulfill our assignments.
- We will return to the corporate gathering for intercession and apostolic equipping several times a week instead of waiting for the next Sunday.
- Between meetings our personal lives will be filled with prayer, reading the Bible, listening to sermons and fulfilling our ministries. We will have plenty of time to do that as TV, movies, entertainment and other cultural norms are put under submission.
Are you part of the remnant church? Are you ready to join a company of pavement people? Will you jump ship when the old wineskin is removed, or will you embrace the fresh fire of God in our nation? Are you burning hot for God? Or, are you lukewarm?
These are critical questions we all must answer. Do we attend church because of what we get out of it? Because people like us? Because we enjoy it? Or, do we understand our call to die, to surrender, to pray and to burn night and day?
See you tonight.