Publication: Pastoral Letter, March 2016
I want to address what I believe is the biggest hindrance to a great revival. We see it in chapter 4 of James where the apostle is writing to scattered Jewish believers, and asks a very important question: “Where do wars and fights come from among you?” His answer is, “Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” He continues to address how these conflicts hinder our prayers. Then he says, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (See also 2 Chronicles 7:14.)
These few sentences are loaded with godly counsel, and we may draw numerous conclusions from them. Here are four:
• Believers have conflicts.
• Conflicts hinder our prayers.
• Conflicts come from an inner conflict.
• Humility is the key to resolution and revival.
Last November, I was privileged to speak to a national group of Catholic leaders. The conference theme was “In One Spirit through the Cross.” It is a great subject. I pointed out that as much as we all believe in unity, it is very elusive. We might think of conflict between Catholics, Protestants, and “Non-Denominationals” but that is very simplistic thinking. The truth is that all Catholics are not in unity nor is any other group of Christians. There are conflicts within groups.
James is writing to Christians who had conflicts of a different nature. They had conflicts within themselves. Though they were still under the apostles’ teaching and being persecuted, they still had conflicts among themselves. James digs deeper; the conflicts were within individuals and that caused conflicts among individuals. The Apostle Paul addressed the same problem in his Corinthian and Philippian letters. Conflict comes from how we think about ourselves and others. It is not a sectarian problem, it is a human problem; a personal problem.
As I prepared for my talks to Catholic friends, I noticed that the apostles and disciples were in “one accord” just prior to Pentecost. It wasn’t Pentecost that brought unity; Pentecost was the result of unity. So what united them? It was the Cross.
The disciples’ pre-Cross thinking was self-centered. “Who is the greatest? What will be my position in the Kingdom?” Then came the Cross, a radical confrontation to their way of thinking. The Cross of Jesus shattered their concepts. They fled from that demonstration and no doubt considered its serious impact upon themselves. The Cross radically altered their idea of the Kingdom as they saw Jesus, the King, empty Himself, His blood, and all His privileges.
When the disciples regathered in the Upper Room, they were humbled, fearful, and pliable. Their pride and competitive nature had been blown away. Then they were ready to receive the Holy Spirit. The Cross revealed the dramatic difference between God’s way of conflict resolution and our way. The Cross made a way for even His enemies and those far off to come near to God through the sacrifice of our Lord.
IN THE BEGINNING
Of course, Jesus’ disciples and those to whom James wrote were not the first to have conflict. Conflict among individuals and within individuals began very early in human existence. The first marriage performed by God Himself came into conflict when the personal desires of Adam and Eve superseded obedience to their Creator. God had reserved the fruit of the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” from them. But Satan appealed to their appetites and to pride, thus deceiving them. “This fruit will taste good and make you smart like God.” Of course, what initially seemed good became bitter fruit.
Soon the Lord showed up, and then began the “blame game.” “The woman you gave me,” Adam said. “The devil made me do it,” Eve passed the buck. No one took responsibility and they lost paradise.
All too often conflict comes to an impasse where neither party can see a solution and move forward. Life and love are completely blocked. They become like two rams running head-long into each other butting heads. The inner rage becomes outward, “The other person is the cause of my trouble.”
Cain thought Abel was the cause of his trouble. Pharaoh thought Moses was the cause of his trouble. Ahab thought Elijah was the cause of his trouble. Israeli leaders thought Jesus was the cause of their troubles, so they crucified Him. Getting rid of their other person does not remove the problem; it often compounds it.
When minds become so hardened that they fail to see their own faults, there is an impasse–no solution except self-justification and attacks. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit has left the arena.
Many years ago, I was visiting a country where the paved roads were very narrow–only one lane. The shoulders were rocky. Drivers would struggle to stay on the pavement and would sometimes come “nose to nose” with a car traveling in the opposite direction. They would sit there waiting for the other car to move off the road. Finally one driver would inch over a little bit, then the other would also until they finally passed. When I asked my driver why they did that he said, “It is bad for my tires.” Meanwhile, pride delayed progress for both vehicles.
What shocked Jesus’ disciples was that He yielded. This One who performed great miracles and could have saved His righteous self, gave Himself over to wicked hands in complete silence and prayed for His torturers forgiveness. He literally died for them and for us. He is still telling us something if we can hear it; there is another way if we can bear it, but it will not be easy.
In the year 2000, I had bypass surgery on my heart. The doctor said that though I had not had a heart attack, I was living on a blood supply of perhaps ten percent. If I had a heart attack, I would die immediately. So the surgeon did a quadruple bypass surgery on my heart.
Coronary bypass is a surgical procedure that diverts the flow of blood around a section of a blocked or partially blocked artery in your heart. By creating a new pathway to the heart, the surgery improves the blood flow to the heart muscle. A healthy vessel is taken from your leg (in my case) and connected to other arteries. That procedure was performed on four arteries in my heart. Two arteries were 100% blocked. One was 95% blocked and the fourth was 75% blocked. Bypass saved my life, and saves thousands of others each year.
The body of Christ on Earth, the Church, has blocked arteries—there are areas of impasse. Life does not flow. Inner conflict has become outer conflict. Personal preference has superseded Gods’ will and purpose. Not only have I witnessed that but sadly have been part of it. How can we allow the Holy Spirit to operate on our hearts to bypass the blocked relationships? This is a major issue if we want our prayers answered and revival to come.
Now, I do not want to convey either guiltlessness nor pride in this matter. I simply want to point out that we have a problem. It is not merely a problem among various groups, it is a problem within us. On a personal level, we need bypass surgery if the life flow is blocked in our relationships. If we really want to see the Church empowered, to see a Holy Spirit-given Pentecost, we need to take a fresh look at the Cross and trust ourselves to the righteous Judge Who is able to raise us up. And we genuinely need to say “Father forgive both us and them.”
Bypass means that we find another way around the apparent issues. It means that we find a new way to connect and that will require humility, forgiveness, and obedience. It will likely mean that the Holy Spirit will have to do some surgery.
When I had a bypass I was put to sleep. I had to humble myself and submit to the anesthesiologist and the surgeon. I had to trust. If submission is required, and it is, there is no better surgeon than the Holy Spirit. He makes no mistakes. We can have our blockage or we can have the flow of life once again, but we cannot have both. We can have our prayers answered or we can fight our own battles, but we cannot have both. We can “enjoy” our conflicts or we can have a visitation from God, but we cannot have both. The more spiritual among us must take the lead to “inch off the road and let the other person pass.”
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Some may conclude that real Christians must be passive, weak, and unprincipled; that is not the case. Jesus was not at all that way. He addressed the issues with great power and suffered the consequence with great grace. It was so with the disciples; they were strong, outspoken, and courageous, but took the results without returning evil for evil. Jesus outlines what His kind of bypass means in Matthew chapters 5-7. He says forgive, love your enemies, do good to those who despitefully use you. If you are asked to carry a burden one mile, go two miles.
In order to bypass the issues, we must first resolve the inner battle, “What will this mean to me?” Well, it will likely mean a death to self. It will require surgery, yielding to the Holy Spirit without regard to how others might view it. It means allowing the One to whom we ask forgiveness to determine our place in His Kingdom. He is the One Who will send or not send the Holy Spirit.
I have been in an outpouring of the Spirit. Mine came when I laid my sin and my future in His hands. I greatly desire to see another outpouring of the Spirit, and there will be, if we win the inner battle with our self. In this time when self has been so elevated, that can be a difficult war; it always has been. But if we can win that battle, we will have a lot less conflict with others. The Prince of Peace can dwell among us.
I recently received an email inviting me to speak at a church. The one who sent the request told me that several small groups of men from the church were studying the Hebrides Revival and praying together for another revival. I was impressed that they were beginning at the right place. They were getting past the impasse in order to allow the Holy Spirit to bypass our blocked hearts. I pray that such an approach will be contagious.
SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:James 4, 2 CHRONICLES 7:14; MATTHEW CHAPTERS 5-7