My husband and I watched a young couple moved into the house two doors down from us. It was the wife I noticed first. We were both well along in pregnancy, and I remember spotting her sprinting up her stairs (yep, she was still moving fast) and being struck by her beauty. Late pregnancy does not look good on me, but it was without any jealousy that I watched her with her angel blond curly mane bouncing along behind her and thought she was the kind painters chase down to pose as their madonna. I adored her from the moment I saw her. I knew she was special.
It took time to get to know them. They were busy, a bit harried, still living a life that centered in the city they had moved from, but sleeping in the house down the street. When we met, I realized she was more beautiful than I thought, and stronger, and kinder…and deeply hurt and broken, feisty and opinionated. I think we started praying for their salvation from the first day, but I don’t remember for sure.
My husband and I had been engaged with praying for the lost, seeking to see people saved. We had put a lot of time and money into an evangelistic outreach of our own endeavor, out of a real urgency to see people saved and discipled. We believed (falsely) at the time that we were on the brink of city-wide revival, and always hoped that the next step of obedience could be the one that would usher the flood of salvation. We thought in terms of hundreds and thousands.
But instead, our evangelistic outreach, which was apologetic and intellectual in nature and appeal, was a complete failure. Almost no one attended, and the one who did only came for the chance to debate stupid Christians. Our labor seemed to have led us to nothing. But around the same time, this couple moved in. And we loved them. We just loved them. They weren’t “the lost,” they weren’t the masses, they didn’t need a city-wide revival. They were real, living, breathing souls…beautiful souls. Souls whose stories, when told, as trust was tentatively built (and torn down and built again), left us weeping and agonizing on our bed at night, crying out to God that these dear ones be saved. They were truly beloved to us.
We did not know that God was answering our prayer for the lost the best possible way, by tearing down our ambitions for numbers and notoriety, signs and wonders and astonishment. He was showing us that none of that compared to the beauty of salvation, the core of which is LOVE. He made us poor widows so we would rejoice over one penny that was found, scrappy shepherds who would hunt for one sheep. (Luke 15)
It was an awkward dance getting close to them, as we loved them enough to preach the true gospel to them. Gently confronting their idols, clearly establishing sin as the problem, definitively proclaiming Jesus as the Only Name by which men can be saved. They were repeatedly offended, withdrew from us, and then came back, vacillating between hunger and resistance. It was a labor of love over months and weeks, always lulled along by the movement of the Spirit.
My fiery first son was born. Five weeks later, I came home to see my beautiful friend wrapped in a blanket and propped up by EMT’s, struggling toward an ambulance. The baby was coming, and her husband was miles away…I made arrangements for my kids, jumped in the front seat, and drove to the hospital to hold her hand in the very room in which I had delivered weeks before. I cried when she groaned and told her she could do it, made calls and prayed her husband would come, and wondered at the miracle unfolding between us…could it be that God would answer our prayer for new birth? Could this miracle in the natural mean what I thought it might? “Oh, God, save their souls! Save their precious children!” Her husband made it in time to see the birth of their perfect, beautiful son. And we understood enough to keep laboring…keep praying…the fruit would be worth it…
Seeing these two come to Christ was so much like birthing. It is an experience that defies description, because in it you’re working harder than you’ve ever worked, groaning and anguishing, and yet you really have no choice and you really have no power, except that of cooperation. It is happening to you, you are not choosing it. It is another’s will being done, not your own. You are mother, but not lord. For their salvation, we anguished, we prayed, we cried…but all we were doing was cooperating with Another’s will, Another’s power. The Lord Jesus had ordained that these two be saved (John 1:13), and their children, and their siblings, and the ripples of salvation we would see go out from them in years to come…and yet without a mother, can there be a birth? “How can they hear without a preacher?” Rom. 10:14c
Finally, one sunny morning I walked over to her house, breathless with a sense of expectation, but not able to explain why, except that it felt different. Complete. Time to push. My friend was in tears and hungry, hungry for the Lord. She was asking me questions, crying, and my Bible was open as I read her verses, explaining and answering as best I could. Finally, she cried out. “I want to believe! I want to! I just can’t…something is blocking me! Something is stopping me…please help me…” I did what was most natural in the moment. I said, “Let’s ask the Lord. He will show us what is blocking.” Prophecy was as normal to me as breathing, at the time. I bowed my head and closed my eyes, asking the Lord for a picture. It came very clearly, and I hesitated for a moment. I thought it must be symbolic and was trying to understand its meaning before I described it to her. Finally, I just described it plainly, because I could not make sense of it. I described the scene I had seen, in which she stood at a cash register, along with a few other details. I lamely tried to pull some idea out of it, when she broke down weeping and telling me to stop. It didn’t have hidden meaning, she said, it was an actual event from her life. It was an exact description of a life-altering event, in which a strange woman had approached her at the cash register in the new age shop that she worked and given her supernaturally gleaned information about the death of her mother, and then instructed my friend that her mother’s soul was held imprisoned until she would set it free. The fear and torment of my friend’s soul was evident as she nearly gagged on her grief. Was her mother’s soul imprisoned until she set her free? she asked me.
Again, I opened my Bible, out of my league and a little confused by these uncharted waters but glad that here was something I could answer clearly. Scripture showed her that it is given to men and women to live, to die, and then to face judgment. Dead souls are not in limbo, dependent on someone living to save them. I watched the truth set her free. The tears flowed as she called out Jesus’ name. Simple truths of confession came out of her mouth. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Savior. Jesus is the only way. She could never save anyone, especially not her dead mother. The witch-woman had lied to her. The devil had lied to her. She was free. It could not have been more real if I had watched iron chains fall to the ground and heard the crash. I could not relate, could not fully understand. I had never experienced that type of bondage, but I watched my friend released from prison as Jesus, by the prophetic testimony, in His perfect wisdom exposed the exact chain of deception that needed to broken. My friend’s face filled with light. Joy overwhelmed her. Life flooded her. She grabbed the Bible. She believed, all obstacles gone. She wanted to dance and sing. She was born again.
I remember walking home, wondering what had really happened. The whole thing was so crazy, so beyond my understanding… She hadn’t prayed the sinner’s prayer, and I hadn’t given her the doctrines of salvation, not that day. We had faithfully shared them for months beforehand, did that count? Was she saved, or did I need to go back, and have her recite something formal? Had she repented? She hadn’t really mentioned any specific sins. Would it all have evaporated next time I saw her? The next time I saw her, the fire in her eyes and joy on her face were only stronger, and from then on our conversations had a new starting point, “Look what I read in the BIBLE, can you believe it???? I read this and this and that and this, and did you know what it says about…?” All my doubts drowned in the deluge of hunger and joy and fruit of salvation and transformation at the rate that only a nursing mother can understand. How can a child double his weight in a matter of weeks? Well, enough milk, and they do. So it was with her. How could anyone change that fast? All her old thinking, chucked in the trash. The top of her to-do list was seeing her husband saved next, and then her sister, and everyone else she could think of. She put on spiritual weight like her chunky little babe added rolls.
Her husband was saved shortly thereafter, another dramatic story of prayer and intercession and labor, a little less smooth of a delivery, but a birth that is now many years into fruitful Christian life, with many others converted by their testimony and holy life being lived.
I clearly remember my awe of Jesus Christ from that day, of His absolute Lordship. That He knew precisely what her bondage was, where the devil held her enslaved, and by His Spirit gave the precise Word of Knowledge (or prophecy or vision, however you want to define it) to break her free and be a sign to her unto salvation, all at the same time. I would never have figured it out in a million years. She probably never would have been able to articulate what it was that tormented her soul. We were stuck, but for the prescient, precise word for that moment from the Spirit of God. I wondered at His wisdom, and pondered the knowledge that in the American evangelical church, the chances that she would have ever heard a sermon that would have addressed this particular area of deception with truth are pretty much nil. In all my years of witnessing, it is surely nothing I’ve ever thought to cover, nor have I heard of anyone else doing so, nor would I ever tell someone else to make sure when sharing the gospel to explain that the dead are not waiting on the living for salvation! It was a supernatural intervention by God’s Spirit, one that matches every biblical description of the use of prophecy and the signs given by God’s Spirit. It was entirely orthodox, and completely inaccessible to me in my natural mind. And behind it all, behind the labor and the prayer and the preaching of the gospel and the opening of the Scripture and the final, climactic moment of salvation…behind it all was pure, simple Love.
OH, the love of God! Oh, the power of His Spirit! Oh, the unsearchable ways of His wisdom! Oh, the Lord who is God who is Jesus Christ, who is ALIVE and speaking to His people the perfect, precise, prescient Word by His Spirit! OH, the GIFT that is Prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 19:10)! Oh the indwelling Spirit of God! Oh the foolishness of claiming He is currently silent, even as we rely on Him as our only guarantee of salvation (Eph. 1:14), His leadership the eternal proof that we are sons of God (Rom. 8:14), His fruit the evidence to the world that we are His children (Eph. 5:8-10), His presence our deep assurance of salvation (1 Jn. 3:24). OH, the silliness of men so guaranteed, led, filled, and sustained, sitting at their desks and writing treatises on His limitations! I should as soon sit and explain how needless oxygen is to me now, and how I have not used blood to distribute it to my organs since childhood. These sons of God, these men mighty in the faith, these true believers, marked and guaranteed by the very one of Whom they are suspicious and yet to Whom they daily submit. Reading His letters, eagerly seeking His will, and quieting His mouth in natural-minded conclusions of confusion. Oh, the naivete of trying to blow a train off course with a breath or swatting a charging rhino with a tissue or trying to deny the eternal gifts of God by the exercises of the puny minds of men applying a pen to paper, drawing deductions from deductions from natural assumptions and feeling affirmed in community. Often this has been done in efforts to safeguard the church of God–the eternal, invisible, victorious church of God! Mere men and theologians, whose lives are breaths and vapors, days from the grave, explaining and postulating and erring…with such good intentions.
OH, how wise and foolish we humans can be at the same time! How eternally SUFFICIENT the Word of God in the Scriptures is, able to preserve and keep all those who are bowed down in the heart, without the help of extra doctrines and systems and rules and laws. How perfect its every Word is in what it says and what it does not. How unceasing His goodness is, how eternal His grace (charis). How needful the mighty working and present activity of His Spirit, and how indivisible from the essence of salvation and the provision of love from the Father it truly is. How craftily that which is given to uphold is used to divide. Rightly they diagnose problems, and wrongly they solve them. How humbled we will all be when all is seen.
And how much destruction those well-intentioned additions (the doctrine of cessationism, in this example) unleash. But there is a better way.
Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy…
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. I Corinthians 14:1 and 24-25
Note: My readers might not have thought I’d be camped on this “side” of the issue of cessationism. I’m not. Truly in Christ, there are no sides, no camps. More to come. Up next: Schism.