I just finished watching Francis Chan’s lesson on the Holy Spirit via the free Basic Series preview I told you about yesterday.
He said something around the 11:00 minute mark that got me thinking. Here’s an imperfect quote:
“When you surf, you don’t make a wave. You don’t know when the wave’s coming – it just happens, it moves, and once you’re on it, it’s got a power of its own. You don’t manipulate it – you just get on it and go along for the ride. That’s what you see in the book of Acts multiplied 1000 times.”
He spoke this in an attempt to illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit, specifically in the context of the unity of the early believers. In other words, “You can’t create waves of the Spirit just like you can’t create waves in the ocean – you simply ride them.”
I first ran across this teaching from Rick Warren years ago in his book The Purpose Driven Church. Rick basically says near the beginning of that book, “If you want your church to make an impact, find out where God is already moving in your community and join in. Ride the wave, because you can’t create waves of divine activity just like you can’t create waves in the ocean.” I’ve since heard this teaching repeated by a number of preachers at lectureships and leadership gatherings continuing through this present instance with Chan.
That’s disappointing, because I have an inherent problem with this illustration and teaching, and believe you should too.
Here’s why: a great truth revealed through scripture is that things happen when God’s people pray.
When the Holy Spirit first appeared in Acts 2, what were the believers gathered together doing? Leading up to that time, Acts 1:14 says the believers “joined together constantly in prayer” – prayer was their main activity. Did Jesus tell them earlier to wait on the Counselor to come? Yes. Would He have come if they hadn’t been praying? Probably so, but I find it interesting He shows up in the middle of their prayer meeting, and believe we would do well to note the connection.
The story continues, and after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of thousands, prayer was one of several things the people “devoted” themselves to every day.
In Acts 4, after Peter and John were threatened with imprisonment for preaching Jesus, what was the first thing they did? They gathered with believers, and prayed for God to give them power to “speak the word with great boldness,” and He did. In fact, the whole room shook as if God were saying, “You got it!”
In Acts 6, the apostles delegated the work of caring for Grecian widows to others so they could “give their attention to prayer”, in Acts 10 the first Gentile convert was made so because “God heard his prayer,” and Acts keeps going like that – there are many other examples I could cite from that book alone.
And what about the rest of scripture? Were you aware that the apostle Paul’s number one request to churches he corresponded with was that they pray for his evangelistic work to be effective? Why? Because Paul understood prayer moves the Spirit to touch the hearts of men and women – to prepare them to decide to enter into new life with Christ.
And what about the prayer life of Jesus and the things He associated with it? What about the enormous number of Old Testament stories involving massive moves of God specifically due to prayer – sometimes a single person’s prayer at that?
I could keep going, but I think you get the point.
Were massive waves of Holy Spirit activity present in the life of the early church? You bet there were.
But what were these waves of the Spirit in Acts always accompanied by?
Prayer. Heartfelt, genuine, God-moving prayer.
I can tell you many stories about souls Airiel and I have prayed for who came to Christ, I believe, specifically because we prayed earnestly and consistently for them – that the Spirit would move and touch their hearts. God answered those prayers, and this has been repeated over and over in our ministry.
Those that know my story are aware I was a pretty rough character when I was younger. Want to know when my heart began to change? When my parents requested a group of disciples get together and spend time praying specifically for me. Things began happening in my life almost to the day that led to my eventual conversion, and I didn’t even know anyone had been praying for me until later.
That being said, when a person says something like, “We don’t make waves of the Spirit, we just ride them,” they’re putting on display, for the world to see, a shallow theology of prayer.
Prayer is not just something Christians practice because it’s what Christians practice – prayer is a weapon against the dark spiritual forces that surround us.
And the Holy Spirit doesn’t just guide our path, He is also a weapon who revels in bringing light to dark places – He loves it! That’s why He’s here – to assist us in this ongoing war against the darkness!
Speaking of that, there’s a battle scene in one of the Lord of the Rings movies (I forget which) in which the wizard Gandalf appears with a group of mounted soldiers riding down a hill, weapons raised, toward the goblin army. His staff, held high above his head, suddenly begins to emit a great light that not only illuminates the battlefield, but is also used as a weapon against the enemy.
That’s what the Holy Spirit is like. He illuminates, nudges, leads, guides, but not just that. He’s also a warrior adept at destroying the strongholds of Satan. He moves before us, shining brilliantly, but not just to illuminate. He moves before us through prayer, I believe primarily, to fight.
While it’s true that in some respects we’re just along for the ride on this journey, make no mistake: we are allowed to give input as to the direction and focus of divine activity along the way.
And that’s why prayer is so powerful, because prayer is our way of having a say.
Prayer moves the Spirit, therefore, prayer is dangerous.
Prayer makes waves.
When have you witnessed prayer “create a wave” of the Spirit that had amazing consequences?