By Shane Bishop –
I believe it happened in the springtime, sometime after Christmas and before Easter. 1999. I don’t remember the specifics of the “when” but I will never forget the “what” of this story. I arrived at church about 9:30 through the front glass doors only to see a woman in a wheel chair out the corner of my eye. I did not recognize her so I went to my office to get things ready for the service. When I emerged about thirty minutes later, she was in the same spot.
A quick glance verified that she was not in the chair to convalesce, but would probably be in that chair for the rest of her life. As I approached to introduce myself, something welled up within me. Something in my spirit said, “Reach out your hand and command her to walk in the name of Jesus.” This is the whole problem with reading the Bible. It puts ideas in your head and gets you in situations like this. In a split second I was right in front of her. Would I obey God and possibly set a miracle into motion, or would I miss God and make a scene? At the moment of truth, I held out my hand and said, “I’m Shane. I’m glad you are here today.”
It is a moment I will never forget. What if I really heard the voice of God? What if she would have reached for my hand, received healing and went, “Running and leaping and praising God?” Perhaps I did the right thing. A vain imagination. Perhaps I established that such a prompting was a waste of God’s time. I will never know. But I did make a decision; it would never happen again. From that moment on, when I feel the Holy Spirit “prompts” I err on the side of boldness. Sometimes it feels risky, but nothing feels riskier to me these days than quenching the Holy Spirit.
A failure to embrace the ministry of the Holy Spirit has produced a disconnect and a lack of firepower in the church today. The disconnect is that our current standard practice in church life does not even remotely resemble standard practice in the early church. The disciples didn’t refer people to medical professionals; they were healing the sick, raising the dead, curing those with leprosy, and casting out demons.
The firepower has to do with orthodox theology. If we don’t believe God can actually change people and we are not willing to boldly pray for and celebrate such transformations, we are open to every single criticism the culture hurls at us.
Paul writes from prison to people who are being relentlessly persecuted: “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News” (II Timothy 1:6-8, NLT).
To my way of thinking, The United Methodist Church has a problem – and that problem is me. Revival never begins when “they” change; it begins when I change. The question is not where I stand on the issues but whether I am standing on holy ground. And if I am standing on holy ground, why are my shoes always on?
We may all agree on Biblical authority and theology but did we used to love God more than we do right now? I have no doubt we feel fire in our bellies but is that fire the transforming Holy Spirit or the burning resentment we feel concerning what is going on around us?
Paul writes, “Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you!” and “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity” (v. 7). Uncertainty breeds fear and fear breeds timidity. To fuel our Holy Spirit fire and to counter fear and timidity, God has given us three spiritual weapons:
1. Power is the supernatural ability to do what God asks us to do. God will never ask us to do what God will not empower us to do.
2. Love is the supernatural disposition God gives his children toward the world. We are not going to reach people for Jesus if we think we are better than they are.
3. Self-discipline is supernaturally regulating our lives in God honoring ways. It can also be thought of as a sound or steady mind. This is not time to baptize the Chicken Little in all of us and pretend he is a prophet; it is time to make prayerful and bold decisions that are congruent with our callings, our understanding of Scripture and our mission.
Paul reminds us, “Never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News” (v. 8). At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gifted the church to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Good News of Jesus hasn’t gotten worse just because of the utter disarray of our denomination. Whatever else we may be ashamed of, let us not be ashamed of our Lord!
In the aftermath of General Conference 2019, Christ Church is down 10 percent across the board. Unless we have an incredible last quarter, we will fail to grow for the first time in 23 years. I have lost church members; had friends walk away and have taken social media hits – some of them from people I once considered friends. This has been a discouraging time and I need the strength of Christ every day. Sometimes like Elijah, I get feeling sorry for myself and God simply says, “Stop it! You are embarrassing yourself. Do you have any idea of the price my disciples have paid for their faith over the centuries? Shake off your fear and timidity; tap into power, love, and a sound mind and get out there and proclaim the Gospel.”
When the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost, the early church began to walk in the realm of signs and wonders. I am sometimes asked why we don’t see more miracles today and my response is most clear: we don’t pray for them, we don’t recognize them, and we don’t celebrate them.
Twelve years ago, I was preaching on a Sunday morning when all of a sudden an older gentleman by the name of Norman clearly went through a horrible physical episode and finally he just stopped breathing. Right there in the sanctuary, he laid stiff. There were two medical doctors in the pew with him. And after walking over they just shook their heads, no. I asked someone in the congregation to call an ambulance. Norman didn’t breathe for about three minutes or so. I asked everyone to extend a hand in prayer. I didn’t really know what to do. So everybody just started praying. You could sense the power of the Holy Spirit.
We were praying three or four minutes – waiting for the ambulance, praying that the ambulance would hurry up – and suddenly Norman loudly gasped and stood up.
How do you really talk about an experience like that? How do you explain it? Norman knew how to talk about that Sunday morning. For ten years of his life he said God raised him from the dead in church. I knew how the people in the New Testament would have talked about it. They would have said it was a testimony to the power of God.
Last year I conducted Norman’s funeral. I felt like the preacher who conducted Lazarus first and second funerals. And it prompted a question in me. Something of biblical proportions almost certainly occurred in the life of this man. How could we expect God to do great things if we’re not prepared to pray for them? If we’re not prepared to recognize them? And if we’re not prepared to give God glory for them? And the answer is, we just can’t. We must shift the narrative.
It is time to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and not our own strength. It is time to teach good theology rather than disparage bad theology. It is time to tell our story and not have our story told for us. It is time for signs and wonders; not sighs and whiners. It is time to boldly celebrate who we are, where we are going, and what God has called us to be!
The early church didn’t defend their faith to the larger culture, they just proclaimed the Gospel, saw lives utterly transformed, and let the Holy Spirit do the talking.
“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” we affirm with the Nicene Creed. “With the Father and the Son He is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.”
Let’s be Holy Spirit filled and not fear filled. In the power of the Holy Spirit, reach out your hand with me to a hemorrhaging world and say with Peter, “Silver and gold have I none but such as I have give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk!”
Shane Bishop is a United Methodist clergyperson and evangelist. He is the senior pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois. This article is adapted from the address he delivered at the recent Global Gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.