I often wonder if what I’ve experienced of God so far is the best it’s going to get in this life. If it were, I’d have zero justification for complaining about it. The Lord has already moved in my life in tremendous ways. He has softened my heart and illuminated my mind to see and savor Jesus to degrees I never would’ve imagined possible. He has used me to accomplish things that I definitely couldn’t have in my own power. I really am thankful for the ways I’ve experienced the manifest life and power of God so far.
But I crave more.
The Bible portrays God to be more beautiful, majestic, and mighty than our imaginations could ever conjure up. Every glory and wonder in our world – from the roaring waters of Niagara Falls to the vastness of the Grand Canyon to the beautiful complexity of the human being – is but a tiny reflection of his greatness. The Lord is “infinitely interesting,” as John Piper puts it, and our eternity will be spent “chasing after him to see more and more of his beauty,” as Paul Washer once said. He is massive. What I’ve encountered of him is just one trillionth of who he is. I know I won’t see or experience him fully in my fallen flesh, but I really do believe there is much more of his goodness to be tasted and power to be accessed in the here and now than what I’ve experienced thus far.
But how? How do I get more of God? I read my Bible all the time. I pray daily. I gather with his people weekly. But it still feels like I just keep hitting a brick wall. What am I missing?
The Bible tells me that every part of my salvation is a gift, including my faith. God initiates, nurtures, and strengthens my belief and trust in him. The Bible also tells me that the Spirit of God manifests and works through my faith. So I’ve been praying, “If I’m going to experience more of you, YOU have to do it! If what I need is stronger faith, only you can make that happen!”
I think it’s right and good, in one sense, to pray this way.
But the other day, as I was reading the Bible, I came across a passage in the book of Joshua that made me step back and theologically recalibrate a bit. I’m not going to copy and paste the passage here because I think people tend to automatically skim over quoted Bible verses. So, here’s the Matt Moore paraphrase:
Following their rescue out of Egyptian slavery, God’s people have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years due to their hard heartedness. But now it’s time for them to enter into the Land of Promise. Prior to overtaking the city of Jericho, God commands the Israelites to destroy everything within the city and not to keep any of the belongings (devoted things) for themselves. As is common in Israel, someone disobeys. Achan, a man of the tribe of Judah, secretly keeps a cloak and some silver and gold for himself. Shortly after the destruction of Jericho, Israel goes up to fight against the people of Ai – a people much smaller and weaker than the inhabitants of Jericho – and are shamefully chased off. When Joshua cries to the Lord concerning their defeat, the Lord responds:
“The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.” – Joshua 7:10-12.
When Achan is discovered to be the culprit and confesses his sin, he and all of his belongings – including the devoted things – are stoned and burned. Once the devoted things are removed from the midst of Israel, the Lord’s strong arm is once again with them in battle and they defeat the people of Ai.
Almost every story in the Old Testament pictures a spiritual principle that is applicable for modern day believers, this recount of Achan’s sin being no exception. As I read through this passage I saw a vivid correlation between God’s command for the devoted things to be utterly destroyed and God’s command for me to put my sin to death. I also saw a correlation between God’s power not being manifest with Israel because of Achan’s disobedience and God’s power not being as manifest as it could be in my life because of my disobedience.
What if the lack of progression in my experience of God isn’t owing to his unwillingness to reveal himself, but my unwillingness to let go of things that may be be stifling his movement in my life? What if God is ready to showcase more of his glory and power, but I – in various forms of disobedience – am the one holding up that process?
Please hear me, I’m not trying to say that we have to earn God’s love or favor. He loves his children based on nothing but his own will to do so. God is crazy gracious. We all have many areas of our lives in need of sanctification, yet he still moves in and through flawed Christians like you and me every day. I also want to be very careful not to tread into a prosperity gospel mentality that says, “If I do this, God absolutely will do this.”
But I do think it’s biblical to say that even as a forgiven Christian, my disobedience adversely affects the level at which God will show himself to me and use me.
So I wonder . . . how much more would I see God’s glory and experience his power if I were to stop keeping a grip on some of the things in my life that he has “devoted to destruction”? How much greater would God’s presence be manifest in my life if I were to stop making peace with my tendency to gossip? How powerfully would the Lord use me if I would repent of my idolatrous love for and abuse of food? What would my ministry look like if I were to put to death my practice of not giving as generously as I should? These are just some of the things the Lord has been convicting me about for a while – things he has devoted to destruction. But I’ve been putting all these “little sins” on the back-burner of my mind, to be dealt with later. I’ve been delaying in obedience . . . which is disobedience.
Do you think it’s possible that as we moan and grumble about our lack of spiritual vitality or effectiveness in our ministries, the Lord is responding to us as he did to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?” (Joshua 7:10)? Yours may not look like mine, but I’m sure you’ve got your fair share of things the Lord has devoted to destruction but you haven’t. Maybe God is quite willing – and ready – to move in our lives in greater power, but our disobediences, like Achan’s, are what is holding him back. Perhaps he’s communicated his expectations for our lives, yet in our stubbornness and delayed obedience, we are quenching his Spirit and blocking his power.
But what if – what if – we started to let go of the devoted things? What if we took the Lord’s command to “put to death what is earthly in you” more seriously? What if, by God’s empowering grace, we were to destroy what is keeping God from entering into our lives in a greater capacity?
I think we might just be floored at what could happen.