If you have been following this blog in recent months you might have noticed a small sub-current of thought surfacing now and then – it is that of ‘presence’ not of ‘power’. I am far from a developed position, but here goes for a little re-surfacing.

I have been very impacted and continue to be by the inbreaking of God with power, so the ‘healing revival’ of 1948-58 (with all its flaws) has been of interest, the prophetic movement(s) of more recent decades and the like have also been a shaping influence on me. I am very grateful for the many testimonies of healing I carry… power. And power is part of the Gospel story. I am reading in Hebrews at the moment:

[W]hile God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.

Signs, wonders and miracles… ‘The works I do you will do…’ in John’s Gospel where ‘works’ seems to be used consistently of the miraculous. Globally there remains a gap and also therefore a wonderful expectation, and into the gap appears some amazing testimonies.

A recent connection of mine wrote me:

The charismatic movement has framed gifts/charisms/mighty works as primarily about displays of superior power which invite/demand allegiance.

Can we move beyond that… without the loss of the miraculous? This is part of the season we are in. I am also aware that the wheels are coming off some flag-ship movements, thus indicating that the foundations were inadequate, but as always we will have baby and bath water scenarios. What a time to be living in and I am asking a BIG question as to what foundations are required now for the next season.

Dreams have shaped my thinking and also a recent experience while taking a Zoom class into a prophetic school in Brazil. I was asked to speak about ‘false prophecy / false prophets’, and over years I have had so many experiences there of confronting that manifestation – and where able to break it there have been literally a thousand or more testimonies of physical healing. At the end of the Zoom session I was asked as to how we should respond to a situation that they had recently experienced of a ‘prophet’ coming through who would give Social Security numbers to the person they were prophesying over as a means of affirming that they were indeed speaking God’s word. The ‘messages’ given after the affirming knowledge were totally controlling and manipulative. I said I don’t care about the preceding release of knowledge (the Social Security numbers) the words have to be rejected.

Can God give Social Security numbers / phone numbers / names and addresses – for sure. Does he do that – I would say ‘yes’. But… yes there is a ‘but’. Carl Wills (I was on Zoom to him this morning) says and they wanted to blindfold Jesus and ask him to prophesy as to who hit him. That is an impressive show.

I like Mr. Elisha (first name or surname?). He had intimate knowledge of what was taking place, much to the annoyance of the king of Aram, who wanted to know who was betraying their secrets. He was told

No one, my lord king. It is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber (2 Kings 6:12).

The same Elisha was also honest enough to say he was clueless about the distress a Shunammite woman was under:

Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress; the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me (2 Kings 4:27)

The gift of intelligent guessing would have looked more impressive than that! But the gift of the true prophetic is not about looking impressive. Social Security numbers sound way impressive.

Focus on (superior) power… be careful it can be very seductive. And in a seductive atmosphere seductions take place. Hence I am thinking presence as being the environment. On prophecy Paul says that the testimony should be, ‘God is really among you’. Present. God (in the body of Jesus) became present – ‘among / with us’. At the finale ‘God will dwell with them’ – presence. When present even shadows can have an effect as was discovered in Jerusalem as Peter walked past.

The platform has become the place where the presence is mediated – the worship leader ‘brings’ the presence of God, the prophet, the preacher… and so it goes on.

But the wind? Well…

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

You don’t know… hiddenness and visibility together. And ‘the wind’ is not an analogy for the Holy Spirit but for those ‘born again’. Platform giving way to the wind. [Perhaps that would straighten out the activity and hopes for evangelical movements who want to control politics.]

So a little resurfacing. There are ‘power’ words in Scripture… but I suspect that true non-manipulative power is to come through being truly, fully present. And to be fully present? That is the journey.

8 thoughts on “Presence

  1. I think this is so much about humility and the ability to admit when we don’t know something or when we’re clueless and this actually makes the times when we do get definite insights more valid and believable somehow. Where claims are made by ministries or individuals of having ‘greater power’ than an average believer that could be true but could make the temptations for that particular ‘prophet’ to fall into pride or other bad stuff. I am sometimes grateful that my influence is small and I am not gifted like that because I don’t know if I could resist that temptation to think too highly of myself. You are right that carrying his presence is always more weighty. I love the example you give of Peter’s shadow healing the man because if wherever you go you bring light and healing without even trying it is so much more ‘powerful’ and more of a testimony than a big demonstration of prophetic words which can often look more like divination than prophecy and can be showboating. Sometimes that is in fact what it is too!! That sort of diminishes the gift so that when it is authentic it isn’t appreciated. So interesting and I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of the nuances of what you are expressing!!

  2. So there are trajectories: from power to presence; visibility to hiddenness; named to known. Isn’t this what is needed when things fall apart; when we exit antiquated systems; and trek through the wilderness?

  3. I can remember, years ago, oops, a couple of decades ago, when I still attended church, how leaders prayed. They frequently demanded that God show himself (always masculine pronouns) as powerful, strong, sovereign in whatever situation they thought needed remediation. It became a familiar chant added onto every prayer. That God would act with sovereignty (whatever that means, really). That God would demonstrate his power to do something.

    It seems to me that constantly demanding that God do something that demonstrates superior power in a situation, superior to the people involved, superior to the dynamics of the situation, is more about those praying than the one who is prayed to. Why was there such a focus on power and powerful responses to situations? Did those praying feel a need to beat out those considered enemies or challengers? Was it about love or about overcoming opponents? Was it about love or about showing the world that our God was the strongest and therefore needed to be obeyed as the number #1 god? Whatever it was, I suspect it actually had nothing to do with God’s own demonstration of their presence and possibility of intervening.

    The search and demand for power over others exposes our agendas and has little or nothing, I suspect, to do with God’s.

    1. What might we make, I wonder, if God’s apparent inaction were, in fact, his sovereignty, or if silence were the speech of God in response to our insistence that this God, in obedience to our faith, must act in sovereignty without, for a moment, recognising that the demand denies what it demands? Might we not wonder if we had somehow reversed the basis of worship, and of faith, in a demand that God must make our will his?

      The disguise fails, of course. The passion of whatever rather temporary issue brings its own fever-dreams to our prayers never really hides the naked ambition for God to exercise his power in the way that we would if we could. Perhaps it is a mercy if we are denied.

  4. Without going to far off track one of the more popular “prophets” here in America has recently had his own children coming forward and basically warning the churches against him, telling that they were enlisted, even required by their dad to search social media and online to find information about the people in congregations he was visiting so that he would have what other prophets who trained him called “hamburger helper”…the idea was he would show up kind of pre-loaded with information about the congregation in his notebook and sort of ask what appeared to be cold questions, but were in fact social network fishing things like phone numbers and birthdays so it appeared God was giving him direct information…which was obviously not the case…his own children have now come out and condemned him as an unhealthy man and are calling on others to avoid him…there are less respectable ways to get information about others than hearing from God, and frankly why would God be giving out social security numbers anyway…that seems a bit “doxy”…

    In my humble opinion “presence” should look more like sitting at a well with a Samaritan woman, who by all natural religious standards would be completely excluded from the fellowship and any type of intimate one on one discipleship…and that presence would elicit “Come, see a person who told me everything I ever did” without a hint of guilt or shame…

    Maybe the first rule of “presence club” is you never talk about “presence club”…

    haha just kidding…kinda…

    I have no idea, I just know that presence should not exclude, should not elicit shame and should not require advertising or “hamburger helper”.

  5. Hi Martin,

    It’s been awhile since one of your posts made it here. As always, I’m thankful for your taking time to share fresh thoughts in a humble way.

    Some of what you wrote certainly resonates with what I’ve been hearing from the Lord for a long time. If the following will assist your idea of the kind of presence our Lord is calling the ekklēsia to in our time, feel free to run with it. Here’s the nub: the Lamb of God, the principle of sacrifice, rules from the throne of the universe. I was again sharing my thoughts on this to a friend just the other day. It is grievous to me to see around me idolatrous uses of power in political community and in the churches that must be repented before the Lamb but are not. So much more to say, my brother, but I’ll stop for now. Over to you.

    In Christ,

    1. Oh this theme resonates so widely, Charles. I can think of many names and representative groups that speak in a similar tone, and it does give hope. More technically, and I think widely applicable, is the benefit of understanding the aspect of all this which is really about the history of ideas. So a good historian might have something valuable to say to clarify our sources, and expose some of the self-deception that empowers the squabbling majority.

      Randall Balmer is one such. His focus is on the issues that have formed the building blocks of the religious right in the US. His moderate tone and gentle approach, as befits academia, does not disguise the directness of his conclusion that the energy of the right is not about abortion, sexual orientation or the like but is, as fact, deeply rooted in the racism that wanted desperately to maintain segregation but, equally passionately, did not want the financial hit that losing tax-exempt status would result.

      I came out of watching this conversation with an even deeper revulsion to the Reagan/Thatcher magisterium when I thought that impossible. Anyway, here he is, and I have a sneaky feeling that you might have the sort of common ground that might lead to something if you wanted to connect.

      We should not be in doubt that the religious right is fundamentally a pagan power play. Playing dress-up with bad theology does nothing to redeem it.

  6. Thanks to all of you in the comments… glad that the direction resonates and a big thank you for the further stimulus. I am just headed on to a Zoom call with the person who wrote me: “The charismatic movement has framed gifts/charisms/mighty works as primarily about displays of superior power which invite/demand allegiance.”

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