Following God in Low Seasons
In the past 50 years we have seen some incredible moves of God filled with supernatural wonders. These moves have been broadly seen across the church, and have had incredible ramifications in the culture around us. Many of these moves have had an inter-denominational flavor. One of my dear friends likes to point out that the Charismatic move was not about “Charismatic” churches, but broadly impacted churches regardless of denomination.
While these moves eventually organized themselves around specific doctrines and practices, their mark was felt beyond the churches claiming their name. One mark of a past move is that many people think of the previous move as the “glory days” of their Christian experience.
In the 1920s and 1930s Aimee Semple McPherson and her use of media gave her a significant voice to influence the church. In the wake of her influence the Foursquare church was born.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s the Latter Rain Renewal and Healing Revival carried with them tent meetings and a passionate pursuit of the power of God for healing and prophecy.
The Jesus People movement placed incredible pressure on a culture in the midst of the free love era of the 1960s. Ocean baptisms were commonplace, coffee shops welcomed a new breed of Christian musicians, music and media became a central figure of this move, and many people encountered Jesus.
The mainstreaming of Christian music through the 70s and culminating in the Vineyard movement that began in the 1980s was hugely influential across the Christian church. Even further, the wake of the Toronto Blessing of the 1990s was huge, regardless of which side of the fence you landed on.
In the late 1980s a prophetic bomb exploded in Charismatic churches. The gift of prophecy gained great prominence. People many considered prophets became Christian super stars, launched international ministries, and influenced how the church broadly views prophetic ministry. That influence increased throughout the 90s and into the 2000s as their ministries increased and others were trained, equipped and released into prophetic ministry.
Today, many of those that came to international acclaim and influenced the church have passed away. As a result we seem to have come to a lull in prophetic ministry in the broader context of the worldwide church. Sure, there are still a few prophetic voices, but the extent of the influence of those that walked a generation ago has waned. When one move fades, the bride of Christ waits expectantly for Him to move again. However, rather than recognizing the ongoing transformative process of waiting for the presence of God, we try and convince ourselves that He is just as active. But in the depths of our hearts we know something is lacking.
It’s almost like the transition from Elijah to Elisha
When Elijah left and passed his mantle to Elisha, it’s not as if Elisha was quickly recognized. The first thing the company of the prophets who had gathered to see Elijah’s departure did to celebrate Elisha’s inauguration was to ask for Elijah back. For three days they pestered Elisha to release them to search for Elijah. Rather than recognize that Elisha has been chosen by the Lord to carry forward the prophetic movement in their time, they scoured the hills for what once was. The church is in danger of doing this today. We look to the past and convince ourselves that something is still happening rather than recognize the lull and cry out for more. We want safety while God pushes us towards risk.
Elisha symbolized the next generation, and he did not appear to be equipped to lead the prophetic movement beyond where it had been. However, after failing to discover Elijah, the company of the prophets dove headlong into Elisha’s leadership. Instead of looking back and waiting for Elijah to return, the prophets ran with this new direction. After all, for the prophets the wild unknown was their normal.
As humans, we are ill-equipped to deal with low seasons in life. Whether we distract ourselves with entertainment, take a drug to even out our emotional upheaval, or self-medicate in any number of different ways, we do not do well processing the meaning of life when we go through low seasons. We attempt to manufacture a high when we feel low.
Years ago, I was in a season of life where I was severely depressed. It was all I could do to get out of bed and move through my day. In order to keep myself going I would find little things I could look forward to, whether a sports event, an outing, or a guest visiting, I would look for something that could help me find a brief shot of emotional energy. I would use everything around me to attempt to manufacture a high rather than do the real work that would teach me why I was low.
The same plays out in our spiritual lives. We attempt to manufacture spiritual highs through religious obligation, material possession, or external distractions, rather than deal with the real issue of our heart. Rules and regulations can keep our life experience at arms length, controllable, and understandable. We look like we know what we are doing, but we remain dimly aware of our hearts.
God is the truly unknown entity of our existence
He is wild and untamable. Knowing Him is not something you can control. There exist very few external rules to knowing God. Church attendance, bible reading, and good works will not introduce your heart to the Creator of the universe.
When we fail, we are told to try harder to fulfill these external obligations and things will go well with us. The heart is a wild forest waiting to be explored. Our possessions and rules keep us on the outside perimeter, always wondering what lies deep within the dense woodedness of our inner life.
When Jesus speaks to the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 and says,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees…”
He chastises them for creating religious rules rather than dealing with the heart. The scribes and Pharisees looked at a time when God had moved and created rules to be followed in order to recreate what God had done. They looked at a time of lows and attempted to recreate and manufacture a high in God by following rules they had fabricated.
When Jesus speaks to his disciples in Luke 6 regarding the beatitudes, he follows each one up with a woe that runs as a counter point to each blessing. For instance, in verse 20, he says,
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Then in verse 24 he says,
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
The woe is spoken against the one who uses their income to manufacture a high when the true posture of the heart is to recognize that all they have received comes from God.
In Ezekiel 13 God speaks a woe to the prophets for prophesying something God is not saying. The prophets envision their own desires and couch it as a prophetic word to a nation. They take what they wish would happen and turn it into what God has said will happen. Their prophetic word was an attempt to manufacture a high when the nation was in the deep throes of the valley.
In Ezekiel 34 God speaks a woe to the shepherds for feeding themselves rather than the sheep they were entrusted with. They manufactured their own high by the misuse of their authority, calling, and position.
Hosea issues a woe to the prophets in Hosea 9 for their foolish understanding and lack of discernment when it comes to the ways of God. They attempted to manufacture a high in their own understanding, and Hosea declares that their own design will be their end. God had removed His presence due to a lack of righteousness and the proliferation of sin. Godliness will underscore the presence of God with the people, yet God had removed himself to expose their fault.
The temptation in low seasons is to attempt to create a high in your own strength. A high created in your own strength must be sustained by your own strength. We then are forced to create theological constructs in order to maintain what we have made our expectation. In a recent conversation with a close friend, we were chatting about a difficult season this friend had been going through. She was lamenting that fact that God had not intervened and didn’t seem to be concerned with some of the physical issues in her life and the financial issues in her life. I said to her, “Perhaps God is not so much interested in fixing everything for you, but being with you in the midst of your pain?”
This type of approach takes a significant theological shift in our personal belief system, especially if you have been raised in the Evangelical church. We have been taught to feel guilty for every mistake that we have made, and that God must be angry with us if we have any problems in life. Additionally, we assume that God is not that invested in our life, and if he is, it is in order to fix all our problems. God has turned into a distant god of the Greeks, or a magic genie that works like a vending machine. We are ill-equipped to deal with the low seasons.
In scripture, woes are given to those who refuse to move through low times and attempt to manufacture their own experience, rather than find God in the midst of it. Whether that is through the mis-use of possessions, finances, prophetic gifting, or religious rules, God roundly condemns using things to keep him out. God wants to be with you during each season of life, we do things consistently to orchestrate him out. We frustrate his presence by creating our own norm and refuse to dive deep into His heart. So He “woes” those who at best miss Him, and at worst avoid and turn away from Him.
The woes of God come when the lows of God are ignored.
Three Crucial Things about Low Seasons
Three things that are crucial to walking through low times are:
Understanding God’s Divine response to you
Finding a place of hiddenness in God
Allowing God to set you apart for his service
These three topics will be covered over the next few blog posts.
If you are interested into diving into the depths of your own heart to discover Christ in you, I have a teaching series available called The Heart Series.
Until next time.