The other day Teckla pointed out to me that when the author of Hebrews commends Joseph for his faith, he doesn’t mention his faithfulness in prison or in facing Egypt’s famine; instead he says by faith Joseph told his sons to carry his bones to the promised land. In Genesis 50:24 we are told Joseph “made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.’”
I have been around Christian folks whose idea of faith is different from this. They present faith as laying hold of God’s promise, getting it, and the testifying about it. Others say you should testify to it before you get. Either way, faith is about getting what you asked God for.
I have also been around people who had faith in what God is about to do. Often prophets predicted a move of God and rallied people to faithful intercession. And indeed times of spiritual refreshment, intermittent showers, would come and go. But often the sense of being right on the edge of the next big move of God would fade, and people would drift out of the prayer rooms. Sometimes life—children, college, jobs—would catch up to people. Like a surfer hoping to catch a big wave that never comes, many hoping to be a part of the next move of God have packed up and moved on.
I can’t move on. My promised land has always been a move of God that restores the church to New Testament power and purity. I have been looking for a Church that has the character of Christ and does the works of Christ: healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, raising the dead, and preaching the gospel to the poor. Since I was 16, long before I met any prophet types, I have looked for this and prayed for this.
On my pilgrimage I have encountered those who argue that New Testament power, signs, wonders and the things Christ commissioned his disciples to do, ended with the apostolic dispensation. This idea is tempting and certainly is backed up with many experiences of seeing people not healed. But I really don’t think it is biblical. In the end, I must choose God’s Word over my experiences—or lack of them. On a few occasions, I have prayed for people who—to my surprise—got well. And I have cast out some demons, but also encountered many I seem to have no authority over. In short, I’ve gotten enough of a glimpse of God’s power to know it is real and for today, not enough to stop praying.
On my way, I have also met some real triumphant Christians who simply declare God has given New Testament power to the church and all we need to do is claim the power in faith. I visited a huge church that taught this. They were good people—warm and friendly. The worship was lively. They had ramps for those in wheel chairs and signers for the deaf. I thought their ministry to the handicapped was wonderful, but I kept wondering why they weren’t interceding for God to fully restore the healing ministry of Jesus to the church. I thought, if Jesus were here, the deaf wouldn’t go away deaf, the blind wouldn’t leave blind, and the wheel-chairs would leave empty. I couldn’t play make-believe and pretend the full ministry of Jesus was being expressed in the church. Nor could I accuse those not being healed of a lack of faith.
I eventually fell in with folks who thanked God for all He has given us, but longed for the reality of New Testament ministry. They were honest enough to say they didn’t have it, and as a result called upon people to pray until God restored it. Prophets, some with real gifts and integrity, a few with real gifts and no integrity, would come and give words about what God was about to do. But prophesied dates, even if vague, would come and go without an outpouring of God that revives the whole church or changes a whole city. People would get discouraged and drift away, and some get ensnared in sin. A few would plug along.
I’m a plugger. I don’t know what to do with prophecies. I have personal promises from God that have not come true—yet. I have promises for my boys that haven’t happened—yet. I still want to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, and preach the gospel to the poor. I plug along at this too. I still pray for revival, a visitation of God, a cleansing and restoration of the Church. But I pray with no sense that I am on the edge of anything—no matter what the prophets are saying. For me this is discipleship, a lifestyle, and a response to God’s Word. To many this may seem like a lack of faith, but I think it is just the faith of Joseph. So if all my prayers are answered after I die, I want my sons to say, “This outpouring of God’s Spirit is what Dad looked, lived, and prayed for.” I want them to carry my bones in.