Lessons From Renewals: Build-Up The Banks & Dig Ditches
In my previous post I began taking a look back at some of the important lessons I learned having experienced two major outpourings of the Spirit. Here’s another one that’s helped me keep on track and stay balanced in the midst of seasons that are both exciting and turbulent.
Farmers know that living along a river is a good thing but it also can be risky. The soil is rich making the land fertile, good for growing crops. On the other hand, if the river reaches flood stage and overflows its banks it can drown the fields, ruin the crops, wash away precious topsoil and destroy property.
Life during Spirit renewals is like living along a river. It too can be rewarding but it can also cause problems if we’re not careful. During outpourings the Spirit can stimulate and strengthen the church causing it to become fertile and fruitful. But like a river at flood stage it can be harmful. It can flood its banks and lead to extremism, error and division.
People that living along the river do two things during flood season to lessen the risk: They build-up embankments and dig ditches that channel the floodwater to other places.
During the Toronto outpouring Wimber wrote: “God has been stirring the church in an unprecedented manner. This century has been characterized by renewal. As with a flood however, there is the danger of being overwhelmed by the strength of the current. The flow needs to be channeled in order to be effective. In the Christ-centered life, I see four banks providing the necessary boundaries for the greatest benefit to come from this flood we call renewal… These banks not only direct the follow of renewal they also intensify its force.” (John Wimber, “Witness For A Powerful Christ”; 1996)
Wimber urged building-up our riverbanks and digging ditches by organizing our lives and churches around the following four things:
1) The first thing was worship. The practice of intimate worship keeps us God-focused rather than turning renewal into an exercise in self-indulgence.
2) The second is the Word. During renewals there’s the temptation to set aside teaching God’s Word and focusing on spiritual experiences and manifestations. Wimber said our gatherings should focus on the main and plain issues of Scripture such as the kingdom of God, our identity in Christ, the love of the Father, loving one another, prayer, forgiveness. We should teach on what the Bible says about reaching the lost, caring for the poor, healing the sick so that people find their identity in what God says about them and serving, not in experiencing phenomena.
3) The third thing was walking. The point of renewal is not to simply experience unusual and exciting spiritual phenomena. The point is the impact the presence of God has on us in the aftermath. Has it improved our walk with God? Has it been renewed and deepened? Is there evidence of growth in obedience and Christ-likeness as a result?
4) The forth thing Wimber urged was works of service. Renewal should stimulate and motivate people towards a life of serving others. I remember him saying, “People should go home from our (renewal) meetings telling a well-rounded story: ‘I got it to give away!’” It’s vital that we channel the refreshing and power of renewal away from a “bless me” focus towards a “bless them” focus. It needs to be directed towards doing the things Jesus did – acts of kindness, sharing our faith, caring for the needy, healing the sick and setting free those held captive by demonic forces, being peacemakers and seeking justice.
Referring to the Toronto Blessing, Wimber wrote, “Let the fire fall but remember the fire is for others as well as for us. If we miss that we’ve missed the whole point of the blessing.” (Vineyard Reflections, July/August 1994) Twenty years laterI think this is still a good word for us. As we continue to pray, “Come Holy Spirit” we need to be busy building-up riverbanks and digging ditches of worship, Word, walk and works.