by Dr. John Yates
Recently I have been sensing that we are too measured in our approach to the things of God. This might seem like a reflection of my “intense” personality; but I believe such a conviction is biblical. An example of a healthy approach to God in prayer springs to mind. I was visiting a pastor who remarked that 100 churches had been planted out of his local congregation. The reason he gave for such remarkable growth was not contemporary worship, anointed preaching or fine coffee, but that in their building day or night you would find someone “laying hold of God” in prayer.
This is not some archaic Pentecostal language for the prophet Isaiah laments before the LORD, “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” (Isaiah 64:7 ESV). The absence of intense clinging to God is interpreted as a sign not merely of apathy but of judgement upon the land! I am not suggesting we should psych ourselves up into a hyperemotional state and pretend this is spiritual, this will not help at all (cf. 1 Ki 18:28). Perhaps some confronting negative examples may help us understand what’s at stake here.
I ran into one of my African Christian friends recently who I hadn’t seen for some time. He gave a generally positive report about work and family life. When however he mentioned that he was not enjoying regular fellowship with other believers and sort of “coasting along” with God I had a sharp reply. “You are becoming like us; you are becoming like the average Australian.” He speedily agreed and went on to tell me how he had said recently to his wife that when back in Africa life’s circumstances made God-dependence necessary, but here it was so much easier to forget our spiritual need. The power of affluence to diminish spiritual intensity is a universal human problem.
About 30 years ago I was powerfully impacted by a pastor from Korea who testified that it was considered the norm to get up at 5:00 am every day to pray at church for the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in the nation; then to pray all night on the Friday. No wonder revival was happening in those days in South Korea. “Pastors pray three hours a day, others at least one hour.” he declared. I was stunned therefore to read recently that since the economic boom in that country such fervent intercession is no longer the norm, and Christianity is now in serious decline.
Financial prosperity had made life easier for the South Koreans: they did not “need” God so much anymore. The moment our physical needs are met, we become complacent about spiritual matters. I am convinced however there is a remedy for such spiritual decline; it is the passion of the cross.
Love That Will Not Let Go
Every genuine believer has experienced an intense sense that God will never-ever let go of them (John 10:28-29). As the psalmist says, “Though my father and my mother forsaken me, the Lord will take me in.” (Ps 27:10). Underlying our convictions about God’s intense relationship with us is the witness of the cross. The terrible cry, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) though absolutely real in the experience of Jesus does not mean the Father “turned his back” or “hid his face” from the Son (cf. Ps 22:24).
The experience which led to the writing of this article was a deep sense in prayer of how the Father’s love would not let go of the dying Son and that the Son would not let go of the Father. In the power of the Spirit they clung to each other in the midst of the darkness of our sin, the overwhelming presence of Satan and the impending power of death (cf. Heb 9:14). This mutual clinging is the power of the Trinitarian love and the substance of our salvation. It is such a clinging that must be restored to our experience if there is to be any fundamental spiritual transformation in our midst. As Mary spontaneously clung to Jesus on the resurrection morning it is imperative we cling to Christ today (John 20:17). What is at stake is the revelation of our very identity.
One of the most intense religious experiences of my life came when I was so overcome by heaviness and oppression that I found myself lying face down literally clinging to the carpet and holding on for dear life grasping to pray. The spiritual opposition seemed overwhelming. But this posture of desperation proved to be a share in the ordeals of the cross and led into a transforming revelation of the ascended Christ. This experience was a share in “the mystery of Christ” of which the New Testament speaks so forcefully (e.g. Rom 16:25; Eph 3:3 ff; Col 4:3; 1 Tim 3:16). At the heart of this mystery is a state of life about which we know so much and so little; marriage.
Paul cites Genesis 2:24 and applies it to Jesus and the Church; ““Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to1)The one Hebrew term is variously translated as cleave, hold fast, cling etc. his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”(Ephesians 5:31-32). As “clinging” is essential to a natural marriage so it creates the relationship between Jesus as Bridegroom and Church as his Bride. To the degree that I am healthily “clingy” to my wife Donna, and she to me, to that degree we experience the reality of being married to each other. This is how it is meant to be between us and Christ.
What is it that is holding us back from unapologetically laying hold of Christ with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matt 22:37)? Perhaps we don’t want to look foolish, to stand out as a white hot lover of Jesus in the midst of a lukewarm crowd (Rev 3:16)? Something much deeper is however at work that must be acknowledged and overcome. The classic hymn “Rock of Ages” prophetically underlines the state of consciousness we must possess if we are truly to cling to Christ.
The composer boldly states, “Simply to Thy cross I cling” because he acknowledges our spiritual condition apart from the Saviour, “Naked, come to Thee for dress”. Adam and Eve were created to cling to each other in Eden (Gen 2:24), naked and “abandoned” Jesus clung to the Father on the cross and it is due time for the affluent Western Church to confess that in the presence of God we are stark naked (Heb 4:13).
Like the physically prosperous Laodiceans to whom Christ spoke so sharply we need to acknowledge that only Jesus can cover “the shame of our nakedness” (Rev 3:17-18). Only one revelation has the power to strip off our pretentiousness, the wisdom of Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:17 ff.).
May the Lord interpret these words to us about the way of the cross, “She (wisdom) is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who cling to her are called blessed.” (Proverbs 3:18)
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|1.||↑||The one Hebrew term is variously translated as cleave, hold fast, cling etc.|