Lately I have been reading (speed-scanning is more accurate) a number of books dealing with the theme that there is power in true Christianity that often isn't utilized by the evangelical community. We evangelicals who grew up in the faith in a Western cultural context lean heavily toward an "academic" approach to spiritual growth (e.g., Bible studies, discussion, analysis, learning lots of information). This results in much "head knowledge" concerning principles for Christian living, but lives and hearts that often are only minimally impacted and transformed by the power of God.
On the other hand, the "post-modern" generation is one that seems to desire above all personal relevance as it approaches Christian living; this may not be a bad thing, since it counters the lack of application that head-knowledge is guilty of, but it seems these believers care not so much for biblical study, but want action and experiences. And of course, this presents its own dangers.
It seems to me that we must achieve a balance between these extremes, and wed disciplined study of God's word with dynamic application of its truths. If we go out and do the things the Bible is telling us to do, the truths of the Word will come alive for us, and not remain merely theoretical abstractions.
Today we have more Christian books, ministries, articles, websites and other resources than ever before, yet it seems rare to encounter Christians who walk in the same power as the early disciples.
Part of the problem I believe is that our Christianity has been influenced by our culture's individualistic approach to life. I know I personally have been guilty of making my walk with God about actualizing myself, and therefore emphasizing private devotions, reading for personal growth, and prayer only for myself and my immediate circle at the expense of obeying the call to engage with the world in a pro-active way.
Of course, much time spent with the Lord is crucial to spiritual development, and Jesus was our example in constantly getting away from the crowds to be alone with the Father, receiving guidance, instruction and simply enjoying His relationship with the Father. Yet Jesus used this time to become energized for the mission of reaching out to the world with the love of God and the saving message of the gospel. And He did so in a way that demonstrated the reality of "the kingdom of God", His constant theme in preaching. His wisdom was both profound and authoritative, and the signs and wonders He performed were living, powerful examples of His teaching about this kingdom.
So I have been excited and challenged by these books that speak on the authority and power we have in Christ, not to make our own lives full of ease, comfort and prosperity, but to do the works God has called us to do: healing, casting out demons, teaching about the kingdom, making disciples. Now as we pursue these tasks, God is very often pleased to bless us personally and materially, but such blessings are secondary to the higher blessing of service in the kingdom. Besides, in terms of material blessings, Western Christians already have so much to be thankful for.
I have been especially excited by prophetic gifts that function in the life of the church to encourage and challenge us to obedience and growth as words from the Lord can do. And as I have been learning more about the spiritual authority we can use against the demonic world, I'm gratified to know that by exercising that authority, we can bring a freedom to ourselves and to others that perhaps we did not even realize we were missing. In the area of healing, as well, although I still have questions as to why prayers for healing may go unanswered, I have heard enough testimonies to become convinced that healing is real and ought to be a vital part of kingdom ministry.
There is controversy over some of these things, with some Christians believing that spiritual gifts such as healing, tongues and prophecy are no longer valid today. Many also object to the strange "manifestations" that may take place in Pentecostal, Charismatic or Third Wave churches: things like being "slain in the Spirit" or dancing or waving banners. My thought on this is that, yes, some people may be so eager for an "experience" that they attempt to manufacture one. But on the other hand, it seems that many who are really seeking God wholeheartedly and open themselves to receive the Holy Spirit do have authentic, unpredictable encounters with the Lord. I won't venture to say that such people are not experiencing God; I will wait to see the fruit in their lives. I know that I personally welcome encounters with the Lord that help me overcome my selfishness as I see Him better and the light of His glory shines upon my darkness, canceling it out. I also believe that it’s probably because of the human tendency to think and do "in the natural" that our expectations of seeing God work often stay so low. As He performed miracles, Jesus tried to open the eyes of His disciples to see the possibilities of divine power available, not only in His ministry, but also in theirs (see Matthew 17:20, John 14:12, Mark 11:23).
But the foundation for operating in this kingdom power, and a necessary safeguard for our hearts as we begin to operate in these gifts, is cultivation of intimacy with Jesus.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples" (John 15: 5-8).
P.S. Here's the titles of some the books I've been reading: "Authority to Heal" by Ken Blue, The Kingdom and the Power: Are Healing and the Spiritual Gifts Used by Jesus and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today? Gary S. Grieg, Editor, "Defeating Dark Angels" and "I Give You Authority" by Charles H. Kraft, and "Dialogue with God" by Mark Virkler. I recommend these and welcome any comments for those of you who have read them or will do so.