However, there are times when “normal” isn’t intended for replacement. Sometimes we’re supposed to insist on keeping it just as it is.
Before the BSSM school year started, we were assigned to read a book by Bill Johnson, titled, “When Heaven Invades Earth”. The problem was that we somehow missed that notice, so rather than read it leisurely last summer, we read it frantically on top of all the assignments that were doled out when school began. For that reason (and some refreshing for this post), I determined to review my notes from the first time through. The book is easy for me to recommend, and most Christians I know (perhaps non-Christians too) will find it challenging and inspiring. It may awaken hunger in your spirit, and more than a few readers have pointed to it as one that served as a catalyst in their spiritual journeys toward deeper experiences of the Kingdom of God.
When we were in China years ago, I paid fresh attention to Watchman Nee. The book I most recall was “The Normal Christian Life”. The provocative problem was that Nee’s description of “normal” wasn’t anything like I was experiencing. Here are a few select quotes for your sampling (with my brief commentary after each one):
- “I must first have the sense of God’s possession of me before I can have the sense of His presence with me.”
- Translation: Don’t bother nonsensically longing to feel God with you, if you haven’t actively committed to being with Him.
- “Do you know, my friends, that the Spirit within you is very God? Oh that our eyes were opened to see the greatness of God’s gift! Oh that we might realize the vastness of the resources secreted in our own hearts! I could shout with joy as I think, ‘The Spirit who dwells within me is no mere influence, but a living Person; He is very God. The infinite God is within my heart!’ I am at a loss to convey to you the blessedness of this discovery, that the Holy Spirit dwelling within my heart is a Person.”
- The reality of God housing Himself in you is a stunning and overwhelming thought. Nee was bowled over by the wonder of it, and the infinite possibilities that came into existence by God’s indwelling.
- “It is a great thing when I discover I am no longer my own but His. If the ten shillings in my pocket belong to me, then I have full authority over them. But if they belong to another who has committed them to me in trust, then I cannot buy what I please with them, and I dare not lose them. Real Christian life begins with knowing this.”
- Lordship is the game-changing truth in the Christian life. Anything less than full-out surrender to Jesus is the playing of games. If we are his, then he is Lord and Master, and all that is his is ours as well. But if he is not Lord and Master, then we are not his. We are merely our own, and we are limited to whatever means we can muster. The contrast between these paths is stark. Scripture says light VS dark or life VS death.
- “There is nothing stereotyped about God’s dealings with His children. Therefore, we must not by our prejudices and preconceptions make watertight compartments for the working out His Spirit, either in our own lives or in the lives of others. We must leave God free to work as He wills and to leave what evidence He pleases of the work He does.”
- God does what He wants, apparently feeling free from every pressure to meet our expectations or function within our parameters. To think otherwise would be akin to bird-watching with eyes fixated on a single branch, while griping at every bird that chose to land anywhere other than the spot your gaze was locked on.
Ever read a “Christian book” that made you wonder if you were even a Christian at all?! Nee’s book was that type of challenging. So trust Bill Johnson to open his book with a chapter by the same title: “The Normal Christian Life”. And in the early going, he drops this thought:
“It is abnormal for a Christian not to have an appetite for the impossible. It has been written into our spiritual DNA to hunger for the impossibilities around us to bow at the name of Jesus.”
I can hardly recall the start of when I began longing for “more” in my Christian life. Key words in such prayers often included freedom, joy, holiness, power, delight. My inner critic, always alert and often vocal, would accuse me: “You think you’re special? You think you deserve more than you’re already getting? You think you’re better than others?” And on it would go. But another voice, I believe informed by Scripture and engaged by Holy Spirit, would quietly stutter, “I think I’m supposed to want these. I even think God wants to grant these. I think Jesus died for exactly such gifts to be given.” And so that desire remained — weak at times, but like crispy grass in days of drought, it always hung around just alive enough to persist.
Today I’d say it this way: If ever your experience of the cosmos-sized, resurrection-ignited Kingdom feels like a hunt for decency based on human intelligence and ingenuity, you can be sure a massive rip-off has occurred.
Said another way: When a movement starts with a miracle, mundane can never be accepted as a “new normal”.
So when your spirit longs for “more of God”, don’t be duped by the cynicism of others’ or the feels-so-small scope of your own experience. Of an Infinite One there is always more to discover! And if you ever feel like your spiritual hunger is misunderstood or judged or mocked, Pastor Bill offers this word of courage:
“Biblical passion is a mysterious mixture of humility, supernatural hunger, and faith. I pursue because I have been pursued. Lethargy must not be found in me. And if the average Christian life around me falls short of the biblical standard, I must pursue against the grain.”
Re-reading this draft, I’m fearful that someone somewhere could read that last section as a veiled bit of griping that my spiritual pursuit has felt lonelier than I’d have hoped. That’s not the case. I’ve been unusually blessed by a long list of others who have nurtured and nudged me since before I was old enough to be properly grateful for their efforts. For every such season, be thankful and gracious.
But allow it to be said, some of the miles God calls you to walk will be walked alone.
Some of those miles will be walked utterly alone.
At least it will feel like it.
And how does one handle those legs of the journey? Again, by being thankful and gracious — thankful for God’s persistent-even-when-I-don’t-feel-it presence and gracious toward all those around you, ranging from curious inquirers to cautious observers, from caring friends to critical opponents.
Thank you, Father for all that You’ve shown us of Yourself. Thank you also for all that still awaits our discovery. How magnificent to encounter You as the Living Water. How gracious that You insist on first being salt on our tongues, driving us to thirst for the fullness of “normal”!
Lick wildly, my friends! 🙂