It is usually wrong to put God to the test, because He commanded us not to in Deuteronomy 6. (There is one exception to that rule, and that is when God Himself invites us to test Him, as He did in Malachi 3:10.) We are NOT permitted to test God for flaws or unfaithfulness (because that is a lack of faith in Him).
It is different, however, to “test and approve what God’s will is” (Romans 12:2). He actually delights in having us explore our relationship with Him… learning new things about Him and how He interacts with us! That’s why He invites us in Ephesians 5:10 to “find out what pleases the Lord!”
I call that “experimenting with God” (as opposed to experimenting on God), and I would like to challenge you to join me in a little experiment with God in 2017. But to explain what I mean, I need to first tell you about this…
I TRIED AN EXPERIMENT WITH GOD IN 2016.
Here’s how it happened. Every year I ask the Lord to give me something to orient my thinking toward Him. Last year I sensed that the Lord wanted me as an individual (and us as a denomination) to work hard at developing a daily conversational relationship with the Holy Spirit. Many of you heard me challenge you to join me.
Here’s the short version of how I tried this experiment: Every time I walked through a doorway, I asked the Holy Spirit to use me to accomplish in that room whatever HE intended. I tried not to guess His purposes, because it seemed unlikely to me that I would be able to guess them, since His ways are above our ways and His thoughts are above our thoughts.
I don’t know about you, but this has been a transformational journey for me!
I want to admit right up front that there were tons of times when I simply forgot to pray that little prayer when entering a room. But I prayed it more than I ever had in my life.
Here’s what I experienced:
- There were many times when there was no detectable difference between those conversations and my “usual” ones that I had before starting to pray that prayer. But interestingly, I still had a sense that something different was happening. Through the eyes of faith, I believed that God was accomplishing unseen and undetectable things… simply because I had asked Him to do so, and I knew that it was His will to accomplish His purposes in every setting.
- There were definite times when I sensed spiritual opposition to what we were doing. This heightened awareness of spiritual opposition was actually encouraging to me! It made me believe that God was accomplishing things which (though unseen by me) were startling and frustrating to the enemy of our souls.
- I definitely had times when I experienced palpably the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Breakthroughs happened in situations which seemed grave. Seemingly unsolvable problems suddenly opened as if an unseen hand had turned a key. Meetings that began with tense faces and furrowed brows, ended with open smiles and encouraged feelings.
The biggest lesson I learned through this experiment was this: I began to realize that God has spiritual purposes in every conversation and every interaction that we have with people. I was prompted to pray aloud with people more often than usual. Lots of conversations started out as “normal” conversations, and ended up as spiritual ones! And it wasn’t one-way, either. God ministered to me and taught me through unexpected conversations with waiters and flight attendants, strangers and friends, Christians and even (occasionally) people who don’t know Him yet.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”
I’m not sure what spiritual life she had or didn’t have, but I know this: This little experiment that we conducted in 2016 caused me to see that earth is much more “crammed with heaven” than I had ever dreamed! I may not have seen “every common bush afire with God,” but I developed a growing sense that every common conversation was a place where God was at work, or wanted to work. The purposeful presence of the Holy Spirit is everywhere! He is at work among us in ways that had completely “gone over my head” until now.
We serve a God who does the beautiful and the supernatural in the ordinary conversations and even the boring events of our daily lives. So now I am learning to look for Him there.
The Spirit of God is everywhere! And everywhere He is… He is at work!
I am not finished learning the lessons of my 2016 experiment with God. I am going to keep on trying to enter every single room with a silent prayer that the Holy Spirit of God will accomplish His purposes through me and in me in that very room.
SO I WANT TO INVITE YOU TO JOIN ME IN A NEW EXPERIMENT WITH GOD IN 2017
To set up this year’s experiment, a little background:
The Lord has been impressing on me lately that we who are Christians in the United States tend to have very low expectations that Jesus will do amazing things for us and through us.
And low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy!
The way it started was this: I was struck by the following verse which Paul wrote to the church at Philippi while he was literally chained in a prison, awaiting a trial to see if he would live or die. He wrote…
“…It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).
I understand how Paul could say that he HOPED that he would not be at all ashamed, but I was really impacted by Paul’s statement that it was also his EAGER EXPECTATION.
Eager means, “characterized by a keen expectancy or interest,” and expectation means “confidently believing (usually for good reason) that something good will probably or certainly happen.”
Think about that! Paul writes from the discomfort of having chains around his legs in prison, that he has a keen expectancy because he thinks that something positive is probably or certainly about to happen! What does he think is going to happen? That he will have full courage in this situation (just as he has always had since Christ entered his life) so that Christ will be honored in his body, whether by getting to live or having to die.
I began to meditate on this idea of expectancy as a Christian virtue. Expectancy is the feeling you have that something WONDERFUL is going to happen. It is the opposite of DREAD… the feeling you have that something TERRIBLE is going to happen.
In a situation where any of us would reasonably feel dread, Paul experienced EAGER EXPECTANCY… the feeling that something wonderful was going to happen!
And that wasn’t just “happy talk.” His entire letter to the Philippians is filled with comments about how much joy he had, how much he was rejoicing, how glad he was. He refers again and again to hope, to eagerness, and to gladness.
And now I have to say something that is going to get me in hot water.
EVANGELICALS (TAKEN AS A WHOLE) RARELY EXPRESS (OR EVEN EXPERIENCE) EAGER EXPECTANCY.
We are not known for it.
In fact, to be brutally honest, we may be better at dread than we are at expectancy.
You may be an evangelical if…
- When you stand at the bedside of a friend before surgery, your people talk for ten minutes about how God doesn’t always choose to heal people (and it is OK, because it doesn’t mean He doesn’t love you!) before they pray for one minute.
- The prayers of your tribe for healing are confined more to phrases like, “Lord, be with them. Lord, comfort them!” than “Lord, deliver them. Kill the cancer in them, and restore them to complete health!”
- Your Bible teachers have lately been emphasizing the need to be faithful in these rising times of persecution, instead of declaring with excitement that we are on the verge of seeing miracles as God proves Himself powerful on behalf of His people.
Faithfulness? Evangelicals have it nailed! But eager expectancy? Not so much.
Our friends from more charismatic denominations have loads of problems and failings of their own, believe me. But they do NOT tend to respond to oncoming troubles by bracing themselves for impact. It is pretty much NEVER true of them that they can’t bring themselves to believe that God would do something amazing for them.
Don’t get me wrong. My theology is not messed up. It is perfectly clear to me that we cannot demand anything of God, and that “name it and claim it,” or “whatever you believe, you will receive” are theologically incorrect thinking errors.
BUT WOULD IT KILL US TO DEVELOP AN ATTITUDE OF EAGER EXPECTANCY THAT SAID, “GOD, WE HAVE NO IDEA WHETHER YOU ARE GOING TO DO A MIRACLE FOR US, OR BE A MIRACLE THROUGH US, BUT EITHER WAY, THIS IS GOING TO BE A DAY FOR THE DIARY!!”
- IF OUR UNDERLYING WORLDVIEW IS THAT LIFE IS A TRIAL TO BE ENDURED, THEN WE WILL EXPERIENCE A LIFE-LONG FEELING OF BACKGROUND DREAD.
- BUT IF OUR UNDERLYING WORLDVIEW IS THAT LIFE IS AN ADVENTURE WITH GOD IN WHICH HE DELIGHTS TO SHOW US HIS POWER AND MERCY, THEN WE WILL EXPERIENCE A LIFE-LONG FEELING OF EAGER EXPECTANCY.
God is such a GOOD master that He does wonderful things for us even when we DON’T expect it sometimes! But He does even more great things for us when we approach Him with an attitude of EXPECTANCY!
I am convinced that God often wants to do more for us, but we never ask Him to. And we don’t ask Him to because we don’t EXPECT Him to do anything kind for us!!
SEEING GOD AS GOOD AND GENEROUS CREATES A LIFE OF EXPECTANCY… the feeling that something wonderful is going to happen.
SEEING GOD AS HARSH AND MISERLY CREATES A LIFE OF DREAD… the feeling that something terrible is going to happen.
So let me bring this home to you:
When you ask God for something, do you see God as most likely to say no (and so you steel yourself in expectation that He will turn you down or ignore your request), or do you see God as LIKELY to say yes, and so you eagerly anticipate receiving positive answers to your prayers?
I have to admit that there have been situations in my life in which I prayed Eeyore prayers. “God, I realize that You’ll likely say no to this request, so I won’t get my hopes up; but just in case this is the odd exception to the rule in which You might actually say yes to me, here goes with my request…”
As Christians, if our lives are more filled with dread than expectancy, then we are probably doing life wrong.
King David got it right when he wrote, – “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3)
SO… AT LONG LAST… HERE IS MY CHALLENGE TO YOU ALL:
OUR EXPERIMENT WITH GOD FOR 2017
Just like King David, I am going to spend this year getting up every morning and laying my requests before the Lord for that day. I am going to do it with an attitude of eager expectancy, confident that He will either say yes to my requests or give me something even better than I expected.
I am going to do my best to live every day in the confidence that a GOOD God has great reasons for me to expect blessings and wonderful surprises from His generous hand.
And I would like to challenge you to also try this experiment with me. I believe that God wants to make this the year that we learn to live (as Paul said), with “great expectation and hope!”
God, teach us to EXPECT you to say “Yes!”
Give us a spirit of EXPECTANCY, Lord, because you are a GOOD God!
Give us a spirit of EAGER EXPECTANCY, Jesus, because you are an AMAZINGLY GOOD GOD!!