The River and God's Purpose for Your Life
As disciples of Jesus, we have a desire to fulfill the will of God in our lives. Sometimes, however, what we envision for ourselves actually proceeds more from our carnal desires than from the Holy Spirit. Left to our vivid imaginations, many Christians would think God’s purpose for each life must include a large ministry, innumerable conference speaking dates, extravagant book deals, frequent guest appearances on Christian television and perhaps even the Servant of The Year Award! But this is not true. Take Stephen, for instance.
Stephen’s Prophetic Destiny
We know nothing of Stephen’s pre-Christian life. He must have responded to God’s call on his life during the early days of the church as the gospel was being proclaimed in Jerusalem. He was chosen to be one of the first deacons who helped to oversee the daily distribution of food during those days of revival. Luke tells us that Stephen was a man “full of faith, the Holy Spirit, God’s grace and power.” He “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” (Acts 6:5 & 8) In just a short time he was touted as an emerging leader with great potential. Stephen’s spiritual progress was the result of pursuing the current outpouring of God in his generation. I wonder if Stephen went to bed at night dreaming about the day he would be counted among the apostles.
However, God does not always move according to the dreams we have for ourselves!
This rising young star in the Body of Christ, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, faith, power and grace was not destined to be Rome’s first bishop, but Christ’s first martyr. Stephen would probably not have chosen the same purpose that God chose for his life; but he died with his face shining like the face of an angel as those who desired the status quo rather than the River’s flow pummeled his body with stones.
Protection From Selfish Desires
As in the case of Stephen, surrendering to the current outpouring of the Spirit of God protects us from our own selfish desires. Tom Doss, a member of our congregation, is a Christian, raised in a Pentecostal church, actively pursuing a successful business and a good retirement. His pursuit of the good life involved him in several business pursuits from real estate to multilevel marketing. Before, he never shared his faith and the thought of praying for a client never entered his mind. Then the River began to flow in his life.
Through a variety of negative circumstances Tom and his wife Sherryl began seeking more of the Lord. In the late 1990’s they heard what God was doing at various churches around the country. They began to seek out renewal meetings because the church they were attending made the decision not to pursue the Toronto Blessing. At first the casual atmosphere of renewal meetings offended Tom and Sherryl. How could God move through someone who was not wearing a coat and tie? But they were hungry for more of God. Although Tom and Sherryl can’t point to a definite moment when the renewal changed their lives, the change happened gradually as they soaked in God’s presence.
One day Tom had a vision of people lined up around his office. They were not there to conduct business but to receive ministry and healing. The vision had to do with God’s purpose for Tom’s life. Over the past few years since renewal began, Tom has prayed for literally hundreds of clients. He has seen God do miracles in people’s lives, and his entire focus has changed. Now, Tom goes to the office to fulfill his ministry, excited to see who the Lord will bring to him today. It is not uncommon for the Lord to direct Tom to a donut shop he has never visited before just to pray for a stranger. Without the River, Tom would have settled for simply being a successful businessman. Now he lives for his next adventure with the Lord.
Protection From The Desires Of Others
Living in the River not only protects you from your own selfishness, it also protects you from the desires others have for your life and ministry. This is especially true for those who pastor local churches.
Pastors constantly face the pressure to conform to the wishes and desires of those who are a part of the congregation God has given them. Without a clear, sure Word from God, a pastor is likely to try everything and anything to have a successful ministry. Relying on human effort the pastor goes from one thing to another in order to fulfill his calling. This almost always leads to burnout and feelings of failure in the ministry.
This kind of pressure not only comes from the people in a congregation, but it also comes from some denominational officials who like big churches and lots of churches. “Big and lots” makes the organization and the people who run it look successful. As a result, they try to fit every pastor into the “big and lots” mold. They think every church should be mega, and they think every pastor should be a church planter.
Prior to my first experience with the River at the 1994 Catch the Fire Conference, I felt forced into the “big and lots” mold of my own denomination. They were requiring us to read about church planting and church growth. The hot word was “revitalization” and everyone was excited about natural church development. All pastors were to pursue being strong, relevant leaders able to speak to the postmodern generation. I was slowly losing my zeal for the Lord and after many attempts to “grow my church” and “raise up leaders,” I was ready to seek secular employment after 25 years of full-time ministry. Then the River came.
I had attended our denominational fall conference in order to resign the church my wife and I had planted six years previously. The third day of the conference God spoke to me. He said, “I am going to heal hearts at The Father’s House.” Six weeks later I was at a conference in Toronto attending a church I had been warned about, listening to a speaker I had never heard of, being prayed for by two lay people I did not know. Instantly the power of God shot through my body, picked me up off the ground about six inches and slam dunked me into The River. Now, eight years later God is still healing hearts at The Father’s House, and He is fulfilling the purpose of my call. As I soak in the River, I’ve learned to hear His voice above the clamor of other people’s agendas for my life.
Regardless of your call, you will face pressure from other people who think they know what you “should” be doing with your life. Author Brennan Manning says that each day he makes a promise not to “let other people 'should' all over him".
Parents or friends may try to force you into a mold but it is only in the River of God’s presence that you discover your purpose in Christ.
I doubt that Stephen’s parents dreamed of him waiting on tables in the Body of Christ. I am certain that they did not desire an early death for their son. Rarely do those around us know the purposes of God for our lives.
Listening to godly counsel while we hotly pursue the outpouring of the Holy Spirit keeps us on track to fulfill God’s will for our lives.
Protection From Small Thinking
If you had asked the young Stephen, “Who is the greatest person God could save during the early days of the church?” Do you think he would have had the faith to choose Saul of Tarsus? And yet the scripture says in Acts 7:58, “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul,” the one who was throwing Christians in jail, the one standing by, giving assent to the murder of Christians. Who would have ever thought this zealous Pharisee would become the great apostle to the Gentiles?
Left to himself, Stephen could have never dreamed that he would be used to bring Saul to the Lord. When Jesus asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” I believe the first image that came to Saul’s mind was that of Stephen‘s angelic expression as he was being stoned by the angry mob. Perhaps it is this image that enabled Saul to respond to God’s call and ask, “Who are you, Lord?”
Staying in the River keeps us from being content with anything but God’s agenda for our lives.
As we keep soaking in God’s presence, we will find a restoration of first-love passion for Jesus and surrender to the same supernatural development process that turns Sauls into Pauls. We will walk into God’s destiny for our lives uninterrupted by another man-made agenda.