Everyone has a picture in their mind of what life ought to be like. For some, life as it ought to be is a good job, a house in the suburbs, and 2.5 kids or simply a nice life. For others, it may be fame or fortune.
But God’s picture of life as it ought to be is very different. It is far better than our picture. So what is life as it ought to be? Life as it ought to be is:
• living as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17);
• experiencing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23);
• rejoicing with joy that is inexpressible (1 Peter 1:8);
• living with joy in the midst of sorrow and suffering (Philippians 4:4).
Perhaps the portion of Scripture that most sums up life as it ought to be is Paul’s wonder-filled prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. In verse 19 of that prayer, Paul prays for you and me that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. Being filled with all the fullness of God is revival, it is spiritual awakening – it is life as it ought to be.
Life as it ought to be is not just for supersaints or apostles or prophets. It is for all God’s people all the time. Missionary Norman Grubb says this: “We are to recognize that ‘cups running over’ [an allusion to the imagery of Psalm 23] is the normal daily experience of the believer walking with Jesus – not the abnormal or occasional, but the normal, continuous experience.”
We are to experience revival or spiritual awakening all the time.
But perhaps that is not your experience. It wasn’t mine. There was a time when I said, “I wish I had no emotions” because they were all bad. Panic attacks, depression, feelings of failure will do that to you. But ongoing spiritual awakening is more and more becoming my experience.
I told my story of spiritual awakening in a previous article in BFC OneVoice (Spring 2019).2 I won’t recount the whole of that story here, but here is an excerpt from that article:
I began, from Scripture, crying out to God in prayers of worship and adoration. But as I did I became aware of my fallenness. God opened my eyes. God opened my eyes to the depths of my rebellion and self-focus. I began to confess and repent of sin. And, as I did, something unusual for me happened: an emotion flooded my heart. And I said to myself, “what is that feeling, that emotion?” And then I realized “that must be joy!” Joy flooded my heart. But it wasn’t joy for a moment, or joy for a day, or even for a few days, it has been a joy that has continued for the last two years. I don’t always feel joyful, but I seek to always “rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). I believe I can honestly say that I am now a joyful person.
That renewing experience happened in February, 2017. I was sixty-three years of age. I should have been winding down my ministry, preparing for a nice retirement. Instead God gave me a new beginning, a new passion, a new love, a new joy, and a new ministry.
He transformed me. It is now six years after my experience of February, 2017 and my journey toward joy continues. We should not be after emotionalism, emotions as an end, yet emotions are a window into the soul. When I am walking in the presence of Jesus, I should feel joy.4
To live well, we need healthy emotions. These days, when I am joyless, I ask myself, “What is wrong? Where is my heart right now?” I am learning to experience what Grubb calls “continuous revival.”
This is my story. My older brother, Gere has told me (repeatedly) “you have a great story.” And Gere should know. He has known me my whole life. He walked with me through the difficult days, and he has been a primary conversation partner in these last years.
He insists that I must tell my story. But it is a great story not because of me, but because of God’s work in me. I have experienced His power but only in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12).
These last six years since that awakening experience, I have been on a journey to discover two things: (1) can I continue to experience this joy? And (2) is my experience of joy something others can learn from? I believe that the answer to both of those questions is “yes.” My pastor, in a recent sermon, said “We must continually be reawakened to and surprised by joy.” I think that is possible.
This article is the first of a series of articles intended to explain how we step into the supernaturalness of the gospel every day, how we can experience supernatural joy every day. It is my attempt to explain the gospel path that takes us on a journey toward joy.
The Gospel Path
We experience ongoing spiritually awakened as we learn to walk the gospel path moment by moment. The gospel is the good news of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Our response of faith to the gospel is how we become a Christian and our response of faith to the gospel is how we are to live each moment. Paul says in Col. 2:6, Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him … I describe the gospel path this way: The heart aligned with gospel power unleashed in three gospel practices produces gospel awakened people.
The first element of the gospel path is gospel power. Gospel power is the heart of the gospel path. We know that the gospel is powerful (Romans 1:16) but too often we fail to experience the transforming power of the gospel. Too often we go through the motions of the Christian way but don’t experience its power. It is possible to be a Christian but not live in the power of the gospel! We must align our hearts the surpassing power of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7). The ‘heart’ is the mind, the will, and the emotions, what older theologians called the affections. We consciously or un- consciously align our hearts, our affections, with something. When we align our heart affections with the power of the gospel we step into the supernaturalness of Christianity. In the next issue of BFC OneVoice, I will relate how I seek to align my heart with the power of the gospel moment by moment.
The second element of the gospel path is gospel practices. Gospel power must be released in three Word and prayer empowered practices: renewing the heart; gathering to build one another up; and engaging the world with the gospel. If gospel power is the heart of walking the gospel path, gospel practices are the hands and feet.
Gospel practices are how we put gospel power into action in the various spheres of our living.
The third article will deal with the specifics of how I seek to live God’s power through these gospel practices every day.
The last element of the gospel path is gospel awakened people. There are three primary characteristics of gospel awakened people: a new joy, a new love, and a new boldness. Gospel power is the heart of the gospel path. Gospel practices are the hands and feet. Gospel awakened people are the fruit that results from walking the gospel path. In the last article, I will seek to share how I have experienced this new love, this new joy, and this new boldness.
I told the Bible Fellowship Church that I pastored in New Jersey that the entirety of the Christian life is supernatural. It is not always miraculous. Miracles by definition are rare. But the Christian life is to always be supernatural. To walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) is supernatural. The fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22, 23) is supernatural. Being patient with others is supernatural. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is supernatural.
Brothers and sisters, if we are not experiencing the supernaturalness of the gospel we will seek to find completion or satisfaction in something else, anything else. It will never work but we will keep on trying. The only alternative to an endless and fruitless attempt to be satisfied in the things of this world is to walk the supernatural gospel path. In these articles, I yearn to share with you how to step into the supernaturalness of the gospel every day. I yearn for you to experience life as it ought to be.
One of the supernatural results of walking the gospel path in my life has been a new boldness. I used to share my faith out of a sense of duty. I was a Christian and a pastor and that is what Christian pastors are supposed to do. But it always felt like an unwanted duty. But the gospel has transformed my joyless duty into a supernatural and joyful boldness. Here is a somewhat recent story that for me captures all three elements of the gospel path.
In the fall of 2021, I flew from my new home in South Carolina to my home church of the last 35 years in north-central New Jersey to participate in the installation service for John Sullivan, our church’s new pastor. I had bought the cheap tickets where they assign your seat at the last moment. I expected to get the most unwanted seat on the plane, a middle seat at the rear of the plane. As I waited, I was pondering what it meant to live that day in the power of the gospel. I was thinking about what it meant for me to die to my agenda and my plans so that I could live the agenda of the Holy Spirit.
Then the flight attendant at the desk announced that the plane was full and they needed some who would be willing to check their carry-ons. I noticed that no one volunteered, probably because the point of having a carry on is so that you don’t want the inconvenience of having to get the bag from the baggage claim at the end of the flight. I thought, “I can do that.” I went to the desk and the attendant thanked me and arranged for my carry-on to be checked. A little while later, they posted my seat. It was not the dreaded middle seat, but a coveted aisle seat! It was at the rear of the plane, but it was an aisle seat! “Yes!” With my long legs, an aisle seat makes the trip much more pleasant. It just feels less claustrophobic to me.
I boarded the plane and sat down in my aisle seat and prepared to enjoy the flight. But minutes before take-off, a gentleman came to the back of the plane and I overheard him ask the flight attendant if he could have an aisle seat. He was big, bigger than I am, so I understood why he wanted an aisle seat. The flight attendant said she would see what she could do, but it was just minutes until take off, she seemed stressed and I suspected there were no aisle seats available.
Then I did something that is uncharacteristic for me. I immediately stood up and said to the flight attendant, “He can have my seat.” Usually I would be looking around, hoping someone else would volunteer or hoping that the problem would go away. The flight attendant looked relieved and thanked me; I had just solved her problem. So that gentleman took my aisle seat. The stewardess escorted me toward the front of the plane and a middle seat. As we walked, she thanked me and commented, “I also noticed that you were the only one who volunteered to check your bag.” I was reminded that people are watching us.
She then took me to a seat further forward that was between two women who had placed their stuff in the empty middle seat. As the women were reluctantly removing their belongings from my new seat and I was preparing to squeeze in between them, the flight attendant paused and said, “Oh, there is an empty seat across the aisle!” It was empty and … it was an aisle seat. But it wasn’t just an aisle seat, it was an aisle seat on an exit row. You usually pay more for exit row seats because there is a bit more room. So, I sat down in my new roomy exit row aisle seat!
But that is not the end of the story. I sat down next to a young lady named Jill. And Jill and I spent the entire almost 2 hour flight to Newark, NJ, talking. We talked about all kinds of things, including what it means to know God through the gospel of Jesus. I told Jill that gospel means good news. Jill had never been part of a church and did not understand the gospel. But she was a fast learner. Late in our discussion, I was talking about something related to the gospel and Jill volunteered, “Good news!”
Is that story an everyday occurrence? No. Is it unusual? No. On another recent flight to New York City, I experienced the supernaturalness of the gospel on the flight there and the flight back. On both flights, I asked the person next to me, at the appropriate moment, “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” On the flight to New York City I sat next to a young man who was returning from the Masters Golf Tournament. He responded to my question with, “You will have to unpack that.” So, I did. We talked about the gospel for the whole flight. At the end of the flight, he told me, “I have never talked with anyone for an entire flight before!” On the return flight, I asked the young Muslim women the same question. We talked about the gospel most of the flight. She took notes.
I am not special. I don’t have a charismatic personality. I too often say the wrong thing. But I have Christ in me by the power of the Holy Spirit. Apart from Christ in me I can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Christ I can do anything God calls me to do (Philippians 4:13). I am more than a conqueror through Christ who lives in me (Romans 8:37). This is the power of the gospel unleashed!
Brothers and sisters, this is joy, this is the fruit of continuous revival. This is supernatural. This is life as it ought to be. This is what I yearn for – for myself, my family, my church, and for you, the Bible Fellowship Church. It is life as it ought to be. It is the awakening of the people for the awakening of the peoples. This is the great need of the moment: doctrine on fire, the surpassing power of God lived out every day by all of God’s people! Do not be satisfied with anything less!
The gospel is not simply doctrines to be understood. The gospel is theology to be lived. The great need of our day is for the church to step into the supernaturalness of the gospel.
In the next articles, I will describe in detail how I live out the three elements of the gospel path. For now, I recommend that you take time to read and meditate on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21: For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
And perhaps pray a prayer like this: “Father, may I be strengthened with power by Your Spirit, may I experience Christ dwelling in my heart through faith more and more, may I know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and may I be filled with all the fullness of God each day. I yearn for Your far more abundant power. I trust You for this day. Teach me to walk the gospel path. Lead me into the life You have for me. I pray this in the name and authority of Jesus. Amen.”