Preaching to Increase Awareness of the SupernaturalJ.P. Moreland
As a pastor I’m sure you are aware that it is currently in vogue for people to dismiss the message of the Gospel as unfounded speculation. The world is currently operating on the assumption that it is impossible to actually know truth or God. And in the Church we make a critical error as we engage people in need of Christ. Instead of talking to them about truth (which they dismiss as unknowable), we must establish that truth can indeed be known—specifically the truth of Scripture and of the supernatural realm. This subtle distinction makes all the difference.
We must communicate to our church that it is possible to develop a solid knowledge of God and his ways and to strengthen our confidence in him and his truth. It is necessary to do so in order to sustain a vibrant life that is worthy of the Lord, a life that embodies the nature and the power of the Kingdom of God. Here are three ways to lead your congregation and to grow yourself in your knowledge of and confidence in God and his truth. As you consider them, let me say that courage is the requirement for this process—and the result is the restored power of God in our faith experience and our witness.
1. You and your church must be ruthless in assessing the precise nature and strength of what you actually believe and develop a specific plan of attack for improvement. You need to get away for a period of personal reflection and prayer to ask yourself some hard questions. Often, our congregations are not safe places for such self-examination, but if you have friends who can help you here, by all means, invite them into the process.
Your goal is to diagnose your current condition on two fronts. First, select a set of target beliefs and try to be precise and clear about what you actually think of when these target topics come before your mind: What is God really like? Is the Bible really a reliable guide to life? What, precisely, do you mean when you say that God is sovereign and in control? Does God answer prayer, and in what precise sense do you think he does? Come up with your own list in light of what your specific journey and stage of life require. The goal here is not to surface what you are supposed to believe about these subjects. Rather, it’s to find out what you really do think about them. Remember, you can’t believe something that is vague, so the more clarity you gain about what really comes to mind regarding your targeted beliefs, the more you can improve them.
Here are two questions to ask yourself about a specific topic you are diagnosing. When you think about the topic, is it more of a slogan to you, or is it perhaps a vague, unclear string of words you utter in mantra-like fashion as a substitute for clear thinking about it? Or do you have a clear idea in your mind about the topic? Can you write on paper exactly what the topic means to you and what you think about it (e.g., What does prayer accomplish? Does it change God’s mind? Does it change what happens in the world? Is it merely trying to align oneself with what God’s will already is?)? Next, what friends do I have with whom I can gather for an afternoon with paper and pen in hand and probe each other about a particular topic to surface what we actually think about it?
Second, try to assess how strongly you believe them, recalling that faith can grow in strength. Are you 51 percent confident that God answers prayers, 75 percent confident, or what? Don’t lie to yourself. In assessing the precise content and strength of your beliefs, you must distinguish what you say you believe from what you actually believe, what you want to believe from what you actually believe, how much you believe about something from what you want others to think about the strength of your faith. Be authentic and brutally honest with yourself, and don’t be discouraged if things aren’t what you have been telling yourself. This exercise is the beginning of a way forward; it is not an occasion to wallow in self-pity.
Once this is done, develop a strategy for clarifying and strengthening specific beliefs important to your discipleship in the Lord Jesus. For years, I kept a list of questions, doubts, confusions, and so forth, and I took it with me everywhere in my Bible. I was constantly on the lookout for things to read, people to query, insights to be gained about my list.
Why don’t you do the same thing? Seek out people and books with answers and insights, and don’t stop until you have answers that satisfy you. Doubt your doubts, as C.S. Lewis advised. That is, list on paper why you doubt that God is real, or whether he really forgives you, and so on, and list reasons why this doubt is, itself, a foolish thing to believe. Don’t let this rest. I assure you that progress can be made and, in fact, has been made by many of your brothers and sisters who have been serious about growing in their faith. Read, think, ask questions, and keep checking things off your list. Don’t settle for Christian slogans. Get real answers to your questions. Be a learner and see all this as an invitation to a journey of growth in confidence and knowledge.
2. Take appropriate yearly risks that stretch your faith. Christian leader John Wimber used to say that faith is spelled “R-I-S-K,” and there is an important insight to this saying. Faith grows as we step out, put ourselves in situations in which God must show up, wait to see what happens and learn from our experience. There is a balance between being too kind to yourself and being too demanding and harsh. That’s why I recommend that you start by setting yearly “risk” goals that are slightly beyond your comfort level but not so far that you brutalize yourself. Each year, I set forth certain goals---professional, financial, familial, and so forth---in which I plan to attempt things by way of action or concentrated prayer. If these things happen, I will know God was involved, and if they don’t happen, I will be able to learn from my mistakes.
Each year, I ask myself this question: How much of my life and ministry last year required the existence of the Christian God to explain it? How much would have happened if God did not exist? Here’s the point: Life in the Kingdom--corporately in our churches and individually--is a supernatural co-laboring with God in which we both matter. I matter because God wants to use me--not just Billy Graham or some other well-known Christian leader. So I get to count.
But I should also expect and look for where the Kingdom is breaking out around and in my life, and I should expect that the effects produced by my life and efforts should not be explainable solely by my talent. So each year, you too should gently and wisely place yourself in risk situations. If God does not show up as you had trusted, don’t give up. Instead, try to learn as best you can why things failed to happen as you had risked. This is a learning process, but I assure you if done with wisdom and balance, it will greatly strengthen your faith. By the way, I urge you to keep a prayer journal even if you only write in it from time to time. You want a record of your own book of Acts in which you record answers to prayer and various miracles in your life, so your yearly “risks” can be recorded in such a way that you remember the acts of God’s Spirit in your life
3. Read books about and share stories of God’s miraculous actions in other people’s lives as an encouragement to your own faith. We wrongly get the idea that God is relatively inactive in the world today, but this false impression is a result of our lack of awareness of the incredible things God is doing in and through his children’s lives all around us on a daily basis.
There are many stories in my book, Kingdom Triangle, that give reliable testimony to the miracles of healing, deliverance, and answers to prayer that are happening all over the world today. These stories can do much to increase our faith and restore our confidence in the truth and in the supernatural. For now, let me illustrate the point with a personal story.
I was speaking to a church staff about developing trust in God in their congregation for the coming year, and I included the importance of providing means by which people could share on a regular basis the answers to prayer and other encouraging things God had been or was doing for them. At the break, one staff member approached me with his own story. A few years earlier, a machine had fallen on him and fractured his chest and hands. He was rushed to the doctor, x-rayed and scheduled for surgery the next day. That evening, a group of believers came to his home and prayed for his healing. At once, the pain left and he felt healed. The next day, the surgeons took new x-rays before the surgery, and the fractures were completely healed. Like an idiot I asked him how he knew this. He answered that the doctors compared the new x-rays with the ones taken the day before, and it was obvious that he had been miraculously healed! The fracture lines were gone!
Here’s the punch line: He had never shared this with anyone in the church! He didn’t want to talk about himself. How are we going to encourage one another that the Christian life is a supernatural journey if we don’t share these sorts of things with each other? We need to provide an opportunity for credible testimonies to be given to each other on a regular basis, because they strengthen people’s confidence in God and his Word.
Here’s another event that happened to me in the beginning of my ministry. In 1971 as a young Christian on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, I was assigned to work at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, just outside of Denver. I began to pray specifically that God would provide me and my roommate with a white house with a white picket fence in the front yard about two to three miles from campus, costing no more than $115/month (this was 1971!). I told no one that I was praying about this.
When I arrived in Golden in late August, I looked for three days for a place to live. I must have seen 15 different places. I found nothing at all in Golden, but there was a two-bedroom apartment ten miles away in Denver for $130/month. Frustrated, I told the manager I would take it. She informed me that the apartment was the only one left but that a couple had seen it that morning and had that day to decide to move in. If they did not take it, it was mine. She called me around five o’clock in the afternoon, informing me that the couple had moved in. I was back to square one.
That evening, I received a phone call from a fellow Crusade staff member, Kaylon Carr. Keep in mind that no one, not even my roommate, knew anything at all about my prayer request. Kaylon asked if I still needed a place to live and proceeded to tell me that that very day, she had gone to Denver Seminary, looked on their bulletin board, and spotted a pastor who wanted to rent a house in Golden to Christians. Needless to say, I called the pastor, got directions, and planned to meet him at the house the next morning at nine o’clock. I drove up to a white house with a white picket fence that was two miles from campus and rented it for $110/month! Ray Womack and I lived there for the year and had a home to which we could invite students for ministry. By meditating on this and other answers to prayer, I have often recalled that God is, indeed, a supernatural Father, and my faith has been strengthened. Such sharing is a powerful way to strengthen our faith.
In this article, I have tried to explain the nature of knowledge and faith and provide help in growing in them. People perish for the lack of knowledge of God. The devil is waging war against the possibility of knowledge of God. This is no time for the Church to adopt an anti-intellectual approach to knowledge and faith. I trust that as a pastor you see this, and I invite you to lead your church in the recovery of the knowledge and power of God.
(This article was adapted from Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power)
J.P. Moreland, one of the leading Christian apologists of our day, is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. He has written or contributed to over 40 books, including Kingdom Triangle. J.P.’s research interests lie in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and spiritual formation. He and his wife and partner in ministry, Hope, have two married daughters, Ashley and Allison. Dr. Moreland loves Disneyland, the Kansas City Chiefs, and reading books on the Spirit's power and presence in the spiritual life.