Anticipating God’s Purposes

In times of confusion or rapid change, it seems common to search for purpose. The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, tapped into this strong current of underlying questioning and searching. Modern trends of gender-confusion, icon-bashing, and the pervasive challenge of authority have not led to more clarity, but to more confusion. One of the enemy’s strongest strategies is to convince us that no one knows the truth. When I have eliminated all outside authorities and teachers, I am now my own expert. “I” must then have all the answers; and if I do not, I will get plenty of help from my ancient dark friend.

After more than 35 years of teaching, I have found that many young adults today are likely to take a posture of, “Who says so?” Yet at the same time a searching and questioning is in place. There is a recognized vulnerability that is the result of this new individualism. We can be like hungry children who are too “picky” to eat.

By “anticipating purpose” I mean to address something more than what is my purpose. In one grandiose sweep I would like to suggest that we try to anticipate and explore God’s purposes, his intentions, and his patterns. As we understand his purposes, we can explore with increasing success, our own purposes. This would be a grand undertaking beyond the realm of human minds, so I’ll limit myself to just a few examples.

The Work of Christ

The life and work of Christ is a grand topic that has been covered by many books (and Gospels). His roles of teacher, healer, and deliverer have all been addressed. Each role has generated specific books such as, The Teaching of Christ, by Donald Wuerl.

He came to save us from the enemy; he came to save us from ourselves; he came to save us for the kingdom of heaven, for all time. To list all of the features of the work of Christ is beyond this chapter. But, I think there is a great value in looking at the question, “What was Jesus concerned about in his last free moments on earth?” The answer is unity. 

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”.

John 17:20-21

The Work of the Spirit

Assuming Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be on the same page, we can now anticipate one main purpose of the Holy Spirit: unity.  Steve Clark in his article, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Community” says it simply, “Central to the work of the Holy Spirit is unity.”

“For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Ephesians 1:9-10

Interestingly, unity is a gift of the Spirit, and, as with all the gifts, human beings are entrusted with it, having a responsibility to preserve it and use it well.

“Always seek to keep the unity which the Spirit gives.”

Ephesians 4:3 (New American Bible)

In 1 Corinthians 12, gifts are listed with a certain descriptive caution: “As it is, there are many parts but one body” (verse 20). Again in 1 Corinthians 14:12 “Try above everything else to make greater use of those (gifts) which help to build up the church.” (Today’s English Version) This whole section in 1 Corinthians 12-14 seems to be calling forth giftedness, but giftedness that is: 1) expressed together in groups; 2) exercised properly and in good order; and 3) upbuilds the one body.

These markers, these features of the last prayer of Christ and these descriptions of the gifted body by Paul allow us to predict, to anticipate to some extent, what Pentecost would be like. More importantly, it allows us to anticipate what future experiences of Pentecost (significant moves of the Spirit) would be like.

So here is a layman’s first attempt at anticipating the purposes of the Holy Spirit: Pentecost will have unity as its purpose; Pentecost will be marked by unusual giftedness; Pentecost will have community as its result; Pentecost will create circumstances and experiences which will necessitate responsible and capable pastoral care.

The Seven-Step Pattern of the Holy Spirit’s Work

If the last section was not adventurous enough, I will now try to identify a seven step pattern using the scriptural accounts that we have. This is not from some great theological authority. I have seven steps because in the Bible seven is considered a perfect number. You might study the same texts and come up with six or eleven. These are elements that I see in the verses. I am using them to explain and/or anticipate the purpose that the Lord has given us in community.

  1. Obedience
    Acts 1:4 says he commanded them to wait in Jerusalem. In one verse we have two things that modern people hate: commands and waiting. Not many people “wait on the Lord” anymore, but I think waiting or anticipating is one key. Waiting together is another (Acts 2:1). Also worth noting, obedience prepares us for power.
  2. Worship
    We know that some prayer was taking place; tradition supports that (Acts 1:24).
  3. Pentecostal Power
    Scripture says that there was a great noise like a violent wind. It was loud enough to gather a crowd.
  4. Charisms or Gifts
    “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues…” Acts 2:4
  5. Interior Change (zeal, courage, etc.)
    Acts 2:14  Peter stood up with the eleven…
    Acts 2:13  Some were mocking (not safe).
    Acts 2:36  Peter accused (courage).
    Acts 2:40  Peter warned and pleaded (zeal).
  1. Evangelism
    “About 3000 were added…” Acts 2:41
    “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Matthew 28:19-20
  2. Community
    “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42
    “…breaking bread in their homes” Acts 2:46

Thus the first Christian community was the result of this first Pentecost. They did not disperse until later when persecution began: wherever they went, they then formed new communities.

Why Community?

Heaven is a grouping (see Revelation). It is almost always de-scribed in groups together (“with one voice”) in unity, the work of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament community was that ear-ly, first, Christian example of the kingdom of God on earth. Subsequent eruptions of the Spirit would produce similar results. Works of God draw his people together; they worship and they courageously evangelize with power. That’s just the way it is.

Reverse Implications of Anticipation: What is a Christian Community?

Ah, the joys of complicated titles. I once saw a hammer described as a Positional Adjustment Impact System! Apparently, this allows you to charge the government a higher purchase price! I think the reverse implications that we might observe can help us to describe at least a sketch of Christian community.

  • Obedience: A community obeys together and can be directed by the Lord as a body.
  • Worship: A community worships the Lord together.
  • Pentecostal power: A community experiences an empowering when it worships the Lord and listens to him.
  • Charismatic gifting: Gifts flow from the worship of the Lord, and not just for one or a few anointed individuals.
  • Interior change: There is an interior impact on the body of believers; postures and attitudes change when it worships together.
  • Evangelism: The gospel is spread with zeal.
  • Community: New life is welcomed and fostered; a way of life results. Christianity is something to do together, not just as isolated individuals. We are devoted to teaching, praying and spending time together. Family-like relationships grow. Pentecost results in community and it also defines it.

Acts 2:42 “Devoted to”

For the sake of this discussion, I would like to consider “devoted to” as a power statement. People can humanly be devoted to a set of things; but when they suddenly become devoted to a set of things, something mysterious, something powerful has happened.

Of the Christian groups that I am familiar with, those who are baptized in the Spirit seem to have a remarkable devotion to teaching and to the study of Scripture. I see this as a result of the Pentecostal experience. There is (for most) nothing flashy or attractive about teaching, yet we see a devotion to, an empowerment in the area of teaching (both giving and receiving). There seems to be an unusual understanding, appreciation and benefit from teaching.

Breaking of Bread
For most there is also a new understanding of, benefiting from, and appreciation for the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper. This is often accompanied by a deeper appreciation of church ties and commitments.

There is a remarkable new devotion to prayer, especially corporate prayers (initially) and eventually, individual prayer. Corporate prayer can be remarkably powerful and have been a great witness leading to repentance and conversion for many souls.

They were devoted to fellowship. They appreciated being together; they benefited from it.

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