(This is part two in a five-part article about the “H.O.P.² E.” acronym taken from the book, “They Told Me Their Stories,” where the environment of faith was described that attracted God’s healing power to the Azusa Street revival. This article deals the second letter in the acronym – obedience. )
When I used to fly airplanes I would rely on ground based navigational systems which provided radio beams that were transmitted to my on-board flight instruments. My instruments would lock onto the transmissions and help me navigate to my final destination. If I aligned myself with the proper frequency and heading I would arrive safely and on time at my destination. If I ignored what the instruments were saying I could have ended up in places I had never planned to visit. Obedience is heaven’s navigational system for the Church. There are many destination options out there, but only one destination is God’s purpose for our lives. A pilot off only one degree of heading can literally miss an entire continent because the error is multiplied over distance.
Teaching people about obedience has been reduced to something akin to a tolerable root canal procedure that says, “This is something you really need to do.” Teaching obedience in this way has usually been done with the “what we have to” part that misses the real purpose of obedience. Obedience is about alignment. Obedience aligns us with God and takes us deeper into intimacy with Him and directs us towards His Kingdom purposes.
Jesus lived in constant alignment with the Father because Jesus was obedient. Jesus saw what the Father was doing and then aligned Himself with the Father through His obedience. In John 5: 19 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing.”
This visionary obedience can get messy. Jesus saw the Father tipping over tables in the Temple and He did the same. Jesus saw the Father spitting into the mud and putting it in the eyes of a blind man and the blind man was healed. Jesus saw the Father talking with a morally comprised woman caught in the very act of adultery. Jesus saw the Father speaking hope to her and He relayed heaven’s message. Jesus accepted a dinner invitation to a corrupt tax collector’s home when the practice was against cultural norms. The tax collector then made a life-altering decision to follow Jesus and leave his greed behind. Visionary obedience is messy and can be offensive to some people, but it will accomplish God’s will on earth,
In the great Azusa Street Revival in the early 20th Century the leader of that revival, William Seymour, a black man, would sit in the church service with a box on his head. After awhile he would get up, take the box off his head, and then tell entire sections of those seated that they were now healed, and they were. Visionary obedience could be dangerous and open to mockery and condemnation, especially if God wanted you to do something unusual. At Azusa Street, God’s Spirit also brought people together in an unusual way – there was no segregation, rich or poor, black or white. The walls of prejudice came down in an intolerant era when people aligned themselves with God.
Some people criticize doctrine and theology built on experience. Our present day doctrines and theologies of the Church are all built upon the initial encounters people had with God. It was all about experience. These theologies and doctrines were built upon the experiential response of people to God’s fresh revelation.
Moses’ experience on the mountain with God gave us the Law. Joshua was told that he would possess wherever he walked and from Joshua’s stroll we developed an understanding of faith and spiritual conquest. David’s struggles with God and life, as recorded in the Psalms, gave us a theology about the heart of God. The Early Church was gathered in the Upper Room when the Spirit fell and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was birthed. Paul’s experience on the Road to Damascus gave us an understanding of a God who pursues us with our calling no matter how messed up our motives might be. John on the Isle of Patmos had an other-worldly vision experience that became our understanding of the end times. We can forget that we are in a relationship with God who is a real Person. Relationship with a Person is about experience.
When we experience God, and then we write those experiences down in our books of doctrine and theology, it is both a blessing and a concern. It is a blessing because we can refer to those truths to keep us on track. It is a concern when we think that God is no longer in the business of releasing experience to His Church . That thinking then develops into a school of thought with someone declaring that experience is no longer needed. When this happens the Church stops looking upward and instead looks into dusty books for life. How easy it is to settle for an experience-less life with God. To make ourselves more comfortable with our lack of experience, we then develop criticisms of those who pursue an experience with God and label them as simple-minded and shallow, or worse.
Jesus spoke of obedience in Luke 6: 46-49; “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”
In verse 46 Jesus questioned the motives of those listening, “So why do you call me ‘Lord,’ when you won’t obey me?” Jesus was asking a question that linked obedience to Lordship. Lordship to the Person of Jesus Christ is found in my willingness to obey Him. If I am not obedient to Him I have made a decision to live unaligned with Him and be the lord of my own life. Instead of standing on the sure foundation of God we can end up standing on the sinking platform of human wisdom and reasoning.
Jesus spoke to His disciples during His Upper Room Discourse in John 14: 14-17 and said, “Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! 15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”
Those gathered on Azusa Street one hundred years ago lived in a loving obedience that not only aligned them with God, but their obedience aligned the power of the Spirit with their lives. This alignment released the miraculous healings that took place in that great revival.
The people gathered on Azusa Street were obedient to what God was revealing. When God showed them something, they acted on it, and God was attracted to their simple obedience. God is drawn to a life aligned with His heart and purposes. When He comes to that place of obedience, He brings with Him the power of His Spirit. When God’s Spirit is present wonderfully supernatural things begin to happen.