(This is part five 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 that great revival. This article deals with the final letter in that acronym – Expectation.)
A good friend of mine is now in his late 60's. He grew up working on his family ranch and then he was called by God to walk away from that life and enter the ministry. He has been all over the world training leaders, planting churches and starting training institutes. He has served God faithfully, but has few of the physical possessions our culture equates with success.
My friend wrote something on his blog recently that really touched me. He said, “Sometimes I think, 'What would life have been like if I had spent the same years building a business as a missionary and pastor? Where would I be and what would I have to show for my work at this stage in my life.' So much of what I have now is very intangible. And here's the scary thing about it – if I stop believing, I have nothing. The only way to have a sense of satisfaction and achievement about how I've spent the years of my life, is to believe- to believe that Jesus is real, that God called me to do what I have done, and eternity is what really matters.”
I was struck by the phrase, “ - if I stop believing, I have nothing.” I stopped to ask myself, where in my life am I living like this? Where is the raw belief and expectation that causes me to be truly dependent upon God? This isn't about where one lives on the economic scale – it is about where we stand in our belief. A rich man can say this just like a poor man. This believing posture is that place of faith where we choose to make God our only option.
When the Azusa Street Revival was taking place expectation was high. The people on Azusa Street were in the same place my friend found himself. They knew that unless God showed up nothing was going to happen. All they could do was believe. The saints on Azusa Street expected God to move when they gathered, and he did. They expected the blind to see; the lame to walk; an arm to grow out and the deaf to hear. Expectation changes the spiritual environment of our lives.
In 1906 people would travel into Los Angeles from all over the world for business and pleasure. Many would arrive by train. Historical records tell us that the glory of God flowed out from the meeting place on Azusa Street into the surrounding neighborhoods. People exiting the train would step off onto the arrival platform and fall down under the power of God. They had no idea that just a short distance away one of the greatest revivals in modern history was taking place. The glory of God was flooding into the city.
One young Hispanic boy lived near Azusa Street. He said each day he would look towards the building where the revival was happening. He knew the meetings had started when he saw flames of fire appear on the roof. These were the flames of God's Spirit – not a natural fire.
The City of Los Angeles was experiencing the glory of God because the Church was living in the expectation that God was at work in their midst. The hope of a city is the church living in expectation of God. Real hope for our cities is not found in a newly elected government official, a unique community program, or a well-crafted budget. The hope of a city is the Church rising in her calling and aligning herself with the will of God.
At the start of Matthew 11 Jesus had just instructed His disciples in the previous chapter to go out and preach the Kingdom by healing the sick, cleansing lepers, raising the dead and casting out demons. He told His disciples that this kind of ministry would bring them persecution. He told them to fear God – not man. He told them to take up their cross and follow Him.
Following these instructions, chapter 11 begins with Jesus saying,
“ When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went out to teach and preach in towns throughout the region. John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’”
John the Baptist was in prison awaiting his execution. In just a few days John's decapitated head would be presented as a macabre party favor for a dancer in the king's court. John is now wondering whether Jesus is the real thing. This is the same John who was there at the beginning of the Lord's ministry when the skies opened up and the Spirit descended upon Jesus and the very voice of God spoke from heaven. John saw the miraculous affirmation of Jesus, but now he is wondering. Places of imprisonment can do this to a person. The past miracles are not what comforts us in places like this. We need a real-time word from the Lord.
The answer that Jesus sent back, “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” is an answer with evidence. The evidence is what John needed to hear to confirm that Jesus was the Messiah.
There are some questions we need to ask.
1. What can we expect from God?
We can expect that God will be with us. “I will not abandon you as orphans – I will come to you.” John 14:18.
No matter where we find ourselves, Jesus promises to come to us with the evidence of his love and presence, affirming us as his children.
2. We can expect to be empowered by God.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
God promised to send his power to us. What God calls us to accomplish in his name cannot be done in human strength or strategy. Because God is faithful we can expect his supernatural power to be there when we need it because he made a promise that we would receive the power.
3. We can expect to do the greater works of Jesus Christ.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the father.” John 14:12
The greater works come because Jesus has sent the Spirit back to the Church. Acts 2: 33 says, “Now he sits on the throne of highest honor in heaven, at God's right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.”
The Lord sits above all power structures, disease, world governments and demonic powers. We as the Church are now seated with Him in the heavenly realms. We live in two realms - here on earth and with him in eternity. As Jesus pours the Spirit upon the Church on earth the descending flow of God's presence carries with it the power to break the chains that imprison people.
4. We can expect that Jesus will prove himself true.
“During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3
Jesus comes to His Church, and to the unbelieving world, to prove he is alive. His proof is found in the answer Jesus sent back to John the Baptist. This proof is what Peter said when he spoke to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost, “just as you see and hear today.” When God shows up, what he does will be seen and heard. God doesn't show up as a voiceless theory or an invisible concept. He makes his presence known by bringing the evidence of heaven down upon the earth.
When we expect God to come, that expectant mindset will change everything. No longer is our life a holding pattern for heaven. We begin to believe now, in this present hour, the message Jesus sent back to John in prison. That message helped John refocus on the Lord and then die in peace.