May 7, 2008 by

Why God Shows Up Where We Don’t Think He Ought To


Categories: changing mindsets, church

Heather started it…

She wrote this post a few days ago sharing her disillusionment with the quasi-charismatic hype she used to buy into. That inspired me to write this post about how I recognize God is moving in the ongoing revival meetings in Lakeland, Florida, but I have a hard time stomaching the churchy hoopla surrounding it.

Then yesterday, Barb wrote about how she got all troubled about this dilemma, and how God helped her to reconcile it. And that has inspired me to write this today. WILL IT EVER END???

There isn’t one particular quote in Barb’s post that sparked me (you should go read the whole thing); but just reading her process rekindled some thoughts that have gone around in my head for awhile.

Why is it? Why is it that God shows up where we don’t think He ought to?

Dang it, He does it all the time. Consider the following:
  • The charismatic renewal in the 1960s was born in the Catholic church. This made a lot of Protestants mad because many of them didn’t even think Catholics would go to heaven.
  • The Jesus Movement of the 1970s took place among the hippies. This made a lot of people mad because it was assumed God wouldn’t accept guys with long hair, girls without bras, or anyone who didn’t use deodorant or liked rock & roll. (Never mind the drugs and sex; that didn’t seem to offend us so much as how they looked.)
  • The “laughing revival” of the 1990s, sparked by the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne and Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, made a lot of people mad because, well…people were laughing. People were behaving as if they were drunk, rolling around on the floor, causing a commotion–behavior considered inappropriate, chaotic, and disruptive. “God is a God of order,” etc.
These are just three examples of many. In each of these cases, there were documented miracles and lasting fruit. But there were also a lot of people who thought those events should never have happened, that God should not have blessed them. But apparently, He did. Why?

I think perhaps one reason we struggle when God messes with our mindsets is that we do not have a good understanding of His mercy. Mercy, by definition, is undeserved.

Have you ever prayed for God to touch someone with healing, for example, and found yourself saying things like, “Please heal her, Lord; she is so faithful to You; she loves You so much; she has so much to give”? Without even realizing it, we’re trying to persuade God to act because we think that person deserves to be healed. As if the gift of healing could be earned. We’re asking for healing as an act of justice rather than an act of mercy.

How many other times does our sense of justice mess with our concept of God’s mercy?

Whenever we see a “hot pocket” of spiritual activity or “revival”, the ones who support it tend to justify it (“God is moving because we prayed”), and those who are offended by it tend to discount it (“That can’t be God; they are doing such-and-such all wrong; those miracles must be fake”). In each case, we’re being motivated by a sense of deserving the release of God’s glory, with almost no regard for His mercy or compassion.

When God shows up, there’s something in us that says He must be in approval of everything that is going on, or He wouldn’t come. So when He shows up in a context where there are things going on that offend our particular sensibilities…we get bewildered, we get angry, we doubt our own convictions…the whole nine yards. (Or for you Cinco de Mayo fans…the whole enchilada.) By the same token, when God shows up for us, we interpret it as His approval of our particular bent, and that’s where pride surfaces.

Here’s what God is slowly causing to dawn upon me: An act of mercy does not constitute an act of validation.

When God shows up, it does not mean inherently that He approves of or validates everything that we’re doing, or every method we use, or every doctrine we have. I think we need to consider that God shows up because He loves us. There simply does not have to be another reason. God has mercy on us. And sometimes, this is what it looks like.

If God waited to show up until we deserved it, we’d all be waiting forever. So no one really should take credit when He does show up; neither is He vindicating us when He does. He comes in spite of our actions, not because of them. And that’s why despite my concerns with the churchy “wineskin” in place at Lakeland, I can accept the fact that God is truly doing something there. It doesn’t mean I’m wrong about what I see; it just means that God wants to touch people there, because He loves us all so much that He’s willing to look past all our crap and bless us anyhow.

It is a sign of God’s great mercy and love. And because of that we should be glad. May He show such mercy to us all.

This mercy thing is rocking my world right now, but it’s too much for one post. So stay tuned…

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

9 Responses to Why God Shows Up Where We Don’t Think He Ought To

  1. Steve Oberg

    Wow! I heartily agree, however – I would call it an act of “grace” – – mercy is a good word though – He moves in spite of us most of the time in my opinion. I too am one of those displaced/disenfranchised/disallusioned pente-matic types. I have been on both sides of some of these issues – defending some movements and criticizing others. The problem is when we try to “catch” a revival and bring it home – that one makes me laugh (not in a Toronto sense – but in a “Ha ha” sense), as if we could bottle God up somehow and carry his Spirit to spread around our own church.

    I also especially agree with the point that we cannot somehow “earn” a genuine move of God – the picture of Justice verses an act of mercy (grace) really makes the point. Thank you for the word! I haven’t yet checked out the posts you linked to, but I think you have once again struck a chord with a lot of folks. How DO you do it?

  2. Jeff McQ

    I’m good with calling it grace. I know there’s a difference between grace and mercy, but I think in some way both words speak to what God is doing here. God does good things to us. 🙂

    I “blame” you in the nicest sense possible. 🙂 Thanks for making us think.

  3. Heidi W

    This (all these posts) have worked together to really make me think about it. I must say that it is a big load off to think of it as God’s mercy, grace, love… rather than something anyone is “doing.”


  4. Sarah

    Fantastic post, Jeff. I think God is in the business of both offending us, and having mercy on us simultaneously. 🙂

  5. Barb

    You need to slow down on writing these kinds of posts that make my brain hurt from thinking about them so much. At least only one a week. Someone around here needs a little writer’s block so I can digest all of this.

    That said….another great post Jeff. I need to keep this stuff upper in my mind because of my background I tend to still think if prayers get answered I’m doing good, if not I must be doing bad. I wonder how long that takes to get out of our heads. One year sure hasn’t been enough for me at least. Can’t wait to read what you have for tomorrow ;0

  6. Jeff McQ

    Yes, it has been a pretty cool cross-blog conversation. To me, it almost has the feel of sitting around a table talking about God, and all this revelation just starts coming out. Only it’s happening around the world in cyberspace and takes a few days. 🙂

    Sarah, I agree. 🙂

    Gotta keep up, sis! I just write it as it comes, and I’ve kind of hit the mother lode with these great conversations. The brain pain I’m causing you is unintentional. 🙂 Sorry.

  7. Seeker

    So glad i found your blog! I just keep coming back and reading a post here and there as I can…and getting something amazing out of each.

    I agree with Barb that this one made my brain hurt…but in a good way!

    Thanks and I will be back!

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