One day you’re going to use the same technique for praying that you have seen God respond to time and time again. But your prayer won’t get what you consider a positive response.
One day you’re going to claim that healing, rebuke that sickness, or do whatever you’ve done repeatedly to see the Lord respond in situations like that. But he healing won’t be coming. At least not the way you believed it would come.
One day you’re going to repeat the same steps or process you have used dozens of times before and seen genuine fruit or progress in your personal life or ministry. But this time it’s going to come up a bust.
One day you’re going to turn to your pet theology (excuse me… I mean your belief system), where things have made sense and given you wisdom, insight, and clarity for years. But this time your pet theology will have no answers.
And let me go ahead and cut to the chase – all of this is deliberate, and it’s God’s idea.
Three Healing Episodes and a Great Big Checklist
Years ago a lady in our fellowship at the time had severe, crippling migraine headaches. She was taking multiple Darvon tablets daily just to function, and I use the word “function” loosely. She read in the Bible that if she called on the elders of the church to pray for her and anoint her with oil, the prayer of faith would heal her. I joined in on that prayer as one of the leaders of the church… and she never had another migraine.
Later another lady had a similar issue. And it seemed as simple as “lather, rinse, repeat.” The Lord healed her headaches, and she never had another one.
Later the elders in another church applied the exact same technique, and the person involved died.
What went wrong? Did the third group lack faith? Did they not follow the steps correctly? Or did they do everything right, and God just chose to heal in a different way?
Fast forward to a mission trip I took to the Ukarine. Another leader on this trip was there to teach a step-by-step process for freedom and deliverance – the product of a well-known Bible teacher’s ministry. Now this is a leader I respect highly, and one who has produced fruit and growth in my own life.
But for this teacher “the steps” as she called them were the solution to everything. I mean, everything.
Later I was working with someone who was a habitual liar and decided to apply the steps. Hey, it seemed to work for that other lady. Not quite sure it did the trick for me, however. I’m pretty sure he lied to himself most of all, and it didn’t seem to produce any change whatsoever.
So, what was up with that? Was I just untrained or unbelieving? Was the person I was trying to help unrepentant?
Or did God have other ideas?
All of what I have described are examples of systems. A system is any plan for applying a particular principle or emphasis in the Bible. Or it’s any method by which we get a “handle” on living the Christian life.
A short cut? Maybe.
A process? Definitely.
Do they work? Absolutely! Until they don’t.
I have been introduced to many systems over the years. Some are simple, others are pretty complex. There are systems for learning the Bible. Systems for praying (lots of them). Systems for experiencing the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit.
There are systems for organizing your beliefs (typically called systematic theology). Systems for addressing problems. Systems for growing spiritually. Even systems for giving the devil the boot.
Know of a preacher or teacher? He or she probably has a system. A series of steps. A process. A plan. And if they’re Christians, they all claim their plan is biblical.
Did you know there are actual systems in the Bible? One is a very elaborate system referred to as the Mosaic Law, or simply, “the Law.” This system was a complex and expensive system of instructions, rules, contingencies, and procedures by which God’s people in the Old Testament were to worship Him and maintain His favor.
Another system was so simple, it’s hard to see it as a system at first. More elementary than the design of a wheel, this system rests entirely on two complementary ideas: Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. And let me be clear: the Bible explicitly teaches that. Check out Deuteronomy 28.
Did those Bible systems actually work? Yes! Until they didn’t.
Read this carefully – it can save you a lot of grief and disappointment:
Every system – even systems given to us by God – has a built-in self-destruct mechanism in it. And sooner or later it will self-destruct or fail. And God did this on purpose.
Why God Lets Your Systems Break Down.
Why would the Lord bless, and even order people to follow a process that eventually would fail? Two reasons:
First, to show you the futility of depending on human effort. I keep hearing the words of my co-missionary ringing in my ear, over and over again: “Well they just need to follow the steps.” I hear the words of my friends in Recovery, saying over and over again: “It works if you work it.” When the steps, the methods, the theologies are reduced to trust in people or people’s plans, we reduce God to our servant or errand boy. Do you realize how many people in the Old Testament felt the freedom to thumb their noses at God because they’d offered their sacrifices at the temple or tabernacle? I’ve found that God has some pretty strong views about that. Which leads to…
Second, so that your faith will be in Him, not in your system. We love our techniques and tactics. We love our mission strategies and church growth systems. We love our shortcuts clarity builders. But none of them, however “anointed” or useful to us, can ever serve as a substitute for God Himself. God will never – ever – compete with your plans or systems. He’ll just let them crash and burn, until you find yourself shipwrecked on Him.
So Are Systems Wrong?
No. In fact, God greatly uses them. They’re just no substitute for personal faith and dependence on Him.
You may also find that once your method or system blows up, it often shows up again with usefulness and power. But it will never be a substitute for the true and living God.
The Christian life is an ongoing adventure of discovery of the largeness and faithfulness of the living God. But sometimes the only way to experience that largeness and faithfulness is to show the smallness of your puny plans and processes.
So what do we do when our systems do break down? I’m glad you asked! Check with me in the next post and I’ll show you how the Lord counsels someone in that very situation.
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