A Review of “Practicing the Power”2
Now what? Many Christians today are theologically convinced of the ongoing work of the Spirit (continuationists), but who have not seen the practices of the Spirit in our churches, and who desperately want to see God glorified in healings and by verbal prophecy and experience firsthand the edification of the gift of tongues delivered and interpreted. It can be a daunting challenge to simply wait. So, what are we to do while we wait? Or should we stop waiting and start acting? Continue reading . . .
By Bryan DeWire on February 8, 2017
Now what? Many Christians today are theologically convinced of the ongoing work of the Spirit (continuationists), but who have not seen the practices of the Spirit in our churches, and who desperately want to see God glorified in healings and by verbal prophecy and experience firsthand the edification of the gift of tongues delivered and interpreted. It can be a daunting challenge to simply wait. So, what are we to do while we wait? Or should we stop waiting and start acting?
Into these perplexing questions comes a tremendous book from Sam Storms, the Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City.
Numerous books have been written which give the necessary biblical and theological foundations for what Sam Storms calls Charismatic Calvinism (works by scholars like Wayne Grudem and D. A. Carson). And numerous books have been written which share encouraging stories and experiences from Charismatic Calvinists (works by scholars like Jack Deere and Storms). But not much has been written for the Christian who is a convinced Charismatic Calvinist theologically, but a Cessationist functionally.
Storms has written for “theologically sophisticated followers of Christ who are open to and hungry for the present tense voice of the Spirit while always subject to the functional and final authority of the written text of Scripture” (13). If you want to go deeper in pursuing the power of the Spirit, or if you are a pastor or church leader who wants to help others go deeper in pursuing the power of the Spirit, Storms’s book will help.
He assumes, “The power of the miraculous charismata is still available for those who believe, pray for, and humbly pursue it” (15). But he nuances that assumption well. First, he realizes, “Bible-believing evangelicals will never be truly open to the pursuit of spiritual gifts unless they see them clearly taught in Scripture” (28). So pastors, we must teach, teach, teach. And he also realizes, “God is far more pleased with our obedience than he is with our success. . . . We please him not by always producing results but by always practicing obedience” (30–31). Which means, we are responsible to simply ask, seek, and knock; God is responsible to empower us and apportion gifts to us as he pleases. Again, Storms challenges us, “The reception of a spiritual gift is dependent on one’s prayer for it. Ask and you shall receive. Don’t ask, and you shouldn’t expect to receive” (43–44). Again, “There is little, if any, hope for the proper use of spiritual gifts apart from a focused and consistent commitment to praying” (45).
But he is wise to also admit, “The Holy Spirit wants to be pursued but refuses to be pushed” and then to counsel readers, “If you find yourself lacking a specific spiritual gift, notwithstanding your persistent and passionate prayers that it might be granted to you, the time may come when you should pause and thank God for whatever gifts he has been pleased to bestow and move on in the ministry he has already granted you” (35).
His advice is not only practical; it gets to the heart of our pursuit of God and his gifts. “If you are a leader or teacher thinking of teaching on prayer, I recommend making it your goal through the teaching to increase the level of expectancy in the hearts of your people when they pray for themselves or for others” (50). God accomplishes much through the heartfelt trust of those who cry out to him: “Otherwise humanly impossible feats, events that require supernatural and miraculous power, can occur when prayer is filled with faith” (54).
One of the most significant connections this book made for me was the power of fasting for receiving spiritual gifts. Storms writes, “Fasting is the first cousin to prayer in the sense that together they are the ordained means by which God is pleased to give us what we need” (58). Our Savior himself modeled this practice: “As Jesus was standing on the brink of the most important public ministry the world had ever seen, he chose to fast!” (63). Perhaps we have not seen greater spiritual growth and power simply because we have not sought God with the intensity and commitment fasting represents.
Storms also believes God still heals today—and he gives practical advice for seeking such healing. “When I pray for people to be healed, I typically ask them to confess out loud their belief that God is able to heal them. I suggest you do the same” (71). Again, he counsels, “Begin with an attempt to get at the underlying root of sin or addiction in a person’s life, followed by a call to repentance and encouragement to make certain alterations in one’s habits of life and choices” (77).
I also appreciate Storms’s willingness to go where other teachers might shrink back from out of discomfort; for instance, demon possession and deliverance. He writes, “The foundation of biblical deliverance ministry is a clear understanding of Christian identity and the authority believers have in Christ” (152). The gospel changes everything—even the dark, scary aspects of life.
The only subject I wish Storms had spent more time on was advice for those pursuing the gift of speaking in tongues. There seems to be very little such practical, concrete advice for those who are committed to the word of God—the very word that says, “I want you all to speak in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:5). Many seem to shy away from this particular gift, I believe, because it is so unusual and, quite frankly, because it embarrasses us. Please don’t misunderstand me: I don’t think Storms shied away from this issue—and certainly not out of fear or embarrassment. He addresses his experience at length in his book Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist. But I would love answers to simple questions such as: Should I just ask for this gift and simply wait for it to happen to me in silence—or should I try speaking whatever syllables come to mind? What are some signs that I’m truly speaking in tongues and not simply speaking gibberish? Is it possible to think that I’m not speaking in tongues when I actually am?
But, again, I thought this book was tremendous, so I conclude with two more quotes to stir you up to read it for yourself: “Whether it is the fire that burns up and consumes the dross of sin in our lives or the fire of power and energy that fuels our efforts to labor for the glory of Christ and the good of his people, the Holy Spirit is a glorious gift, the consummate treasure whom we hold dear” (179). “Pray yet again that God would increase your spiritual hunger pangs, that he would intensify your thirst for godly power, that he would never allow you to settle for the status quo” (239–240).