Pursue God, but Earnestly Desire Spiritual Gifts
The greatest quest for mankind is the pursuit of God and the experience of His Presence and Glory. We have an open invitation to boldly come before the Throne of grace; yet, it remains a sacred and holy journey, requiring clean hands and a pure heart. The fruit of those who genuinely experience God this way will be evident.
Throughout history, when God’s people walked before Him in truthfulness and faithfulness, He made known His presence through visible signs, visions, and displays of His might. A reverential fear of the Lord arises from such demonstrations of God’s virtue. We pursue God and at the same time earnestly desire His spiritual gifts.
EAGERLY PURSUE and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest]; and earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts), especially that you may prophesy (interpret the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching). –1 Corinthians 14:1 (AMP)
Presently an opportunity exists for our spiritual eyes and ears to be illumined in very real and profound ways. Scripture warns that where there is no vision, people perish. Discouragement and unbelief—resulting from deferred hope and seemingly unfulfilled promises—will be overcome as the Church apprehends the revelatory realm of Heaven and secures the thoughts and ways of God. That is our biblical promise and spiritual mandate for our generation.
We are to pursue Christ and also yearn for the activation of spiritual gifts. Even so, there is a distinction in our priority in this pursuit. Our first and foremost purpose is to walk with God intimately and then allow the spiritual environment around us to manifest His gifts, signs, and wonders.
Laying the Foundation
Some time ago I had a very interesting dream. In it I was seated across the table from Kenneth Hagin, a man whose teachings God used to establish a firm foundation in my life. When I first accepted the commissioning on my life in 1989 I discovered his book, “I Believe in Visions.” That single book transformed my life as I knew it, and set me on a quest for understanding the supernatural arena of the Spirit.
After that, I dialed up Rhema Bible Training Center, gave them my credit card and told them to send me one of everything. Little did I know what that meant! A few days later a UPS truck pulled up in front of my office, retrieved his dolly and unloaded a dozen boxes of books and audiocassettes.
I spent the next several months devouring his resources. It was as though I had an insatiable appetite that required constant attention. As a result, I developed a great sense of respect and appreciation for Kenneth Hagin and the Kingdom principles God imparted through him.
A Dream of Instruction
Perhaps it was for this reason that the Lord allowed the dream to include Kenneth Hagin. As I was seated across the table from him I begin to express my appreciation for his walk with God and the way the Lord used him to influence my foundation in Christ. In the dream I began to specifically discuss two of his books that had particular impact upon me as an individual. They were “I Believe in Visions” and “Plans, Purposes & Pursuits.”
“I Believe in Visions” was the first book I read involving a modern day saint that lived in the revelatory realm and experienced visions and visitations. As I read his book I could hear the Spirit echoing loudly within me, “you can do that, you can do that.” From that date to the present hour I have not wavered from that determination to walk with God in such a way that the visions and revelations are of a biblical stature.
As I reviewed this important book again, a genuine conviction fell upon me involving the way our generation has in many ways watered down our spiritual currency. Too often we throw the word vision or visitation around flippantly until it scarcely means what it did in the days of the Bible or even in the days of people like William Branham, Kenneth Hagin. Maria Woodworth-Etter and others.
While the Scriptures clearly admonish us to “earnestly desire” spiritual gifts, it is the spirit within a person utilizing the gifts that is the distinguishing factor. We must constantly examine our own hearts asking, “is my motivation truly to build the Kingdom of Heaven or to establish personal ambitions and agendas?”
It is surprising how easily these lines can be blurred. History has proven that. We need the Holy Spirit to guard and protect our hearts from every form of corruption that would prostitute or merchandise God’s priceless gifts.
This is not meant to be a criticism but instead a challenge to lift the standard back to a biblical perspective. I have never in my life been more convinced of the spiritual validity of true visions and visitations from the heavenly realm.
Even so, I do not want to use lofty spiritual language to describe things that are actually more accurately defined as “impressions” or the “stimulation of the imagination.” Clearly, the imagination can be sanctified and used powerfully as a springboard into the realm of the spirit. However, we must reserve terms like “vision”, “visitation,” “going to the Third Heaven,” and “divine manifestations” for what is genuinely derived from spiritually imparted visitations from the Lord or His host.
I hope the reader understands the heart of what I am trying to convey. In our zeal for God and the spiritual realm we sometimes carelessly use spiritual language inappropriately. Calling things prophetic that is not and carelessly identifying various forms of revelation. The Bible is our standard and experiences recorded therein. All of the champions highlighted in Hebrews 11 had divine encounters that were so genuine it catapulted them into a supernatural dimension of faith and service. That is our quest.
Paul describes experiences that were more real to him than the natural realm. John was literally caught up in to a heavenly place and saw great and awesome things recorded in Scripture. Peter literally had a visitation of an Angel in the form of a man that struck him and led him from the prison. These are the criteria for our language that must the restored today.
Following my dream, I personally spent two weeks in repentance for being guilty of doing this myself. In the end the Lord spoke to me and admonished me to no longer call things prophetic that are not; do not describe things as apostolic that are not; do not call things revival that are not; and especially do not describe things as miraculous that are not. I believe part of the mandate of Apostolic Reformation is to redefine our language, revalue our spiritual currency, and bring things back to biblical criteria.
That said, the door of opportunity to encounter the heavenly realm has never been so profound and inviting. The last day Bride of Christ will experience all that is described in Scripture as our heritage and mandate.
We are living in a day unprecedented in history. Great and divine opportunities are imminently before us as many mysteries of the Kingdom are beginning to unfold. The prophet Daniel foresaw this day and was instructed to seal the revelation of his vision for, “the time of the end.” (see Daniel 7 & 12) We are living in that day and the seal is being lifted from the revelation of end-time promises.
One of the most notable opportunities being given to His Church is the “open door” presented in Revelations:
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” (Revelation 4:1)
A body of righteous believers is being given the invitation to “come up here” that He might disclose things that will be taking place in this generation. There are many within the Church who are earnestly calling upon the Lord, corporately and individually, that:
He will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)
A careful examination of the language in this passage discloses that it is referring to truth hidden and wisely set apart for a specific time in the scheme of God. As we “call” He will “show.” This is a divine invitation that cannot be approached carelessly, presumptuously or flippantly. It is a sacred and holy mandate that must be addressed with the greatest reverence and awe.
It is essential that we are equipped with the discernment and maturity to recognize a forged imitation presented with the intent to deceive. The manna reserved for this day to unfold the Kingdom of Heaven is of priceless value. The one whose misguided desire to “be like the Most High,” will attempt, with keen earnest to keep us from it, will unleash a deluge of deluding influences into the earth..
It is our devoted pursuit to encounter God in this dimension by responding to this incredible opportunity. On a personal level, that is my constant prayer. I was overwhelmed when I read “I Believe in Visions” to think that the Creator of the universe would give me, or any person an invitation and opportunity to encounter Him in a face-to-face exchange. Even so, we want truth and the fruit of genuine Third Heaven encounters, which are grounded in the Scriptures, bearing the seal and endorsement of God.
The faithful stewardship of this great responsibility falls upon those who are pursuing this dimension in God. Both the Scriptures and Church history provide illuminating attributes and fruit generated when encountering the Lord in such an awesome way. This will help us to judge the authenticity of a true Third Heaven experience and separate it from the excessive and fanatical.
One of the most often quoted passages in Scripture involves the righteous prophet Isaiah and his opportunity to ascend to the Third Heaven and encounter God in a “Throne Room” experience. He records:
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)
His response to such an experience is quite revealing:
Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
Because of his humility, an atoning provision was offered providing the cleansing he needed to stand in this place.
Much is written about this notable prophet and his standard of righteousness and commitment to the God of Israel. Both the Scriptures and history record his stand against the apostasy and infidelity of God’s covenant people. In fact, it is commonly believed that position of purity to the truth cost him his life. It is believed and recorded in the Apocrypha, that he was “sewn asunder” because he refused to compromise.
The Example of Maria Woodworth-Etter
Visions and revelations seemed to be an integral part of the ministry of Maria Woodworth-Etter. This realm of the Holy Spirit was experienced by those who were saved and others who attended the meetings to ridicule and mock her ministry. It is well-documented that many saints who were bound by various forms of oppression and sickness were delivered through their supernatural encounter with the Heavenly realm during these meetings.
In each meeting in which this dimension was opened, a reverential awe permeated the auditorium and forever changed each one it touched. Lifelong commitments to the Lord were made by many individuals who discovered that “open door” in her meetings. It is reported that some actually received the gift of speaking other languages and commissioned as missionaries to the nations.
Woodworth-Etter reported that prophetic utterances were given to young and old alike concerning future events, many of which took place within days or weeks of the experience. Others returned with supernatural knowledge and insight that they had no way of knowing within themselves.
In each case, the people were captured by the humility and contrition demonstrated by those given this great opportunity to encounter God in this spiritual arena. There was no boasting or superficial behavior, only reverence, contrition and commitments to lives of consecration. Even so, great joy also characterized her life and ministry.
In one particular meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, the people of the city were particularly harsh in their treatment of this precious sister and her ministry team. The meetings were attended by some of the most hardened characters in the city. Woodworth-Etter wrote, “men stood on the seats with hats on, cigars and pipes in their mouths, coats off and sleeves rolled up… women wore dirty aprons… and bare armed… they would shoot off firecrackers and when we sang they sang even louder and when we prayed they clapped their hands and cheered. They carry pistols and clubs and were ready to kill us and tear down the tent.
The end of the story is quite different. The Lord faithfully heard the prayer of His devoted saints and responded by opening the Heavens and giving the people visions of Heaven and hell. They encountered the spiritual dimension opened to them by the Holy Spirit. The results were, according to Woodworth-Etter, “the fear of God came upon the multitude. The sweat came on their faces and they stood as though in a trance; men began to take their pipes out of their mouths and their hats off. The women began to cover their bare necks and arms with aprons. They felt they stood naked and guilty before God. They began to get off the seats (from standing) and sit down but some fell and lay like dead.”
The evidence of a tangible touch from the “Third Heaven” was evident and easily discerned. This was true both for those who were saved and those who were not. The fruit was apparent by the responses of the people. It is often recorded in Woodworth-Etter’s writings that sinners and saints alike, would often cry out in reverential fear when the Heavenly dimension was opened to them.
A phenomenal opportunity to encounter and embrace God is being given to the Church of this day and it is one that must be welcomed and protected. It is our heart and ambition to encourage every believer to pursue this reality in God. Nonetheless, at the same time we must also emphasize the importance of discerning the fruit of His voice so that we would not be deceived by another nor would we identify something from that sacred realm that it is merely an expression of our imagination.
On one notable occasion the prophet Samuel stood before the people of Israel as a credible voice and God’s representative. His words did not fall to the ground nor did he beg from the people for his bread and sustenance. When he shared his revelations, the people listened attentively to the validity and authenticity of His voice because he had cultivated a genuine exchange with God.
That is the position the Church of Jesus Christ must maintain in this crucial hour. It is time for prophetic ministry to emerge with a credible and trustworthy voice to address the notable issues presently unfolding.