// when words fail

I find myself in a 24-7 prayer room reading the words of Paul, and specifically his statement that “I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ…”

I read it again. What Paul is saying is truly astonishing. At its heart, he is saying, there is nothing in this gospel that is of man; this is something other, the product of revelation and nothing else. It’s an entirely different way, something new. It doesn’t rest on logic or philosophy, even if, in places, it intersects with them.

This is a faith that is built upon revelation, from the very start.

And of all places, a 24-7 prayer room is the best place to be reading this, too, as this place only serves to highlight the otherness of all of this stuff. I can’t explain prayer, and I doubt you can, either. Logically, it doesn’t make sense – God knows my thoughts already, God exists outside of time, God is all-powerful, so what’s the point – and yet, indisputably, it changes things in the spiritual atmosphere…

I have been talking with a good friend of mine about where we go from here. Whether the future of the church is in the ‘emerging churches’, or in the radical, alternative models of church, and the truth is that I’m burned out. There are pros and cons on both sides, but my brain just can’t come to a logical conclusion on what to do, as there arguably isn’t one. The hundreds of books that have been written on the subject, if nothing else, are a testament to that fact.

It’s virtually impossible to imagine a different future, you know. Try it. You might think that you have a vision for the way that things should be, but when you try to articulate it in positive, concrete terms, are you able to? It’s a lot harder than you’d think.

That, surely, is the place at which prayer starts; at the place where all words fail.

When rationality or argument finishes or wears thin, and when change seems impossible.

That’s the point at which we have to seek revelation, the place where our capabilities run out and we need that something else

Revelation allows me to make sense of the world, to see with wisdom and insight why things are the way they are, and what we can do about them. It reminds me that for all the apparent chaos and disorder in this world, that there is something out there bigger than all of them.

Nothing happens in a vacuum, and the people in this prayer room are not sitting in here for no reason. The reason? The glory of God, and the transformation of His world. We are a people who no longer live for ourselves, but who live for something bigger. We need to stop thinking like it all depends on us, or like we can do it all alone, for a start.

But revelation reminds me that God is still speaking, too; He spoke to Paul 2000 years ago on a lonely road, and He is still speaking now, challenging His people and continuing to reveal Himself to them. There’s so much truth in the claim in Proverbs that “without vision, the people perish.” In my case, for a long time I constructed a theology in which God no longer spoke to His people anymore, but that was okay, as He’d given us the tools with which to work it all out ourselves.

He is currently in the process of blowing that theology apart, and I’m grateful for that; I’m not big enough to work all this stuff out alone, and nor should I be.

We are not preaching a gospel of man. Paul speaks out strongly against those people who preach “human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”, who come out with “hollow and deceptive philosophy”; we are preaching something other. And for all the good, valuable thought that has gone into church and church-strategy and church-planting, we need to remember this – that this whole faith is built on something more, something bigger than us…

If our vision for how to transform this world is from this world, then we’re finished. It’s never going to work – the foundations are all wrong. Even my friend, a man passionate about involvement in this world, is profoundly sceptical about politics and the institutions that we would typically use to transform things. That means that we need something new; what the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, a “new thing” entirely – streams in the desert and water in the wilderness.

Shane Claiborne talked bluntly about what he called “spiritual masturbation” – that is, “a faith that feels kind of good while you’re in the middle of it, but never really gives birth to anything.” If our faith changes nothing, then maybe it’s not faith at all. My friend tells me that he thinks “one of the greatest tricks in the devil’s arsenal is to make us concerned, but not moved.” He’s right, of course. We’re stuck. We see that things are wrong – that thousands of people will die today for lack of basic sanitation, or that churches are dying, or that people are dying, or whatever, and we’re sad about it, but we feel powerless – so we don’t do anything.

One of my favourite authors, Jim Wallis, wrote of how “most of us still believe that we think our way into new ways of living, but the truth is that we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” He talks about the Hebrew notion of ‘truth’, and about how the Hebrews believed that unless something has affected their lives in some distinct, noticeable way, then they couldn’t claim to ‘know the truth’ at all.

What about us? Do we know the truth? Has it changed anything?

We need vision and we need revelation like Paul had – because that changes everything. And then we need to start living it. “If I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor”, he writes later in his letter to the Galatians. What are we building, and what does it say about us?

Our starting point has to be God, and His revelation. That doesn’t encourage us to be passive – we are complicit in this, and we have a part in living out the way in which He has called us to live.

But what way is that?

Have we even asked?

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