Devotional Podcast #14: “How Great Thou Art”

In this episode, I ruminate on answered prayer and something that a Pentecostal Christian told me one time.

Devotional Text: Luke 11:1-13

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Thursday, February 15, and this is Devotional Podcast number 14.

You’re listening to Elvis Presley, of course, and his recording of “How Great Thou Art.” He originally recorded this song in 1966 for his Grammy-winning gospel of the same name. But in 2015, the song was remixed with a new orchestral arrangement, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. So this version is taken from the 2015 album, on vinyl, If I Can Dream. And it sounds amazing, as I hope you can hear.

I want to talk today, briefly, about Pentecostal Christians. Elvis himself grew up Pentecostal, in the Assemblies of God Church. Pentecostalism, if you don’t know, is that branch of Protestant Christianity that places a strong emphasis on the more conspicuous spiritual gifts—like speaking in tongues, prophecy, and physical healing. In principle, I have no problem with the idea that the Holy Spirit may give these gifts and do powerful things through people; I’m not what’s called a cessationist—in other words, I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit stopped giving these gifts to Christians after the age of the apostles. I see no biblical warrant for believing that. Are there excesses in Pentecostalism? Are there abuses? Are there charlatans who take advantage of their credulous flocks? Of course! Pentecostals, no less than the rest of us, need to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God,”[1] that’s for sure.

And I strongly disagree, theologically, with the widespread Pentecostal belief that receiving the Holy Spirit, or being baptized by the Spirit, is something that happens, only to some Christians, at some point after a person is born again. I also don’t believe that the evidence of having received the Holy Spirit is this one particular gift of speaking in tongues. No, I believe we all receive the Spirit at the moment of conversion.

But I don’t mean to be overly critical. in my own life I tend to love people who love Jesus—and seek to build their lives on the foundation of God’s Word. And that describes most Pentecostal Christians that I’ve known—so they have my love and respect!

Plus, there are things that we non-Pentecostals can learn from Pentecostals—like the fact that when Pentecostals go to church, they mean business! They expect the Holy Spirit to do something… powerful!

For example, I drive by a couple of Pentecostal churches between my church and my house. I know nothing about them beyond their church signs—but I like their church signs! One of the churches is called “Perfecting the Saints Church International.” I like that! They go to that church on Sunday morning expecting the Holy Spirit to perfect them. When we show up at church on Sunday morning, what do we expect the Holy Spirit to do? I pass another church on the way home called—get this!—“One-Way Inner Action Church.” I-N-N-E-R Action Church. When they go to that church, they expect that the Holy Spirit is going to do something active, inside their hearts!

I like that! I also like the way many Pentecostals pray. In my experience, they pray with this same expectation that God is going to respond to them in a powerful way—even if it means working a miracle.

I knew a Pentecostal back in high school. Her name was Christine. We were talking one day, and she said something to me back then that has stuck with me to this day. I was Baptist back then, but it’s not hard to imagine that she said back then could have applied equally to us Methodists—and most other modern Christians in the West!

She said, “I have a lot of admiration and respect for you Baptists.” And I said, “Really? Why?” And she said, “Well, you just really believe in Jesus… you have a lot of faith… in spite of the fact that you never see any miracles… you never expect anything supernatural to happen.”

You never expect anything supernatural to happen. Is that true? Was that true for me then? Is it true for me now?

Maybe so! Let me give you an example. Last September, our church finance committee was making year-end projections for our budget, and we were looking at what we feared might be a substantial shortfall. So I challenged the church leadership to pray. And I prayed. Within a week of that meeting, we received a substantial offering check, a portion of which we could use for our operating budget. Basically, this money eliminated the budget problem in one fell swoop. We would no longer be sweating it out the last few months of the year—the way our church usually does at the end of each year. No begging or pleading on my part. No big campaign to raise the money. I was relieved!

But… I promise you, if I could have written down my first thought, upon receiving that check, it would have sounded something like this: “What a relief! We’re going to be just fine. We don’t need that miracle after all!”

Do you see the problem?

All I can say in my defense is, this money didn’t feel like any kind of miracle at the time—it felt like normal, every day event. Nothing too far outside of the ordinary. Surprising, yes, but not supernatural. So at first, I failed to see that this was God intervening in a powerful way to answer my prayers—and the prayers of others.

It’s as if God’s handiwork was hidden from me. I couldn’t see his fingerprints on this particular gift—even though they were all over them.

But isn’t that usually the way God’s providence works? When God does something, it rarely looks like a miracle. It rarely looks supernatural. It rarely looks like anything out of the ordinary.

Isn’t it instructive, therefore, that the portion of the Lord’s Prayer that has to do with asking God to give us things is this humble petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Because from our human perspective, our daily bread—at least for those of us living in wealthy industrialized countries—is one thing we don’t believe we need God to provide. “We’ve got that taken care of, Lord. We’ve got a freezer full of it. Our pantry is well-stocked.” we think. So we don’t need God’s help with daily bread. Physical healing? Yes, by all means! Financial aid for college? You bet! A promotion for work? Yes, please. But daily bread…?

And yet Jesus tells us that our daily bread—insignificant, humble bread—is itself a gift from God. It’s our problem that we have the luxury of taking it for granted. It still comes from God. And if even bread comes from God, well, tell me what doesn’t?

So… getting back to my Pentecostal friend’s observation—“You believe in Jesus without expecting him to do anything supernatural.” She may be right. And if so, I repent.

But let’s not underestimate God’s activity in our lives: if we only expect God to act supernaturally, or miraculously, then we may fail to appreciate that God is always doing stuff for us—always giving us exactly what we need, always working in every part of our lives and our world—even when he’s not doing anything supernatural!

If we can live our lives with that perspective, then we will live lives of gratitude to God for his faithfulness to us. Amen?

1. 1 John 4:1

6 thoughts on “Devotional Podcast #14: “How Great Thou Art””

  1. Good message. It’s often tempting to criticize other’s beliefs. I do it. I don’t believe in most of the stuff said to be “happening” in Pentecostal churches, but I’m not there either. To each his own…

    I once heard a preacher say, “If you have a problem with ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, try ‘Give us this day our daily breath”. I thought that was a good reminder that it’s God who controls the universe, right down to our every heartbeat. Some don’t believe that, but I do.

  2. Hope this is not a lot of cold water, but I agree with Grant that “I don’t believe in most of the stuff said to be ‘happening’ in Pentecostal churches.” Perhaps my experience is different from Grant’s however, because I have indeed “been there.” Worshiped occasionally in charismatic fellowships, went to charismatic “healing services,” even “spoke in tongues” (as I considered it at the time). Having been there and back again, I don’t find “charismatica” to be biblical or in fact guided by the Spirit.

    Not to say there are no true Christians there–there are true Christians who are Catholics as well, but a huge chunk of their beliefs are unsound. I might go so far as to say, “Saved IN SPITE OF” being a charismatic or a Catholic.

    As you note, Brent, the “foundational” charismatic belief of a “second blessing” or being “baptized by the Spirit” or that being “proved” by speaking in tongues is just wrong. So, given that baseless starting point, why should we be persuaded when they say they are having miraculous healings or prophesies, or most anything else that is “particularly” charismatic (as opposed to the things that most non-charismatics also believe).

    Finally, I differ from you when it comes to “cessationism.” I recognize there are not a lot of clear scriptures on the point, but I rely on Hebrews saying that the disciples were “borne witness to” as to their teachings by signs and wonders. Until scripture was complete, there was a reason for apostles and prophets to need some “signs” verifying them as spokesmen for God. There is no one “giving us divine revelations” these days, so there is no need for “signs and wonders” to substantiate them. Beyond the scriptures, however, I also take a clue from Church history. Why was the miraculous “missing” for way more than a millennia until all of a sudden it was “resurrected” again by a bunch of people with bad theology? I just don’t buy it. And, having “been there,” I haven’t “seen” it either, other than others like me who were led to believe that by uttering a lot of mumbo-jumbo they were speaking in some heavenly language. I have to go with John MacArthur in his “Strange Fire” book.

    Sorry, that’s just the way I see it. And I certainly don’t think that charismatics are more “spiritual” or “in tune with the Spirit” or “looking for God’s hand in things” than Baptists or Methodists. Why would they be?

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