In stark contrast to Australia the people of the Middle East share a strong consciousness of God. Spiritually, our land is featureless and dominated by a spirit of deprivation. This situation contrasts directly with the present message of the Spirit, that God is the Father of all blessing. The Lord is working to transform our national spirituality by raising up spiritual fathers who live and minister in the midst of their people. From that place of community ministry Christ’s indwelling presence will draw out radical repentance from within the hearts of the hearers of the gospel. This will be a deep application of the God’s own grief expressed over sin on the cross.
Such a transformation of national God consciousness must be preceded by the release of the spirit of Elijah, who passed on his entire knowledge of God to his successor. John the Baptist pre-eminently fulfils this role as the one who initiates the fullness of the Father’s blessing on Christ for us all. There is a message to be received in the spiritual wilderness of our time; if we turn away from all fleshly longings and seek the revelation of the heart of the Father we will not be disappointed.
Having returned from three weeks in the Middle East seeking a message from God I was initially puzzled about where to start. I feel I have a wealth of material that the Lord shared with me in every place, and it will take me quite some time to unfold and teach it – probably much of 2011. Nevertheless, I sensed that I should begin with some of my first impressions upon returning to Australia.
It is my conviction and experience that nations possess a characteristic “spiritual atmosphere” that pervades their life before God. The New Testament talks freely about “principalities and powers” in the “heavenly places” (Eph 3:10, 6:12; Col 2:15) which influence the religious character of peoples. From certain experiences during my trip I have come to refer to these as “spirits of the land”. For example, I was struck by a spirit of deception in Egypt, and the air of separatism in Israel. Though vastly different in their outward impact, both these spirits are deeply rooted in religion. This fact throws into sharp relief the outstanding impact of the prevailing wicked spirit working on Australian culture? This is the “spirit of deprivation”.
Basically, we live in a land where the majority of the inhabitants lack a real consciousness of God as an everyday reality of life. This is wildly at variance from the times of the Bible, and in the Middle East and much of the world today “God-awareness” and “God – talk” is an ordinary part of life. Most Australian Christians are too self conscious to talk freely about Jesus to work mates and neighbours, but the greater embarrassment is that we have become deprived as a nation from sharing the things of God as a normal part of human existence. What are some of the plans of God for altering our spiritually deprived national consciousness?
A Featureless World
We live in a land of striking physical contrasts and are renowned as a country of pioneers and physical achievers (sport), but Australian spirituality is fundamentally featureless. We lack a richly textured and coloured inner life, and the majority of folk inside and outside Christianity lack personal depth. Church life, whether liturgical or contemporary, is extremely predictable. To superficial observers this shallowness may be camouflaged, but “all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb 4:13). Symptoms of inner barrenness are all around us; plainly in the materialism of the culture, but also in the church.
The globally influential worship movement emanating from Australia (e.g. Hillsong) has certainly added outward flourish to praise but exhibits little knowledge of the workings of the human heart. Similarly, the recurrent fascination of parts of the church with miracles reflects a failure to understand that the purposes of God are always directed inwardly. By saying, “He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.” (Ps 103:7), the psalmist explains that though the people of God lived in the realm of miracle throughout their desert wanderings they were never able at a heart level to see into God’s ways of love (Deut 29:4). Australia likewise has wandered in a terrible wilderness for many years, but has yet to learn the way of God revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Biblically, spiritual emptiness can always be traced back to an absence of the Word of the Father. It has often been remarked that this is a fatherless nation, but I have seen little take place in my lifetime to reverse this. I believe however this is about to change, for the central message I received from the Lord whilst overseas is that God is the Father of every blessing. Before I actually commence expounding the content of this message and its application, it is important to lay down an environment of understanding and expectation.
The Inner Living Father
If we ask the question, “Where does the Father live?”, there are many possible answers. Keen believers might reply, “In me.” Those more aware of God as Creator might say, “In the world.” A third, more community minded group, could answer, “In the church.” All of these are correct, but none is primary. Jesus said, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14:10). From eternity, the Father has lived in the Son by the power of the Spirit; the Father is located wherever you see Jesus. Since Jesus is “God with us.” (Matt 1:23) the Father lives in our midst. This is not immediately obvious, for reasons I will now explain.
Since the Father is a Person, rather than a force, “presence” or feeling, Fatherhood is revealed through natural and spiritual fathering. The most outstanding practical example of this that I have ever witnessed is the Coptic Orthodox priest Father Samaan who I recently met in Cairo. A fierce preacher of repentance as well as being an exorcist and worker of miracles, folk flock to receive prayer from Samaan from all over Egypt- this includes even Moslems seeking the healing power of Jesus. Watching Samaan’s public ministry was the closest thing I have ever seen to the Gospel stories where vast numbers of people throng Jesus looking for healing and deliverance (Matt 4:23-25; 8:1-3 etc.). Driving with Father Saaman through “garbage city” in Cairo I was struck by the numerous times he poked his head out of the window and shouted loudly to people on the streets to repent of various aspects of ungodly behaviour e.g. smoking. Everywhere this man went he was accorded huge respect because he embodies the truth of a father living in the midst his people. The discipline of such a father still hurts, but since it comes from a compassionate shepherd dwelling with the flock it can be received. Father Samaan models the presence of God the Father in Christ and is a living example of the spiritual fatherly presence that intensifies a community’s awareness of God. When Australia has many such godly men and women the spiritual climate in which we live will be definitely transformed from poverty to abundance. The first key to such a transformation is repentance.
The Secret of Repentance
Repentance occupies a foundational position in gospel proclamation. Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached in this way, ““The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”” (Mark 1:15, 4). I have taught repentance for many years, but only in very recent days have seen into how deep repentance is the secret of transforming our spiritual environment. The secret of repentance flows from an awareness of the indwelling Father.
In many ways Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost is a model for all subsequent Christian preaching. The crowds that heard his proclamation of the gospel “were cut to the heart and said to Peter …“what shall we do?” To which the apostle replied, “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:37-38). When this subsequently took place a mature fully God-aware church was born in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-47). Looking further into the framework of Acts provides greater insight into what was happening inside people on the day of Pentecost.
The gift of the Holy Spirit from heaven (Acts 2:33) was Christ sharing “the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). The Father was personally present in the Spirit inspired preached Word that was heard on that day. This Word penetrated “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12-13) of the listeners. As the crowd heard Peter preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection they actually became aware of the presence of the Father inside them. When they realised that they were responsible for the death of the Son of God their repentance flowed from a powerful experience inside their hearts. Radical repentance always involves an experience of the Father from the inside. Genuine “repentance towards God” (Acts 20:21) is neither motivated by fear of punishment nor selfish desire for blessing but is an awareness of the Father drawing us to himself through Jesus in the Spirit’s power. Such deep repentance is rare in our time because we fail to understand the depth of the life and death of Jesus.
John’s Gospel states of Christ, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (John 1:14). Whatever Jesus says and does actually takes place inside the heart of God. To hear Jesus was to hear the Father’s heart beat, to be healed or delivered by Jesus was to be impacted by the power of the Father’s heart. Much more profoundly however, it is the cross that opens up a heart to heart connection between God and humanity that makes radical repentance possible. Sin is grounded in an evil attitude of the human mind so that repentance involves a turning away from such evil attitudes. When Jesus “became sin” (2 Cor 5:21) on the cross he entered into its sin’s very heart. The cost of his identification with our evil deeply impacted the life of the Trinity.
A passage in Genesis helps us understand the anguish which enveloped the Godhead when Jesus died. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (6:5-6) Jesus’ entry into our sin-state on the cross meant a grieving of the Spirit that cut off all conscious awareness of the Father, hence his cry, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). Whoever calls out to God for salvation out of a deep heartfelt grief over their sin is actually sharing in God’s own grief and turning away from sin on the cross! This is the inner meaning of radical repentance. But repentance is only a beginning.
Once he took away the sin of the world on our behalf (John 1:29) Jesus went on to impart a pure consciousness of the Father. He said, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”” (John 20:17). Jesus died and rose again to restore us to an intense consciousness of God as Father. This cannot take place however without the sending forth of the spirit of Elijah.
A New Dawn: the Release of the Spirit of the Father
In speaking to an apostolic leader in the Middle East about God’s will for his ministry I found myself saying, “The greatest thing a father can give to his son is his spirit”. This is true on a number of levels. Firstly, God the Father has eternally given all that he has to Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. In a similar vein we find a transmission of Moses’ authority and wisdom to Joshua (Num 27:18, 20; Deut 34:9). The clearest biblical example of this paradigm of fatherly impartation is however in the life of Elijah.
When Elijah is about to be taken up to heaven he receives a request from Elisha, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” (2 Ki 2:9), to which the older prophet replies, “if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you” (2:10). When this condition is fulfilled Elisha is so filled with the presence of his master that he exclaims, ““My father, my father!” (2:12). From henceforth the “spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha” (2:15) and he goes forth in power to perform twice as many miracles as he predecessor. This is not because he is a man of greater stature than Elijah, but because the witness of the spirit of his father Elijah to his own spirit multiplies his awareness of the Spirit of the LORD. The young man knows in his heart that he is the privileged first born son who has received his prophetic father’s double portion.
This explains the prophetic promise, ““Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.”” (Mal 4:5-6). Elijah is the one who will restore fathers and children because he is the pre-eminent old covenant model for the impartation of a father’s indwelling personal presence. In New Testament terms, the historical figure who performs this role is John the Baptist (Matt 17:12-13; Luke 1:17). John’s qualification for this ministry flows from his life journey.
Praise for the Wilderness
The Gospel writers intentionally introduce John as a man who heard from God in the wilderness, “during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2 cf. Matt 3:1; Mark 1:4) Jesus himself emphasises the availability of divine revelation from John in this desolate setting, “Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?…. 26… A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” (Luke 7:24, 26-27) John embodies the Elijah spirit of reawakening the heart knowledge of fathers and sons because his life teaches the people that the desert is where the fatherly heart of God is revealed (Luke 1:78).
Initially John’s message of the availability of God through repentance is communicated by the desert location and uncompromising tone of his preaching. Yet in a final and much more profound sense his ministry is the means by which the very heart of God, Jesus himself, “might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:31). It is only as Christ submits to John’s wilderness baptism that the Spirit of the Father is fully poured out upon him (Luke 3:21-22). Just as the anointing of Elisha was the climax of Elijah’s work, Jesus’ anointing by God at the Jordan (Acts 10:38) is the fulfilment of John’s ministry. For this is the scene where Christ receives the Spirit of the Father into his heart on behalf of us all. From now on the whole of Jesus’ life will manifest the Father’s presence for humanity.
It is time we looked beyond the visible circumstances and awoke to the rich truth of the divine purpose in our midst. The mainstream Australian church is like the ignorant Israel of old whom God took Israel into the wilderness to teach his ways (Ps 103:7). The people of God remained possessed of a “strong craving” for the delicacies of Egypt (Num 11:4-5) and failed to enter into the land of Promise. The popular preaching today is, “God will bring you out of the wilderness to bless you with many things.” The true prophetic message is, “Come out of Egypt to learn the secrets of the Father’s heart in the desert place.” The wilderness through which the Australian church has been wandering for many years is not a sign of divine disfavour, but a place of preparation through which we have been passing that the heart of the Father may be revealed.
The Lord has been preparing us as a nation for a renewed awareness of his presence. In place of a bland and featureless spiritual climate I believe that the Spirit of Jesus will soon release a richly textured and diversely featured genuine Australian spirituality. At its centre will be a deep knowledge of the heart of the Father. Visibly this does not seem to be the case, but invisibly, at the heart level, I am anticipating that surpassing revelations of the Lord are coming (2 Cor 12:7). 2011 will be a year to hear and experience more about “The Blessings of the Father”, this is essentially the message I received in the Middle East.
 I will expound what this means in length in another paper.
 There are of course exceptions to this, but that is exactly what they are.
 I am using “heart” here in the biblical sense of one’s innermost being e.g. Prov 4:23, Heb 4:12; not in the modern sense as the source of feelings.
 Consider the constant manifest presence of God in the pillar of cloud and fire and the perpetual newness of their apparel i.e. their clothes and shoes never wore out (Deut 29:5).
 Consider also the early self-description of Christian as “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4, 14, 22).
 The problem of emptiness of heart, the failure to be filled with the Spirit of God, began with Adam’s rejection of the Word God spoke directly to him (Gen 2:17).
 Using “fathering” in an inclusive sense to include women.
 A huge unserviced area where a large community of thousands make their living from garbage recycling.
 By “radical repentance” I mean that sort of thorough transformation of mind and life that produces genuine biblical discipleship.
 Hence the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, literally means “a change of mind”.
 Inside Elisha was a three-fold unified witness- his own spirit, Elijah’s spirit and the Spirit of the LORD. This is an extraordinarily powerful (trinitarian) testimony to the purposes of God.
 Compare Moses’ encounter with God in the Sinai desert (Ex 3), David’s wilderness wanderings (1 Sam 23-26), Elijah’s appearance “out of nowhere” (2 Ki 17:1) and Jesus own sojourn in the desert (Matt 4:1-2).