In Pentecostal/Charismatic circles it is common to see people ‘fall under the power’ when prayer is offered with the laying on of hands for such things as healing, deliverance, or the impartation of the Holy Spirit.
There are Biblical precedents for this sort of behaviour: when the temple guards came to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, he said to them, “I AM”, and in the words of the apostle John, “they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:5-6). At the declaration of his deity as the eternal, self-existent God, an effulgence of glory literally overwhelmed the soldiers (Heb. 1:2-3). Similarly, after seeing a vision of the resurrected, glorified Lord on the isle of Patmos, John “fell at his feet as dead” (Rev. 1:17).
However, the goal is not to fall over; that is merely a by-product of a physical vessel coming in contact with the power and glory of God. The goal is to get healed, delivered, or filled with the Spirit. And it’s fair to say, I’ve been on the receiving end of more than one mountebank who tried to push me over as he prayed for me!
But in reading the Bible, I’ve discovered that God is more interested in helping us to stand up than in causing us to fall over!
And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it.
Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the colour of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around.
Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of one speaking.
And He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.” Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me.
And he said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you …” (Ezekiel 1:26-2:3)
God’s objective in this situation was not to dazzle Ezekiel with his glory and leave him prostrated on the ground, but rather, to fill him with the Spirit and imbue him with a new sense of power and purpose.
Notice that when the Spirit entered Ezekiel, he caused him to stand up! The phrase ‘stand up’ is a metaphor for strength and determination. The apostle Paul exhorted the believers in Ephesus to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” and to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-11).
Ezekiel had been deported to Babylon during the second siege of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. and eventually settled in Tel Abib on the Chebar Canal near Nippur. In his own words, he was “among the captives by the river Chebar” (Ezek. 1:1). And when you get a group of captives together in a foreign land, there is sure to be a lot of discontent and confusion.
God captured Ezekiel’s attention and elevated him from his prostrated position, not just physically, but psychologically and emotionally as well. In the process of encountering God’s glory, Ezekiel exchanged the spirit of depression for the garment of praise; sackcloth and ashes for the beauty of holiness; the rent robes of mourning for the oil of joy (Isa. 61:3).
Strengthened with might in the inner man
The apostle Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers would be “strengthened with might through the Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). In similar fashion he prayed that the Colossian believers might be “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy” (Col. 1:11). The Berkeley version says, “For the cheerful exercise of unlimited patience and perseverance”.
One thing is for sure: when the Spirit of God gets a hold of you, you won’t quit! He’ll light a fire in your belly that will burn through the coldest night. He’ll strengthen you with determination to overcome the obstacles and get the job done. He’ll put a fighter on the inside of you that refuses to capitulate to adversity and walk away from your goal or dream.
The Spirit of God wants to empower you to stand on your own two feet, which suggests a healthy dose of self-reliance and independence. When Moses turned to God for help on the shores of the Red Sea, the Lord said, “Why do you cry to Me? You tell the children of Israel to go forward. You lift up your rod and divide the sea” (Ex. 14:15-16). In other words, “The resources are in your hands; use the power I’ve given you.” When the disciples panicked in the midst of the storm and turned to Jesus for help, the Lord said, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:22-25).
Over and over the Lord says to his people in times of need, “What is in your hands? What is in your house? What is in your barn?” Like a father who is committed to the maturity of his children, he challenges us to stand up, take responsibility, and utilize the resources that are at our disposal.
The myth of borrowed functioning
In conclusion, I would like to sound a warning regarding a dangerous trend that is developing in the church. In clinical psychology it is known as ‘borrowed functioning’ or ‘a reflected sense of self’. In essence, it refers to the fundamental identity crisis that besets all humans, in varying degrees, with its attendant insecurity and fear of rejection. And it is often exacerbated and exploited by the very shepherds who are entrusted with the responsibility of nurturing the flock.
When a person doesn’t have a ‘solid sense of self’ – when they don’t know who they are, what their core values consist of, or what their purpose is – they look to the people around them as a mirror to give them a ‘reflected sense of self’. They compose a self-image based on what others think and say; they become dependent on the acceptance and approval of family members and friends, peers and colleagues, and authority figures such as a boss, a coach, a teacher, or a spiritual leader.
Of course, a reflected sense of self is anything but solid – it is utterly variable, regulated by the fluctuating fortunes of life and the fickle opinions of people. And a person with a reflected sense of self is constantly adapting to the environment like a chameleon in order to obtain the holy grail of human relationships – acceptance and approval. However, this kind of existence is like living on an artificial respirator; never being able to breathe on your own. It’s like being tied with an umbilical cord to the world around you; always emotionally attached to other people’s views and controlled by other people’s opinions.
In some cases, pastors, because of their own insecurity and egocentricity, create a cult of dependency around themselves. Instead of helping people discover who they are in Christ and empowering them to stand on their own two feet, they build personal followings based on the principle of borrowed functioning. In these situations people are not taught to seek the truth for themselves and explore the potential of their own relationship with Christ, but are conditioned to depend on the pastor for everything pertaining to life and godliness.
· Instead of learning to lay their hands on the sick and exercise the authority of the name of Jesus, they keep calling for the elders to anoint them with oil.
Instead of learning to hear the voice of God, they keep running to the prophet to get a word.
Instead of learning God’s principles for successful living, they keep asking other people for advice.
So what am I saying? Simply that my goal as a pastor is to help people, through the Spirit, stand on their own two feet … to grow in God and fulfil their destiny in his kingdom … to reach the place where they don’t need me anymore … so that our relationship becomes akin to that of an adult son/daughter and a middle-aged parent.
The apostle Paul summed it up perfectly in his letter to the Ephesians: “That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him whose the head – Christ” (Eph. 4:14-15).