Experience gap

As I’ve made my shift out of cessationism, several people have expressed concern that perhaps I’ve grown tired of the hard work of biblical exegesis and teaching, and I’m hunting for something more sensational and showy.

And they’re soooo, like, totally right. I never really liked reading and studying, and this is my big chance to fulfill my childhood dream of being a circus ringmaster for Jesus…oh, wait. No, that’s someone else.

For any position that people are committed to, there’s a story that they tell themselves about why people are committed to it, why others aren’t, and most importantly, why people give up on it. A previously committed member of the group who gives up and walks away casts doubt on the whole enterprise, and you have to tell yourself something about why that happened. There are usually a few stock explanations, and while sometimes those explanations are outright lies, usually they have become the stock explanations precisely because they’re often true. Once the stock explanations are in place, of course you turn to them before you try any other theory.

“Okay, Tim, I get it. You’re not really the ringmaster type, are you? But surely you must have seen some amazing things if you’re changing your mind about all this.”

Not really. Some prophetic words that really struck home with me, a few things like that. But I haven’t seen the dead raised or an eye regrown or a broken bone healed or anything like that.

“Seriously, you now believe all this stuff happens, but you’ve never seen it for yourself?”

Well, yes, actually, that’s exactly right. I have never seen a New-Testament-quality miracle. I changed my belief based on Scripture and reliable history. I have a couple of good friends who have seen some of these miracles, and even benefitted from them, but I’ve never seen or done one myself. Yet I now believe they happen. The truth of it is simple: I want to see God at work, however He is pleased to work. As far as I can tell from the NT, the range of what God is willing to do is considerably broader than I used to think, but my faith has a real impact on how God is willing to work. So I’m believing God for all of it, and waiting to see what He will do. In the meantime, there’s a gap between what Scripture teaches me to expect and my own experience.

It’s not like we don’t know how to handle that gap. When I experience a gap between the biblical teaching on chastity and my own experience, I don’t develop a doctrine that allows me to rationalize my lack of experience with biblical chastity. I humble myself before God, confess my sin, pray for His mercy and deliverance, and then — with authority! — call on the power of the risen Christ to rebuke my lustful thoughts, transform my heart and mind, and drive any demonic influences far from me. I speak the truth that I am a living sacrifice, a vessel for sanctification and honor, a son of the Most High, and I rebuke the temptation. Jesus already purchased the victory over sin; all things are mine in Christ. This victory is already mine; Jesus has already paid for it. I tell God I want it, and I don’t stop telling Him how much I want it until He gives it to me. None of my cessationist friends would have much of a problem with this.

So what am I to do when I experience a gap between Scripture and experience when it comes to the miraculous? Same thing, I would think. Sure, I could gin up a doctrine that allows me to rationalize my lack of experience with God fulfilling His promises, but why would I?

Why go through all that when instead I could confess that I have never believed God for these things, admit my lack of faith, and repent of it? And having repented, I now pursue a new course of action. “Earnestly desire spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.” So there it is — I’m desiring. Every time I drive past the Broadway-Hampden overpass, I pray for miraculous gifting. What will He give me? I don’t know. But He told me to desire, and I do. He told me that I don’t have because I don’t ask, so I’m asking. He told me that if I ask for something, I should keep asking all the time, like a poor widow seeking justice from an unjust judge. So I do that. Why? Because it’s obedient. What will God do? I can’t wait to find out.

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