Perhaps no other factor contributes more to the ability to produce spiritual fruit than God’s powerful presence in a life. A human life filled with the presence and power of God is one of God’s choicest gifts to his church and the world. 1
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY SATURATED?
Bobby Clinton, one of my professors at Fuller Seminary, says, “The essential ingredient of [spiritual] leadership is the powerful presence of God in the leaders’ life and ministry.” 2 This is true of leadership in general as well as of every disciple engaging in Jesus’ Great Commission and mission mobilization.
Our personalities, words and daily activities can become filled with God’s power and authority, though we may feel weak. For us to be saturated with God’s powerful presence Jesus must possess our being through the Spirit. This involves learning, through trial and error, to walk obediently in his ways. The authoritative life of Jesus within us must be given its rightful place.
The opposite of being saturated with the presence of God is operating in ministry from our own strength, relying on our natural abilities, skills and strengths. By nature we’re capable and strong, able to plan, to think and to accomplish.
In contrast, God wants us serving from a place of voluntary weakness, where we don’t think or plan apart from him. We may be working hard, sacrificing and doing a great deal. And others may say we’re doing a great work, yet there is something lacking.
There is little to no real spirituality. 3 We’re spiritually barren. To avoid this all-too-common problem, I find it helpful to do periodic self-exams, asking the Lord if my work is being done more in the power of the flesh or the Spirit.
Jacob is a picture of the difference between operating from the natural life and operating in reliance on the Lord (see Genesis 27– 33). Before the angel wrestled with him by the River Jabbok, Jacob was a schemer, manipulator and conniver. He was smart and confident in himself.
As it is with many of us, Jacob’s desires were right (to do the will of God), but his means of attaining those desires were wrong. Human ingenuity and strength doesn’t accomplish the will of God. So God confronted Jacob, giving him a limp and turning him into another man, free from natural striving and strength, yielded to the power of God’s presence in and through him.
The world, our self-dependent natures and the enemy make us less dependent on Jesus in our lives and ministries. Paul wrote of this problem in Galatians 3:3: “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”
In many of the Epistles, especially Galatians and Corinthians, Paul reveals the one reason behind the church’s general low state: many are living in the power of the flesh. They began well in their life of faith by receiving the Spirit. But as time went on, they tried to build on the work of the Spirit through their own effort.
Spiritual leaders in mission and mobilization are called to live in the power of the Spirit but often live in the power of the flesh and self-will. This is true in our spiritual lives as well as in the out workings of ministry. It’s easy to become reliant on ministry skill and ability instead of on God’s presence.
THE LORD WAS WITH THEM
One condition for producing fruit in God’s kingdom repeatedly shows up in Scripture and in mission history, though it’s phrased in more than one way: “The Lord was with them,” “The hand of the Lord was upon them,” “The power of the Spirit rested on them,” “They were filled with the Spirit” and so on.
This is a power-packed spiritual key. In Scripture, we’re rarely told of a biblical character’s personal charm, great oratorical abilities or skills in drawing a crowd. God purposely looks beyond these qualities to focus on the one essential ingredient to kingdom effectiveness: a life saturated with his powerful presence.
Joseph’s remarkable life, highlighted in Genesis 37–50, teaches this spiritual key. Scripture says in four different places, “the Lord was with Joseph” (saturating him with God’s presence). Though Joseph encountered hardship, the Bible doesn’t have one negative word to say about him. Joseph graduated from one test to another as he responded with faithfulness to God.
MOSES’ AND JOSHUA’S CRIES
Serving God in mobilization means declaring what Moses prayed so long ago: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here!” (Exodus 33:15). When he prayed this, God was leading him to take the Israelites into the Promised Land.
Moses, aware of his limitations and his inability to accomplish such a feat in his own power, cried out to God to remember promising to bring his people into the Promised Land. Moses then asked God to accompany his own woefully inadequate attempts with his powerful presence.
We find the statement “I will be with you” spoken to Joshua as he prepared to take over leadership of the Israelites after Moses’ death. Moses was a legendary leader, and Joshua must have been overwhelmed to take the reins from this giant.
He obviously was insecure about how he would be received and if he would live up to the expectations placed on him by others, himself and the position he was filling. In Joshua 1:5-9, God assured Joshua of his presence and announced four times in five verses that Joshua was to be “strong and courageous” as a result.
God was stamping this message of being strong and courageous onto Joshua’s insecure spirit. God shows no partiality. What he did with those in the Bible he does with us. He’s the same God who was with Joseph, Moses and Joshua. We can expect him to be with us too as we obediently align with the conditions of his Word.
*Author’s Note – This article has been adapted from the author’s book Spiritual Equipping For Mission: Thriving As God’s Message Bearers, published by InterVarsity Press. The book can be ordered here in paperback and Kindle.
1 A. T. Pierson, George Müller of Bristol (Eugene, OR: Kregel Publications, 1999), p. 15.
2 J. Robert Clinton, Titus: Apostolic Ministry (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 2001), p. 154.
3 Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender (Springdale, PA: Whitaker House, 1981), p. 89.