I was thinking and praying about, “What’s this breakthrough? God, what do You want to do in me? What do You want to do through me? I mean, what is it – what are the impossible things that I’ve just grown accustomed to that You want to break through in me?” And I was just reading through – I have a little devotional, called “Magnificent Prayer,” about prayer, that I read just about every morning, and I came across a quote that literally kind of energized my whole view of breakthrough.
It’s by a preacher of the 19th century; his name is Phillips Brooks, and he said this: “Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger.” Now, is that an amazing thought? You cannot pray a prayer that, no matter how large it was, that, after you have prayed it, God would wish that you would have made it larger. And then, I love the last line. He says, “Pray not for crutches, but for wings.” Don’t pray for a little help to get through the situation; pray to soar.
And it just reminded me, God is good. God wants to bless you. He wants to intervene. He wants to take the most difficult situations, the most difficult relationships, the most amazing things that you couldn’t fathom, in your neighborhood, and at your job, and with your relatives, and with your past, and with your struggles, and He wants to – Whewww! – blow His power into ‘em and change ‘em.
Can you imagine – what it would be like – can you imagine one of your neighbors knocking on the door and saying, “You know something? We know that you’re one of those Christians. Would you lead a Bible study in our neighborhood? We would like to discover who Jesus is.”
Or can you imagine going into work one day, and you know the person that’s a jerk, I mean, the person that you wish would leave, coming in and saying, “Um, excuse me, could we talk?” And you get over there, and he goes, “I was riding on the bus, and some really weird looking person started talking to me, and I just wanted him to go away, and he talked about Jesus, and life, and eternal life, and payment for my sin, and I have no idea why I was listening. But I found myself at a park bench later, sitting down, and I prayed to receive Christ, and . . .” Can you imagine that?
Can you imagine one of your relatives that, I mean’s just mean, cantankerous, that you just think there’s no hope for, and having them calling you and saying, “You know what? I’ve just trusted Christ”? God really loves everyone. God can do anything.
What would you want Him to do? What would you want Him to do in your life? And maybe it’s not a neighbor or a boss; maybe it’s like, you know, you’ve struggled with that alcohol, that porn addiction, the guilt from the past from a divorce or an abortion – you know, just an issue inside, where you know – you just sense, and you’ve tried a number of times, and, for you, it’s a spiritual issue; it’s not even a weight issue. It’s just, you keep eating food when you know you’re not really hungry, and you keep hitting it, hitting it, hitting it, and you’re down on you, and you live in shame. What would happen if the power of God was released in your life, and then through your life?
We’re gonna learn that He wants to do it, but we’re gonna learn, also, that we have to make room. Isaiah
54, He says to Israel, at a time when their life is not going well, and breakthrough doesn’t even seem possible – He says this to them: “Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords . . . strengthen your pegs.” Why? “For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. Your descendants” – I mean, they’re in captivity. “Your descendants [are going to resettle cities and nations. God is going to use you].”
He’s saying, “You need to make room for the huge and amazing blessing beyond what you can imagine is coming.” And what I want you to know is that you and I have to do that in our private lives. We’ve gotta do it in our relational lives. And we need to make room, even in the Church, to let God work.
So, what is a breakthrough? It’s an offensive thrust that penetrates and carries beyond a defensive line in warfare. We’re in a war, and it’s a war for your soul, and it’s a war for the future. But breakthrough isn’t something we wait around and hope God will do, someday, some way, sometime. God has promised and wants to – it’s something we do. Only He makes it happen, but there’s initiative on our part. It’s an act or instance of breaking through an obstacle. So, breakthroughs have to do with – there’s resistance. It’s difficult. There’s a barrier. And breakthroughs always have a sudden advance. Change happens; there’s a difference.
Then, last week, we said there’s a pattern of breakthrough. We find, in our personal lives or in a group or in a church or in a city, or as we see globally, there’s a great need. And the great need is caused by great sin, and sin is just missing the mark. We’re not doing life God’s way. And sin always leads to great bondage. People become slaves – become slaves of food, slaves of money, slaves of sex, slaves of power. Breakthroughs come not when people realize they’re in pain, in difficulty, and there are bad people, and they don’t measure up, and they think God would never want them. Breakthroughs come when they understand the goodness and the kindness of God. It’s the tolerance of God, it’s the love of God, it’s the patience of God, Romans chapter 2 tells us, that leads us to repentance, to a change of mind.
I want you to know that, whatever breakthrough you’re struggling with, whatever breakthrough you would long to see happen in your family, the breakthrough will come, not when you’re down on yourself and, “I can’t measure up. I need to get with the program.” The breakthrough will come when you can begin to grasp that God is waiting with open arms, and He loves you, and He loves people that you don’t think much of, and He cares about them. And He literally wants you and me to be agents of kindness and love.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t boundaries; it doesn’t mean there isn’t truth. It means that you aren’t their judge, God is. And the judgment of God, by and large, is just the consequences of people’s behavior.
And then, God, over and over and over and over – He does it in individuals. He does it in families. He does it in small groups. Historically, He does it in churches. At times, He does it in whole cities. And then, there are times where – we’ve even seen it in the last 40 or 50 years – He does it in nations, where there’s a revolution of breakthrough and the kindness and the goodness of God. God’s deliverance comes through a clear, strong vision of – what? – of God’s goodness and mercy.
Notice, from where does this clear, strong vision of God’s goodness and mercy? It’s birthed in ordinary people that meet the great needs, by unleashing God’s power in impossible situations. What we’re talking about is not for special people that get in stained glass someday. What we’re talking about is the God of the universe that wants to take the person that’s sitting in your seat, and get you to believe and to trust that He’s so good and so kind and so willing and so powerful, that He would use an ordinary person like you – to receive that and then pass it on.
If what I just said is true – and it’s borne out in Scripture; it’s borne out in Church history – how does breakthrough actually happen? How does it happen? This isn’t theory; this isn’t what ought or should or maybe could happen someday, some way. How does it happen?
The answer is, the pathway to breakthrough involves three things.
First of all, God’s sovereign work in the world. When you look at how God has broken through – in seasons in the Old Testament, in captivity, in the coming of Christ, in major things like the Reformation, when you see what happened in China or in Korea, in South America or in Africa in the last 90 or 100 years – the pattern is all the same.
Number one, there’s external pressure. External pressure. Stuff starts happening – economies, politics, shifts, famine, plagues, difficulties. There’s external pressure in the world.
Simultaneously, there’s internal deterioration. This is a picture of the Roman Empire. God didn’t just come at a certain time. Galatians 4:4 says when the world was pregnant, when it was ready, when the world was ripe for a breakthrough – there was external pressure. There were ethnic divisions. There were problems with the economy. There was Roman and Greek culture in conflict.
And there was internal deterioration – infanticide, families, women being passed around, being divorced seven, eight, and nine times. There was a global crisis. And into that breakthrough, Jesus came.
And you see that pattern – God sovereignly works. We’re gonna talk about our responsibility, but jot, if you would, in the corner, Job 42:2. It’s near the end of the book. And if you know the story of Job, he’s been through a lot. And he didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. But as he gets near to the end of the book and sees life for how it is, this is what Job says: “I know [O God] that You can do[anything], and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
I will tell you this: No purpose of God will be thwarted in your life, in this church, in this country, in any nation, or in all of history. God is sovereignly at work, and He will take the error and the pain, the disobedience, the judgment, the faithfulness of people, and He aligns those things, and He brings about the velvet vice of external pressure. And then, as the way people live begins to deteriorate, and they realize they have need, He creates windows of crisis in individuals’ lives, windows of crisis in groups and in churches, and in cities and in nations, and when there’s responsiveness, we make room. And when we make room – Whewww! – the Spirit of God blows with power, and He works in individuals, and revolutions occur. And we’ve seen it happen over and over and over.
Second, it’s the sovereign work of God, not just in the world, but He always begins with His people. When you happen to be a follower of Christ for a while, after a while, what we start doing is, “You know, the problem is Hollywood. I mean, are they just putting out a bunch of lousy stuff, or what?” Or, “You know what? It’s the government. I mean, let’s have coffee and just talk about the government.” Or, “You know what? The educational –” Right? Or, “Those corporations . . .” Or, “It’s all those lazy people.” What we tend to do is, we find someone else, somewhere, where the problem is, to blame, and I will tell you this – here’s God’s perspective: Repentance always begins with a household of faith.
Here’s the principle: God must work deeply in you, before He will work powerfully through you. That’s always His agenda. He worked in Paul; He worked in Peter. You look at what happened in China – He worked in people. External pressure, persecution, kick the missionaries out. You look at Korea, a pagan nation. You look at what’s happened in South America.
You look at the last 90 or 100 years in Africa. At the current rate, there will be more black Christians than white Christians in the world, because of the movement and the power of God. But He always starts in us. He always puts His finger on what He wants to do in us.
And so, individuals have a breakthrough, like an apostle Paul. And then, a group has a breakthrough, like the Church. And the early Church breakthrough was to realize – can you imagine this? “You mean, God doesn’t just love Jews?” This was hundreds of years of – pooo! – breakthrough. “He cares about them?”
And after that breakthrough, then you see communities impacted. And as it’s rolled out in the New Testament, you go from the Jews to, then, the Samaritans, the mixed breed, and then, by chapter 10, it’s the Gentiles. And what you see is a spontaneous movement of God, and often centered around cities. City movements are birthed, and nations are transformed.
In 1857 – it’s a interesting story, and there are many more of these – but in 1857, morality in America was in the pits. If you know some of the research between 1857 to about 1890 or close to 1900, it went from about the average of seven kids, to three kids, because abortion was so widespread in America. And thanks, believe it or not, to the feminists and the American Medical Society, they said, “How we’re treating women –” Abortion was just basically birth control. Pushed on women.
And in 1857, with external pressures, and then internal deterioration, a group of people thought, Something needs to happen, and they started praying, in New York City.
In that little prayer meeting, they just began to take three requests, answers, three requests, answers, three requests, answers. And all I can tell you is, they made room for God. And they said, “You know, we got a big problem, and this country’s going down the tubes. And boy, there are all kind of issues, and it’s family issues and moral issues, and economic issues and . . .”
And pretty soon, something happened, and thousands of people were taking their lunch hour, all over New York, and praying. And then, pretty soon, it went to other major cities, and literally, statistically, millions of people came to Christ, and there was a reshifting and a rebalancing. Why? ‘Cause God worked in His people.
But when God works in His people, the litmus test is not that they get together and go, “Oh, I love Jesus now. We need everything Christian. I love being with Christian people! And let’s read the Bible more! And I wanna be at church, not three times a week, but seven times a week! And in fact, we’ll have Christian bowling, and we’ll have Christian dentists and Christian doctors and Christian recording artists, and Christian everything. In fact, I want – I’ll Christian floss, with a Christian toothbrush made by Christians who make great toothpaste!”
And what happens is, the privatization and thinking that this movement of God is about our little world, and there are the bad people out there, and, somehow, that we are God’s people, totally misses everything God wants to do. That’s not a breakthrough. That’s a bend-in.
The litmus test of when the Spirit of God supernaturally works is, He’s orchestrating things in the world, sovereignly. And then, He begins to work in His people, dynamically. And then, His people get it, and they begin to deal with issues in their heart and their relationships, and then He works through them, supernaturally.