A monthly column by Michael Cassidy, evangelist, author, Christian leader and founder of African Enterprise whose ministry in Africa and the world has spanned more than 50 years.
Part 2 of a 2-part series on the painful but profitable process of being refined through the ‘baptism of fire’
I have often spoken of a verse that was very powerfully applied to my heart over the years, namely John 12:24: I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
It’s that dying bit that is so hard. I remember some months before the South African Christian Leadership Assembly (SACLA) held in Pretoria in July 1979 the Spirit convinced me that there was another brother in a neighbouring country who had something against me and I needed to try to reconcile with him before the conference. “But Lord, he has hurt me. I haven’t hurt him,” I protested. “Why should I go?” “What does my word say?” seemed to be the response of the Spirit of God. Then I thought of Matthew 5:23–24. It was rather plain: First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift (v 24).
Anyway, after much protest to the Lord, the next day I was on my way. A strange, beautiful, but again difficult journey in the Spirit. A partial healing of the relationship took place. Later it became gloriously complete. But it seemed just so much dying had to take place to get there. This same sort of process took place in many others while they were at SACLA. For many, SACLA was a baptism with fire. That is why I knew so truly that it was a work of the Holy Spirit.
Former African Enterprise colleague, the late Festo Kivengere, once underlined to me a truth which lay at the heart of his own ministry on the Holy Spirit, and at the centre of the East African Revival. Pentecost flowed from Calvary. Calvary was its context. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus and Jesus is the Christ of Calvary. Unless, therefore, our teaching on the Holy Spirit is allied to the cross and its self-sacrificing imperatives, we can miss the fact that the Spirit is primarily concerned to conform us to the image of Christ in our characters and in the producing of His fruit, especially love, in the life of the believer. The person who is full of the Holy Spirit is the one who loves and who is like Christ. There is no other ultimate test.
What we have to do is to reason and preach from Calvary. We have to sustain the view from the cross — not just as our place of conversion and salvation, but as our means of growth. As self is crucified, the Spirit is released more and more in fullness. In fact, in Festo’s excellent book, When God Moves, the very first paragraph is as follows:
The word REVIVAL has 7 letters: three on one side, R—E—V; and three on the other side, V—A—L. In the centre is the letter “I”. Now how do we get to revival? Simply by crossing out the “I”. Try writing the word carefully with a capital “I” in the centre. Then put a line through the “I” and it becomes a cross. Self-centeredness is the greatest enemy of spiritual life. You are going to be involved in inward battle and conflict as long as the centre of your personality is occupied by that little god. It’s too little to be your god. It can’t occupy the throne. The throne is for Him who died in love for you — I mean God in Jesus Christ. When self is on the throne, it is conspicuously out of place: too weak to meet your needs, too small to satisfy your hunger, too dry to quench your thirst.
A personal crisis
After SACLA, I was worn out in more ways than one. With Carol and our three children I set off for a much needed sabbatical. They were not easy months. In the first place I had become deeply concerned about aspects of our ministry in AE. In a sense the issue was whether as a work we would really seek in new ways to walk in the Spirit in terms of the agenda of God for us, or whether we would just do our own thing in our own energy. Could self-will be eliminated even in the scheduling of an entire organisation? Not only I but several others in AE were battling with this.
The thought became a nightmare to me. It plagued me day and night — literally. For months and months I woke at 4 am or earlier. These were hard thoughts to entertain of myself, or of the organisation I belonged to. They are equally hard to hear and receive for any individual or group or congregation, especially if habits of “doing it my way” have become well set and established. In fact breaking out of old ways hurts. And it is difficult. It involves constant crucifixion and many moments of pain which God uses to try to bring us more fully under His control, so that where the Master is, there is the servant also, not vice versa.
About this time I was due to skip out of Oxford and head off for several weeks to Thailand for a conference. I even had a paper to give and a study group to lead. However, in prayer one morning the Spirit mightily convinced me that I was not to go. I was to stay where I was.
Hide yourself, God’s word to Elijah in 1 Kings 17:3 (RSV), gripped me firmly in its grasp. Perhaps, had I known what the next three weeks were to bring forth, I would have opted for the long journey east, like Jonah heading for Tarshish! But Oxford was my Nineveh of divine appointment for those days. The mechanics of how it all happened are of less consequence than the spiritual process itself. But in effect in those following weeks all my Isaacs were systematically taken up my Mount Moriah and forced to the altar of sacrifice. My desire to be a good evangelist, my continuing involvement in AE, my ongoing presence in South Africa, our beautiful home, all were taken by the Spirit of God, not theoretically but existentially and truly. I was left living at Mount Moriah with the knife poised over my Isaacs, and not knowing whether there would be a ram caught in the thicket.
My Isaacs — all things which in and of themselves were good — were in danger, as I began to see it, of becoming idols. They were getting in the way of God. This was especially true of my relationship to AE which I saw, as Abraham with Isaac, as the means by which I would bless the world. Not surprisingly, God went for that one hardest. Finally I let go. It was gone. I was leaving AE. I felt curiously light, as if a massive weight of baggage had been lifted.
The end of a long week finally came. I went to church on Sunday, and the message was on Nehemiah the leader, the rebuilder, the mourner, the lamenter for Israel. It was momentous for me. The Holy Spirit was in it. The word was to rebuild. The word was to keep courage. Should a man like me run away? asked Nehemiah (6:11). The word was to persevere. So the wall was completed (6:15).
The prayer of Sir Francis Drake came to mind: “Lord, when thou givest to thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning but the continuing of the same until it be thoroughly finished which yieldeth the true glory; through Him, who for the finishing of Thy work, laid down His life, our Redeemer Jesus Christ.”
I was out of the woods — re-commissioned, re-called, renewed. African Enterprise was handed back to me, though I now held it in freedom. It did not hold me, nor could it ever again in the same way as before. South Africa and our precious home came back to me. Above all I could continue evangelising, which was my love, but more as God’s servant than as one of AE’s preachers! It had been an incredible time. A scorching time. Yes, one was going forward through crossfire!
But, lest anyone imagine I was now soaring on some new height of sparkling spirituality, I must add that the Calvary process kept going and it still goes on. I’m convinced we never get it taped. We are never finally on top. We never arrive. Not until Glory! This was underlined to me through a powerful and challenging book by Roy Hession called Calvary Road. Commenting on this cross experience, Hession writes: “Dying to self is not a thing we do once and for all. There may be an initial dying when God first shows these things, but ever after, it will be a constant dying, for only so can the Lord Jesus be revealed constantly through us. All day long the choice will be before us in a thousand ways.”
After reading this book, I was confronted almost immediately with the situation of a friend who had exercised my patience at several points. In fact, perhaps unconsciously, he had hurt me deeply. Wanting to face him with his supposed affronts to my person, I set off to set him straight and sort him out. The words “mote and beam” sizzled into my spiritual consciousness from Hession’s book.
“Lord, you mean, my mote and his beam.” “No, my son, I mean your beam and his mote. You leave him to me to sort out and in the meantime ask his forgiveness for your attitude.” Oh, my goodness! That meant such a mouthful of humble pie, indeed a king-sized helping. But if my brother has a mote, or a speck, and I have a beam, what is that beam, I wondered. Hession had the answer:
Now we all know what Jesus meant by the mote in the other person’s eye… But what did the Lord Jesus mean by the beam in our eye? I suggest that the beam in our eye is simply our unloving reaction to the other person’s mote. Without doubt there is a wrong in the other person. But our reaction to that wrong is a wrong too! The mote in him has provoked in us resentment, or coldness, or criticism, or bitterness, or evil speaking, or ill will — all of them variants of the basic ill, un-love. And that, said the Lord Jesus, is far, far worse than the tiny wrong (sometimes quite unconscious) that provoked it. A beam means a rafter. And the Lord Jesus means by this comparison to tell us that our unloving reaction to the other’s wrong is what a great rafter is to a little splinter!
But let us not think that a beam is of necessity some violent reaction on our part. The first beginning of resentment is a beam, as is also the first flicker of an unkind thought, or the first suggestion of unloving criticism. Where that is so, it only distorts our vision and we shall never see our brother as he really is, beloved of God. If we speak to our brother with that in our hearts, it will only provoke him to adopt the same attitude to us, for it is a law of human relationships that “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
But does this mean that my brother is without fault and I who would judge the only one who is guilty? Not at all, says Hession:
But as we take these simple steps of repentance, then we see clearly to cast the mote out of the other’s eye, for the beam in our eye has gone. In that moment God will pour light in on us as to the other’s need, that neither he nor we ever had before. We may see then that the mote we were so conscious of before, is virtually non-existent — it was but the projection of something that was in us. On the other hand, we may have revealed to us hidden underlying things, of which he himself was hardly conscious. Then as God leads us, we must lovingly and humbly challenge him, so that he may see them too, and bring them to the Fountain for sin and find deliverance. He will be more likely than ever to let us do it — indeed if he is a humble man, he will be grateful to us, for he will know now that there is no selfish motive in our heart, but only love and concern for him.
And so with all these thoughts rushing through my mind, I met my friend and confessed my fault. I won’t deny it was hard. It was veritably a Calvary road for my pride, but it was good. He confessed that he had indeed failed me. And we went forward in light — and growing!
The Spirit of God over the years has seemed in so many and various ways to be pointing to the dangers in my own renewal personally, and in the Church’s renewal generally, when triumphalism or fleshly responses enter with all their self-satisfaction and self-assertiveness. God seemed to be underlining that the true mark of the Spirit’s working is self-sacrifice, humility, servanthood, and forgiving love as the hallmark par excellence of the Spirit’s presence. The cross must remain central. It is a tough challenge, but an unavoidable one. For this is the way of love.
So if we are going to go forward in the faith we first of all need to appropriate and exercise the gifts of the Spirit in ministry. But we also need to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, especially love, in life and character. In reality it seems on our part we cannot avoid walking first via the cross, with its Calvary demands, and secondly via the fire of the Spirit with its painful and purging power, which is God’s part.