Is Spiritual Intensity Necessary?

How crucial is spiritual intensity?
How crucial is spiritual intensity? (Lightstock )

Spiritual intensity is that certain leadership quality that helps us tap into the presence and power of God. It is the passionate pursuit of God that enables us to know the fullness of His favor.

This does not suggest that God ever withholds His power for effective ministry. It's not a "works" thing, but I do believe He wants us to pursue Him. Your relationship with God is settled, but your ministry partnership with God is a dynamic process.

Richard Foster wrote about spiritual disciplines in his contemporary classic, Celebration of Discipline. In it, Foster lets us know the purpose is not discipline for the sake of discipline; it is about pursuing a greater closeness with the Father. It's like my daily jog. I don't run for the sake of running, I run for my health. It's not an exchange, there are no guarantees for my health, but a daily jog is a practice we would all know is conducive to good health. In other words I pursue good health, not jogging.

In the same way, there are ministry practices that lead to greater spiritual intensity, which in turn produce greater spiritual results.

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Here's one biblical picture of spiritual intensity. There is a story in Mark chapter 9 about a boy possessed by an evil spirit. The father was understandably distressed and the disciples were unable to cast out the spirit. Jesus said in verse 29 (NIV), "This kind can come out only by prayer" (and fasting in some manuscripts).

There was more "intense" ministry needed to see the results desired (prayer and fasting). Business as usual was not enough. 

Here's another story that demonstrates a different angle on spiritual intensity. Do you remember the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18:16-45? One prophet of God verses 450 prophets of Baal in a contest to which God answers by fire.

The prophets of Baal carried on louder and more intense, but with no results. They yelled louder, cut themselves and danced on and on ... but nothing. Elijah wets the wood and calls on the name of God. There was no show, nothing manufactured; it was a simple yet profound faith that God would come through. Elijah's faith was shaped by his life of prayer and closeness with God. The way we pursue God privately changes the results of ministry publicly. It's not a show on the stage; it's a result of what happens in your prayer closet.

Purpose is also central to God's presence and power. In verses 37-39, we see the purpose and results:

"Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!" The bottom line... so that the people will know that God is God!

Spiritual intensity is the opposite of a casual approach to faith and ministry. As I've said, it's not a works proposition, nor an ascetic act of overt discipline. It is about a passionate pursuit of God that elevates the spiritual temperature within the hearts of your congregation.

The following are four of the most common and practical expressions by which we can be casual or intense in our pursuit of God:

1. Worship. One practice at 12Stone that cultivates spiritual intensity in our worship services is an hour of prayer every Saturday night. This is the result of a prompt from God to our senior Pastor. No one is required to attend; it's an invitation to join him. We pray over all the chairs asking for God's presence and power in each person's life through the services the next day.

2. Heart for lost people. What is the temperature for people far from God in your church? Passion for people who don't follow Jesus must be cultivated. It doesn't happen on its own. All churches will naturally gravitate toward discipleship, so it's important to intentionally pursue consistent evangelism.

3. Prayer. I don't believe God hears our prayers better if we get louder, but I do think that He notices the level of our heart's passion. It's like the difference between when you pray for someone who is ill that you've never met, and when you pray for your own kids when they are really sick. You know the difference. You pray with a different level of intensity!

None of us can pray at that level of intensity all the time, and that is not asked of us, but some prayers are destined to come from the deepest places of our hearts.

4. Compassion. Most churches are involved in local expressions of compassion in their communities. We know God's love is expansive for the poor and those in need. Compassion is never convenient, inexpensive, or easy. It is never sustained on a casual level, and churches that are inward focused don't engage in this practice. Compassion involves both a heartfelt love and rolling up of our sleeves.

None of these four practices are meant to represent duty. They are a response to God's love to help us appropriately engage in spiritual intensity. Now you can decide if spiritual intensity is necessary or not, and how you might respond accordingly!

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

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