The word breakthrough might conjure images of a dramatic moment, perhaps of a person smashing through a barrier. It might look sudden and absolute, even inevitable, but breakthrough only comes after putting in the hard yards. Inevitably, there will be mental and spiritual distance between where you are now (position A) and where you want to be (position B). The greater the change we seek, the greater that distance is. Inspiration might arrive during worship or prayer, and in that moment our desires might feel within reach, but in reality, position B is likely to be a good way off.
That initial conviction is necessary, because without it we would lack the impetus for the journey we then need to embark on. When we hit a rocky stretch of path, it might be easy to turn back, if we are not driven by sufficient inspiration. I’ll offer an example from my own life, which I hope demonstrates the dynamics of breakthrough:
At the age of 19 I hit the wall, spiritually speaking. I’d been praying and seeking God, spending hours every day in Bible study and prayer, but rarely experienced anything that could be defined as spiritual. It was all effort, with no reward. Eventually I reached a point of desperation, and had a frank conversation with God, expressing frustration at my complete lack of spiritual experience. As far as I was concerned, knowing God ought to be the most satisfying, exciting experience a person could have, but I didn’t feel he was keeping up his end of the bargain. I reminded him of his Word, while half expecting a lightning bolt to drop me on the spot. I spoke to him of his promise – that the one who seeks, finds.
I’m now in my late 40s, and have learned that God is actually rather pleased when his children take his promises seriously. Didn’t Jacob wrestle with the Lord and refuse to let Him go until he blessed him? I’ve had a total of three frank and frustrated conversations with God over the years, and on each occasion it has led to a breakthrough. The Lord wants us to hold him to his word – not because he needs persuading, but because sometimes we need persuading of what we believe, and standing firm in our position as believers is an act of faith. God is a big fan of faith, and faith speaks!
God is faithful, and answered my earnest prayers to know him more closely. Perceiving his guidance was a rare occurrence, back then, but I managed to receive a single message in a quiet moment of prayer – if I wanted to be happy in my faith, I should seek out those who already were. In other words, I was to speak to some charismatics about the Holy Spirit. Now this scared me. My church background had taught me to be wary of people who used spiritual gifts. At best they were considered woolly and unsound, preferring experience over the Bible, and at worst they were straight up ‘of the Devil’. If that kind of talk goes uncontested, it lodges in a young person’s psyche, as it did in mine, and the idea of consciously approaching charismatics for spiritual advice elicited an emotional backlash. I was terrified of going ‘off the rails’, becoming ‘unsound’, and perhaps even abandoning faith altogether. I didn’t want to step onto what might be a slippery slope.
Thankfully, the desire I felt for the Lord was more compelling than the fear I had of wandering off the reservation, but it remained a fierce battle nonetheless, with many moments of confusion and doubt. Returning to uni after the summer break, I attended the first meeting of the Christian Union, and kept my eyes peeled for candidates to speak to. A youth pastor from a local Pentecostal church was visiting, and it was then that I received a second piece of guidance – a quiet knowing from the Lord that this chap, Martin, was the person I ought to speak to about the Holy Spirit.
Truthfully, I was half-convinced I was making the guidance up, and decided to check out Martin’s church before approaching him. The next Sunday morning, as I travelled to church on the bus, I was suffering emotional turmoil. The voices of my childhood were yelling at me (not literally), telling me I was straying from the path, abandoning sound faith, even flirting with spiritually dangerous forces. I wanted to get off the bus so bad, but I put myself in God’s hands. I told him I needed to feel peace when I entered the church, and that I’d turn tail and flee at the faintest hint of a negative vibe. I reminded him I was attending for one reason only – to decide whether or not to approach Martin about the Holy Spirit.
I walked into that auditorium riddled with anxiety, but then came a wash of peace, banishing my fear completely. The pre-service environment was comforting and calm, with a quiet buzz of anticipation in the air. I chose a seat at the back, picking up a pamphlet from the bible rack in the chair in front. I froze. The pamphlet was an invitation to a workshop on being filled with the Spirit, led by Martin. This was a major turning point for me. Until that moment, I’d been following what I’d hoped was guidance, but was utterly unconvinced I was hearing the Lord at all. Suddenly it was clear. The Lord had led me first of all to speak to the charismatics at my Christian Union, then narrowed that specifically to Martin, who was delivering a workshop on the exact topic I needed to talk to him about.
What a release! I was hearing God, after all! All my wriggling and restlessness had led me to the brink of breakthrough! For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into much detail, other than to say I began to experience the power and presence of God in ways that were new to me after the workshop. In the following few days, I laid hands on a friend to pray, and felt a tremendous rush of power through my body, flowing down my arms and out my fingertips. My friend had an immediate, profound experience, and was lost in the presence of God for hours. This had never happened when praying for people in the past, and suddenly it was happening all the time. After all my searching, I had arrived at position B.
Naturally, this isn’t the end of the story. That first breakthrough into spiritual intimacy and power led to other, more significant breakthroughs, each of which I sought and received through faith, but I’ll write about those another day. I find it helpful to focus on a single victory, sought after and received, to demonstrate the kind of work we might have to put in to get from position A to position B.
Think of all the friction I had to endure, in this specific breakthrough alone. First I had to get hungry for God, then I had to work out that long, daily times of prayer and Bible study didn’t lead to victory on their own. I needed to get angry, to voice my frustrations to God, which in turn led to the first real guidance I’d experienced as a young believer. After returning to uni, and feeling that the Lord was pointing me in Martin’s direction, I had to fight the fear within. I had to resist those inherited voices, and question the validity of the warnings I’d heard as a young man in church. I had to get on that bus, clinging tightly to God, and enter the church in turmoil. Only then did things start to get easier, when I felt the peace of God and received clear confirmation that I was on the right path, after all. Everything that came after was easy, compared to the initial friction of seeking, when I didn’t know the route, or that the destination I instinctively sought even existed.
All that work did nothing to change God. He was always willing to walk closely with me, to love and bless me in ways I could feel, but I was a long way from stepping into that. It was me that needed to change, and that required I go on a difficult journey, engaging with the friction of darkness, fear and doubt, until suddenly the light came on, and victory was mine.
What breakthrough do you long for in God? Do you want to feel his presence more? Do you yearn to become convinced of his love for you? Do you desire to move in spiritual gifts, or to move more powerfully in those gifts? Do you long to see gifts of healing poured out in the Church? Do you want to hear the voice of God more clearly? Do you yearn to know love, peace and joy?
Whatever it is you long for, I can promise you God is willing, because he loves us, wants the best for us, does not change and does not show favouritism. He is faithful to his promises, and ready to bless all those who are willing to do what it takes to receive those blessings. The words of Jesus make the heart of God plain for all to see. Luke 11, 11-13:
“Now which one of you fathers will his son ask for a fish, and instead of a fish, he will give him a snake? Or he will even ask for an egg, and his father will give him a scorpion? So if you, despite being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
Matthew 7, 7-8:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Everyone who asks, receives. The one who seeks, finds. To the one who knocks, the door will be opened. God is faithful and true, and always keeps his promises. Let us, in response to his goodness, commit to our personal journeys from where we are now to where we desire to be, steeling ourselves against the inevitable friction of change, and knowing that we will see victory, if we do not give up!
P.S. If you want to delve into this more, the first talk I delivered during lockdown was on the subject, and can be found here. If you prefer to read a short book about it, this is one of mine, written under a pseudonym to avoid cross pollination of genres (I’m a fiction author).