Special note from Joel: This is one of those messages I review periodically as a refresher. It’s such a powerful reminder of what’s really important in our life in Christ, a reminder we need to hear often. For me, this message is a classic. It’s one of those messages that impacted me perhaps more than any other – a handful of messages have had this kind of impact on my life-course and ministry and I want to share it with you now. Enjoy!
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I was recently asked the question, “What is the Holy Spirit saying to the church today?” Instantly the Lord said that He is not saying as much as we say that He is, but He is saying a whole lot more than any of us want to hear.
I was in another meeting and I asked the Lord, “What are you going to do here tonight?” He said, “I’m not going to do anything and don’t you try anything either!” So it seems that there is the need for some adjustment if we are going to hear what the Lord is saying to us and participate in what He is doing. I have concluded that there is often a conflict between our ability to walk in the anointing and many of the things we do to seek respectability in the eyes of men.
I looked up the word respectability and it means “moderately good social standing.” A little bit of respectability is alright, but when it becomes too important we can be in jeopardy of losing the anointing. As the Lord Jesus warned, “…that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). If we want to be respected by men, we are going to have to do the things that are esteemed by them, and those things are often repulsive to the Lord. God will not anoint that which is detestable to Him!
The Corinthian church had the reputation of being one of the most gifted and anointed churches in the New Testament; it was also the most carnal. Paul had founded the Corinthian church and was a true spiritual father to them, loving, encouraging and rebuking them when they needed it. In I Corinthians 4:1-16, Paul contrasted the lifestyle of the Corinthians with that of the apostles in a diatribe of divine sarcasm: the apostles were condemned to death as spectacles to the world and were seen as fools for Christ’s sake, but the Corinthians were prudent; the apostles were viewed as weak, the Corinthians as strong. The apostles were without honor while the Corinthians were distinguished.
Paul went on to declare that “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things…” This testifies that the apostles were anything but respectable in the eyes of the world. Instead they were actually considered “the scum of the world and the dregs of all things.” But they also had something that was worth more than the whole world—they had the anointing!
Having become both comfortable and respectable, the Corinthians believed that they had upstaged Paul. There are many today who point to their wealth and respectability as evidence of God’s blessing and anointing, when it can actually be evidence that we have departed from the course. The persecuted apostles, who were in their day considered the scum of the earth and the dregs of humanity, will have a different place in eternity. If we want respectability in eternity we sometimes have to embrace humility in this life. Those who want respectability in this life may find themselves in a most humble place for eternity. Those who want respectability with men will usually end up doing that which is detestable in the sight of God in order to get it. Even Christ Jesus Himself had to “empty Himself” and “become of no reputation” in order to do the will of God (Philippians 2:7-8). Paul was warning the Corinthians that they could lose everything by trading the anointing for respectability.
Phineas F. Bresee was the founder of the Nazarene Church. His final words to the Nazarenes before dying were, “Keep the glory down,” meaning to keep the glory in the meetings. Before passing away he went from camp meeting to camp meeting, from revival to revival, exhorting them to keep the glory down, saying, “We may be whipped to pieces if our doctrine is attacked; we may not be theologically correct in everything, but we have the glory and the power and the anointing of God and whatever you do, don’t lose it or you’ll have nothing.”
Thomas Aquinas was once walking with a parish priest who called Thomas’ attention to a great cathedral, saying “Just look at that! We can no longer say ‘silver and gold have we none.’” Thomas’ reply was filled with remorse, “Neither can we say ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’” It is a most serious thing to lose the anointing.
The tragedy of the Corinthian situation is that they began to think that they had “arrived” when they began to gain the world’s respect. Respectability is not wrong in itself; in truth most of us could use a little more than we have, but we must be careful how we get it. The more the church has sought to be respectable and prosperous according to present cultural standards, the more we have been humiliated and scorned. We need respectability and authority with God more than we need it with men.
Paul later wrote to the Galatians, who had fallen into the same trap as the Corinthians, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). Our job on earth is not to gain the respect of the world but to save men from the world! As James affirmed in his epistle, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Joining ourselves to the ways of the world is spiritual adultery. Seeking the friendship of the world puts us in jeopardy of making ourselves enemies of God. There should be no greater fear in our life than to seek friendship with the world!
If we’re going to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing… we must realize that some changes have to come. There is a prophetic move unfolding, and no matter how messy it is, or no matter how messy it becomes, it is going to go forward and accomplish the purpose of God. It does not matter how foolish it appears to men, as Paul explained to the Corinthians, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (I Corinthians 1:27). The world called the very cross of Jesus foolishness, so let us take comfort that we are in good company when we are called foolish!
But let us not be foolish before both God and men by trying to appear foolish. It is not our purpose to be foolish but to be wise according to God’s wisdom. His wisdom is not of this world and cannot be understood from the world’s perspective. We cannot understand His wisdom when we are dominated by the cares and worries of the world, most of which come by seeking the world’s approval.
But, why on earth would we admire anyone who says he is a fool for Christ? Or why would this even appeal to anybody? It will never appeal to the natural man, but is inconsequential to the one who is putting his treasure and his hope in heavenly places, who esteems the purposes of God and desires to see Jesus receive the reward of His sacrifice more than personal gain. Such is the nature of those who have a true ministry and not just a profession.
There are four stigmas that will usually accompany those who are spiritually-minded:
NUMBER ONE — embarrassment. This stigma is not tolerable to those who are self-seeking and eliminates many who would be pretenders to the ministry. If we are going to walk in the power released to the faithful, we will have to occasionally accept embarrassment.
NUMBER TWO — being misunderstood. Jesus was misunderstood; His apostles were misunderstood, as has been every prophet or messenger to bring revival and advancement to the church. While on the cross, Jesus was misunderstood. He had little Mary Magdalene out there weeping her heart out, His enemies scorning Him, but He could not tell them He really was the Son of God and was on that cross for their own salvation. When we take up our crosses we too must accept being misunderstood when we are carrying out the very purposes of God. Those who insist on being understood often separate themselves from the anointing.
NUMBER THREE — the occasional requirement to be set aside and do nothing. God has not called us to be successful; He has called us to be obedient. God already has all of the success He needs; all He requires of us is to partake of what He has done and is doing.
Most of us are so addicted to human attention we would rather have bad press than no press; becoming a non-entity or getting no attention can be the heaviest burden for those who receive their reward from men’s attention. If we are laboring when God has called us to rest, we can go out and raise ten thousand from the dead and displease God. He has called us to obedience, not sacrifice.
After stirring the entire city of Samaria, Philip the evangelist was commanded to turn it all over to other men and go out into the desert to talk to just one man. How many of us are obedient enough to leave a revival that we were used to start, at its very peak, to go minister to individuals in obscurity? If you cannot embrace this you will at times miss the purpose of God and end up doing your own thing instead of His.
One of the most embarrassing periods of my life was when God set me aside in obscurity for twenty-seven years. Nobody bought any of my stock. Few contributed to my ministry because they thought I was a has-been, that I was not going anywhere. In truth I was, and I remain nothing without God and His anointing. I am, in fact, an earthen vessel and that period of time just affirmed to me I am nothing and have nothing without Him. But that is what we have missed in the Charismatic movement—the stigma of the cross. The result has been little glory, little power, little of the anointing, and ironically, the humiliation has come anyway! If we are going to look foolish anyway, why not do it for the right reason and walk in the anointing?
We must realize that we are not going anywhere in the so-called prophetic movement, or any other movement, without bearing the reproach and the stigma of the cross. Are we willing to be set at nought? Are we willing to be rejected like Jesus, the rejected Cornerstone? Are we willing to look like nothing until God makes something out of nothing? Are we willing to wait, like God is willing to wait, for His name to be vindicated? Jesus will be vindicated for eternity; it is better to wait for eternity to vindicate us than insist upon it in this life.
NUMBER FOUR — to be made defenseless. It is embarrassing and awkward when you cannot defend yourself, when you know that you are right about something, but God does not allow you to defend yourself because He has a higher purpose.
Paul said at one point that all men had forsaken him and that nobody stood with him. It may not make any sense to the sophisticated, but this was actually the answer to Paul’s own prayer. Paul had prayed that he could know the power of the Lord’s resurrection by being conformed to the image of His death. Jesus died essentially alone, with even His most intimate disciples having fled from identification with Him. Paul died just like that but he also received the power of resurrection life he had prayed to know — though he has been dead nearly two thousand years, he is still one of the most powerful voices in this world and is still reaping fruit for eternal life. He was deserted while in this life, but like his Lord, honored like few others ever have been after his passing. If we want the eternal honor we must learn not to be concerned with the temporal.
I never made sense to the Charismatic movement when I first came to it. In fact, I did not fit in at all. I never will forget the first mega-faith church I preached in. I got sick right in the middle of the message (You should avoid getting sick while preaching in a faith church!). But I was sick and I admitted it to get the church to pray for me. I was an embarrassment for those people. I was about to double up; I was about to regurgitate. That’s the Greek for something awful. Those people were ashamed of me, but the Lord healed me anyway. As soon as the service was over the pastor called me to one side and said that I could not come back to his church. When I asked why, he said that I did a splendid job after the Lord touched me, but that his church was “a positive church.” “You have to be positive in this church”, he said. When I asked what he meant he said, “You got up there and told all these people that you were sick.” “Well, so what?” I replied, “I’ve never been more positive in my life that I was sick!” (The Scripture says that God does at times declare “the things that are not as though they were.” But some have gotten that backwards and are trying to declare the things that are as though they are not, which is a delusion. How can we ask for the elders to come pray with faith for the sick if we never admit that we are sick? This is a kind of foolishness that is not from God, but is simply stupid-foolish!)
I have at times known the anointing, and at times I’ve had respectability. At one time I had the largest evangelistic tent in the world, and I have been given an honorary doctorate, but I stand today ready to give up every bit of respectability and status I have for just a little bit of the anointing, to see the power of God that comes when we give ourselves to Him with a childlike faith.
There was a time during the first years of the healing movement when I think we had a measure of the childlike faith that so pleases God. We trusted in eternal life to the degree that we had no regard for danger or fear; we felt like we could not die, but if we did die one of the other brothers would be used to raise us back up… that is the kind of childlike faith that enters the kingdom and sees the glory of God.
The once humble Corinthian church had the anointing, but they were still treated like scum and they wanted to be respectable. For a while they didn’t mind the persecution, they didn’t mind being made fun of. When most of us were first born-again and baptized in the Holy Spirit, we were so crazy about God that we appeared to be crazy to everyone else—if we weren’t called lunatics we were called heretics. But how many more people did we lead to the Lord then? How many more miracles and healings were we used for when we were “crazy,” before we got “mature” and respectable? If it were measured, most Christians probably are used for over 90% of their effective service for the Lord in the first two years after being born-again or baptized in the Holy Spirit.
One good miracle will do more for our faith than hearing a thousand teachings about miracles. We need teaching, but we first need to be able to do what we are teaching about. There is a saying that those who can do, do, but those who can’t do, teach. Jesus went about “to DO and to TEACH” (Acts 1:1). He did the works of God before He taught about them. If we had the same practice there would be more working and less teaching, but the teaching that was done would accomplish far more than it seems to be doing now. But teaching is respectable while praying for the sick requires risk—risk that the person does not get healed and we are made to look foolish (Stigma #1) because the person does not get healed. So what if only 10% get healed, or even 2%; that is still better than the 0% the critics have going for them!
But the Corinthians didn’t like the stigmas that come with the anointing. They didn’t appreciate being ostracized and being different, being laughed at. So they lost their enthusiasm they had when they were first converted. We find that when enthusiasm grows thin in our own lives, we don’t want to be persecuted and be made fun of anymore. We then try to find just enough respectability to keep the anointing, but soon we have too much respectability and lose the anointing.
Again, remember, God anoints the foolish and the weak.
The Corinthians opened their hearts to the wisdom of the world. After all, they had quite a heritage. Greece was known for its philosophical genius’. So they dipped into worldly wisdom and began to feel good about themselves. They reached the place where they outgrew Paul, the very man who fathered them and brought them into this wonderful experience with Christ.
The church in Jerusalem actually fell to the same problem as the Corinthians and had to be rebuked by James in his epistle. About ten or fifteen years after they were founded, they got tired of having the simple, ordinary meetings with ordinary believers attending. So they fell to giving more honor to the wealthy and powerful who would come. They made fools of themselves by giving esteem and position to the one with the gold ring. This spirit is what was to kill the power of the church three hundred years later. It is said by some that it took the church three hundred years to conquer the Roman Empire. This may be true, but once the church became respectable and esteemed by the Romans, it only took the Romans about three years to conquer the church with their spirit of the world.
The only way that we are going to win anyone, whether rich, poor, weak or mighty, is by the glory, the anointing, the power of Almighty God and the Holy Ghost. No one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him, which He sent the Holy Spirit to do. Anything that we, as mere men, try to add to the glory and anointing of God is a defilement and will cause the glory to depart. As Francis Frangipane has said, the only thing that the church needs that she is missing is God!
Being Pentecostal or Charismatic means something more than the Fourth of July or any other holiday—it means the anointing of God has come. That is what we should be proud of. To receive the Holy Spirit of God is to be more treasured than gaining the whole world. The world and all of its fading glories will pass away; the Holy Spirit is eternal. Let us glory in that which truly has value and not seek glory from those who live according to the fading, temporary esteem of this world.
The irony of the Corinthian situation is that Paul was more respectable than all of them put together. He was a member of the Jewish aristocracy, a disciple of one of the most esteemed teachers of his day, a Pharisee of Pharisees who was blameless according to the letter of the law, and even a Roman citizen—and he gave it all up to follow Christ; he gave it up for the anointing, for the power of the gospel, and the power of Christ. Paul considered the reproach of the cross as more valuable than all of the esteem and respect that the world could give him.
The Lord Jesus Himself could have come with all of the respect and human glory He wanted, but He chose to come in humility. He was born in a stable, raised as a peasant in the most despised town in the most despised nation on earth. The greatest man of God of all time, the very Son of God Himself, did not even have a place to lay His head. The One who could have dispensed with Rome by a single prayer, chose the way of the cross, the most humiliating and painful death one could experience. He likewise declared that if we were to be His followers, we too would have to take up our own crosses every day.
“God resists the proud but gives His grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Seeking respectability is rooted in foolish human pride that actually brings God’s own resistance to our lives. If we want the grace of God, we should be devoting ourselves to humility, not respectability.
When Jesus addressed the Laodician church, He rebuked them because they thought they were rich because they had the world’s goods, but in fact they were poor, blind and naked. On the other hand, the church in Smyrna thought that they were poor because they were in poverty and were persecuted, but Jesus Himself said that they were rich. Jesus was here defining what true riches are—the pleasure of God is our wealth.
We have materialism today but little anointing. There almost seems to be an incompatibility between the anointing and respectability. I said “almost” because respectability can have its place and God can use it. Luther said, “God uses sex to drive a man to marriage, ambition to drive a man to service, fear to drive a man to faith.” A certain spiritual ambition will drive us to better ourselves and God uses it. But as we mature, we must come to the place where we are more devoted to what the Lord gains than by what we gain. It is not wrong to desire personal gain; even the Lord Jesus endured the cross for the glory that was set before Him. But when we truly fall in love, we will actually desire more for the one we love than we do for ourselves. As we truly fall in love with God, we will desire His glory far more than we do our own. When we love Him as He deserves to be loved, we will sacrifice everything, including our respectability and material wealth, to see Him receive the reward of His sacrifice.
The Charismatic movement has become respectable in recent years—now it is in jeopardy of losing the anointing that started the movement. We will soon lose it all if we do not get up and go for it again with the abandon that we had in the beginning, regardless of how messy it gets. Let’s go for it! No matter how bad the prophetic looks, let’s go for it! Everything will depend on the rise and fall of the anointing; the rise and fall of the ministry in the prophetic arena depends on whether He, the Holy Spirit, descends and remains.
This year the Holy Spirit will lift from much of the church. Billy Graham and R.T. Kendall expressed similarly that, if the Holy Spirit were entirely withdrawn from the earth tonight, ninety percent of the church’s activity would go right on uninterrupted as though nothing had happened. Have we too come to the place where we would not even notice it if the Holy Spirit were withdrawn? Do we even notice it when He does not come to our meetings?
Everything that the church is—everything the Charismatic movement is—depends upon the Holy Spirit remaining, and he has stood all he can. He is gentle like a dove; He has heard all he can stand to hear. He is about to take His flight. If we are going to allow Him to remain upon us, then we must stop our clamoring. We must stop our noise and our envy of one another, and remove the spirit of rivalry and competition. We must forever bury our rumors and walk circumspectly in holiness unto the Lord and love our brothers. We must love the Baptists, and the Methodists, and the Presbyterians and all the Catholics. We do not have to agree with someone to love them, and we must love them or the Holy Spirit will not remain.
He will soon take what we have; He will remove our candlestick. I’ve never had a more ardent word from the Lord in my life than this—in the early nineties, the Holy Spirit is going to be lifting from those who do not repent and return to their first love. We must repent of our adultery with the world.
How many of you would have married your spouses if they had declared on your wedding day that they would be utterly faithful to you 364 days a year and that they would only be unfaithful to you one day a year?
Our flirting with the world and its attention has caused us to slip into some serious spiritual adultery, and God is about to put us out if we do not repent.
We, who are so used to seeing the church open to the Holy Spirit, need to learn how easily grieved the Holy Spirit is. Like a dove, He will quickly take flight when offended. He will not stay where there is too much noise or flesh involved. Sometimes it gets messy because of the anointing, but it is not a fleshy mess. In fact, the more precious the anointing is to us, the less we feel threatened by the mess it is going to make.
We’re now fussing a lot about the mess in the prophetic but you will not get the true prophetic without it. As Solomon explained, “Where there is no ox in the stall, the stall is clean,” but if you want the strength of the ox you have to be willing to clean up its mess (Prov. 14:4).
God has made it so that the anointing does create a certain kind of mess. This is to deal with our pride. Pride caused man to fall initially and it has caused almost every fall from grace since. As stated, “God resists the proud but gives His grace to the humble” (James 4:6). When we become too proud for the mess, we have already come to the place where God is resisting us. If we want the grace of God we must walk in the humility that will embrace the mess and we must be willing to look foolish to the natural man. Let’s take the mess to get the strength of the ox, only let us be sure that the mess is coming from the anointing and not from our own carnality.
The warning from the Holy Spirit is that we have allowed respectability to compete with the anointing. It sneaks in so subtly, seemingly harmless, but it has killed many of the great spiritual movements in church history. In this way the Corinthian church was neutralized and it will do the same for us. Today we are choosing if we will retain the anointing.
William Boothe, founder of the Salvation Army, once prophesied that the time would come when there would be Christianity without Christ, salvation without the blood and religion without the Holy Ghost. How close are we to this condition?
This is a most important time, and this may be the most important message I have given to date. There is so much in the balance; we are in the balance. There are precious men of God that I ardently love, that I look forward to years of friendship with, but we may not have that this side of eternity unless we hear God in this message.
The prophetic ministry is nothing more, nothing less than hearing God. Remember First Corinthians 1:26, “not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble” are called. Christianity, the Charismatic movement, may have become middle class, but are you willing to suffer whatever it takes to be Pentecostal? To be first called Christians? The early Pentecostals were not very respected, but they had the power. The desirability of respectability, the danger of respectability, the deceit of respectability can be deadly. It’s blinding and it’s binding. It’s so blinding that it will make you see yourself as rich when you are poor, blind and naked.
Michal, upon seeing David dance before the slave girls, making a spectacle of himself, losing all of his respectability, began to chide and scorn him. David could not have cared less because he had the anointing and it made him dance with joy, not regarding what the people thought. Michal was a true daughter of Saul, the king who lost his anointing because he feared the people more than he feared God. When you think like Saul, or care about what those who are born of his nature think about you, you will lose it just as surely as they did.
Now you can become respectable in the nineties if respectability is what you want. But you’ll get broken marriages, you’ll get more wayward children, you’ll get more heartaches, you’ll get more disappointments, you’ll get more embarrassments of the wrong kind.
I beg you and I plead with you—don’t outgrow the stigma of the cross and the reproach of Christ. I pray that we have enough time to rejoice over fathers who will fulfill Malachi 4:6, and see the hearts of the fathers turned toward the children, and the children’s hearts toward the fathers. That is the hope of the church and the hope of the world.
The Lord gave me II Kings 7:8 for this message. Today, there is a great famine for the word of God. In these chapters there was a great famine because the host of Syria was encamped against Samaria. There were four leprous men. Bob Mumford described the four speakers of this conference, meaning John Wimber, Jamie Buckingham, Bob and myself, as wounded healers. I have never had the Lord speak to me more ardently—He said there is a famine for the word of God and we four were like the four leprous men.
We have a choice, and I am not just preaching to the speakers, but to you, all of you. We have a choice—we can sit here until we die or we can enter a new era.
If we go for the anointing, even if it costs us respectability, we have nothing to lose. We’re going to die anyway. Some of us already have a sentence of death upon us, and it won’t take much more to finish us off if things run their present course. Some of us will be dead by this time next year if we do not hear God’s voice. But God has given us an opportunity to hear His voice, to arise and shine as our light has come, to never straddle a fence again, to go for it without compromise, unashamedly. We want to live; we all want to see the glory of God; our respectability is a small price to pay.
Like the four lepers, right now it does not look very good. If we sit here, we’re going to die. The Holy Spirit is going to lift and we’ll be dead spiritually, if not physically. I know I’m not going to be here this time next year, unless I obey the Lord’s voice. We have come to the valley of decision. It is time for us to get up from this place of depravity and famine and take our chance by going out. If we do go forward, like the lepers, we will by this time next year have spiritual wealth unimaginable.
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This a message was delivered by Paul Cain gave at the National Leadership Conference in Ridgecrest, North Carolina in May of 1991. Even though Paul often displays extraordinary prophetic gifts and power, he has become known just as much for this humility, integrity, devotion to truth and pure devotion to the Lord.