For all the good things the church is, to love her is to grieve and wonder over the lack of God’s power and presence in her midst. We say that we want the power of God in our life. And God tells us that He will clothe us with His power freely.
Luke 24: 49
“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
If this is true, then why, as believers, are we so frequently naked? Why do we resort to petty conflicts, underhanded dealings, embarrassing ourselves by our need for self promotion, often giving way to gross immaturity that puts us to shame compared to the example of stalwart unbelievers around us?
Exactly what is this missing power? Paul describes it eloquently in his letter to the Colossians:
we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
Are we a people filled with the personal, intimate knowledge of God’s will for us, known for our spiritual wisdom and understanding? Are we walking in a manner worthy of Him, so that as we run our course we feel His pleasure? Do our hearts pound almost to bursting, in moments of sudden increase when we see in Him what we’ve never seen before? Do we wax strong, strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, attaining to the character of one who is set apart to Him? Is His qualification of us having its way, bringing us into the reality of the inheritance of the saints in Light?
You know, as I do, that we aren’t. As believers, we need to reckon with this.
In preparing this message, I was hot and ready to publish a list of all the ways the church is an embarrassment and Western Christians are in especial danger . . . but the Lord took me back to moments in my own life, as an earnest believer, loving Jesus, when I ached before the gaping chasm between what I was and what I was meant-to-be. . . grieved beyond measure by some particular absence of God’s power from my life. Remembering how He dealt mercifully with me then, compassionately and with hope, my heated zeal has softened to mercy.
Something is a lie
The fact is — we are supposed to know more of God’s power and give greater evidence of it in our walk than anyone else on earth. If we don’t, than something is a lie . . .
Is that lie the word we believe? Could it be the promise of God? Or is the lie our faith, our walk? Or maybe, just maybe, could that lie be what we believe . . . that gives us permission to keep on the way we are?
I am weary of the low expectation set by those who defend the powerlessness of their walk with “I’m only human.”
And I’m wary of the message we’ve got the power to bring heaven to earth, to be blessed, prospered, and living in perfect health . . . when Scripture makes it clear we are strengthened with all power according to His glorious might for the attainment of character and perseverance, for the sake of the eternally redemptive purposes He wants to accomplish in our life.
I’ve also grown painfully aware of the constant stream of prayer requests seeking escape from adversity, rather than the wisdom to find God in the adversity, so that we can join Him in what He is doing. Adversity is not our enemy; it is the crucible in which God’s power is wrought in us.
Whatever it is, some lie is keeping God’s power from us. It’s time to line up our expectations with the word of God and stop pretending we’re too incapacitated to see it through. We need to pray for spiritual character more than healing and provision. And we need a new take on adversity.
As we break away from the lies we’ve believed, God’s power is going to become one with our most essential being. But it all begins with God separating us to Himself . . . out of the lies, out of the world, out of carnality, out from among all other people.
Separated to God
Many years ago, the Lord gave me a choice, which would determine the fullness of His power and His presence in my life. I was a believer, ardently in love with Jesus, devouring Scripture in my daily quiet time, struggling as a young mom, wanting everything that God had for me, desperately aware of my shortcomings.
Then one day He gave me a vision of a mountaintop on a dark, threatening stormy night with flashes of lightning. There were two men on that mountain.
One was like a prophet with his face turned upward, full into the rain, his arms stretched out toward God. . . and in the lighting flashes I saw him being clothed with power.
The other was afraid. Ducking his head, he drew his outer cloak around himself, skulking  away, forfeiting who and what he might have been.
God was showing me a picture of what it is to be separated to Him. At the time He gave me this picture, He was also asking me to give up wine for the rest of my life. I was not an alcoholic. I didn’t have a drinking problem. There is no magic in giving up wine, and no evil in wine, but God was asking me to give it up as a symbolic action — like baptism, like communion, like the Nazarite not cutting his hair — something that was to signify my separation to Him.
The figure on the mountaintop with his face turned upward into the rain and his arms stretched out before God, clothed in power, was God’s encouragement to me.
The one covering himself in his own cloak, skulking away was a somber warning of the forfeiture that comes in being unwilling to be separated to God.
I understood all of this perfectly, alone with my Lord, but when it came to living it out the vision dimmed.
It didn’t seem plausible that I was never to enjoy a lovely glass of wine at dinner with friends again . . . or to take pleasure in the shared taste of a great red with my husband on a Saturday night, as its warmth slowly suffused my body. None of my friends or family, who walked with God, had been asked to do this.
But as I toyed with my various arguments, deep down I knew that I was in danger of forfeiting the fullness of what He wanted to do through me. 
For three years I struggled, not because my heart did not immediately know what I needed to do, but because I feared disappointing the man I loved more than I feared disappointing Jesus. My husband wanted his woman to share a glass of wine with him once in a while. So I tried to walk both sides of the line, giving up wine most of the time, but savoring a glass on “special” occasions.
But every time I drank, I felt a diminishment in my closeness to God. Someone would meet with me for prayer, and my mind would be a blank, and we would part, and I felt this terrible emptiness in which the Lord was clearly letting me know that I was less in touch with Him, less than He wanted me to be, and less than others needed me to be . . . because I was not in full surrender to my separation to Him.
This is my story. . . but it is a picture of what is true for all of us, as believers. If we want God’s presence and power to be fully realized in our lives, we can’t walk on both sides of the line, resisting our separation to Him.
The New Testament clarifies how believers are different from other men, by using the Greek words hagiazo and hagiasmos, which denote being set apart to God. . . This is something God does for us, but it is also something we have to surrender to.
Our lack of surrender is what causes His power to wane in us.
Back to my story, it was three years and I was still walking both sides of the line, knowing what God was asking. I wanted to be like everyone else . . . close friends cautioned me against being carried away by what I may or may not have understood correctly. . . and the look on Bill’s face, when I told him he was drinking alone, made me feel wretched . . . and I was constantly being plunged into social situations where I was being offered oakey chardonnays, lovely zinfandels, hearty cabs and mellow merlots. I loved them all.
Being set apart involves loneliness: the acute loneliness of walking with God, hearing Him and understanding what He is saying to you — when most of those numbering among “your people” do not know what you are talking about.
There is a price to be paid for being separated unto God . . . but the reward is inestimably worth it. . . and the option is a ghastly forfeiture of what you can never regain.
Taking His Hand Away
I know that God’s hand of protection has always been on me. I look back and can see His hand there, protecting and keeping me, even before I was a Christian. But there are times, when He has taken His hand away, to allow a measure of pain or adversity into my circumstances . . . for my greater good.
Just as He gives us laws to protect us from outside influences that will solicit the vulnerabilities of our soul, His hand upon us does the same. His hand on us makes us strong where we would otherwise be weak. When He removes His hand, His restraint is lifted, and the ugly stuff we didn’t know was residing in our soul comes out. For three years He had been waiting for my surrender; now the time had come for Him to give me a little boost. . . an impetus to change. He was about to take His hand away.
We were in Bermuda on an agency trip of celebration, rewarding a wonderful group of friends for their joint effort. Bill and I had finished our swim, showered and wrapped our selves in plush robes, when he brought me a glass of the best wine I have ever tasted. It was my last wine in this life . . . but I didn’t know it then.
I had only that glass, and then we dressed for dinner. Everything was wonderful, and my heart was full as we sat down at our private table alone together. But then something changed in me . . . not subtly but sharply . . . as my husband’s gaze followed a seductively dressed young woman along a far wall of the dining room. Normally, this would have elicited a good-natured kick under the table with a “knock it off” . . . but the ugly and afraid, the raw and insecure in my soul was being solicited without grace or protection to ward off the devastating effect.
The next morning I awoke in bed beside my husband, sick beyond words at my gross immaturity, not understanding what had come over me. Bill lay there with his forearm across his eyes, blocking out the morning, the memory, and me. With a hoarse voice and measured words that invited no response, he told me that he knew he had been standing between God and me for a long time on this drinking thing . . . and he was getting out of the way. He got up and left the room.
“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
In tears of contrition, feeling great remorse I went to the Lord. I told Him how I was ready, and I was willing to give up wine forever, but how hard it was to say, “no”, each time I was offered a glass.
And then I saw Jesus, standing before me, eyes filled with compassion, but His expression was one of getting business done. He stood on the other side of a stone altar, in what felt like a cathedral, filled with golden light that reflected off of His face, His long white robe, and the altar itself . . . everything was suffused with gold.
And then, as if in answer to my confessed weakness of how hard it was to say, “no,” I saw a silver tray being brought to me, filled with glasses of wine.
“Take one,” He told me softly. “Don’t shrink away, trying to steel yourself against temptation, but when the glass is offered, receive it with thanksgiving. Lift it to the light so that you can appreciate its color and anticipate its flavor. And then . . . “
And then, I saw myself lifting the glass to Him, my face rapt . . . as I inverted the glass, spilling its content upon the alter, a small sacrifice poured out to Him.” 
I have been doing this, glass by glass, for decades ever since. It is not hard for me. It is a holy matter between my Lord and me. It is the symbolic way He has given me, to enact the surrender by which I am set apart to Him.
My vision that morning ended with these words written on the air between us, speaking of the day when I will one day drink wine again . . .
But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom. 
When I see God at work in humbling, awesome beautiful ways in lives around me, I also see the surrender of that believer . . . being set apart to Him. Hagiasmos . . . it denotes being set apart, it also means holiness.
We may love Jesus, esteeming His Word and believing the gospel; but until we surrender to being set apart to Him, we’ll not be clothed with power from on high.
I am convinced that every single incredible magnificent proclamation God has declared over His church will be fulfilled in those who are set apart to Him, but also, that what might-have-been will not come-to-be in those who are not.
For those of us who desperately want to be set apart, but do not have the strength to follow through, God is good and He is able. He knows the PRELUDE that will bring us to surrender.
Very often, this PRELUDE will come as a time of discipline when God lifts His hand of protection to let adversity through . . . On this side, it may seem a dark grace, a shattering storm; but on the other side we’ll see its glory and love, bringing us into freedom and victory.
 Skulking: evading duty or work by pretending to be incapacitated; escape, evasion, nonperformance of something distasteful that you are supposed to do.
 I do not believe, in any way, that wine is bad, even though it can be abused like any other gift. Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine . . . the best wine. And the Psalms list wine as a gift of God, which makes man’s heart glad, right alongside of food, which sustains man’s heart. Ps 104:15
 God often gives visions to us, when He needs to take us beyond the confines of what we know and think. These experiences are real and not imagined, bringing insight or information to you from God. It is like a veil is pulled aside, and you are suddenly inhabiting two dimensions, in which you are seeing what is taking place in the unseen. When I share a vision, the response from others suggests that visions are not common. However, they were common in the early church: Saul on the Damascus Road, Peter on a roof top in Joppa, the humble Ananias in Damascus, and Cornelius the Roman Centurion were all communicated to through visions. . . just to name a few. For the descriptions of these visions see Acts 9-10.
 Matt 26:29