Click, click, click, click, click.
With a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach you get out and look under the hood, whether or not you know what to look for. You text a friend, call AAA, or just stand there gazing longingly at any approaching vehicle. Jumper cables? You flail them at passersby. At last some angel arrives, hooks up the cables, and signals you to stick the key in the ignition and turn. Vrrrrrooooommmm!
We may not understand our cars, but we understand the need for power. We purchase gadgets that plug into our phones or computers to provide a boost of power. Our heat pumps and cars often have a setting that gives us a quick blast of heat or cold. Advertising bombards us every day, promising us a sudden rush of energy if we will just eat, drink, or swallow this or that. Oh, yes. We believe in power.
There were no cars, power adapters, or energy drinks in Bible times. And many of us do not understand the Bible’s farming language about early and latter rains. But we do get the talk about power—Holy Spirit power, latter-rain power. We get the power talk. We want to hook up jumper cables!
Power for What?
We love to talk about the promise in Joel 2:28, 29: sons and daughters prophesying, old men dreaming, servants Spirit-anointed. But what’s the power for? Why do we pray for latter-rain power? What do we think it will accomplish? A ripened harvest? Not primarily. The harvest is already ripe, Jesus declared; we should pray for laborers. Stirred-up laborers then, His sleeping church? Now, that sounds good! Like hooking up to heaven’s jumper cables for one final jolt of power! Like latter-rain energy propelling us from rocking chairs out into the world with the final message! Perhaps.
Before we settle back in those rockers to wait for the rain, let us ask ourselves: Could not God pour out His Spirit on a sleeping church? Could He not suddenly and powerfully speak through dozing saints to call the world to repentance? He spoke through Balaam’s donkey. He can make stones cry out.
But is that the planet’s need? Talking animals, crying stones, sleep-talking saints? Remember, the talking donkey didn’t convert Balaam, and the promise of shouting stones didn’t convert the Jewish leaders. Besides, might it be that our nodding and dozing actually robs us of the rain? Too late we may discover that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was taking place all around us, and we didn’t even notice.
In 1 Samuel 19:19-24 Saul learns that David is with the prophet Samuel in Ramah. He sends contingent after contingent of soldiers to capture him, but the Holy Spirit overpowers them all, and they begin to prophesy. Finally, completely frustrated, Saul sets out to seize David himself. The Spirit overwhelms him too, and, prostrated naked before Samuel, he prophesies all that day and night. But though these soldiers all prophesied, they were not
changed. Nor was anyone converted who listened to King Saul. People simply mocked: “Did you see that? Looks like Saul has become one of the prophets!”
What makes the difference between Peter at Pentecost and Saul at Ramah? Nothing good came of Saul’s overpowering. He simply made a fool of himself. For in reality the Holy Spirit’s power is effective only if our lives match the message. Saul’s life did not match the message he was giving while under the power of the Holy Spirit. He had not let the Spirit mold, shape, and change him all along. When the power came over him, the temporary contrast was so great that it just made people laugh. The power he experienced didn’t last, and it didn’t change him, or anyone else, one single iota.
The final, mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit doesn’t change the direction we have been going, either. Its power simply pushes us farther and faster to wherever we were already headed.
To come back to our jumper cable illustration, if my tires are flat and my radiator punctured, the power surging through the cables will do nothing to get me where I am going. Connecting red to positive and black to negative and getting ignition will not suddenly transform my car. The power surge will not even send me in a new direction.
Temporary bursts of power, even those from heaven, do not force us to change direction; they only push us on in the direction we are already heading. And they are effective only if the rest of the system is in proper operating order. This is why we so desperately need revival and reformation. Our hearts must know the gentle working of the Holy Spirit now, not just a power surge sometime tomorrow.
Is the Soil Ready?
Joel’s promise of rain and a full threshing floor (Joel 2:23, 24) will never be fulfilled if nothing is planted before the rains come. The vats will overflow with juice and oil only if vineyards and olive groves have been planted and tended. The latter rain does not change the crop, it only enhances what is already planted in the soil.
When I plant and fertilize, everything is ready. The rains then make it grow. What comes up is what is there already. The same is true when the latter rain ripens the harvest. It brings wheat and weeds to maturity. It does not change what is in the field.
My wife, Barbara, and I were on our way to the airport in Delhi, India. The night clerk from the hotel was riding along in the hotel taxi with us. His eyes were heavy from being up all night, and his head was nodding. He was going home to rest.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, a few big drops of rain splattered on the windshield. Almost instantly his eyes perked up. Softly, excitedly, he looked back and said, “Look, sir, the rain has come.” Then he turned back to watch. Gone were the tired lines around his eyes. His back was straight; his lips curved in a slight smile. This was no downpour, just a couple of stray drops of water on a dusty road. To the young hotel clerk those drops were filled with hope and promise. Rain was coming at last.
I, too, have seen the rain beginning to fall. Jesus is about to return. Seeds are being planted. People are praying together, pleading with God to soften the soil of their minds, asking the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers, praying for the outpouring of the latter rain.
This will not be merely a burst of temporary power. When this power comes, it won’t be for just a day, and it won’t embarrass us. It will finish the work that we have allowed God’s Spirit to begin in our hearts and lives today.
Look, sir, look, madam, the rain has come!
Homer Trecartin is president of the Greater Middle East Union Mission. This article was published February 21, 2013.