For those of us who are continuationist (believing that the gifts did not cease with the death of the apostles or the close of the canon), there is a tension between earnestly desiring God’s work, yet also acknowledging that we don’t see this power to the degree we desire. As I read this passage below in Robert Stein’s The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings (p. 81), I was reminded of how helpful it is to think in the categories of the “already” and the “not yet” when thinking about how God answers our prayers.
This is true for all Christians, really. We are called to pray in faith, and at the same time trust in God’s sovereignty. If you emphasize faith to the exclusion of God’s sovereignty, you’ll become disillusioned when things don’t turn out the way you hoped. If you emphasize God’s sovereignty without faith that God actually has power to change things, your faith is weak.
We need to remember that we have the “already” of the kingdom, but we also have the “not yet” because Jesus hasn’t returned. May God help those of us who lead churches to always emphasize both. Stein explains:
A…danger lies in placing a one-sided emphasis either on the “already now” or on the “not yet” aspects of the kingdom. In the former instance the emphasis on miracles, healings, spiritual victories, gifts that God has given to the church, and so forth, are accompanied with the ignoring of the “not yet.” Such an approach tends to lead to an optimistic triumphalism that is doomed to disillusionment. Sin, depravity, and evil still dwell both within and without the believer. The perishable still awaits and longs for the imperishable (1 Cor 15:53). Faith has not yet turned to sight (1 Cor 13:12)! On the other hand, a one-sided emphasis on the “not yet” also leads to error, for it ignores the benefits and first fruits of the kingdom of God already posessed. This may result in despair and discouragement, and a denigration of the joy of the “already now.” Even now God’s reign has begun. Already because of the promised Spirit, we have died to sin and been raised in newness of life (Rom 6:2-4). Personal defeats cannot negate the fact that Satan has been defeated (Luke 10:18) and redemption accomplished. Humanity’s redemption is accomplished. It is “finished” (John 19:30).
Believers are therefore encouraged by both defeat and success alike. Success provides a glimpse of the consummated kingdom that is to be revealed and heightens its anticipation. Defeat causes a greater longing for the full revelation of the kingdom, when instead of seeing “in a mirror dimly…we will see face to face” (1 Cor 13:12). Thus believers continue to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. (MATT 6:9-10)
Marana tha (1 Cor 16:22, REB)–Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)