This post is part of a series.
The keynote speaker at this year’s 2018 National Disciple Making Forum in Nashville was Shodankeh Johnson, a charismatic pastor from Sierra Leone, Africa. He was quite challenging and inspiring, to say the least (you can hear an interview with him here.) 1
Here’s my summary of his message.
Introduction: Obedience, not Learning
He opened with a repetition of Jesus’ great commission, but with a specific emphasis – teaching obedience, not just study:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:18-20
Traditionally, we teach new believers that they have a lot to learn, but Shodankeh emphasized that they teach new Christians to start OBEYING what they learn from scripture.
Now of course, there is some danger in allowing new believers who don’t understand much about God and his ways to just start obeying every command or idea that they come across. Such mistakes, however, can be mediated by being in a group, and being around a pastor.
But success in proper hearing and application of scripture also relies on the reality that a new believer now has the Holy Spirit in him to teach him, and following the inner promptings and teachings, as long as they are not contradicted by scripture or the law of love, are more sure than mere mental apprehension and obeying our unguided thoughts. The impressions on our conscience and intuition are a key part of our walk with God.
John the Apostle wrote of this when discussing how to identify false teachers even if you are not as educated as they:
But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ. ~ 1 John 2:27
As a theological concept, this is often called “illumination” – God teaching us directly. The reality of this is also seen in how the educated religious people were surprised by the erudition and truth spoken by the uneducated apostles:
The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. ~ Acts 4:13
So to sum up, Shodankeh was explaining that powerful Christianity does not come primarily with education, but with surrender to God. I’ll discuss my reservations with this idea at the end, but here’s the meat of the actual teaching on Submission in Christian living.
1. The Disciple-maker Submits
The entire conference was about being a Disciple who makes Disciples (who makes Disciples…), the latest and greatest trend in evangelicalism for the past decade or two, though in all honesty, Robert Coleman introduced it to modern evangelicalism in his 1963 book The Master Plan of Evangelism.
Fasting and Prayer is our Primary Method of Submission
But just how does a disciple maker submit to God? Shodankeh intoned that primarily, this comes first through regular, passionate prayer and fasting. He said that no spiritual movement can start or continue without it. Without a desperation and desire to see the lost rescued by God, and that desperation expressed through prayer and fasting, no spiritual work gets done.
Shodankeh is fond of repeating Jesus’ words “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and reminded us that Jesus, the son of God himself, often went out to pray. In fact, this was so obvious and routine that the disciples asked them to teach THEM how to pray. From that question, we get the Lord’s prayer and other teaching of Jesus on prayer (see Luke 11).
Keep Fasting and Praying UNTIL You Get Clarity to Act
Think about this – when Jesus prayed all night, what do you think he said? Did he hear anything, or did he struggle to hear as much as we, and that’s why he went all night?
One of the most interesting things that Shodankeh discussed, however, was that he and his fellow Christians fast and pray UNTIL they hear from God. While they may only be fasting for a day, if they don’t get clear direction from God, they plan ANOTHER day of prayer and fasting, and don’t act until a clear path from God comes to their mind.
2. The Lost Submit
Shodankeh told many amazing stories of hardcore opposition to his preaching, and how he prayed for the most belligerent to be saved and changed. In fact, he prays that they would be brought to submission to God, praying that
- the veil of their blindness is removed
- God draws them to Himself
- God breaks them if need be
He also said that our role in helping them come to submission is to observe what God could be doing in their life, and confirm it. This work often comes in their difficulties. “Why is God allowing this in your life? Perhaps to get your attention and help you escape it!”
His main point again is that we submit to God, and we pray that God will bring this as a reality in the life of people who are outside, especially the most belligerent, because they have the most to gain from surrendering their hatred.
3. The Spirits Submit
With a continued emphasis on the necessity of fasting and prayer in the work of God, Shodankeh reminded us that we are in a spiritual war, and the spiritual powers will not easily submit to a person or church that is not truly spiritually powerful.
“Don’t be casual or you will be a casualty.” ~ Shodankeh Johnson
He said that spreading the gospel is hard in part because we are being resisted by spiritual powers and principalities (Ephesians 6:12), and he reminded us that “the heavy lifting is in the heavens.”
Praying and fasting helps us submit and hear from God, it brings the work of God to bear upon the lost, and it pushes back spiritual forces that resist the work of God.
Shodankeh Johnson is an accomplished and successful evangelist and pastor. But even more, he is a person of prayer. When he got down on his knees after his lecture and prayed, it was desperate, it was raw, it was humble, it was powerful. We all realized how little we pray and fast, and what a true audience with God might look like. And the first step of surrender? Bringing ourselves to God in fasting and prayer, looking for God’s will, with a heart ready to obey God.
Next Post: What is Biblical Submission, and what is not?