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Zealous Immaturity

My work on The Discipline of Discernment has taken me to many places in the Bible and to many of the books on my bookshelves. I have been surprised and delighted to see how God has been preparing me to write this book, for many of the books I have read in the past few years tie directly into what I feel the Bible says about discernment. I’ve found help in books by many authors and on a variety of topics.

Some of the areas I have researched in connection to my book have been little more than rabbit trails. As I’ve done the work I’ve found that they are dead ends and do not tie into discernment at all. Others have proven to be far more valuable. One area I was researching on the weekend was an area in which I read quite extensively a couple of years ago: knowing and doing God’s will. As I looked into this area, I browsed through several books I had read in years past. And this led me to a book by Jim Elliff.

In his small but helpful book Led By The Spirit, Jim Elliff describes Christians he terms “illuminists” – people who, when confronted by difficult decisions in life, seek guidance from God by getting a series of impressions which they believes come as God directly impacts the spirit. This term is not to be confused with illumination, which is the Spirit’s work of illuminating the words of Scripture to believers. Elliff used to practice this kind of decision-making so knows it well. I also know it well and have often encountered Christians who place a great deal of emphasis on listening for and heeding these impressions. With some of these people it is clear that they are not hearing God-given impressions for God would not give the kind of guidance they attribute to Him. With other people, and here I think primarily of some of the Charismatic Christians I have met recently, it is not so easy to discount the impressions. They truly do appear to be listening to God and to be responding to Him in a way that is consistent with Scripture. In fact, meeting such people has really made me wrestle with my position on this issue.

Regardless of your take on this issue, I think you will find this quote from Elliff both helpful and meaningful:

God may use the sincere individual who gets his guidance the illuminist’s way. He may bless him. He may honor his faith more than his method. I am quite sure that God always condescends to our imperfections. And if there is immaturity, we must realize that God will often use in our zealous immaturity what he disallows in our maturity.

The Great Awakening preacher, George Whitefield (1714-1770), who had such tendencies in his earlier days, later commented, “I am a man of like passions with others, and consequently may have sometimes mistaken nature for grace, imagination for revelation.” He put away his illuministic patterns as he grew in Christ. Yet, it is important to note that he was used in those earlier days just as dramatically as in later life.

I do not mean to say that those who listen to impressions are necessarily immature. Rather I’d point you to a wider application, and one that I have found very reassuring and encouraging. Elliff is absolutely correct when he says that God condescends to our imperfections. I believe this is especially the case when our imperfections are due to immaturity in the faith. God may see fit to use zealous immaturity. But, as time passes, He expects that we grow in our knowledge and our faith. And when this happens His expectations of us no doubt increase.

But I thank God that He does condescend to our imperfections and to my imperfections. Knowing myself as I do, I know that I offer Him more imperfection than perfection. I know that I am often zealous in my imperfection and am grateful that He chooses to honor this zeal, even when I am just plain wrong.


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