God Outside the Box

In 1976 when my husband, Bill, saw a vision of waters flowing out the front door of a small, weather-beaten church building in the

middle of a desert, we knew it meant that one day a River of His Presence would flow among us. We also believed that it would not be able to be contained in our church, but that life would flow out from us to the world. We pondered the vision for over 18 years and even gave up on it, but in 1994, the Lord began to perform His word.

I never realized then what I do now that God meant to do far more than flow outside the doors of our congregation on temporary outreach ministries. I believe that what my husband “saw” was an end-time vision that was very similar to what Ezekiel saw. (Ezekiel 47) I believe its implications are greater than what we had imagined then or can comprehend now. I believe God is saying that He is going to make it His primary purpose to flow outside the boxes we have built for Him, even outside the structure of what most of us have always known as “church.”

Regardless of how powerful and intimate a move of the Spirit is, we all have difficulty imagining beyond the status quo. We cannot want what we cannot imagine. To imagine that God might take us outside the structures we’ve always known, ones we’ve constructed based on models of the past, is unnerving. It is so unnerving as to cut to the very roots of our own sense of security.

During the past seven years, we have come to love prison ministry. I have been able to observe first-hand what happens to people who have been incarcerated for years. They grow dependent on the prison itself, developing a love/hate relationship with it. The phenomenon is known as “institutionalization.”

Forgive the negative allusion, but sometimes prisoners and Christians have too much in common. They both can become molded by an institution, depending on the professionals who run it for nurture and protection. They feel uncomfortable at the thought of living outside the only society they know. They resist attempts to change and even attempt acts of self-sabotage when the chance at parole (freedom) comes. Prisoners develop a “them and us” fortress mentality and camaraderie based on the bond of suffering and persecution, real or imagined. One inmate friend of ours wrote us when trouble erupted in his prison, “Things were going so well. Then they let a bad element in here!”

I don’t know about you, but with God’s help, I am going to go beyond the box. I believe that in the coming generation, we will see church in different places and in new forms. I believe we are going to see with our eyes, how deeply Jesus loves the people outside the institutional church. We may see Him leave the 99 and go after the sheep that is lost. Coming moves of God may occur outside religious “temples” as we see Jesus begin to “dine with publicans and sinners” and even “prodigal sons.”

A month ago, I decided to surrender myself to the full-time ministry. Oh yes, I am still in church, too, but I have a great job at a sewing machine store. It doesn’t pay much, but I’m there because Jesus wants me to have fun and enlarge my circle of friends. They have started to wonder about me and ask me questions about what I do, but mostly I’m there to release the gifts of helps and encouragement to bless them with God’s love.

This issue will amaze you. John Arnott’s article is a pivotal word for the body of Christ, which will challenge you to go beyond old religious barriers and enter the full-time ministry, too. Ed Kroeker, a businessman from Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, describes how to walk from your comfort zone into a new vision God is giving you. Steve Osmond, a youth pastor from Calgary, describes how this move of the Holy Spirit is tailor-made for our postmodern culture. Dan Slade, a missionary from Ukraine, reveals how God is flowing in Ukraine transforming people with revival and the message of the Father’s heart. I believe that this may be one of our most talked-about issues ever. Get copies for your friends and your leaders and let the River of His Presence carry you outside religious walls into uncomfortable territory.

Originally Published September 2004. Editor Melinda Fish