Beyond the Threshold

by Morris Ruddick on July 16, 2012


© Morris Ruddick


“So Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow.’ So he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba and left his servant there.  Then he went a day’s journey into the wilderness and sat down and prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’”  1 Kings 19:1-4

The time following Elijah’s extraordinary standoff with the prophets of Baal and Asherah provides great insight into the realities tied to the demands on those called as agents of transformation. Despite his role in one of the most incredible confrontations between good and evil written about in the Bible, Elijah was left emptied.  At that juncture, he had nothing left. The mere thought of just one more encounter was enough to push him over the edge.  As we enter a time characterized by evil abounding, the realities operating at this threshold bear closer scrutiny.

Serving as a vessel for the Holy Spirit on this plane will leave you spent and vulnerable. It is a reality that results from authority confrontations with the forces of darkness, impartations that release life into Kingdom initiatives and the birthing of venues that change the course of communities and nations.  For those uniquely called to take dominion on this level, those called to stretch their spiritual authority to the extreme, as they bestow Life in domains of death, this issue is criticalIt involves recognizing and entering that place in God when our best is not enough and it seems there is nothing left.

Now, a distinction needs to be made.  There is a big difference between being spiritually spent as a result of being used strategically as agents of change and experiencing burnout because of a hole in your soul. So also, operating outside your sphere, presumption, wrong priorities or simply being spiritually unprepared should never be the reason for being left vulnerable or burned out when advancing God’s agendas.

For all our zeal, purpose and infrastructure today, as a Body we haven’t yet begun to approach the Elijah-level opportunities.  That is changing. As we enter that change, there is a threshold bearing not only on the strategic-level dominion encounters ahead, but on the pivotal alignments that follow beyond them.

At the most basic level, the issue bears on spiritual maturity. While most believers generally do not fall short in addressing individual issues of spiritual maturity, consistently embracing them is another matter.  However, where we stumble and stumble hard is in our maturity as a Body.  The Church today falls short in coming together as a movement.  It falls short in the mobilization and unity needed to transform the course of communities and nations.  It falls short with the protocol and foundations required for cooperative initiatives between ministries; between businesses and ministries; and between governments and the Kingdom of God.

When approaching the Elijah-level standoffs, we enter another dimension.  The requirements for 21st century societal change will challenge and tax the limits of the best, most talented and most anointed members of the Body.  It will demand a new mold and stage of Body maturity with a focus on building community and impacting nations.  It will require a mode surpassing the best we have to offer, extending beyond our current modus operandi.

Within this dimension, we must connect the dots between interim events and the long-term focus for change; discern the focus when opposition arises; and pass through the threshold of being used by God when, in the natural, we have expended all and have nothing left.

Scripture refers to the passageway through this dimension as the way of suffering.

Suffering is one of those Kingdom paradoxes that operate beyond our human efforts.  These paradoxical truths represent pathways that bring results that defy what we consider as the natural order of things.  They are at the crux of Jesus’ Kingdom message of how to employ righteous power in a corrupt world. We lead by serving (Mark 10:42-44). We are made great through being the least (Luke 9:48). We are exalted in humility (Matt 23:12). We become wise through simplicity (1 Cor 3:18). We gain His strength through our weakness (2 Cor 12:10). We live by dying (John 12:24-25).  We find our life by losing it (Matt 10:39)

Biblical suffering, however, is not the result of the messes we create for ourselves, but rather the conflicts and pressures that confront us when we’re on the right path in terms of God’s purposes.  Suffering is not a self-thing and has nothing to do with soul issues or feelings or a lifestyle. Suffering is a byproduct of the clash that results when the enemy and his minions attempt to undermine our efforts to build God’s Kingdom.  Being a believer during the days of the early Church involved, as it does for the persecuted church today, risk and suffering due to its impact on the depravity and oppression prevailing across governmental, economic and religious spheres.

The way of suffering actuates the power of God that facilitates the role of nation-changers. It is the narrow corridor bordered by Life and death, the delicate passage which can tip the balance toward Life. Scripture tells us that God worked unusual miracles at the hands of Paul.  That is because he understood the dynamic to operating on this level of spiritual maturity and commitment:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.”  2 Cor 4:7-11

Suffering manifests through four primary means:  supplanting evil, travail that births change, persecution and burden bearing.  These four factors are both the gateways and strategies of suffering.  As strategies, they will operate in concert as the Body-corporate matures and pursues societal transformation.

Supplanting Evil. Change will involve conflict. Matthew 11:12 explains the dynamic: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.”

Supplanting evil is not for the immature, unprepared or half-cocked.  It involves efforts targeting the gatekeepers and infrastructures of systems that oppress and tear down.  It has as its goal righteous alternatives that build up, offer hope and bring restoration and blessing. Confronting evil is much more than a public awareness campaign with pickets.  Elijah’s faceoff with the prophets of Baal and Asherah was the pivot point in a series of God-directed actions to bring transformation to Israel.

A pearl of wisdom that a very seasoned, long-time friend once made is that “It is far more effective to sow seeds from the inside, than to cast stones from the outside.”  It is the premise behind the calling of the modern-day Josephs and Daniels, who will internally be used to appropriate resources and redirect the efforts of governmental and economic systems to build the Kingdom of God. Like Joseph and Daniel of the Bible, it will take unusual levels of maturity to work within these systems, without compromising with evil.

Supplanting evil requires wisdom and maturity because ultimately you reap what you sow.  Unnecessary backlash is not a mark of suffering, but rather short-sided strategies.

Travail that Births Change. Travail is commonly used to describe the labor of childbirth. It is a prevalent biblical analogy describing the exertion of spiritual energy in the process of bringing about change that will reflect Life and then endure.  Paul wrote the Galatians and described it with these words:
“My dear children, for whom I labor in childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
Gal 4:19

Travail is a divine partnership in which God is the great Equalizer in the birthing of change. It most typically involves a form of intercession that prevails through an almost agonizing time until it brings forth a birthing of change. Intercessory travail is painful.  It epitomizes the divine trust bestowed by the authority and anointing needed in the tasks He initiates through us.  The birthings actuated by travail become turning points that release the power of God that sets in motion the change.

Persecution.  Persecution is the resistance to the change actuated as we build the Kingdom of God.  It is the backlash, from the forces of darkness and those who hate righteousness, to the presence and work of the Spirit of God being released through us.  It is evil’s response of resisting truth.  Paul explained to Timothy:
“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived
.”  2 Tim 3:12

Persecution is not evoked from being weird and standoffish.  It is not the result of being obnoxious and getting into someone’s face.  It comes as we do good works and minister Life and hope in arenas where there is no hope.  It is the response of those whose corrupt authority or activities are being supplanted as those who are bound by affliction, oppression and darkness are set free.  The Apostle Peter’s response to persecution was to ramp things up to penetrate the darkness.
For such is the will of God that by your good works you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”  1 Peter 2:15

What is significant with persecution is the stance taken by believers in the face of directed opposition. It is a stance that remains steadfast in ministering Life, despite the flak, the risks and the costs.

Burden Bearing.  Burden bearing is the mark of genuine individual and Body maturity.  It operates on a mix of wisdom and servanthood.  It bears significantly on the Body functioning as a Body, rather than being the byproduct of self-absorbed individual efforts.  Paul wrote the Galatians with the admonishment to: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal 6:2

The disconnect for Elijah after calling down the fire was the lack of burden bearers.  It was the hint of his complaint in the cave:  that he was the only one. In his prayer after running away he indicated he had fallen short,  and asked the Lord to let him die because he “was no better than his fathers”.  At the very least, he realized that Jezebel’s threat had made him suddenly fear for his life and flee.

The fact that he was still around after the demonstration of God’s power may indicate that the job was not complete.  It is also significant to note that in spite of Jezebel being at the core of the long-term problem Elijah was addressing, she was not in attendance at the confrontation. It is not unreasonable to conclude that those just emerging from hiding were of little help to Elijah when Jezebel’s threat arrived.  Yet, despite his initial response, Elijah’s remarkable role upended the foundations of Jezebel’s spiritual network and changed the course of Israel in that day.

Burden bearing is central to the Body functioning beyond all the fractionalization, as Paul summed it up in Ephesians 4:12-16, as believers are mobilized, joined and knit together into this work as community-builders and nation-changers, as each part does its share.  Burden bearing is a Spirit-directed reciprocity among believers that enables transformation without undue casualties.  It is one of the most effective means believers have of strengthening and protecting one another from the assaults and undermining influences of evil. It enhances the flow of the Spirit and the supernatural within the believing community.  It is the love-in-action that draws non-believers to the Lord.

Just prior to His betrayal, Jesus prepared his disciples for the transition before them.  He outlined the elements for God-centered friendships and the foundational role that burden bearing was to play in the early Church.  It was the transition into maturity and the point when the disciples were released to be apostles.

Beyond Dominion Encounters
There is a threshold in the process of transformation that releases and sets things in motion.  It extends beyond the spectacular strategic-level dominion encounters with the pivotal alignments for change
. Elijah’s role in calling down the fire and reversing the curse against Israel was significant.  However, calling down the fire was the turning point, rather than being the pinnacle of all his efforts.

Elijah’s ministry is known best for all the incredible miracles.  Yet, his impact on the Kingdom was due to what unfolded after calling down the fire. Elijah’s actions overturned Jezebel’s power base.  The people turned back to the Lord and the hidden prophets of God came out of the closet.  Israel experienced a major spiritual shift.  Despite Jezebel’s continued influence with Ahab and their sons succeeding him as king, her stranglehold of control was severely hampered.

Elijah lived in that place of God’s presence beyond the natural order of things.  Regardless of whether it was Jezebel’s craftiness behind her absence at the faceoff between her cohorts and Elijah, her distanced threat came at a point when Elijah was most vulnerable. It was a smokescreen.  Her spiritual support base had been shattered. Yet, Elijah had been emptied.  Those who should have been his burden bearers were still absorbing what had occurred.  So after bolting and asking God to let him die, then after traveling 40 days on the sustenance of the cake prepared by the angel;  the Lord got Elijah back on course in his role of exercising his incredible spiritual authority in aligning the course of Israel’s destiny.

When God is birthing change, persecution, opposition or spiritual backlash will arise.  The issue when turbulence arises in the birthing process — after successful dominion encounters — is to discern the next step in the application of the proactive strategies of suffering:  supplanting evil, travail or burden bearing. What is most significant in the time following dominion encounters is to recognize the process in motion, remain focused on the long-term goal for the change and not be distracted.

Beyond the Threshold
There was a clear adjustment that took place for Elijah in that cave. It required him entering a threshold beyond his human limitations. Hebrews 4:10 describes it as the “rest of God.” It is the place where we cease striving and learn to navigate within the veil in that corridor between Life and death. So it was during Elijah’s post calling down-the-fire period that the bondage of idolatry over Israel was broken; the previously hidden prophets began assuming their roles in Israel’s destiny; Jezebel’s influence was significantly curtailed; significant strategic alliances for Israel’s future were made; Elijah trained his successor and set in motion his legacy — AND he never did succumb to death.

The issue for us hinges on the realities between dominion, transformation and Body maturity.  The demands of these realities pivot on moving beyond the threshold and learning to navigate in that narrow corridor between Life and death. It is a pathway to penetrating economic and governmental spheres and releasing restoration and redemption.  Through this corridor men and women of old subdued kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promised blessings, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fires, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in battle, put armies to flight and saw the dead raised. For creation itself longs for this time that it might be delivered from the bondage of corruption as it gains entrance into this glorious freedom. For we know that all creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.
“Then the wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad and the desert shall rejoice and bloom. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God. So, strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear!” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool and the thirsty land springs of water.  A highway shall be there and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, for it shall be for the redeemed. Whoever walks this road shall not go astray.”
  Isaiah 35:6-8

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