The Apostle Paul talks in Ephesians 3:9 of the stewardship or administration of mystery. As someone with a passion for administration it is a verse which has attracted my attention.
Mystery is for me a key subject related to my 15 years at Bethel Church, Redding, CA. None of us who were present will ever forget Bill Johnson teaching on the Sunday before his father passed. Many have since listened to that message and the one the following week in a two part series called ‘Enduring Faith’. I commend it to you as one of the most powerful teachings on grief which I have ever heard.
Bill stood in front of us in January 2004 and made a statement which I usually paraphrase to this. “God is Good. That is a Revelation. My father is dying of cancer. That is a mystery.” He went on to say that he would not ever sacrifice the revelation of God’s Goodness on an altar of human reasoning to give an answer to a mystery. I remember sitting almost in shock at the power of these words. Never had I heard something this clear about mystery and in the moment of loss, sadness and what seemed at the time like defeat.
Embracing the mystery was a complete opposite to the responses of others who have gone before. I know of some who have stopped believing because of loss or stopped embracing prophecy because a word had not come to pass the way they expected. Refusing to embrace mystery can therefore easily become the birthplace of cessationism or the silencing of prophets.
The opposite therefore is to embrace the apostolic assignment of bringing heaven to earth even in the midst of mystery. Mystery & the apostolic are inseparable as we are unlikely to see everything that we believe for this side of eternity, yet the apostolic will never stop pulling heaven to earth and I would suggest will find renewed strength to do so as mystery is embraced.
I believe that this was one of the most significant moments of the last 20 years in the story of Bethel. This ability to embrace mystery, to say I don’t know was vital then and continues to be a vital lesson for us all. God is all knowing and immortal and we are not. There has to be a tension between what God knows and what we know, a tension between what we know and believe to be true and what we get to experience here on earth.
In another quote from Bill he says: “ If we have no mysteries in our Christian life, then we have reduced our God to our level of understanding.” It would in effect makes us gods and we would end up worshipping our own intelligence and ability which will always fall short.
Here then is the essential explanation of mystery and the apostolic culture. It is an absolutely non-negotiable aspect of the christian faith. Mystery is also related to childlikeness, which is another characteristic of our faith. Learning to enjoy and embrace mystery is the way of the childlike. It leads to questions and it will always draw our hearts and minds to a greater reality.
In our quest to help people especially after loss it is tempting to look for answers, false answers may emerge and these answers can sometimes be rooted in pride or deceit and the danger then is that we can become deceitful and prideful. These are both hazardous states of mind, whereas the simple answer of “I don’t know’ will in the long run be more comforting and of greater benefit to everyone. “I don’t know” as an answer doesn’t settle for a short term fix, it is the launchpad for pursuit and hunger after more of God.
Mystery may very well be one of the most exciting and fruitful characteristics of an apostolic move of God., and if the last 15 years at Bethel are anything to go by then we should all be encouraged to embrace and steward the mystery in our lives.