Mike Bickle regularly tells a story from when he was 27 years old. It was May 1983 and during a season of sustained prayer and fasting the Lord spoke to him audibly and said,
“Do 24 hour prayer in the spirit of the tabernacle of David.”
He had no idea what that meant then. But in the church he was leading he put those words on a sign and hung them on the wall. People who visited for the next few years would ask about the meaning of those words and Mike would say, “I have no idea. God hasn’t revealed that to me yet.”
Fast forward 16 years and much revelation later and the Lord directed Mike to start the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, a 24/7 prayer ministry. Fast forward another 10 years to 2009 and IHOP had grown miraculously and now had over 1000 staff. Those same people who had asked Mike all those years ago about the meaning of the sign would come to visit and they would exclaim, “Mike, this is so exciting! Your dream is coming true!” And Mike would reply again and again with profundity that, I believe, echoes through eternity:
“IHOP is not my dream. No. This is my assignment. My dream is the anointing to love God with all of my heart. That is my dream. If IHOP–KC gets really big, or if IHOP–KC gets really little, my dream is not affected at all. When IHOP–KC gets bigger, it could grow really big. My dream is not helped at all if IHOP–KC grows big. As a matter of fact, it threatens my dream a bit because it is more invasive on my life. I am serious in saying this. If IHOP–KC falls apart, my dream is not affected—that is my assignment. I want to do my assignment well, but I am clear: the dream of my heart is the anointing to walk out the first commandment, and when I stand before Jesus on that day, I will say that I sought the power of the Holy Spirit to love You with all my heart, my strength, my mind, and my soul. That is my great dream.”
(Living fascinated in the pleasure of loving God, 2010
Wow! This heart posture and the theology that undergirds it has totally rocked my world these last two years. It’s totally changed my life. I’ve realised that while I had heard this story before two years ago and thought it was cool and perhaps even said that I wanted to live like this, the truth is that the real dream of my heart was to be big and famous and well known and thought of as successful by these standards. As I’ve been pondering my life I’ve been realising: I don’t think God evaluates us as successful by these standards at all and yet the vast majority of Christians I know are evaluating themselves, their success and worth by them, by the exact same standards that the world judges – if what you’re doing with your life is big, money making and/or impacting lots of people then you are successful.
Matthew 25:21 describes Jesus rewarding His people on the day He returns. Jesus says, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ There are three things in this verse that Jesus commends on that day. GOOD. FAITHFUL. HUMBLE. Could it be that this is actually the definition of success by God’s standard? Good meaning that you were obedient to what the Lord told you to do, faithful meaning that you did it faithfully and humble meaning that you did it unto the good of others not only the good of yourself.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve realised that the place where we get confused in this issue is in our definition of greatness. Greatness is really a seeking for value. It’s not wrong to want to be great (Romans 2:7). The longing to be great is built into us by God. It’s just that we have a wrong definition of what is truly valuable.
The only thing that is truly valuable is the thing that will last past our physical death. Even if we won’t admit this to be true, deep down we know it. Greatness is found in obtaining much of whatever it is that will last. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 makes it clear that this one forever lasting thing is love. Love for God first and love for others second (Matthew 22:37-40). John 14:15 says, “If you love me: obey my commands.” That’s why Jesus will commend His people on the last day for being GOOD, FAITHFUL and HUMBLE. Goodness equates to obedience. Faithfulness equates to sustained obedience. Humility equates to loving others as an expression of loving God which is obedience (John 15:9-12 and 1 John 4:8).
The Westminster Catechism
describes greatness like this: ‘Man’s chief end (purpose) is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’
Glorifying Him comes from loving Him. John Piper upgrades this and says: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.’
(Desiring God, 2000
) In other words, the definition of success and greatness by God’s standard is this
: To pursue the knowledge of God (His beauty) unto delight and fascination which is the fuel our hearts need to faithfully walk out obedience in the long term (1 John 4:10)! First and foremost this is our calling and destiny. This is a definition of greatness which changes everything and has changed everything for me these last two years!
So this was my conclusion two years ago when I first wrote this and this is even more my conclusion today. From this point on, for all the days of my life, I want the primary dream of my heart to be the pursuit of knowing Him and finding delight in His beauty unto extravagant love pouring forth from within me!
J. Ratcliffe (April 2016 and February 2018)