– Dan DeVitis
A Personal Testimony
“And He opened their understanding (minds), that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”
Two elements of faith, understanding and direction, have governed my spiritual walk since I first encountered the reality of Christ in 1972. Never could I be satisfied with simple explanations of our faith but rather set my whole heart and mind to understand the deep things of God, His purposes, calling, and designed destiny for believers. And, in order to do this, I endeavored to preserve all the precision and integrity of His word, leaving nothing to superficial interpretation but always striving to do so with whatever God-given ability and resources allotted me. I sought truth. The second element, direction, was equally troubling to me. The questions, “Where do I go from here? What is the goal? What is the next step?” were always before me. There was this constant sensing, this gripping, that this Christian walk was not to be a settling into religious practices, but in life itself—a life involving progressive change and spiritual development towards His ultimate intention. Following is a brief synoptic account of this walk.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a spiritually intriguing and exciting time. There seemed to be two spiritual movements that generated world-wide attention: the Charismatic and the Jesus People movements. The Jesus People Movement began on the West Coast among the counter-culture street people and was soon incorporated into many existing churches and/or the formation of new churches. It integrated much of the rock-style gospel music and “hippie” lifestyles relevant to the West Coast young culture into this spiritual pursuit, revitalizing evangelism. The Charismatic Movement, with its emphasis on Holy Spirit baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit, swept through mainline churches with a fire that could not be extinguished. Its counterpart, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, was and is yet controlled under the auspices of the Catholic Church. But this fire could not be controlled in the Protestant denomination, causing many churches to split and many more new independent charismatic churches to spring up. Although elements of both movements could be found in many places, I found myself primarily in this last group of believers, newly born again and freshly baptized in the Holy Spirit, but soon to oversee a home church. This little home church began in 1973 and continues on to this day.
A Time of Growth
This home church never really became a part of the main flow of the Charismatic Movement, yet maintained an ear for things “Charismatic,” listening to teaching tapes and reading current authors such as Bob Mumford, Derik Prince, Ken Hagan, and many others. An element of discernment with these and other such ministries raised flags of caution here and there. We gleaned from them what we felt was positive and openly discussed why rejecting the negative. Our spiritual growth really came by searching the scriptures and studying books by Watchman Nee, T. Austin Sparks, Miles Stanford, Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer, and other deeper-life authors.
We, as a fellowship, didn’t fully understand where we were going with all of this, but whatever it was, we were pursuing it with full throttle. It was during this time, the Lord seemed to bring certain ministries into our lives—ministries with which we could identify with their message and vision. Each ministry seemed to be good and refreshing…for a while, but we would begin to “plateau” or become settled, always looking for where do we go from here. As a small, anxious fellowship, we would simply outgrow that particular ministry. Each new ministry could only bring this people so far. It seemed the Lord would not allow us to settle under one particular ministry, but each one was to bring us a little further along in our walk with Christ. It was as in a commentary on 1 Cor. 14:26 I recently read, “The public assembly was more fruitful than in the present day, wherein one individual, whatever may be the state of his mind, must fill up the time with a sermon.” The error some make is becoming isolated, and being joined to one particular ministry without adequate connection to the Body of Christ and, in particular, the five-fold ministries of Eph. 4:11. It was in wisdom Solomon wrote, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.” (Prov. 18:1)
Eventually, we came into contact with Sergio Valori of Reading, PA and through him, DeVern Fromke, and others who seemed to combine elements of deeper life and charismatic principles, but with a focus towards spiritual maturity and a higher, or more realistic scriptural view of the ultimate destiny of the believer and His Church, the Bride. The operation of spiritual discernment, or that inner witness, remained critical during this time in our lives. There was this positive sense of truth.
A Time of Weariness
I wish to now share with you something very personal. In all of this, I was becoming very weary. It was not just the ever-constant striving forward, seeking the higher things of God. But weariness was setting in through years of full-time work as a university professor with all the requirements and expectations of that profession, of being advisor to the campus Christian Fellowship often having 150-200 students, of overseeing a home church, of scholarly Biblical research and, of course, being a husband to my dear wife and father to my precious children, and maintenance of the home. I was seemingly a jack-of-all-trades but master of none.
Spiritually, all that I had known and experienced was not coming together with a fresh understanding and direction. Our fellowship was good. I literally could not spiritually survive in another. Worship was good. The people…excellent. But increasingly, I had little more to offer than what had been previously served, only packaged differently. And secularly, I was growing and being rewarded with promotions, recipient of grants, and other recognitions of the college and community.
One evening while reflecting upon all of this, a picture of sorts came into mind. I saw myself wandering wearily and aimlessly through a hot, dry, barren, wilderness. I was exhausted. Nearby, off to the side, I saw a large flat rock. I thought to myself, “O’ how nice it would be to go over and climb up on that rock and rest, just rest, and to stop this aimless meandering through this dry place. I am so tired.” This thought drew upon and enticed me. However, I also knew in my heart that if I did go over and climb upon that rock, and sat down to rest, I would not get up from that rock. This would be my settling place. My life’s journey and pursuit would cease. I would find my rest in just joining a good church, attend the services, do my job, and raise my family. A simple but refreshing thought. There would be no more constant striving to understand more of higher things of God and a new direction to pursue. There would just be a time of settling and rest. I knew no other course to take.
A Phone Call
The next day I received a phone call from an old friend. “Dan,” he said, “is everything all right? I have not seen or heard from you in a long time.” I guess when one becomes weary, he either reaches out to someone for help or, like me, isolates himself, as he really does not feel a part of what is happening elsewhere. It is difficult to enter into spiritually lively fellowship feeling somewhat empty and weary. It was through the encouragement of this old friend, Sergio Valori, that the two of us began to meet on a monthly basis. We would each drive about one hour toward one another, have lunch, and spend the afternoon together and talk about our walk in the Kingdom of God, where we came from, and most importantly, where we are headed. All things seemingly undeniably scripturally sound.
It was in these casual meetings that so many things learned over the years, seemingly isolated thoughts and understandings, began to gel and come together. Past teachings and messages began to morph from an intellectual thought to something of spiritual reality. All my spiritual life I had been seeking understanding and direction and now, clarity was coming—not as a short-term leg in life’s journey, but as a lifetime endeavor. You see, there is such a thing as God’s highest, and His ultimate intention for the believer, and for the Church, in Christ—a “calling according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim. 1:9) It is something above and beyond what seemed to be the spiritual norm. It was certainly not exclusiveness or elitism, but a calling for myself, my home church, and to as many as would give an ear to come and together “press towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)
One summer, as a teenager I worked on a farm. This one day I was to learn how to plow a field. As I sat on the idling tractor, the old farmer explained to me that in order to plow a true and straight furrow I should not look at the ground directly in front of the tractor. In doing so I would only have to turn and look back to see a crooked and irregular plow line. Instead, I was to pick a distant point, such as a fence post at the opposite end of the field, and steer towards that point. Just keep my eyes focused on that end point. That first furrow would be straight and true, the remaining furrows need only parallel the first. Spiritually, I had discovered that distant point, that goal to which I would put all my energies. My eyes were no longer on the circumstances and doctrines just before me, but on that distant point, that destiny.
I soon learned that those two elements of faith I was seeking over the years, understanding and direction can really be defined as a vision. Vision not only involves clarity of understanding, “of being transformed by the renewing of your mind (understanding) (Rm. 12:2) but defines the ultimate endpoint or destiny as well. And, seeming similar to Paul’s groanings of Phil. 3:12, I too began to groan that I might lay hold of (apprehend) that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of (apprehended) me. The vision I now had before me apprehended me. Yes, this vision involved fixing my gaze upon Jesus (Heb. 12:2) but combines this gaze with aligning my heart with His, according to His calling, purpose, and expectations.
“But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
A renewed spiritual energy entered. O’ our walk is more than understanding “things” of the Kingdom: manifestation of gifts, spiritual warfare, kingdom manifestation, never ending versions of end time eschatology, overcoming faith, forms and functions, and religious services and programs. Do we continue to establish and abide in foundational truths, or is there a “leaving the fundamental principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection (spiritual maturity)?” (Heb. 6:1) This word of encouragement, along with the exhortation from Eph. 4:12ff, that centers on verse 13, “till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect (spiritually mature) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” defines the core of this vision—unto full stature for the church, and for every believer.
Where Do We Go From Here?
This vision greatly adds clarity to my (our) understanding and direction for the purposes and call of God upon our lives. Yet there seems to remain this question, “where do I (we) go from here?” Sergio Valori passed away June 18, 2015. To this day, his passing remains heavy in my heart. But this vision, this message, this great calling also remains most heavily upon my heart. Two elements of this vision are clear to me. First, there must be a going forth of this exhortation to the Church, as a similar encouragement in Hab. 2:2, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.” Here, the prophet Habakkuk was not addressing the nations or the Gentiles, but God’s own people. But would this people heed His word or would they continue in their settled ways?
Second, there must be a going beyond the proclamation of this word alone…to the experiencing of it in our lives and that of the Church. It cannot just become another message that adds to our spiritual intelligence. This truth cannot lie idle in our minds without producing its fruit in our lives. As a friend has said, “The vision is not the goal; it is to lead us on to the goal.” I look at the nine fruit of the Spirit listed in Gal. 5:22, 23 and select peace at random. Peace, as are the remaining eight fruit, is life to my soul. Anything opposite to that brings death and despair. I examine myself as to just how much peace I really walk in. And then I look at the remaining eight fruit: love, joy, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and groan within for their reality. Paul wrote, “Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body,” i.e., our mortal flesh. (2 Cor. 4:10)
This is the pursuit of life, His life! And this life produces character. Some may profess their Christianity, have a “good word,” or a “good testimony,” but then I have trouble getting past their character. Somehow their message is tainted by arrogance, ambition, lack of self-control, or other character flaws. The men and women of God to whom I have been drawn over the years have Godly character anointing their messages. This is what brings spiritual impartation in lieu of an emotional or intellectual response.
There are many other aspects of this vision. Phrases like, “we may be partakers of His holiness” and “yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:10, 11) that may initially have an air of vagueness in understanding, but in all reality are most basic and the most practical aspects of our Christian walk and character. Along with the proper functioning of the five-fold ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (see Eph. 4:11), these two principles are most fundamental to the maturity of the Church—unto full stature. How else can the Church grow into “a holy temple…a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 21, 22) and function, truly function, as the Body of Christ (as described in Eph. 4, 1 Cor. 12, and elsewhere).
There must be this practical application of truth to bring spiritual reality. This, the proclamation and the practical realization of the vision, is the present challenge and commission of the Lord before me and those close by me for whom I am most grateful.
Psalm 122:1, 2
“I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the LORD.
Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.”
In this passage there is a company of believers passing by, desiring to ascend higher, to press towards a high calling into the very house of the LORD. There, they will become His holy habitation. It is the ultimate place for them to settle and find their place of rest. There is another company of people who find themselves standing within Jerusalem’s gates. This latter group realizes that, for whatever the reason, they have settled, and have become accustomed to the routine of temple worship, sacrifices, the Law, and life’s daily activities. How refreshing it is to those that hear and respond to that call to ascend up to something higher. They are overjoyed to join in this leg of their life’s journey.
I realize the pursuit of God’s highest is never an individual effort, nor can it be. The Lord designed it to be otherwise, something corporate, that of the Body of Christ. It really is “Every joint suppling, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph. 4:16) Yet there remains a need for some to go before, at whatever personal sacrifice that may require. Shall we join together for this final ascent?
“Two are better than one,
Because they have good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him that is alone when he falls.
For he has no one to help him.
Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one be warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecc. 4:9-12)