J. Grant Swank, Jr.
There appear to be geographical territories which are given over to varying spiritual powers.
There are some geographies which are dominated by demonic forces. This makes for exceedingly combative warfare within the invisible realms.
There are other geographies which are blessed by heavenly forces. This allows for exceptional freedom in preaching the gospel, also for free wills to respond positively to that preaching.
There are still other geographies which are languishing between the two polarizations. They are seasonal and moody. They are unpredictable and not well-charted. The demons have control for a time; then the Holy Spirit has more authority at other times.
Jesus could do little Kingdom work in some locales. The Bible states that the reason was because of lack of faith on behalf of the residents. In other words, the demonic forces were particularly strong in those geographies due to the free wills given over to darkness.
When Jesus performed miracles in some locales, residents were not thankful but instead ran Him out of town. These miracles were outlandish in their impact for good and health. Yet humans in that area were repelled by them. It is because the evil influence was so overwhelming that the people willed not to appreciate the good of God.
This happens on occasion in churches. The Lord provides an evident boon to the congregation. Yet carnal souls discount it immediately. They deride it or purposefully ignore it as if the good did not exist.
This leaves the godly persons in a quandary. "Why can't these people see the good that is happening here in our church?"
The pastor is stumped. He cannot figure out why there is not continual praise from the entire congregation because of the obvious blessing from heaven. "When are these people (that is, the obstinate ones) going to get on board?"
This a direct parallel to the reaction in Jesus' time regarding some of His fantastic miracles. There are certain geographies where the demonic forces have such a hold on some free wills so that the latter will not acknowledge God's work.
It was finally this purposeful disrespect for the divine that murdered Jesus. In the end, the envious religious authorities in particular could not take His wonderment any longer; therefore, they killed Him.
In other words, the conflict can reach such a pitch--then and now.
How did Jesus instruct His disciples regarding analyzing geographies when they went from village to village? He taught them to decipher the spiritual frequencies in those areas, that is, what was happening in the invisible realms. If there was receptivity to the gospel, they stayed and worked for the Kingdom. If there was meanness, they moved on to another geography, dusting off shoes when exiting.
Jesus recognized in that instruction particularly the existence of varying spiritual geographies.
When Paul wanted to enter Asia Minor to plant churches, the Holy Spirit explicitly instructed him NOT to do so. He may have had his paradigms, charts, maps, videos and latest paperbacks in his satchel ready for the challenge. Yet the Holy Spirit knew that the geography was not ready for the Kingdom gospel. It is a plus for Paul that he did not push the paradigms but obeyed the Spirit.
So it is in every age. The overview is the same. Some geographies are given over to the gospel due to free wills open to God. Other geographies are not given over to the gospel due to free wills in rebellion against God.
I recall hearing a Mideast missionary relate that it actually took ten years for a Christian convert to become grounded spiritually in that geography. I heard another missionary from the Caribbean relate how Christian converts were springing up over night, stuffing out the church buildings, hanging out the church windows.
Why? Did one missionary have it over the other when it came to church planting, missionary advance, evangelism, church growth technique? No, they were of equal commitment and ability.
Why then the difference in the two geographies? In one location, there was a free will openness to the gospel; in the other, there was a free will resistance.
I pastored in one church where the congregation seemed to grow over night. In other another pastorate, I labored the same methods and message for eleven years with scant results.
Why the difference? I was often asked. I wondered that myself. Then it became clear: In the blossoming congregation, there was such a hunger for God.
The other geography was extremely interesting. Within a three mile radius, any gospel work was thwarted on every hand; it did not matter what the denominational tag. We gospel pastors frequently met for prayer and exchanged circumstances so that the picture became clear as to what was going on in the invisible realm.
One congregation had been split three times. In another, not much "for the charts" seemed to work for God though there was a positive attitude within the struggling group itself. In still another, the pastor built up a congregation with flimflam methods, then disappeared with one of the women who was not his wife. In still another, half the congregation walked out after a morning service. Trouble everywhere.
Those outside these churches had no concern whatsoever for the gospel call. Therefore, to see through evangelism in that pagan land was truly a Herculean feat.
Understanding varying spiritual geographies has given comfort to many of us in the daily ministry. After all, we have spent lifetimes here and there. We have seen varying responses to the gospel call. We have experienced all kinds of situations: discouraging and delightful.
When the numerical growth responses have not been all that promising, we have carried unnecessary guilt, lived with frustrations as to why programs were not producing, frequently had the pastor blamed for being inept or lacking in one take-charge area or another.
The fact of the matter may have nothing to do with the pastor nor the committed flock. It may have to do with the invisible forces at work in the geographies. If the free wills in that area are open to the gospel, then God can work. If they are not, God's work is thwarted. Such is a sound biblical appraisal.
Then there finally is no one to blame but those humans who exercise their free wills against the God who created them--and the devil who oversees their resistance to the gracious face of Jesus.