When Bill Johnson, senior leader of Bethel Church, preached at City Harvest Church on Feb 15 to 17, the church experienced not just the healing presence of God but a realignment in the way to read and act on Scripture. In this interview with City News, Pastor Bill elaborates on some of the thought-provoking statements he made in his sermons.
City News: Thank you for sharing so much with our church over the three days you’ve been here. We experienced such a full presence of the Holy Spirit, we experienced healing—how do we stay in this zone?
Bill Johnson: Truth is what sets us free. So, identify the truths that the Lord is highlighting, and together as a [leadership] team, make sure that you are stewarding well the Word that was given. That really helps.
Sun [Ho, executive pastor of CHC] mentioned the other night that she’s not trying to make City Harvest another Bethel, and that’s right. We want to learn from each other but we want to learn principles; our application is unique to us. And so there has to be liberty in the heart of Sun, [CHC founder] Kong [Hee], the leadership and the team to find unique expression for kingdom truths.
What we don’t need is another formula—that’s not what we’re looking for; we don’t need the “5 Steps” to this or that. What we do need is to know how His world works. We need to know the culture of Heaven: what does it look like? It’s gotta be measurable. As soon as we tap into one of those truths, that’s what you want to give your attention to.
For example, honor. Honor is a value of the kingdom of God. In heaven, every person is honored for who they are, not who they aren’t. The Bible says “honor your parents in the Lord” and the result is you’ll live long, so honor brings life. You just want to identify those things. Then you give yourself to them and learn how to do them better and better.
You said in your sermon, “when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we can change every environment”. How do we come to a point where we actually see such impact?
The main thing is that we learn to value the presence of God outside of ministry settings. I want to enjoy the Holy Spirit in my home. If I learn to be trustworthy with that anointing and that presence, when there’s nothing to do, when there’s no ministry, then He can trust me with ministry.
But if I only try to learn to be used by Him so that I’m involved in ministry, that’s not a relationship. That’s where He says “I never knew you”. So that’s what we want—we want to make sure we are developing that tenderness towards Him just for our personal life. Then what happens is, whenever we have a personal, private victory, it positions us for a public victory. David beat the lion and the bear when no-one was watching; that qualified him to beat Goliath when two nations were watching.
You taught us about unity through communion. What happens when people in a church are on two sides of the decisions that the leadership makes? How do we address and communicate that, and bring unity?
We don’t have responsibility to make sure that everybody agrees. We have the responsibility to do the right thing.
How do we know what the right thing is?
You ask God. He said, if you ask for wisdom, He will give it to you generously. So, we ask Him for wisdom. And we’re not driven by the fear of man. My motto is, if I don’t live by the praises of men, I don’t die by their criticism. The question isn’t, who’s going to be offended. People will be offended no matter what you do, that’s not even a factor. I have zero interest in pleasing the masses. I want to be kind, I want to be wise; I want to love and serve them, but their opinion of me just doesn’t matter.
That doesn’t give us permission to be careless, I don’t ever encourage that, but you know, my responsibility is not to make sure that everybody agrees. I do have a responsibility to communicate well, to make sure that I allow for feedback, that there is good conversation, that there’s good explanation—all that. But I do not have the responsibility to make sure everybody’s happy with my decisions. It’s too big of a burden to bear.
You also said, “Faith doesn’t come with striving but with surrender.” Could you elaborate?
You don’t choose faith. Because faith isn’t a mental exercise, right? Faith doesn’t come from the mind. If it came from the mind, you can choose it. Faith is already in my nature. Am I born again? Whose nature is in me? Does He have faith? That’s my nature. So, I have to yield to He who is in me. We’re believers, so it’s our nature to believe. We make faith so difficult, so impossible, it’s like we create excuses for our own unbelief. It’s not right—we don’t have the right to do that.
So, how do I go to that place where I can activate my faith and yield to the nature of God?
I just return to the Word. Sometimes the circumstances don’t measure up to what the Scripture says. But my circumstances are inferior to God’s Word, so I have to return to God’s Word. I have so many things around me that are not consistent with God’s Word. I can either put my confidence in the circumstances, or in what God says.
So, I return to what the Word of the Lord is, what has God told me. Every situation I prayed for so many years, it hasn’t been fixed yet, it hasn’t been healed yet. But the Lord spoke to me and told me what He was going to do. I have many of those, actually. So, I have a list in my iPad that He has promised breakthrough for that I’ve not yet seen. I keep it before me: I’ll sit on the plane, I’ll bring that list up and I’ll go through it again. I’ll pray through the list. Just steward your part.
You can’t make things happen, but you also don’t want complacency to settle where there’s supposed to be faith. Faith is active. I don’t have bold faith but I can always have quiet trust. I may not know how it’s gonna work, I may not know when it’s gonna work, but believe in God. Like the Scripture says, “Let God be found true and every man a liar.” So that’s my position: God, You’re true and every other voice is a lie. I will not give it attention; I give Your voice attention.
You said, “We pray for an open heaven because we have unbelief.” How do we get past that?
You become conscious that heaven is open over you. We can always pray for an open heaven in the sense we want it to expand, I want it over my whole city. But it’s already open over me. There’s no demon that can block the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in me with the Father in heaven—there’s no power of darkness that can block that. So over me is an open heaven. It may not be open over my neighbor, so my ambition is that they will be influenced by that open heaven over my life.
In each service, you made us speak out our healing and forgiveness. Silly question: should we speak it out in a language or can it be in tongues?
Those things have to be declared with understanding. Because the Bible says that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength. Mind is: I have to use my intelligence to express my love. It’s not that tongues are wrong. Tongues are very important but not for that moment. That moment something needs to be declared. If something needs to be said, you don’t know if you’re saying it if you speak in tongues.
So, it’s just common sense: God says to Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” and he says “You know.” And God says “Speak to the bones”—you can’t speak gibberish, you have to speak what He says to speak. And that’s what Jesus did. He only said what His father was saying. Our ambition is we want to learn to hear the Father well enough to hear what He’s saying. The Bible says “Let the weak say I am strong”, right? So, in my weakness, that’s when I need to say “I am strong.” My speech needs to be consistent with God’s Word, not my circumstances.
“You recognize evil when you’re inundated with good” is another thing you said. How come?
You know His presence, His voice, His word, His kindness—you just become familiar with Him. Not overly familiar, where we take advantage of Him, but we just become aware of Him. And when we do that, anything that’s not from Him becomes more obvious.
On that topic, I have a question from a church member. How do you tell if President Donald Trump is good when whatever you see him do seems so bad?
All you ever hear about him is what the media tells you. All you know about him is what the media wants you to know. I don’t trust them; I happen to have friends who know him. But even that’s not our responsibility. 1 Timothy 2 says we must pray for kings and authority that we may live a peaceful life.
No leader is infallible. And he’s not going to get everything right. But I like him. He has the courage to confront some things that are wrong in our country. No one has done more for Israel or for the church than he has done in two years. I don’t think anyone has done as much as he has done in eight years. Doesn’t mean I like everything he does or says, but he’s my president and I support him. I prayed supportingly for Obama, although I didn’t like his policies. Our job is not to accuse, it is to pray for—that’s the privilege of the believer.
On Saturday, you talked about the renewed mind and you said we have to have continual repentance. What is that?
You can illustrate repentance through an action: I’m walking towards Him, [draws an imaginary line] God’s that direction, sin is the other direction. Repentance is an about-face. In Hebrews, it says “repentance from dead works” towards God. So as long as I’m going in this direction (towards God) I don’t have to repent because I’m walking in repentance. But if I turn from that and embrace sin, then I need to repent. If I turn from the mind of Christ, towards thoughts like “I’m fearful, I’m angry, I’m bitter”, then I’ve left the mind of Christ and I have to repent to get back. So, continual repentance illustrates the renewed mind. It doesn’t mean constant confessing of old sins—if you’ve confessed it, it’s done; it’s not healthy to do that. But walking in faith towards God, that is the life of repentance.
What must we do so that we can truly experience Kingdom Culture? As a church, we have been seeking and declaring it, but it’s not a “flood” yet. How do we get to that point?
Be faithful with what you know. If you’re faithful, everything increases. Everything goes from glory to glory when we’re faithful. We do what we know to do. We stay honest. We stay humble. We live with risk—you have to live with risk if you want breakthrough. If every decision we make is the safe way, you can’t get much faith that way. We tell our people, if you live cautiously, people will call you wise. You just won’t move many mountains. Real breakthroughs come in response to us taking risks.
On that point, you would know about the risk we took as a church with the Crossover Project. How do we reconcile what happened?
Well, you do the best to clean up the mess. If you made a decision that was wrong, you own up to it, then you move on. If people are accusing you of wrong and there wasn’t wrong, you can humble yourself, but you don’t have to admit to doing something you didn’t do. There’s no merit in that. People will agree, disagree, accuse, support. All of it’s going to happen. Just make sure that before the Lord, your hands are clean, you’ve done what you’re supposed to do. As far as it depends on you, Scripture says, be at peace with all men. So that’s our assignment.
How do we explain when we pray for the sick and the person dies?
We don’t have to. Here’s our problem—we want to explain everything. And sometimes God isn’t talking to us about a subject so if pastors do this all the time, we create bad theology because we want to give an explanation. If God’s not giving an explanation, don’t explain it.
The Scripture says that the secret things belong to God—I think it’s Deuteronomy 29:29. I can’t explain it because first of all, I don’t understand it; and secondly, the Christian life is called “the faith”, it’s not called “the understanding”. So, if it’s called the faith, that means there has to be mystery for me to live in. What I don’t understand is as important in my life as what I do understand. Because there has to remain mystery. I think spiritual leaders make horrible mistakes trying to explain everything, because God’s not always explaining everything. He leaves a certain amount of mystery in our life, and it has to be okay with us to trust Him when we don’t understand. (laughs) It’s hard, that’s true.
In your book God Is So Good, you say, and I paraphrase, it’s wrong to say God allowed something bad to happen because it’s as good as saying He caused it. But then we hear it regularly, “Oh, God allowed it so that good things can come out of it.”
I just think things work different than we understand it. So, when something happens—could God have stopped it? Of course, He could stop anything, He’s God. He doesn’t lack for power, He doesn’t lack for authority, He could stop everything. So, in one sense, a person can say “Well, He didn’t stop it so He allowed it.” I guess that’s accurate, in a sense.
But the problem is when the church says “God allowed something”, they’re almost always saying “It met with His approval.” He didn’t approve. He didn’t approve of sin, He didn’t approve of disease. How could He approve of disease when Jesus suffered and died carrying disease? You can’t have a divided house: you can’t have the Father giving disease and Jesus contending for healing. Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father do, so Jesus was revealing the heart of the Father, by healing every condition that came to Him, and every person the Father directed Him to. That’s the only standard we follow.
I don’t understand when things don’t work that way, but I can’t afford to change something that the Scripture doesn’t say. Somebody dies, for example, and we’ve had many—many miracles, many deaths—I don’t ask the Lord why. I don’t need to know why. I just need to know what I do next. But I will ask God if there’s something we missed in that journey, where this life could’ve been saved. I do think some people die prematurely. Some people say “Oh, it was God’s timing.” No. Why do you think Jesus raised the dead? He raised the dead because not everyone died in God’s timing. If everybody dies in God’s timing, then Jesus violated the will of the Father by raising people from the dead! No, He raised them from the dead because they didn’t die in God’s timing. If it happened when Jesus was walking the earth, how much more does it happen now?
You and your wife Beni wrote a parenting book Raising Giant Killers. What are three things that we must pray for our children?
I pray that they have a heart to know Him. I pray that He will reveal to them His ways and that they will know His voice.