Is That Really You, God? is a combination of biography of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and teaching on hearing from God. Cunningham and his wife both grew up in families that relied on hearing specific guidance from the Lord, and he learned some important lessons through the natural course of events. When YWAM started to grow, Cunningham created the Discipleship Training School (DTS) to train workers in a family setting, where they can learn to hear God in the structure of a family.
The most important thing Cunningham learned from his parents (aside from situations where he saw God provide guidance) was that if God has something He wants to say to you, He will tell it to you directly. Other people are good for confirmation, but not so good for direction. Later on, he realized, as a corollary, you have to hear your call from God yourself; you will not be able to get someone else to tell you what your call is.
There are three steps to hearing guidance from God:
- Use Christ’s authority to silence the enemy,
- Ask the Lord to clear away any presumptions and preconceived ideas from your mind,
- Wait, believing that He will speak. (p. 142)
When you listen to God, be totally submitted to Jesus, including Him speaking any way He wants to speak. He may speak through an audible voice or a vision, but usually He speaks through the still small voice in your mind. This is frequently a Bible verse, a thought that drops in, or even a memory. “One of the most trustworthy tests for valid guidance is this: Does it bring the people who are involved one step closer to freedom and maturity in the Lord? If this is not so, the guidance is probably suspect. If the guidance moves people into a deeper relationship with the Lord, then the direction is probably from God.” (p. 172)
When God gives you the direction you were asking for, Cunningham learned that you will soon have a testing of your commitment to follow the guidance. This was particularly true in the beginning of Cunningham’s ministry, as he was learning to say yes to the call that God gave him of seeing waves of youth missionaries cover the continents of the earth, reaching all people with the gospel. He had to choose to say yes to the call and no to the other things that tugged at his heart.
Repentance of all sin is likely necessary before God can use you at a certain level. As YWAM was just getting started, God impressed on Cunningham that he should take seven days to pray and fast (right in the middle of an outreach). On the third day, he had what he describes as “God’s scalpel” come and open his heart, revealing unconfessed and unrepented sin. He confessed all the sins to the Lord that He brought to mind, and repented of them. In some cases, the Lord guided him to write letters of confession and repentance to certain parties. After this, the Lord started using him at an accelerated level. Shortly afterwards, something similar happened to one of his close partners, and afterwards God started using him at an accelerated level, too.
When God gives you direction for something, start doing what you can with what you have; do not wait for the resources for the full project to come in before starting it. (However, do not go into debt; only do what He has provided the resources for.) God will provide the resources for what He wants, although the process may take a long time. Cunningham had a vision of having a University of the Nations for many years before they actually were able to start building it. So he made do with a run-down hotel that God gave them, fixed it up, and held classes there until the University could be built.
Check your life regularly against your original call. How well are you doing what you were called to do? Similarly, if you are not hearing from God, ask yourself if you are doing the last thing He called you to do.
One thing that Cunningham learned especially well is that if you get proud, God won’t be able to use you. His mother told him that, but he had to learn it the hard way when God released him to pursue the vision of a mercy ship He gave him years earlier. The problem was, that he shifted his focus from the Lord onto the gift of the Lord, that is the ship. He had a vision of him celebrating with YWAM God’s provision for the ship and everyone celebrating the ship, rather than Jesus, who was weeping in a dark corner. “Divine guidance is so heady, so spectacular that there is the risk of glory attaching itself to the work rather than to the Lord.” (p. 172) “Guidance is first of all a relationship with the Guide.” (p. 175)
The book is also the account of how Cunningham partnered with God to achieve the vision that God gave him. He saw waves of youth covering the continents, and he also saw a ship bringing help to people in need. So Cunningham went on a short-term trip to explore this idea, got some ideas, and started recruiting youth. He relied on God for guidance, but was also very experimental in his approach, trying new things to see if they worked. (In the book almost everything worked wonderfully, but there were probably some learning moments in reality.) God gradually opened doors until YWAM had bases all over the world with thousands of youth sharing the gospel. Then God released him to pursue the mercy ship, which was not done so well. God gave him the option of “healing” the ship (i.e. providing the necessary money which was not coming in), or “resurrecting” the ship, in which God would get the greater glory. Cunningham chose the later, but it took many years for that to be fulfilled. Meanwhile, God started giving him vision for a training center on Kona, Hawaii. This was also slowly provided for, and the two came to fulfillment in a similar timeframe.
One point of interest for me was the vision that God used to resurrect the mercy ship dream. Cunningham heard about the south-Asian refugees, and visited a camp in Hong Kong, where he was shocked at the conditions and horror stricken that nobody in the body of Christ was doing anything. He sent a team of youth, who paid their own way (as always) and served the refugees. In particular, they happily cleaned and repaired the overstressed toilets in the camp that even the refugees did not want to deal with. As the refugees saw their work, they asked them why they would pay money to come and do this, and do it cheerfully. This was a great opportunity to share the gospel with people whose hearts were now open to receiving it.
It is rare for someone to have such a huge impact over many years. Loren Cunningham is still alive (as of 2016), and YWAM is probably the largest missionary organization in the world, with over 1,000 bases, thousands of long-term staff/missionaries, and hundreds of thousands short-termers. It is rare for sustained “revival” of any kind, so it is worth paying attention to how Cunningham lived. Several things impressed me. First, he consistently sought and received guidance from God. The events in the book are compressed so it is hard to be sure, but it seems like seeking God’s guidance is a regular part of his life and not just when a big decision needs to be made. As a result, he positioned himself to easily perceive when God was sharing a new, deeper part of his heart with him. Second, he consistently sought for Jesus to be glorified, and quickly repented when God showed him that he had placed his affections on the ship rather than on Jesus. Third, he lives experimentally. When God tells him something, he tries it out with what he has. If that works, he believes for more. Fourth, he is thoughtful. He has the vision, but he also observes what works and what does not, and adjusts accordingly. Fifth, he is single-minded about pursuing his call. In his case, the call has two parts (youth missionaries and mercy ships), and he evaluates how he is doing regularly.