Understanding the Christian term “Breakthrough”

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“Breakthrough” image captured 21/Oct/22 Google Chrome-TJD

8 minute read.

Last year I had blocked out some time to do some evangelism on the NeedHim.org platform. I was encouraging a believer and when I offered prayer this person said, “pray that I have breakthrough.” Even though I thought I knew what it meant, I asked him/her, “what does this mean? What exactly are you looking for?” “What type of breakthrough?”

This person’s reply is what helped me get to where I am today with this blog post. He/she said, “you know, a breakthrough. You must be a brand new Christian. You don’t know what breakthrough is?” Apparently not. As I’m not a new Christian, I began to ask them further questions. “What kind of breakthrough? Where does the Bible mention this language? Can I pray something specific? Are you struggling with something in particular that the Holy Spirit can help you with?” I never really got an answer. They simply wanted “breakthrough.”

This person was slightly perturbed that I’d asked. Looking back, I realized I hijacked their request with my questions. I should have simply prayed for them and moved on…but I didn’t…and know I’ve found myself down a one-word rabbit hole.

As we chatted, my NeedHim.org friend didn’t seem to follow my line of questioning. They simply wanted ‘breakthrough.’ The conversation had me intrigued. I just didn’t understand what the person wanted. What exactly do people mean when they use this word? When did it become Christian “vogue” to talk about it when mentioning prayer, struggles, or who knows what? When did it enter into our music, conversation, and churches? What exactly do we mean when we say ‘breakthrough?’ Why does it seem so nebulous 90% of the time? Looking back on my Christian life I don’t recall this word being used. It appears to be used by believers fairly recently (last 10-20 years I’m guessing). Since this exchange, I started listening for this word. It’s everywhere! I was so intrigued!

Here are a couple examples from popular Christian music:

God turn It Around (2020, Church of the City, featuring Jon Reddick)

I’m praying, God come
And turn this thing around
God, turn it around
God, turn it around
God, turn it around…

All of my hope
Is in the name
The name of Jesus
Breakthrough will come
Come in the name

Katy Nicole, In Jesus Name (2022, Centricity Music)

… I pray for your healing
That circumstances will change
I pray that the fear inside will flee in Jesus name
I pray that a breakthrough
Would happen today

I pray miracles over your life in Jesus name
I pray for revival
For restoration of faith
I pray that the dead will come alive in Jesus name
In Jesus name

As I listen to Christian radio, I hear it more and more. I think, “what kind of breakthrough?” Then I remember it’s music. Sometimes it is meant to be nebulous. Your circumstances may be different than mine. One song touches me here, and you there. That’s why it works so well in this context.

Here are some well-known public figures using the term:

“As the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter, as a country with unsurpassed ability to drive innovation and scientific breakthroughs, as the country that people around the world continue to look to in times of crisis, we’ve got a vital role to play. We can’t stand on the sidelines. We’ve got a unique responsibility.” ~ Barack Obama

I am highly favored by God, I experience great victories, supernatural turnarounds, and miraculous breakthroughs in the midst of great impossibilities.” DMX

“Every time I have had a breakthrough in my life, it is because of prayer.” John C. Maxwell

Even in these examples I see vagueness. It’s not surprising that a politician would be vague. They generally are. DMX claimed to be a born again Christian. I had no idea! This man certainly was not the best example to follow, but maybe he was plagued with a legion of demons or struggled with mental health issues. Either way, his quote is interesting within the context of popular Christianity. Maxwell is vague, but his wording can help me get there. It points toward specificity. The Lord did something great when I asked Him and had others praying for me.

Examples from popular Christian writers and websites:

  1. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/praying-for-a-breakthrough
  2. John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, chapter two “Breakthrough: The Beauty of Christ, My Joy https://app.rightnowmedia.org/en/content/details/200?session=2091
  3. The loose definition of a “spiritual breakthrough” pertains to a new level of spirituality being reached. The definition of “breakthrough”, in general, is a sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development or achieving success in a particular sphere or activity. Some examples of a breakthrough are when a person gets saved, gets a deeper understanding of Biblical truth, receives an answer to prayer, or has victory over sin. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/prayers-for-breakthrough.html
  4. Books available from Logos.com https://www.logos.com/search?query=breakthrough&sortBy=Relevance&limit=60&page=1&ownership=all&geographicAvailability=availableToMe
  5. Elmer Towns and Liberty University, Praying the Lord’s Prayer for Spiritual Breakthrough https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1166&context=towns_books (Complete eBook online)

A good explanation and definition: https://www.gotquestions.org/spiritual-breakthrough.html

I like the definition from Crosswalk (#3). It points to growth in Christ. Maturity. Discipleship. Sanctification. Words and concepts I can more readily see in scripture. Here’s what the author at GotQuestions said:

Should we seek a spiritual breakthrough? We can and should pray for wisdom (James 1:5), victory over sin (Ephesians 6:18), and the filling of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). But intimacy with God does not require a series of “spiritual breakthroughs.” Working under the assumption that a connection with God already exists (that is, a person has faith in Jesus Christ for salvation), spiritual growth occurs in that person as naturally as a tree growing in the soil and sun.

Reader, please don’t think I’m angry with anyone who uses this term. I’m not. I’m curious. It’s a word often used with vagueness. I’m simply wondering what people are saying when they use it.

I’m also not convinced that it’s the best word we are looking for when talking about growth, an answer to prayer, or how we relate to God. Again, I’m not mad at those who use it. I probably won’t say anything to you if you use it (unless I need clarification, then I’ll ask for that). Here are a few thoughts I have about the nebulous meaning of breakthrough:

  • It might simply be used as “spiritual language.” Believers seem to use it as something to say that sounds spiritual (sort of like, “pray for me.”).
  • It could be used as a Christian “type” identifier. “What ‘type’ of Christian are you?” “I’m a Baptist, Methodist, or Charismatic.” Or as one young man said to me, “the Biblical kind.” He was serious. I laughed. He didn’t. I’m glad he didn’t ask me what ‘kind’ I was. He might have been disappointed in me. Guess the other kinds are not biblical.
  • It’s used as a Christian conversation/prayer starter of sorts. Again, context is key. The more intimate the relationship, the better you will understand the breakthrough to which your friend speaks.

As I think about this word, the following suggestions come to mind regarding breakthrough and Christian language in general:

  1. Be specific in your language. (One sweet saint said, “Let’s pray for all the lost people.” We were in a 30-minute prayer meeting. Let’s pray for some lost people by name. Who do you know that is lost? Be specific. Pray for those people.)
  2. Use the term and then tell people what breakthrough you are looking for and why you think the Lord wants you to pray in this manner. (It’s nebulous because our language is vague. I wonder if this is done on purpose to be able to “claim” any type of victory over any breakthrough?? This kind of thinking allows one to potentially manipulate a spiritual experience rather than recognize that the Lord does answer specific prayers in magnificent ways!)
  3. Ask the Lord to give you what you need/what/are looking for in this time or season. Ask in faith and expect Him to give good things to His children. Praise Him if the answer is ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘wait.’
  4. Think through what your prayer requests sound to others. Can you clearly articulate your need so they can pray with clarity? (Instead of praying for breakthrough, tell people, “I’m praying for a breakthrough in my marriage. We need to communicate to each other more clearly so we can better understand each other’s needs. We are stuck and need to move past this point in order that we grow closer to one another and to the Lord.”)
  5. Embrace the supernatural nature of prayer. The Lord wants us to speak to Him and ask Him to do mighty things. There is power in asking others to intercede on our behalf as others pray with expectancy, compassion, and empathy. Our body language, fervency of immediate and ongoing prayer (public and private), expectancy, and loving follow-up is more important than using correct terminology.
  6. Recognize that your relationship with the Lord is not about the ‘next level,’ a series of trials God wants you to overcome in order to be in right relationship, or the next spiritual high. Our spiritual dopamine levels are not how we are to measure God’s love for us or where we are in relationship to Him. This can be a dangerous rubric of our spiritual health.

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