What God Has Been Doing In Me Lately
Over the past year or so I have had an increasing desire to see the Holy Spirit at work in a new and powerful way. I have been asking God to start with me. Little did I know that telling God that I want to know and experience him as much as I possibly can that it would mean…pain. Why did I fail to recognize this? Your guess is as good as mine. The pain came from confession and repentance of sin in my own life. I think back to Isaiah right before God sends him out on mission. First things first. Isaiah must see God in all of his holiness and glory and simultaneously be undone by his own sin. Then Isaiah is ready to do ministry. As I have been reflecting on spiritual renewal it seems the pattern over and over again in Scripture is that repentance is the starting point for God to be at work in a new way.
The beautiful thing about confession and repentance is that there is a renewed sense of intimacy and joy in Christ. The worship songs you hear are sweeter. You begin crying when you hear stories of how God is at work. There is a energy and determination that grows within you to see the sleepy awakened and the lost saved. There is no better place to be then just one step closer to Christ.
The Vanity Of Running Programs
As I have been praying for the Spirit to be at work in a new way in my life, family, church, and the community all around me I have become aware of the futility of simply running programs in the church. First you must understand that as a church we have talked about our mission (the Great Commission), we have brought in a consultant to help us work on our Vision (Deeply Rooted In Six Counties). We just wrapped up working with another consultant to help us develop a leadership pipeline. I definitely believe we need to plan and strategize, but it is not enough. Not nearly enough.
I am preaching through the Psalms of Ascent and this coming Sunday I am preaching on Psalm 127. Here is are the first two verses:
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved asleep.
Perhaps another way of putting is that unless the LORD (YAHWEH) builds the house you are just wasting your time. Three times in this passage Solomon tells us that doing things in our own power and strength is nothing more than spinning our ministry wheels. Lots of smoke but no fire.
Maybe we are all asking the wrong questions. We ask things like, how did it go on Sunday? Who was there? How many were there? I’m thinking the better question is, how was the Spirit of God at work? What took place that only can be explained by the Holy Spirit being present and active?
These questions, kinda like repentance, lead to pain. Perhaps some of you in ministry know what I mean. It’s much easier to count numbers than it is to honestly evaluate if the Holy Spirit is really at work or not.
What Would Spiritual Renewal Look Like?
The elders and I are reading a wonderful book by Ray Ortlund Jr called “When God Comes To Church: A Biblical Model For Revival Today.” You can get the book for free HERE. It is excellent. It is biblical. It is dangerous. Why do I say dangerous? Because it is wrecking me for the status quo and giving me a stronger desire to see God at work in our church and community. Ortlund describes renewal like this:
When God rends the heavens and comes down on his people, a divine power achieves what human effort at its best fails to do. God’s people thirst for the ministry of the Word and receive it with tender meltings of the soul. The grip of the enslaving sin is broken. Reconciliation between believers is sought and granted. Spiritual beings, rather than material things, capture people’s hearts. A defensive, timid church is transformed into a confident army. Believers joyfully suffer for their lord. They treasure usefulness to God over career advancement. Communion with God is avidly enjoyed. Churches and Christian organizations reform their policies and procedures. People who had always been indifferent to the gospel now inquire anxiously. And this type of spiritual movement draws in not just the isolated straggler here and there but large numbers of people. A wave of divine grace washed over the church and spills out on the world. This is what happens when God comes down. And that is how we can pray for the church today.
My response to this? Holy Spirit come.
All Of This Leads To Prayer
I do have a longing to see spiritual renewal happen. But I am more convinced then ever that the only way it will happen is when God’s people pray. Fervent prayer. Church wide prayer. Persistent prayer. A kind of praying that heats up our heart first and then spreads to others. I must make prayer more of a priority in my life and it must become more of a priority in the life of my church.
Finding Joy As We Are Waiting And Praying For Renewal
There is a spiritual danger in all of this talk about spiritual renewal in our lives and in the church. How do we respond when we pray and we don’t see it happening? I have learned the hard way that if I am not careful all of this longing for God to work can lead to frustration and disappointment. “Why isn’t it working?” “God, what is wrong with everyone?”
For me the key is to keep watching and finding joy in the small evidences of God’s grace. I must find my joy in Christ, not necessarily whether or not my prayers for revival happen on my time table. I must patiently, persistently continue to pray for God to work in a new way and still love God and others as I live in the in-between.