Thursday, January 27, 2011

What we need most

When I look at the state of the world and our nation, and hear the contentions of Evangelical world church leaders that much of the church has fallen asleep, then I have great hope. Sounds strange, but that is the truth of it. However, my hope is not that the nation will suddenly change from corruption, violence, and general indolence, to heaven-on-earth. Nor is my hope that the churches of South Africa will structurally unite and exercise major social transformation initiatives. No, my hope is that God the Father will take mercy on His people, that the Lord Jesus will intercede for us, and that the Holy Spirit will overwhelm the church with … Revival! We need nothing less at this time, and nothing less will do.

Jonathan Goforth was instrumental in the Manchurian revival of 1908 and he is quoted as stating that the three key precursors to revival are (i) prayer, (ii) a return to the authority of the Bible, and (iii) placing Jesus at the centre as Saviour and Lord. In this article I would like to briefly explore what these mean at a practical level.

Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high and so they waited and prayed. This seems to be a common preparatory feature in the historic revivals I have studied. God instructs a few to expect revival, and they wait and pray until it comes as promised. During revivals, prayer is usually intense and all inclusive. What starts with a few people praying ends with whole congregations, and even regions, on their knees in intense prayer. My dilemma is whether to attempt to organise people to pray. My natural inclination is to exhort folk and to set up regular prayer meetings. My spiritual intuition says no, step aside so that God can do what only He can do. Perhaps when people start to come to the church building to pray, without being obligated to do so, then is the time to announce that the Holy Spirit has organised a regular prayer meeting.

Concerning a return to the authority of the Bible, that is something I do not need to return to because I believe and teach this concept. However, this may well be a challenge for some reading this article. Topical preaching is powerful in the hands of a master of the scriptures, but dangerous in the hands of anyone less. When using the topical approach to preaching it is too easy to justify one’s own ideas from selected texts. Expository preaching, on the other hand, gives full honour to the authority of scripture and compels the preacher to deal with what a given portion of scripture says. So, to experience full revival perhaps we need to revive expository preaching.

The Bible is the written Word of God, but Jesus Christ is the Living Word. A core issue for me has always been the centrality of Jesus. Most, if not all, Evangelicals will gladly embrace this and claim it as their central tenet. However the truth of this claim lies in how we apply the concept. Is what Jesus said and did the prime determiner of our doctrine and practice? Do we interpret the Bible and seek to apply it in the light of the revelation of the nature and character of the Godhead as revealed in and through Jesus? One example will have to suffice. In Acts chapter five Luke records the sad and confusing tale of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. Almost every commentator I have read claims that God slew the two, and they give a number of reasons. Few ask the question, ‘would Jesus kill His own disciples?’ Later in Acts, Luke records how Paul dealt with a man called Elymas, who he described as ‘a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! (Acts 13:11). His punishment was to be struck blind for a period of time, but the punishment for Ananias was instant execution! Elymas’ sentence was reasonable, appropriate, and redemptive, while the sentence passed on the disciples appears not to be. The couple were children of God while Elymas was a child of the devil. Difficult as it may be to interpret Acts 5, the question that must be asked and answered if we are to honour the Christ-centred principle is, ‘would Jesus do this?’ Another way of asking the question is, ‘is this consistent with the nature and character of God as revealed in and through the Lord Jesus Christ?’

The solution to the woes of the church, and hence our country can, I believe, be addressed only by a genuine and powerful Holy Spirit revival. Revival is an act of God. The sovereign Lord has already spoken to several of His people about His intention to send revival. Our response is to pray and to recommit ourselves to the authority of the Bible and the practical centrality of Jesus in our churches and lives. In this lies our hope for our nation at this time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When God says, "Step aside!"

(Article published in Joy Magazine)

Revival. What a word! It means, to bring to life again. The church was brought to life on the day of Pentecost around 29 AD, but now it needs to be brought to life again; it needs revival. I say this for three main reasons.

Firstly, so many Christians, the living stones that make up the church, are practically indistinguishable from the rough rocks that constitute the ‘world’. George Barna has conducted surveys over the last few years that show that American Christians are little different to non-Christians. They may speak religious-speak, what I can ‘Christianees’, but they live no differently to their ‘pagan’ neighbours. And I am sure that this applies to other cultures as well… South African, for instance.

If we are no different to the ‘unsaved’ in values, priorities, and lifestyle, then why should they believe us when we say “You must be saved”? No wonder that so many people regard the church as a haven for the hypocritical! If we are to reach people with the Gospel then we must first be changed by that same Gospel. If we want to shed light into darkness then we must first be light - ‘For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). But for this to happen on a scale sufficient to change our societies we need… Revival!

The second reason I make the claim that the church needs to be brought to life again, is that the nations of the world are in deep trouble and only a revived church can heal them. There is a lovely song that goes, ‘heal our nation, pour out your Spirit on this land’. But how will God answer that cry of our hearts? He will answer by pouring out His Spirit on His church. Then we, Spirit filled, revived, disciples of the Lord Jesus will speak life, and perform life-giving acts, to the people of our nation.
The third reason for my claim is a sincere belief that without revival we just cannot reach enough people fast enough to heal our world of its sickness of soul. Not all churches are having slumber parties in the world’s darkest hour. Not all Christians are indistinguishable from their unsaved neighbours. Many churches, Christian organisations and individual Christians are joyfully serious about their mandate to breathe life into their worlds. The problem is that it’s mostly too little and too late. We need Revival!

In the years 1895 to 1910 revival fires sprang up all over the world…The Great Awakening, The Welsh Revival, Azusa Street, Wesley, Whitfield . Names that thrill us and fill us with a deep yearning to experience what the people of those days experienced. Millions, yes millions, of people were born again during those revival years. Church denominations doubled in size and thousands of new church fellowships sprang up all over the world. It was as though a fiery wind from heaven blew across the globe, and wherever it blew people, like dry tinder, caught fire and burned brightly for Jesus. North America, South America, the British Isles, Australia, China, India, and South Africa all experienced revival. People were healed, convicted, saved and changed. And the societies in which they lived were transformed in Jesus name!

Revival is not a reward for a church that is powerful and effective in the world. Revival is the divine prescription for an ailing church that just cannot be and do what God intended. Revival is not a mighty church saying “Look Oh Lord what we can do!” No, Revival is when the church hears God saying, “Step aside and see what I can do!”

My heart resonates with the words of the prophet Habakkuk; “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2). These words have become my daily prayer, as has the prayer that the great Welsh revivalist Evan Roberts exhorted the people of his day to pray; “Oh Holy Spirit, send us Revival!”