Matthew Henry wrote, “When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them praying.” History affirms this maxim, as the great revivals that God has sparked around the world have always been launched by prayer. There may have been grand movements of Christians joined in crying out to God that brought the revival, but it hasn’t always been so. In countless instances, the hearts of just a handful of people united to plead with God for new life in their community, their country or their church were the passion to which God responded. It is not the size of the group praying that matters as much as the depth of that group’s heart. They need this depth for the perseverance in petition that renewal often requires. God does not put a shot-clock on these prayers, and He may respond to them at once, or it’s more likely that revival comes after a season of souls persevering in long hours of communal prayer.
God uses our commitment to prayer to prepare us for receiving the life-giving power of the Spirit, and this preparation is two-fold. He first sets out to prepare our hearts to burn for revival. The Christian must be able to see the dry bones of the church or the distracted hearts of their community and then believe that spiritual life can come to them if God moves. This hope is the second area in which the heart is prepared because these prayers for new life can require extraordinary perseverance. Revival may appear like a single cloud on the horizon, no bigger that a fist, and prayer warriors must be patient in the time it takes to blossom into a drenching storm pouring down torrents of living water. Without preparation, our hearts would often fail to have the vision needed or the strength to carry on when answer is not immediately forthcoming.
“From the day of Pentecost, there has been not one great spiritual awakening, in any land, which has not begun in a union of prayer, if only [among] two or three. No such outward, upward movement has continued after such prayer meetings have declined.” A.T. Pierson
The prepared heart prays in complete honesty [JAS 5:16]. Christians recognize that the spiritual vitality of their church is not what it should be and the prayers that issue forth confess as much to God. Sin, cold fellowship, poor leadership – whatever the list of known deficits holds is boldly and openly laid before the Lord for his correction. Genuine repentance in revival prayer forges a heart soft and malleable for God to turn and shape, addressing these things so that new life does not germinate in rocky soil where it cannot flourish. When we pray for our community and for salvation to come, we are open with God about those areas in which we have not reached out or cared for. He may take the first step of turning our attention to knowing our neighbors and serving this community before He sends the Spirit with revival for the hearts of the lost. Honesty starts in the humbled heart, and a humbled heart is prepared by God and committed to Him above all other things.
I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship.
As a matter of regular meditation, I consider the list of things I believe:
- The eternal God of the Bible created, sustains, and has a purpose for the universe and my life within it
- Jesus gave His life to atone for the sins of the world (Mark 10:45) and by vesting belief in Him, people are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21)
- The Holy Spirit of Christ miraculously indwells redeemed people (1 Corinthians 6:19)
- The Colorado Rockies will win the World Series (someday, no scripture reference)
- Many churches need and can have revival
I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship. A renewed sense of the mission of disciple-making results from the first sparks of spiritual life that ignite, giving evidence to my belief. I believe these things are Scripture honoring and God glorifying.
There are doubtless many reasons that churches fall into decline, some beyond their control. As we talk about revival, it’s important to distinguish between spiritual and material poverty as a contributing factor. Geographic factors and demographic shifts can be the reasons that churches find themselves in material decline, making closure a choice that has to be made. We can identify numerous other external factors as reasons for the death of a church, and we need to be clear-eyed in assessing these realities. Conversely, spiritual decline has but a single source, the dimming of the passion of the members of a body for the gospel mission. Jesus spoke of this as forsaking “your first love” (Revelation 2:4).
While external factors may be beyond the control of a local church, the spiritual fire they exhibit is not. I believe that the Lord’s promise to be with His Church always (Matthew 28:20) assures us that any spiritual spark can be fanned into a roaring flame through His power. What does it require? I believe this inferno lies at the juncture of a return to heartfelt worship and the restoration of the Church as a house of prayer. Does this guarantee revival? Perhaps not, but it ensures that any ministry that emanates from a church is glorifying to God.
Holiness is a word and a subject that’s a part of our Christian vernacular. The Lord is holy. We have holy space. Our literature is filled with the word. So, define it. Right now.
If you answer is in any way rules based, then you are in good company. In the modern Christian style guide holiness has become synonymous with following the rules so as to remain in God’s good graces. Whether it be the Commandments, any parts of the Levitical code or even fashioning a rule book from the Sermon on the Mount or one of Paul’s sin lists, holiness, like a lot of Christian practice, has become a human-oriented and crafted practice. It is not a state of being. Rather, it has become a way of measuring how close to the boundary lines we are walking.
And that is to our detriment.
When holiness becomes adherence to the rules, we attempt to be holy under our own power and guidance. The Holy Spirit is left to His other duties and plays no role and the outcome is not the holiness of the Bible. It is a completely natural holiness, one that we have pressed and prodded into our own image.
The holiness of the Bible, on the other hand, is completely unnatural.
The holiness of the Bible is in no way possible within our fallen state. The state of holiness as declared by God is that of being fully set apart. Not in the Benedictine monastery sense of hiding within the safety of stone walls, tucked away from the influence of the world. Instead, the holiness of which the Bible speaks is a holiness in which His people demonstrate their radical set-apartedness while living within the culture and influencing it. The holiness of the Bible is demonstrated in radically living out the Great Commandment—loving God with all your heart, mind and soul and loving your neighbor in the same way. Loving others in such a sacrificial way that there is no natural explanation for your ability to do so. Loving others in such a way that the only possible explanation that those who are not yet God’s people can offer is divine intervention.
Holiness is an unnatural love. It is not the acquisitive love of the world: do for me and I’ll do for you. Holy love is I’ll do for you despite what you do to me or what you can do for me. The love of holiness demonstrates unequivocally that the Holy are set apart, that they have moved their existence to a different plane. The Holy are living a life of service in response to the magnitude of the Sacrifice, seeking to please the Sacrificer at every step; unconcerned with the approval of the world while loving those in that world at the same time. Holiness declares the divine power of the Spirit within rather than our human efforts to follow a rule book. Holiness is unnatural and unmistakable.
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. (John 3:8)
Doctrine regarding the spiritual gifts is a generally accepted component of the life of the Church. It is recognized that the Holy Spirit empowers redeemed individuals with abilities useful to building up the Body. Individual Christians may be the recipients of one or more of these gifts, evidence of the work of the Spirit in their lives.
Minor intramural skirmishes occur over the enumeration of the gifts and whether Apostle, Teacher-Pastor and prophet are gifts or offices. When it comes to the miraculous gifts – tongues, prophecy and knowledge- however, hard lines are drawn between those who interpret the Scriptures to say that these gifts have ceased and brothers who insist that the Spirit continues to grant these gifts today.
If the boundaries surrounding this theological disagreement were hard and fixed, the various positions would not demand discussion. The problem that arises again and again however, is that the fluid nature of the boundaries creeps from non-essential territory into the categories of core doctrines. The cessationist position may insist that belief in the continuation of gifts shows a sloppy doctrinal position that they assume is present in other facets of one’s theology. A Pentecostal segment of the body states unequivocally that without evidence of glossolalia, your very redemption is in question. Each represents an extreme, but both affect the witness of the Church.
In a series of posts to follow, we will look at four general positions along the continuum of belief. In general, the positions break out as follows:
- Cessation – The miraculous gifts have ceased being given.
- Pentecostal/Charismatic – The miraculous gifts continue to be given.
- Open & Cautious – The gifts may be given by a sovereign spirit as He desires. Their issue is not normative.
- Third Wave – The proclamation of the Gospel is always accompanied by “signs and wonders”
Grace and peace to you.