Planting Seeds of New Life in Prayer

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.

Longing for 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.

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.

Sparking a Movement

A summary of Spent Matches by Roy Moran

The Christian church has used a range of participatory metrics to evaluate her success in the modern era. Conversions, baptisms, the number of people present in worship: we fastidiously record these numbers throughout the year and then pore over them at year-end leadership summits. We define success as an increase in these totals; failure, plateau or decline. The analysis of these numbers governs the design and direction of the programmatic functions of the church. Leaders will tweak the edification programs to push for a more active evangelism, believing that transferring more information will make more effective evangelists. But how often are these same leaders referring to the commission given to the Church by her Lord to check the validity of their choices?

As Roy Moran states in his invaluable book Spent Matches, not often enough. The flaw in these metrics of success is that we no longer live in an era where information transfer to our neighbors and friends is effective in igniting their interest in God and His grace. To state this is a more colloquial fashion: the lives that surround the typical evangelical church are not the least bit interested in knowing what goes on inside. What people respond to is running into a radical life, one that is radically committed to Jesus and His teaching. Telling people what we believe puts their hypocrisy radar on full alert (as they have become conditioned to do in all areas of life). Living what we say we believe makes us stand out from the rest of the world clamoring for attention in the lives of our family, friends and neighbors.

It can be tempting to read the book as the outline for implementing a program, particularly because it includes ‘suggested’ outlines for meetings in the closing chapters. Mortify this temptation by slowly considering the imagery of the dire condition of the Church Moran paints at the beginning of the book. He suggests that our metrics should show the declining influence of modern Christian practice, likening the condition to a burning oil drilling platform surrounded by miles of churning sea. In the modern day we have two choices, jump or fry. To stay on our current platform is to die slowly on a long slope of decline. To jump is the join a movement back to the first principles of the Lord’s commission for His community of followers: make disciples who make disciples.

Moran is not the only author to put this idea into print. The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne leads to a similar conclusion, and has been influential in many churches by offering a ladder down from the burning platform. Moran is more forceful. We must jump and return with fresh eyes to the text of Matthew 28:18-20 and stop the bifurcation of the Gospel movement. Following a declaration of the expansive authority given to Him as the basis for the commission, Jesus commands His Church to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (ESV). The command to baptize these new disciples into the family and to teach “them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you.” The Church has been obedient to this commission, but the methods have resulted in a bifurcated gospel practice where we separate life from faith. We have defined discipleship as an education process (information transfer) and then convinced ourselves that discipleship precedes evangelism (“sharing our faith”). The outcome of this process? Disciples never feel ready to evangelize others, so we double down on teaching them, hoping that someday their ship will launch. All the while, the platform burns.

The myth of preparation-perfection that plagues the information-transfer Church is refuted by reading the verses in the passage that are not a part of the memorized commission. The audience for the Lord’s command is His remaining eleven disciples, some of whom worshipped, but some of whom doubted! Perfection was not to be the enemy of progress, as Jesus commanded them to jump from the platform into the unknown. As Moran says,

“Jesus didn’t exhibit any sense of alarm indicating this was out of the ordinary or unusual. He was quite comfortable with a team that didn’t have it all together. In fact, He was comfortable commissioning people who not only lacked complete faith but were confirmed doubters.”

This is a catalyzing moment in the book, setting in relief the encouragement to jump and ignite a new movement within the Church, disciples who make disciples as they go along, each edifying and encouraging the other rather than relying on subject-matter experts that students feel they have to imitate before moving on the Mission. The Lord does not expect to create a class of mission-minded within the Church, specialists who carry on the Commission while others sit and watch. To be a Christian is to be a disciple, one involved in daily learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus and then putting that into practice. Moran’s take on John 15:8 (“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”) is accurate and puts our current process is stark relief:

“Jesus’ hope was that it would be normal for His followers to make disciples as they lived out a dangerous message that would divide families ad heal the brokenhearted, challenge the well-off and encourage the impoverished, transform the oppressors and bring freedom to the oppressed. To fail to make disciples would indicate followers weren’t connected to Jesus and the heart of His mission.”

Owning this concept is the spark of a movement that puts away information transfer and replaces it with community life. Jesus did not commission us to be taught principles about Himself, he said we were to be taught and then apply what he commanded. This obedience is the missing part in most programs in the modern Church; we are never challenged to show what we’ve done with what we’ve learned and so we never do. This is the source of the apathy we see in the pews. We have more information than we can possibly process at our fingertips, but scarce few opportunities to put it into practice and fewer still partners in the discipleship life holding us accountable. The discipleship patterns that Moran suggests through the book aim to fill this vacuum.

A fair number of churches today claim Acts chapter 2 as their model, seeing a return to the ancient church as a solution to moribund Christianity. The component missing in many is the discipleship pattern given by the Lord’s example and command: disciples, however imperfect, who make other disciples (who repeat the process) in community. This is what will capture the imagination of a world that has long ago become inured to the invitations of the Church. I invite you to read the book a few times and see if you are tempted to jump from the platform into the raging sea of the culture, trusting the Lord’s promise for our weakness, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

THE Church in the City

Today, Church in the City in Denver dedicates the restored synagogue that will become its new home, a block away from the old Safeway store that has been its home for many years. Here is an article in the Denver Post about the move. This is my favorite church in the our area. It is the most ethnically diverse congregation we have. Lead by Pastor Michael, the church is also the home to Raleigh Washington, a prime mover in racial reconciliation and the Promise Keepers movements.

Glory to God on this great day for the church. The Temple is Ready! My prayers for blessings on the event and I hope you will add yours too.

The Church in the City

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The Church Cafe and Shallow Worship

imageThe incongruity of the scene doesn’t affect you as you sweep past on the way to the sanctuary so that you might find a seat a least a few moments before the praise team takes their places. The rich, bittersweet smell of the daily roast caught you as you entered the lobby of the church and you wind through the clusters and knots of people surrounding the cafe. The brisk pace that you set for the family belies the fact that the Nine O’clock hour is moments away, but you can’t help but notice the number of people sitting at the little tables sipping coffee and the number of people still waiting in line to purchase a steaming cup of their own. Taking your seat with a minute or two to spare you glance around at the sanctuary which is barely one quarter full. Your eyes close and your head bows and you focus on the process of quieting your heart and bringing yourself fully present to the community worship of God.

As people trickle into the room for the next twenty or thirty minutes, you can’t help but wonder how many of them were sitting outside enjoying their latte as the praise leader skillfully attempted to lead the congregation into the immediate presence of God. Sure, many of the latecomers have no sense of urgency in being present while prayers are lifted up and voices raised in praise; to some it is simply a prelude to the sermon and it serves no purpose other than ritual. Do those same notions fill the hearts of the coffee drinkers? Have we gone too far in attempting to create an inviting environment, so much so that we have abandoned our primary mission as the Church – the worship of God?

I believe we have. I believe that in some instances the Church has leaned so far into the venues of the world in an attempt to be relevant or attractive that we have done so to the detriment of the Church itself. We would do well to contemplate again and again our purpose in convening on Sunday mornings. Is it to meet our needs for fellowship and only incidentally about worship? Or, do we gather at an appointed hour and place specifically to give corporate expression of our love and worship to God? With our answer in hand, we should then strive to ‘cleanse the temple’ of everything that distracts from that purpose, stripping away things that do not direct the people of God in the appropriate direction.

What do you think? Do you think that the cafe/bookstore/etc. contributes to preparing the hearts of the people of God for worship? Or, should these venues be closed and the hospitality ministry be directed to remove any friction between the front door and the chapel wherein people can quiet themselves, put the world aside, and prayerfully seek to know the presence of the Father?

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Gideon the Diplomat

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image Fresh from living out his purpose in routing the warriors of Midian, Gideon is thrust into the position of diplomat. An intertribal argument awaits him before he has even rested:

Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have your treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” (Judges 8:1)

The Ephraimites are upset at missing an opportunity to increase their personal glory, indicating perhaps that the troubles that had separated Israel from God in the first place were still in need of attention in this Judges cycle. They had not only lost their perceived glory but a portion of the spoils of war as well. Sharp criticism draws a diplomatic response from Gideon. He placates their anger by alluding to their superior status in the tribal standings. They accept this as an apology and are quieted. We expect the familiar construct “and the land had peace for x years” but God is not finished yet.

Do people who look in on the internecine battles within God’s church see a similar situation? Does denomination A proclaim their superiority over church B, not in God’s glory but in their body count or the size of their fortress? Has God’s hand been forgotten in all things?

Church Management Software

imageMy lengthy examination of CMS (Church Management Software) is in this month’s Your Church magazine. This software segment has evolved in numerous ways and the packages go way beyond maintaining the membership roles. Some of the vendors are on the verge of creating church based replacements for social networking offerings. It should be interesting to watch.

Read it here.