Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Running Theme ... Revival

Let me pick up on the theme I started with in the post on the church in the Congo

Perhaps this will not seem strange to you, but it does to me. For the past two weeks, I’ve been confronted repeatedly with the theme of Spiritual Revival. First, it was the story of the 1828 Prayer Revival at Covenant-First (I’ll see if Dyah, our web guru, will put it up on the webpage): in short, the elders of the church committed to regular prayer meetings throughout the week to ask, not for church growth, but for revival of spiritual commitment. Within the year, the church grew from 231 members to 634. From the seeds of that growth, Presbyterian churches were planted all across the city.

Then I attended the Parkside Pastor’s conference, where one of the main themes was prayer and dependence upon the Holy Spirit – with the examples of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and George Whitefield, two of the great preachers of church history. Again, revival rooted first and foremost in prayer.

But wait, there’s more – I started reading Revival and Revivalism, Iain Murray’s book on American Evangelicalism from 1750-1858. Though this may seem like a heady topic (and indeed, it may appear dull to many of you), it has been electrifying because the theme once again appears in story after story of ministers and congregations who immerse themselves in ardent prayer of repentance and supplication. God again and again works a strange transformation on communities in response to the heartfelt prayers of His people (and this is not just a matter of “conversions” – this transformation leads Christians to ministries of mercy and blessing)

And yet, there’s more. Gary Sweeten was talking last night to our church leadership about Family Systems and their impact upon our leadership and upon church life (and indeed upon the climate of other organizations of which we are a part). He indicated that healing from past hurts comes only through prayer and supplication before Christ, the great physician. Blessing, renewal, and personal transformation (which leads to organizational transformation) comes from prayerful submission.

Then today, I went to a continuing education seminar with David Bryant speaking on the Supremacy of Christ And guess what one of the major themes was…. Nuff said.

One consistent theme running through the past few weeks – and then I think about how churches in our presbytery are talking about Congregational Transformation. We’ve had a consultant who has given us some great information about cultural change, structural change, and orientation to the mission to which God is calling a congregation. These themes are good and should be addressed – but we also need to stress the primacy of the need for a move of the Holy Spirit. If we would truly experience transformation, we need to beg God to grip us with his personal presence. We need to worship in Spirit and in truth. All the technique in the world can’t help us if we don’t have this spiritual power working in our churches.

As a response, I’ve done what every good Presbyterian does – I’ve read about it, I’ve written about it, I’ve pondered it. Have I brought it before God in prayer …. Sort of. I’m pretty good at the Brother Lawrence type prayers of yesterday’s post – it’s great fun to acknowledge God’s blessing in the moment. It’s much harder to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

And so now, late at night when I can’t sleep…. I’m praying for the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual revival at Covenant-First, in Cincinnati, and across America.
…. Before I crack open scripture ….. I’m praying that God would grip me with His word.
…. As I agonize over certain challenges of ministry and life …. I’m praying that Christ would show Himself to be in charge of all things.

It’s been on my mind a lot – hence it’s been in this blog a lot of late. But as a preview of coming attractions – I’m going to start working on a devotional for the upcoming Reubens exhibit at the Art Museum, and a devotional for the Fall session of the Gospel According to Shakespeare (so expect more Shakespeare stuff – and I’ll be looking for feedback).

In the meantime…. Let us pray

Soli Deo Gloria.