This week's "thought" is about spiritual renewal. Its about the power and presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in our lives. It comes to you from Jim Cymbala's book, "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire." Cymbala has been the pastor of the large multi-racial "Brooklyn Tabernacle" since 1971, a church which had only 30 when he arrived that year, but now has over 16,000 members -- which is not, as this thought will show, what he really cares about.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle is a church which has, by God's grace, broken down many racial and economic barriers, offering in the present a small taste of the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, inclusive body of Christ, where believers of every tribe and tongue, rich and poor alike, will one day gather side by side before the throne of God (Rev. 7:9). Part instruction, part biographical, his book is well-worth the read if you have the time. Enjoy.
"Are we not all prone to be a little cocky and think we can handle things just fine? But let some trouble come, and how quickly we sense our inadequacy. Trouble is one of God's great servants because it reminds us how much we continuously need the Lord. Otherwise, we tend to forget about entreating him. For some reason we want to carry on by ourselves. The history of past revivals portray this truth in full color. Whether you study the First Great Awakening, the Welsh Revival, the 1906 outpouring on Azuza Street in Los Angeles, or any other period of revival, you always find men and women who first inwardly groan, longing to see the status quo changed -- in themselves and in their churches. They begin to call upon God with insistence. Prayer begets revival and revival begets more prayer. It's like Psalm 80, where Asaph bemoans the sad state of his time, the broken walls, the rampaging animals, the burnt vineyards. Then in verse 18 he pleads, "Revive us, and we will call upon your name."
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prayer. Only when we are full of the Spirit do we feel the need for God everywhere we turn. We can be driving a car, and spontaneously our spirit starts going up to God with needs and petitions and intercessions right there in the middle of traffic. [Eyes open of course!] If our churches don't pray, and if people don't have an appetite for God, what does it matter how many are attending the services? How would that impress God? Can you imagine the angels saying, "Oh, your pews! We can't believe how beautiful they are! Up here in heaven, we've been talking about them for years. Your sanctuary lighting -- it's so clever. The way you have the steps going up to the pulpit, it's wonderful..."
I don't think so. If we don't want to experience God's closeness here on earth, why would we want to go to heaven anyway? He is the center of everything there. If we don't enjoy being in his presence here and now, then heaven would not be heaven for us. Why would he send anyone there who doesn't long for him passionately here on earth? I am not suggesting that we are justified by works of prayer or any other acts of devotion. I am not a legalist. But let us not dodge the issue of what heaven will be like -- enjoying the presence of God, taking time to adore him, listening to him, giving him praise. I have talked with pastor after pastor, some of them prominent and "successful" who have told me privately, "Jim, the truth is, I couldn't have a real prayer meeting in my church. I'd be embarrassed at the smallness of the crowd. Unless somebody's teaching, or singing, or doing some kind of presentation, people just won't come. I can only get them for a one-hour service, and that only once a week."
Is that kind of religion found anywhere in the Bible? [Gathering to go to] Jesus himself can't draw a crowd even among his own people! What a tragedy that the quality of ministry is too often measured by numbers and building size rather than by spiritual results. As a preacher myself, let me be blunt here. When I stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ, he is not going to ask me if I was a clever orator. He is not going to ask me how many books I wrote. He is only going to ask whether I continued in the line of men and women, starting way back in the time of Adam's generation, who led others to call upon God."
Cymbala is right. God is not impressed by numbers, attendance figures, technology, marketing skills, architecture, stage presentation, etc. Rather, what God wants is people who want him. He wants people who want to spend prayerful time with Him in His presence. He seeks people who yearn to seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). He wants us to trust in Him and live a life of dependence on Him (II Corinthians 1:9). He wants us to realize what Jesus said so clearly in John 15:5 in the context of bearing spiritual fruit -- "I am the Vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." That's what the Christian life is about: Remaining in Jesus all the time. Abiding in Christ every conscious moment. Being joined to Him unbroken fellowship. Dwelling in intimate fellowship in His presence. Bringing every thought captive to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). Communing with Him in ongoing prayer (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). Trusting Him with all our hearts (Proverbs 3:5-6). Living a life of reliance, surrender and dependence (II Corinthians 1:8-10). If people are not led to call upon God, and seek His face in loving fellowship, earnestly seeking to do His will, all that other stuff matters little. For "success" in the eyes of the world is much different than success (fruit that God desires) in regard to Christ's Kingdom.
May We Be Moved to Pray and Pursue Him More Passionately,