Developing the spiritual life of the church (3)
It is vital to restore true spirituality to its rightful place in the churches. In his book, The Puritans, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones continually emphasises that true Christianity is of the heart, not just the head.
It is founded on biblical truth, of course, but it is truth brought to life by the Holy Spirit — glorious reformed doctrine, which doesn’t just stay in the head, but is experienced in the heart and affections.
It is not just that we know the truth, but that the truth moves and grips us so profoundly that we glory in the truth and in the God of truth himself.
The truth should always lead us to God, so that we know him and experience him in Christ as a glorious living reality in our lives. This and this alone, Dr Lloyd-Jones insists, is true Christianity.
He warns against dry, cerebral, powerless preaching, and a church life which knows little or nothing of true biblical spirituality. He loves the story of Christmas Evans, who after years of barren Sandemanianism was gloriously delivered and liberated at Cader Idris and filled again with the Holy Spirit. Evans then went on to see mighty revival on Anglesey and beyond.
We will not regenerate the spiritual lives of our churches by methodology. We need to call upon God the Holy Spirit to come back to us and enable us to know and love our wonderful Saviour with God-given passion.
This cry to God must be not just from the leaders, but the whole membership in a true priesthood of all believers. That is true Calvinistic Methodism!
We should seek as churches to have a conscious dependence upon God. Without experiencing full revival, it is still possible to enjoy rich spiritual life and blessing and a real sense of God’s presence and activity.
This happened at Pontefract over many years. We held regular half-nights of prayer, prayer meetings almost every Saturday night and around twenty different prayer meetings for most of the time.
We also held a full Saturday day of prayer every year to pray for all the young people by name, and we met to pray over particular pastoral crises. In addition, we produced an annual prayer calendar so that every family and individual was prayed for at least once a month by the rest of the church.
A prayer chain was also introduced, which could be started at either end, so that at any time any crisis could, within a few minutes, have a lot of people covering it in prayer.
At other times, when someone was in distress, a small group, usually of women, would agree a set daily time to pray for the situation, and this would continue for as long as necessary — maybe for a week or a month.
The elders were often invited to go to a home to lay hands on the sick and pray for them; or sometimes this was done at the communion table. In a serious situation, the elders would fast and pray, and probably their wives as well.
It was not unusual for people to be woken during the night with a burden to pray for a particular situation. On one night several people were woken up with a burden to pray about the newly introduced Saturday night prayer meetings.
In another very different situation, God interacted with us. People were again awakened, all at the same time during the night, to pray for one of our elders, Mike Wilde, who unbeknown to us was in danger behind the Iron Curtain, while driving supplies to Christians in Poland.
Decisions made at church meetings were often major steps of faith, especially when calling more full-time assistant ministers to build the team ministry, or when seeking to finance the large evangelistic missions twice a year.
When, humanly speaking, the money just wasn’t there, again and again the church was prepared to step out in faith and trust the Lord to provide — which he always did!
Perhaps we could all look at the way our churches seek the Lord’s guidance when making decisions and plans for the future. Are we limited to what we can control or are we prepared to ‘step out in faith’ beyond our comfort zone, beyond what we can control, and trust the Lord to provide?
Let us seek to be a church which in all things acts spiritually, with a conscious dependence upon God. Remember, a praying church can expect to enjoy significant spiritual blessing, even without full revival.
Churches which are not spiritually alive and active become introverted and petty. People can spend time niggling over trivia and be divided over secondary issues.
Today, with a moving population, there are usually people from different backgrounds and denominations in the same church, and often people who want to push their own particular doctrine, practice or experience.
The devil loves to inflame this and have church leaders distracted and anxious, running around putting out fires of discontent. Water that stops flowing and is dammed up, soon loses its freshness and becomes stagnant. Many of our churches have become spiritually log-jammed and stagnant.
What is the answer? Our churches need something spiritually big and explosive enough to arrest everyone’s attention, vision and energy. They need an all-consuming passion, so that trivia and divisive secondary matters pale into insignificance and congregations rally to one great spiritual cause.
What cause is big enough for this? The mighty gospel of redeeming grace is — the mighty gospel of a crucified, risen and reigning Saviour, who is at large and mighty to save!
This gospel is big and explosive enough to spiritually unite, energise, envision and motivate the whole church — including even the busiest people. People become gripped by the words of C. T. Studd: ‘If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too big for me to make for him!’
Church leaders must see to it that the whole church unites around the gospel and the great work of gospel proclamation. And in the end that, and that alone, develops the spiritual life of our churches and turns them into churches on pilgrimage, passionate about Christ and about seeing the lost saved.
This will also mean that people from different backgrounds will not allow divisions over secondary issues. It will make Christians single-minded and passionate about the really big issues.
Everyone, even the busiest, will want to be as involved as far as possible. There will be support, not criticism, for those overloaded and struggling to get to prayer meetings.
We will have churches whose members are so handled by the preached Word that they are salt and light — burning and shining lights in this dark world — carrying the life of Jesus within them and seen to be different from the world.
Preaching that is earnestly prayed for and Spirit anointed is not just cerebral, but handles the whole person and fires the soul. As Dr Lloyd-Jones once said, ‘I can forgive a preacher anything, if he gives me a sense of God’. May the Lord bring us to experience these things once more in our churches!