21 “Not all those who say ‘You are our Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. The only people who will enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do what my Father in heaven wants. 22 On the last day many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, we spoke for you, and through you we forced out demons and did many miracles.’ 23 Then I will tell them clearly, ‘Get away from me, you who do evil. I never knew you.’ Matt 7:21-23 NCV
I pray Thee, O God, pour out upon me Thy Holy Spirit,—the Spirit of prayer,—that I may ever love and desire to pray; being daily free to approach Thee, with all confidence, in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ; to bow the knee before Thee in every time of need, as a child well beloved.
And so we go about our lives almost mechanically with little or no awareness of the seed of contemplation buried deep within. This is as true of many, if not most, Christian counselors as it is of their clients.
We live by default, doing what we have been programmed to do. We have been conditioned to believe that busyness and multi-tasking are a mark of effectiveness, that human efforts and plans speed up positive change, and that vitality is acquired by activity. The cultural focus on doing as opposed to being that society privileges tends to strengthen this conditioning.
For the past two months I have been thinking about the church, mine, those in my district, those in my denomination and those across the USA.
For a dozen years or more, people have been saying we are in the Post-Christian Age, though I think they mean the post church and post congregational age. Experts are telling us to redefine minsitry away from preaching the Gospel, and administrating the sacraments, and to do something, anything – to bring people into community. Old programs are being reinvented, redefined and placed out there as the hope for what they didn’t deliver in the first place. Others lament and want to go back to the systems and practices of the 1950’s or earlier, as if the church was perfect back then. We panic when this then doesn’t work, and hop into the next hope–often written by someone in the midst of their own efforts to overcome the slump their church is in….until the next book comes out, the next magazine or blog that promotes this or that…
I think we need to stop…seriously stop what we are doing.
I think if we don’t, the church is going to find itself as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecty above – a church that spoke for Him, delivered people out of bondage, and even did miracles, but never knew Him, and were not known by Him.
I believe Nolasco describes this place we are at as well as any… we do things – even mechanically, but we aren’t away of what God has planted in His church. We don’t spend time contemplating it in prayer. We ,measure our effectiveness, and now be-moan it…without considering what we know – that the Holy Spirit is in charge of the harvest. Our books on leadership, even in the church, push this – and we buy into it. We miss the chapters on prayer and devotion written by those who planted and replanted churches before us, to get to what “we have to do!” But because we lack a seriously intimate relationship with Jesus, we don’t have the foundaiton of worship and prayer that all renewal and revival is based.
Let me take it a step further, the church no longer cares about preaching about the sin its own people need to be delivered from, because it doesn’t treasure the intimate relaitonship with Jesus found at the cross.
Lohe’s prayer, translated in 1914 can be prayed (maybe translated first!) today. That all the church, from its pastors to the newest visitor need to spend time in prayer and contemplation of the presence of God! We need to receive and treasure the comfort and mercy we have, the peace that comes upon us, the moments we know that He is here…for us.
It is only, by stopping, being silent, finding our place in His refuge and knowing what it means for Him to be our Lord and God, that we will ever realize the ministry we’ve been given… it is only because of experience the burdens of sin and all its corrolary effects that our freedom in Chirst ever becomes something of glory. It isonly then we can approach Him confidently, as children approaching the One they know loves them…
and then, aware of what He does nin our lives, we begin to see the needs of the world, for that sae revelation, for that same intimate relationship.
For that same joy…
William Lœhe, Seed-Grains of Prayer: A Manual for Evangelical Christians, trans. H. A. Weller (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1914), 7–8.
Rolf Nolasco Jr., The Contemplative Counselor: A Way of Being (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011), 1–2.
Thoughts that drive me to the cross, and the mercy of Christ.
32 Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. 33 Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. 34 You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. Hebrews 10:32-34 (NLT2)
The amount of loafing practiced by the average Christian in spiritual things would ruin a concert pianist if he allowed himself to do the same thing in the field of music. The idle puttering around that we see in church circles would end the career of a big league pitcher in one week. No scientist could solve his exacting problem if he took as little interest in it as the rank and file of Christians take in the art of being holy. The nation whose soldiers were as soft and undisciplined as the soldiers of the churches would be conquered by the first enemy that attacked it. Triumphs are not won by men in easy chairs. Success is costly
We also believe, teach, and confess that in a time when confession is necessary, as when the enemies of God’s Word want to suppress the pure teaching of the holy gospel, the entire community of God, indeed, every Christian, especially servants of the Word as the leaders of the community of God, are obligated according to God’s Word to confess true teaching and everything that pertains to the whole of religion freely and publicly. They are to do so not only with words but also in actions and deeds.
As the words of Tozer came on my screen this morning, I grieved. They seem as accurate now as they did in the 80s, when they were published. The church, at least in the United States, is stagnant. Churches are closing, or trying to survive, the present declines. Pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers, many to start para-church ministries or become consultants. Others are retiring from ministry, or looking to find an easy place to serve out–until they can retire. Denominational leaders are telling even viable churches that there is no long-term hope.
We aren’t just apathetic…it seems we are aggressively choosing to abandon ship, and to encourage others to do so.
And then, as I continued in my devotional readings, I come across the words of a church in the midst of spiritual warfare in the days after Luther. The encouragement then was to confess Christ with words AND actions AND deeds publicly. To not compromise the gospel (and if it isn’t about Christ – who cares). This wasn’t the matter of giving up a few hours on Saturday. or subsidising a ministry or mission. This was life at stake. But they sacrificed, they served and taught and loved and shared Christ.
The same occurred in the times addressed in the Book of Hebrews. Again, the history is taught to us, but the last verse is the most important.
For it gives us the reason and is what should empower us to go against the flow of the church in decline. Read it again,
34 You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. Hebrews 10:34 (NLT2)
They didn’t need a pastor to berate them from the pulpit about their apathy. They didn’t need to be shamed into giving more time and money. No one was told they weren’t a good Christian unless they did this or that… (though some will be confronted from time to time) They didn’t need the stick, they needed to be reminded of the carrot.
The better thing.
The best thing.
To be in the presence of God without all the crap we deal with in this life. To know the joy of being loved beyond imagination, to share in the peace that goes beyond everything else. This is what we have to preach, what people should experience in worship and bible study and in thier own devotions, as Paul’s prayer comes true:
19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:19 (NLT2)
If a church, or a denomination were to realize this, no church would close, or downsize or find themselves with a unfilled list of duties and positions. It just won’t happen.
To know we are loved and God is with and guiding us now until we are before His throne…. that is what the church needs to help people experience. For then our hope will be contagious, not harnessable by any program.
So let us share what we know from the time at the altar, and from the dark nights when we pray until God grants us sleep. For out of such struggles comes the assurance of His presence and love as we are given hope for eternity. AMEN.
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
“Smalcald Articles: Article X”, Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 637.