02 May 2011
Is the rain coming?
"Earnestly I seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My body longs for you. In a dry and weary land where there is no water." (Psalm 63v1)
I believe that many of us within the community of faith in the UK are suffering from a spiritual malaise. We are dry and desperate for the presence of God. We lack spiritual intimacy with our saviour. This dryness leads to painful cracks of the heart. The outworking of the dryness leads to certain symptoms that I want to highlight before going on to offer some encouragement. Is this a time when Jesus is beginning to soften the hearts of his people?
"It is not that we no longer believe," he said with passion. "It is just that the there have been so few good news stories that people are losing confidence." This church leader is one of several that I have met who have talked about lack of confidence in the gospel's power to change people in this society. Theologically, they still believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. However, because of years of decline there are doubts about sharing the good news of Jesus.
This is not just because we have a lack of confidence in how to share, but actually about whether sharing will make any real difference. This is seen in our approach to mission. Many of us long for a holistic view to mission where word and deed come together. In the past we may have been criticised for speaking but not acting. We have sought to evangelise without doing much about issues of justice and mercy. Could it be that once again we have got the balance wrong and now concentrate mostly on social action because we lack the confidence in sharing the story of Jesus? While there are areas of growth and confidence, they are not the norm. Rather, confidence has, for a generation, been at a low ebb.
Re-discovering our identity
Perhaps linked to this is forgetting who we are. In the face of the secularisation, cynicism and consumerism of society we have suffered a severe memory loss. Like Jason Bourne after he is pulled from the water in the Robert Ludlum series, we have lost our identity. We need to re-discover who we are in Christ. We are loved, forgiven, heirs of God. We are unique and spiritually gifted with a destiny in the one who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are servants and transformers in Him. We should not allow ourselves to forget who we are.
I think churches should constantly be looking to develop and grow. The programmes and training that we involve ourselves in are vital to the health and wellbeing of the Church. However, when we talk as if the programme or indeed the speaker, worship leader or book will revive our church we grow close to a desperate idolatry. Asking how much time we spend looking for new solutions against how much time we spend seeking Jesus' presence would make an interesting equation. Desperation is a clear sign of dryness. While that may have been our experience for some time I am encouraged to believe that things may be changing. I am not naïve enough to think that everything is suddenly rosy in the garden, but I am convinced that God is prompting His people to draw closer to Jesus with a renewed passion. Intimacy with Jesus is becoming the desire of more hearts. Jesus is delighting in challenging his people to allow him to be all that matters. Is Jesus all that matters?
Let me give you some examples from Scotland where I am based. I believe that in Scotland today there are signs of God dealing with the parched hearts of His people. This is leading to greater prayer and expectancy in various parts of the Church. It is patchy, but genuine change is taking place. In the last year there has been a marked increase in prayer. The Evangelical Alliance, Alpha, Prayer for Scotland and Care, with help from Pete Greig began an initiative called the 'Big If', which saw prayer across the nation for a year. Almost every hour of every day someone was praying for the nation. There is the growth of 24/7 prayer, the emergence of Glasgow House of Prayer, and healing rooms. There is the continued work of Pray for Scotland and countless other prayer ministries springing up. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more churches are developing prayer meetings and ministries. This is really exciting because it seems to be following the biblical pattern of encounter and action. Alongside the prayer there are increased attempts to engage with the wider community. There are real signs of the kingdom advancing and the confidence, while still low, is growing. People are starting to see that the first thing should always be Jesus.
Through his word and by his Spirit Jesus is calling his people to seek him. A passion for intimacy with Jesus has to be at the centre of all we are doing. In him we find our confidence and our identity. To gaze upon his beauty and majesty and to care about his glory will lead us into personal, spiritual and social transformation.
As part of my role in the Alliance I have the privilege of encouraging and directing prayer. It is an exciting thing to be involved in as this may be a time when in the purposes of God a few showers may be coming.
- Fred Drummond is national director of Scotland for the Evangelical Alliance, and also prayer and supporters director.