Our leaders have so many massive issues to face at this time, not least at an environmental level as Cop 26 gets under way in Glasgow from the 9th-19th November. It is so important that good decisions are taken, and vital progress be made for low lying lands, and those being most affected by global warming.
There are likewise only too many crises in the Church too. Some of these are fully in the public eye – as, for instance, the 2,500-page report that details the deeply shameful legacy of up to three hundred and thirty thousand young people who have been abused by Church leaders in France since the War.
To our shame and chagrin, the Church has again and again been the cause of brokenness in such cases, instead of ministering healing to the broken. It is so very sad and grievous to see how we have turned people away from the One who came to save them.
We hear so much about being balanced Christians – but that is so often a phrase that indicates excessive caution and even compromise. I much prefer the definition that being a balanced Christian means to be ‘as radical as possible in as many directions as are viable!’ We are meant to keep ourselves profoundly open to the Lord, and to be flat out in all we do – yet without falling into the trap of striving or overly prescriptive legalism.
One of the things that concerns many of us is extent to which a ‘me-centred’ ministry has crept into church life – reflected even in the words of songs that we sing. And then there is the widespread so-called “therapeutic gospel,” which seems to licence believers to seek first the fulfilment of their own needs, rather than to accomplish the work of the Kingdom of God. It effectually enables people to ‘straddle’ the kingdoms, adopting – with barely a nod to adapting let alone modelling something entirely different – the consumerist mentality that comes so readily to most of us. By definition, seeking first and foremost to fulfil our own needs tends to bring neither a strong cutting edge to our witness, nor the resilience that is needed for these times – let alone the full panoply of New Testament teaching and emphases that characterised the early Church.
Have a read of these articles and see if they resonate with you.
Of course it is right and proper to minister to people’s needs and hurts, believers and non-believers alike, but many of us have a calling first and foremost to minister to the Lord, and to seek the things that are on His heart. When we first launched week-long prayer and worship conferences, whilst we made sure to include a range of teaching seminars and practical workshops, worship and intercession were ever our focus. I remember that, at our very first conference back in 1982, we had prayed so long that John Madan was left with just a few brief minutes to speak on the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Nothing daunted, he ministered to such great effect as the Lord came in power to fill His people.
The Lord confirmed this ‘policy’ time and again – as for example when someone was spontaneously healed of long-standing problem with her ears even as we prayed about the spread of false cults across the land. In other words, as we ‘aimed’ at Him, He would aim back at us!
What is it that the Lord – who is no man’s debtor – urges those who are thirsty for Him to do? To:
Come to the waters;
to come without money and buy and eat! . . .
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live. (Is. 55:1-3)
There are delicate distinctions that need to be made here. Jesus really is concerned for us, and goes to incredible lengths to meet our needs, so it cannot be wrong to teach and minister this glorious truth: Jesus made it clear that He came to serve as well us to save us. (Luke 22:27) An invisible dividing line is crossed, however, when our emphases make it appear that He exists only to serve us rather than our doing our very best to serve Him. That would be a position from which it is only a short step to making our faith about what we can get, rather than about loving and serving the Lord from the bottom of our heart.
As so often, my heart is drawn back to Titus 2:14, a verse that the Lord showed us back in 1980 as being pivotal to the Church at this time:
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)
May this series of tracks that we are posting in our Nuach series encourage us to be eager to press on beyond the limited perspectives of the therapeutic gospels into the fulness of the Lord’s light and presence. Enjoy too The Resting Place – an extended meditation on the Sovereignty of God.