Covid is for the Church – not the world?

There’s a tendency for the church to look out upon the world with an eye to judgement. That’s probably an understatement, nevertheless, there’s a lot in the world that would rightly fall under the judgment of God. The millions of abortions that take place on its own confirms that. It isn’t surprising then that some Christians could see the current pandemic as a judgment from God. We look on to see the world repenting and calling upon the Lord (or rather look on and don’t see that). The Church being in the world gets caught up in these judgments from on high. We look in vain. There may be a few people here and there that turn to God, but by and large the world carries on as usual. The church is sidelined. That is the way of the world. Let’s face it, the church today (in the UK anyway) is an utter irrelevance.

It’s probably not a unique thought. But what if it’s the other way round and we are looking at this all wrong? What if it’s really the world caught up in God’s judgment upon the Church!

Just as we look vainly upon the world for repentance towards God, we look vainly upon the church to do the same. The world looks upon the church in vain. Where is the repentance and a turning towards the Lord in repentance and faith? We might say, ‘What have we to repent of?’ Our self-righteousness world be a good start.

These thoughts came out of my reading just the other morning. My default is probably set to look out and judge the world. But it came to me specifically that the Covid Pandemic has been sent by God as a judgement on the church. We always, or nearly always, think that if anything bad happens in the world it’s a judgment from God upon the world. It’s a damning and profoundly unsettling realisation that it could well be the other way round. I am quite upset about it. I’m finding it to be quite disturbing actually. For one thing it means I’ve been looking at it all wrong.

The verses I’m referring to are found in Chronicles. The context is Solomons dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Of course, all Gods dealing with the church are by grace. Even His judgments are a mercy to His people and to His church. I’ve heard the phrase used a few times lately that God is sifting the church. It does seem to be the case. Perhaps God is sifting us as individuals as well. What are our convictions? Do we care more about being correct than people? Some evidence then that the church needs to be looking at itself rather than casting a self-righteous judgmental eye on the world – which we’re pretty good at doing.

We know that God sends the pestilence, even this pandemic. I don’t think most Christians doubt that. God hasn’t been surprised or caught off guard by any of this. But I do think we (I include myself here) may have seriously misjudged its purpose. I’ll admit to being late to realise this. Maybe too late. I think my fear now is that once things start, dare I say it, returning to ‘normal’, it will be ‘business as usual.’ The meetings will restart and return to ‘normality.’ The pandemic will have passed, and we’ll all thank God and return to thinking how wonderful we all are, and nothing will have changed. My biggest worry, like I say, is that for the church, it will be ‘Business as usual.’ Do we want ‘business as usual’? What did ‘business as usual’ look like?

How then, in the light of this, assuming it’s true, and I’m right about this, are we to respond? To respond right now. I don’t think prayers for God to end the pandemic are really going to cut it.

If all that’s happening is really about the church, and it really is, how are we to change? I don’t think I’ve read much along on these lines. A lot has been said about the legality etc of the lockdowns and how the government are persecuting the church. You know the stuff I mean. Those are real issues by the way.

Christians have, and are, deeply divided over how to deal with the pandemic and our responses to government overreach are just as divisive. Wearing masks, closing churches, social distancing, and vaccinations are just some of the many ways we have been divided. We have our views. I have mine. And I’m not saying these are not valid. For example, the government is overreaching in many areas. They are manipulating the population. But what if we have all missed the point?

As churches we want to get back to normal. We want to get back to business as usual. But what is normal? And what is business as usual? What did those things look like? What is normal for us? What is a normal prayer meeting for example? Do we want a return to normal? Are we happy that our normal prayer meetings now just continue as normal but online? Or our normal services just continue now as normal online. And when our services return to normal will they just continue as before?

We do ok with normal. Normal is safe. Normal is cuddly. Normal has no surprises. We can manage normal. Normal is under control. Under our control that is. I think, perhaps what the word normal describes is formality. We are very formal. Normal is formality. Could it even be described as having a form of godliness? Or even in Revelation the Lord Jesus describes one church as having a reputation for being alive. But that wasn’t how Jesus described them! We are just so correct and righteous.

We pray (sometimes), or sing, for God to come sweeping through us. Maybe he is. But not in the way we expected!

And as we (at Towcester Evangelical Church) heard on Sunday morning, don’t think for one moment the purposes of God will be thwarted. They won’t be. But we will miss out. Don’t worry though. Everything will be back to normal soon! God will have passed by unnoticed, and we’ll be left to carry on with business as usual.

The world, on the face of it, is completely opposed to the Christian faith. And I understand all the reasons for that. But I think there’s another side to this. And that is, unconsciously or not, the world is looking to the church for hope and redemption, and for mercy and forgiveness. Where else is real and true hope to be found? There is nowhere else. Only the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has the good news of the Gospel to dispense to the world. It is us, Christians, that have been commissioned by God to preach Good News of a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.

Honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss to know quite what to do with this. I believe the very thought of what I’m suggesting will be met, by some, with opposition, or much more likely to be met with the cold shoulder of indifference.

We can’t revive ourselves, and we can’t turn the tide of secularism back, so isn’t it time for us to call upon the Lord to have mercy on us? To revive us. To wake us up out of our slumber. Or are we (self) satisfied with ‘business as usual.’ Are we, or will we be satisfied with being ‘normal?’

 

‘I’m praying for you’ by Nancy Guthrie – A recommendation

‘I’m praying for you’ by Nancy Guthrie, 10 of Those publishing, 2021. £6.99 from 10 of those. This is a new book by Nancy. She’s written several books on helping people in their suffering and this is another one. I like her writing.

‘When someone we care about is going through something difficult, we are quick to say, “I’m praying for you!” But then what? Do we really pray? And if so, what do we pray? How do we know what to pray? p. 11.

It’s not a theoretical book, but is ‘40 Days of Praying the Bible for Someone Who is Suffering.’

The book looks more weighty ‘in the flesh’ than it actually is. In other words each chapter or day is only three pages long. And the text isn’t dense. In fact there are blank pages and plenty of space for notes – it’s a book to be used.

The idea is to help us pray more Biblically for those that are suffering, and to glorify God in our praying and in the lives of those we pray for. Nancy wants to help our prayers to be a bit more than ‘please heal this person’ or ‘please make this trouble go away’ type prayers.

It’s a really simple idea and maybe at £6.99 it’s a bit steep. But then if it really does help us pray more Biblically it’ll be money well spent.

I selected a few days at random to read and I did find them helpful. The aim is that it’s not about us, it’s about helping other people by praying for them. In a church setting maybe if several Christians started following the pattern here it could actually change the flavour of, or maybe ‘improve’ our prayer meetings, as well as our private devotions. It isn’t a substitute for the Psalms, but it is helpful.

I thought the QR code idea at first was a bit gimmicky, but it could actually be helpful as we send texts to those we know are going through a hard time. (You can scan the QR Code using your camera and then send the prayer as a text) It doesn’t have to be about suffering physically or about bereavement but about praying for non believing friends and fellow Christians in the church. And then to send them a brief text about what it is we are praying for them. If you find it difficult to know what to text someone in their suffering then this could help us, and them. Receiving such a text, I think would be encouraging – and that’s what we want to be, encouraging and helpful.

Let’s face it, most of us need help in this area. So all in all it could be a useful tool to us as individuals and as churches as we seek to minister to those in need.

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (3)

This is part three of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 here & Part 2 here)  Note the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing..

What follows is a description of what most of us have no personal knowledge of: when the fire falls upon His people. What’s so encouraging is that these believers were in such a low spiritual state. God visits us when He chooses to do so. Not because we’ve reached a point where we might be tempted to say ‘God will bless us now.’ The Christian faith is not a works based religion. It is Grace based, not merit based. Our merit before God is found in another. Namely in the Son of God – The Lord Jesus Christ. It does not give us licence to live how we choose, but at the same time our living is not meritorious. We do not earn Gods favour. How we should know the reality of the phrase ‘we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).’

EUSEBIUS continues…. ‘But at last, forced by cowardice, unbelief and the onslaughts of Satan, we resolved to give up our special meeting; and now we were about to offer a final prayer, fully intending never again to meet thus in fellowship. But it is when man reaches the lowest depths of unbelief that God imparts faith, and when man has failed, then God reveals Himself. So here, with us in such dire straits, on the brink of despair, with the door shut on every hope of success, God Himself entered into our midst, and the light of day from on high dawned upon us; for one of the brethren – yes, the most timid of us all, the one who was strongest in his belief that God would never visit us – while in prayer, was stirred in his spirit and laid hold powerfully on heaven, as one who would not let go.

His tongue spoke unusual words, his voice was raised, his spirit was aflame, he pleaded, he cried to God, he struggled, he wrestled in earnest, like Jacob, in the agony of his soul. The fire took hold on others – all were awakened, the coldest to the most heedless took hold and were warmed; the spirit of struggling and wrestling fell on all, we all went with him into the battle, with him we laid hold upon God, His attributes, His Word and His promises, resolving that we would never let go our hold until all our desire should be satisfied.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 8 & 9.

I’ll leave it there and continue the narrative with another post – maybe two more. My desire is simply to encourage us all in the Lord (1 Thess 5:11 & Heb 10:25).

We all went with him into battle

I like the phrase ‘we all went with him into the battle.’ I don’t think that means everyone was praying at the same time or that everyone prayed. But that when one prayed, all prayed (Acts 4:24). Such was their united assault upon the throne of Grace. That’s the sort of unity we want in our prayer meetings.

It’s a fine line, perhaps, between not despising the day of small things (Zech 4:10) and the realisation that without God we are sunk. God is at work. He does not stop working. The Lord Jesus is building His church (Matt 16:18), and He will continue to build it until He returns. He gives us persevering grace. We are not fallen away because He keeps us in the way. For this we are thankful and raise our Ebenezer (1 Sam 7:12). But we pray: “Lord, give us that longing we know we need.” ‘O, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64:1)’ and ‘that glory may dwell in our land (Ps 85:9).’

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (2)

This is part two of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 is here) (Part 3 here) I don’t intend to post anything, for now, on how the society meetings were organised during the flow of the revival, rather the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing.

This next section is, I believe, one in which our churches can take great encouragement to not give up meeting. Revival comes not at the behest of man but by Gods gracious intervention – and that, when we are at our lowest ebb. Perhaps that is one of our problems. Our churches are so well organised that if God were absent from our meetings, or our evangelism, would any of us really notice?

‘And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.’ Judges 16:20

The Bold text is my highlighting. I have also divided the text into two paragraphs so it’s slightly easier to read.. Continuing then where we left off with Eusebius on page 8:

EUSEBIUS continues….: ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world. One time, there were just a few of us, professing believers, gathered together, cold and unbelievably dead, in a meeting which we called a special service, so discouraged as to doubt whether we should ever meet again, some who were usually absent from every meeting, some in a deadly apathy, with nothing to say of God nor their own souls, some given over to the world and its cares, some backslidden completely from all means of grace and the ordinances of the gospel, some given over to the flesh and its lusts, as in the days of Noah – seeking a wife, seeking a husband marrying and giving in marriage – and I myself well nigh disheartened and thinking often of coming to live in warmer spiritual climes, and moving my tent from Ur of the Chaldees nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.

But, even though all things were as i have described them – the world, the flesh and Satan victorious – these special services were yet conducted in an incredibly lifeless manner. There was no encouragement for anyone to carry on the work, save only the promise of God, that wherever there were two or three coming together in His name, if their purpose were right, however lifeless their present state, He would come to them and bless them. This alone had made us come together to pray; but our prayers were not much more than groans.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Page 8.

I like the way he says ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world.’ It may be the Lord will again work in that way – here in Wales and where you are too. But in this passage especially, we should note the condition they were in. ‘cold and unbelievably dead‘ and a ‘deadly apathy.’ How many of us have thought of moving our tents to where ‘things are happening?’ ‘To warmer spiritual climes‘ and ‘nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.‘ Is that us? Is that how we see ourselves? Or are we in need of nothing?

Also notice there were people in the meeting ‘who were usually absent from every meeting.’ I’m sure Pastors try to encourage their people to attend – but to no avail. The Lord can do in a moment what man can’t.

Despite this, we shouldn’t fail to recognise who we are. The world may despise the church of God, and we can be tempted to think that way sometimes too, but our hope is still in the living God.

‘Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!’

I’ve written more than I meant to but I do hope and pray these posts from the writing of William Williams will be an encouragement to the church.

 

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (1)

I read this book years ago, and one particular section especially was impressed indelibly upon my mind. And I always tend, somehow, to make reference to it when talking about revival. Which I did do just recently. It’s about time then, that I typed that section up. It’s fairly lengthy for one post so I’ll break it up into three or four shorter posts. (Part 2 here & Part 3 here) Any highlights in bold or italics will be mine.

I don’t know if the book is still in print. Whether it is or not doesn’t really matter. What the book, or this section anyway, tells me is that no matter how lifeless we think our prayer meetings are, and let’s face it, they mostly are, the Lord is well able to visit us and revive us. We don’t need to gee them up and try to inject life into them. We simply need the Lord to visit us. That’s the only life we need. His life. The Spirit of God. Our hope is in God. Williams writes the book as a conversation or dialogue between two people, Theophilus and Eusebius. Here’s the first of the quotes:

THEOPHILUS: And now, what progress is the Lord’s work making in your country? I have heard that the gospel of Jesus has reached you, and has begotten many sons. Will you please tell me how grace began to work there? By what means? And with what power? And to what extent apart from the usual means? And which graces appeared first? What wiles has Satan devised to hinder the work? And what troubles or trials have you suffered to test and strengthen you and to purify you?

EUSEBIUS: You have asked me many questions, and I will do my best to answer them all, for I find nothing sweeter to recount, and nothing to quicken my soul more, than to remember the days of the Lord’s visitation to me and to others in the day of my betrothal to Him, the joyful day of my heart; to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey (This is the first paragraph of a long section).

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 7 & 8.

I can’t recall where I read it, but in one of Jonathan Edwards books he talked about how through remembering and talking about past visitations of God those same feelings can come back. I don’t think Edwards was speaking negatively here, but speaking experientially. Hence we read above: ‘to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey.’

 

Who is the LORD that I should obey his voice….?

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’”
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1&2)

When reading verses like these it would be easy to make an application that our (various) governments should open the churches in order for normal services, or just services, to resume and to ‘let my people go.’ End the lockdown and get back to normal is what a lot of people are calling for. I think there’s a more important issue, or stage before that. Or to put it another way, there’s a much deeper issue with our government, and politicians in general, than ‘simply’ getting them to ‘open up the churches.’

The deeper issue is that our leaders, be they Prime Ministers or Presidents, ‘do not know the LORD.’ Pharaoh in the verse above actually confesses to the fact that he ‘does not know the Lord.’ And because of the truth of that confession says in direct response to the command of God – ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice….?’  And ‘I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.’ Who is this LORD? I will not obey his voice. We don’t have to be living in ancient Egypt to see this played out. You could almost admire the honesty of Pharaoh if it wasn’t so foolish.

Church life is quite different now. And like you, I hope, I want to see our churches back open. I don’t say back to normal simply because we may have to use this opportunity to re-evaluate what ‘normal’ church life (and evangelism) is going to mean. But what if our governments suddenly said ‘OK, you can open up.’ We will still be under a government, that, by and large, says ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?’

There are many regimes round the world that act like Pharaoh. In the West it is cloaked with a superficiality of Christianity but underneath beats a heart that is as opposed to the will of God as any other godless regime. I don’t, nor should we, treat the mercies of God with contempt. Any gains or progress, or where policies are merely put on hold – we should thank God for. Here in the west things could be far far worse.

God, the same LORD Pharaoh refused to obey, brought upon Egypt the plagues, judgement upon Pharaoh and the destruction of his army. The people of God were’t allowed just to leave, they were driven out and ‘plundered the Egyptians’ of their goods in the process.

The point I am making is this: Jesus will build His church. He will continue to build it until He returns to judge the world. We, His people, must persevere for ‘deliverance is at hand.’ In the meantime we continue to ‘preach’ the Gospel of the grace of God as He gives opportunity. The Word of God cannot ultimately be silenced. It is impossible.

What is our message? ‘…. that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His (Jesus) name to all nations (Luke 24:47).’

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Cor 15: 1-4)

Not only that but we should pray:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim 2: 1&2)

You’ve read this far. Great. But your heart is rebellious just like the heart of Pharaoh. It will do no good, as some do, to whine on about how bad the government is (Christians do this as well). Unless you repent you’ll be swallowed up in the judgment to come just like them. The only safe haven is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

‘When Christians Suffer’ by Thomas Case

I first came across Thomas Case in Voices from the Past Vol 1, a book of daily readings edited by Richard Rushing. This little volume, When Christians Suffer, is also edited by Richard Rushing and again published by The Banner of Truth. He has made, I think, another valuable contribution to the church of Christ.

Thomas Case (1598–30 May 1682) lived to the age of 84 and was, bar one, the longest surviving member of the Westminster Assembly (Westminster Confession of Faith and other documents). Case knew bereavement, persecution, the confiscation of his property and spent 5 months imprisoned in the Tower of London – though his wife (he remarried) was allowed to be with him. The book is written out of deep personal experience. It’s worth pointing out that Thomas Case doesn’t confine what the suffering is to any specific issue. Bereavement and illness are there of course, but suffering manifests (though sometimes it isn’t even seen at all) itself in many ways. The Corona Virus is with us, so many in the world are suffering right now. Mentally, financially, physically and spiritually. So for Christians especially, though it needn’t be confined to them, is a wonderful little book. Perhaps to give away. The book is an exposition of Psalm 94:12. ‘Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.’

I shall take discipline here in the utmost latitude, for all kinds and degrees of suffering, whether from God, or man, or Satan. Whether sufferings for sin, or sufferings for righteousness sake. p.13.

This isn’t really a review, other than a few notes and a hearty recommendation. It’s a great little booklet. It’s 113 tiny pages (smaller than A6). My copy was a gift, but I’ve since bought another couple of copies to give away. I paid £3.25 at our local Christian Bookshop. The opening letter by Thomas Manton is worth reading on its own. You should know this is a very heavily edited edition of Case’s ‘A Treatise on Afflictions.’ That’s not a criticism as it’s extremely well done and makes the work of Thomas Case accessible to a much wider readership having updated the language making it more readable to a modern audience. Having read this edition I started to read the un-edited version which also contains a brief Biographical Preface, which I have to say isn’t that helpful.

Introductory Letter (slightly edited) by Thomas Manson to Thomas Case

I thank you for your thoughts concerning afflictions. I was pleased to drink from this fountain, and the half was not told me. To treat of afflictions when we ourselves flourish and abound in ease and plenty is more like the orator than the preacher, and the brain than the heart. It seems that when you went into prison, the Spirit of God went into prison with you. When you were shut up to others, you were open to the visits and free breathings of his grace. A prison cannot restrain the freedom of his operations. It would be a prison for sure to be shut up also from fellowship with the Holy Spirit. I begin to see the truth in Tertullian’s discourse to the martyrs:

‘You went out of prison when you went into it, and we’re but sequestered from the world that you might converse with God; the greatest prisoners and the most guilty are those at large, darkened with ignorance, chained with lusts, committed not by the proconsul, but God.’

Sir, I could even envy your prison comforts, and the sweet opportunities of a religious privacy. We that are abroad are harassed and worn out with constant public labours, and can seldom retire from the distraction of business for such free converse with God and our own souls. But we are not to choose our own portion; crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.

Good sir, be persuaded to publish these discourses: the subject is useful, and your manner of handling it warm and affectionate. Do not deprive the world of the comfort of your experiences. Certainly my heart is not one of the tenderest, yet if heart answers to heart, I can easily foresee much success and that you will not repent of the publication. The Lord bless your endeavours in the gospel of his dear Son. I am, sir, yours in all Christian observance,

Thomas Manton.

The first section is ‘Twenty-One Lessons Which God Usually Teaches His People in a Suffering Condition.’

‘(1.) The first lesson God teaches us by affliction is to have compassion for those who are in a suffering condition.
We are prone to be insensitive, writes Case, when we are at ease in Zion! Partly out of the delicacy of self-love which makes us unwilling to sour our own sweet blessings with the bitter taste of a strangers affliction. Upon this very account God brings a variety of afflictions and sorrows upon his own children.’ p. 14.

‘(5.) God also uses affliction to reveal unknown corruption in the hearts of his people.
He reveals in the heart what pride, what impatience, what unbelief, what idolatry, what distrust of God, what murmuring, and what unthankfulness abides there that you never took notice of!’ p. 21.

One final quote from section 3. ‘How the Instrument of Affliction Promotes the Teaching of God in the Soul’
(1.) Through affliction God tears down the pride of man’s heart.
There is no greater obstruction to saving knowledge than pride and self-opinion. Pride raise objections against the word (The Bible), and disputes the commands when they should obey them. The heart of man stands as a mountain before the word, and cannot be moved until God comes with his instruments of affliction and knocks down those mountains, and then stands on level ground to talk with man. This pride of heart speaks loud in the wicked, and whispers audibly even in the godly. It is folly bound up even in the hearts of God’s children until correction drives it out, and the pride is broken and cries, ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ p. 82, 83.

As Manton writes, ‘crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.’

 

Giving out Gospel Tracts is hard work.

One Saturday morning members from the church went out into the town to give out evangelistic leaflets and if possible get into a conversation. Our church does this once a month or so. I do not find this ‘cold calling’ style of evangelism easy. In fact, that’s an understatement, I find it incredibly difficult. It’s not talking to people I find difficult, there’s something about giving away literature in that cold manner. I don’t know why this is. Honestly, I question whether this is my calling even though I’ve done it for years – door to door and open-air preaching. Maybe I’m just doing it all wrong.

The last time I experienced something new. Call it what you will but I just completely lost it. It was as if I was paralyzed. I just couldn’t do it. I said to myself ‘the fear of man brings a snare’ but eventually, I went home defeated and very downcast. My stomach was all churned up. I felt dreadful. It was physical. It just never occurred to me that it could be some sort of attack by The Devil. Maybe it was. I don’t know. Probably pride related.
I’m kicking myself really because if that was a moment of intense weakness, that was the time to rely on God’s power in weakness. Maybe it was some sort of ‘fainting fit’ as they were called. Maybe God was letting me know my complete and utter inability and that this was a time to trust and not a time to rely on my own feeble inner resources. My own feeble resources dried up – completely dried up! This is a good thing to know. We aren’t about God’s work in our own strength. We might get the blessing by doing the work of evangelism, but we don’t get to have the glory. We daren’t have the glory: that belongs to God alone!
 
Can any good come out of this? The first thing to know is that we need to be praying. We need to be praying in the prayer meeting. We need to pray as a team (however many that might be) before going out. And then to cultivate an attitude of dependence even if that means a feeling of complete despair in our own capability.
 
The second thing is to aware of your fellow workers. You might not be the only one conscious of complete inability. Therefore support one another. It’s very easy to get discouraged in the work. Support your struggling brethren in Gospel work. For some of us at times, it is best not to be left alone. Most of the time I’m probably fine on my own but it was a good reminder that we aren’t Mavericks – even when going out from the same church. And we aren’t sufficient in ourselves either. Our sufficiency is of God. So if someone came to me now, armed with my recent experience, I would say something like: ‘Be courageous Brother, stand with me and we’ll enter the fray in the fellowship of the Gospel – let’s give out tracts together’.
It probably all sounds quite pathetic. If you aren’t a Christian you might think we are a bunch of nitwits. But the reason we do this ‘work’ is because we want people like you to trust in Christ and be saved. There’s no other reason for doing it.

I discovered nearly everyone that Saturday found it incredibly tough. Perhaps you find it hard work as well. So what about next time? Will there be a next time? By God’s grace, there will be. But next time should the same thing happen – and it might – I need to look up, not in. Easy to say. We’ll see. Some Christians are very able at giving out tracts, I’m not. I thank God for those that are and it’s a joy to see.

Since starting to write this post a few weeks ago, in our prayer meeting, we have been going through 2 Corinthians and considering being weak. It’s not a pleasant feeling and is completely ‘counter-cultural’. We have another Evangelistic opportunity later this month. In some ways, I’m looking forward to the sense of dread, that feeling of despair so I can be weak for God. In other ways, I’m dreading it. But it’s not about us, it’s about Christ.

The Prayer Meeting

It’s probably true – though I can’t prove it – that every Church Prayer Meeting will have people in attendance that do not pray. We all know what it’s like to be in a meeting with those ‘awkward silences’. Not only that, it’s probably every Minister’s goal to get everyone praying. It’s the Ministerial equivalent of bringing peace to the Middle East. Many have tried; all have failed.

Believe me, none of the following is meant to be in a critical spirit. I too, attend the prayer meeting. I too want to see God moving. I want to be blessed. I want the local Church to be blessed. I want God’s people to be blessed. I too would like the experience of the early church:

Act 4:31  And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

What a thing that would be! I’ve been a Christian for nearly 40 years and my experience tells me not everyone prays. I know this because I can easily be the one that doesn’t pray. I’ve sat under countless pleas from Ministers to get their people praying in public. It doesn’t seem to make a lasting difference no matter what’s done or said. Something isn’t working.

This is my rambling take on the problem, if it is a problem, and some comments that will hopefully help both the meeting and Minister.

Audible & Silent Prayer

We all need to realise that because a person does not pray audibly it does not necessarily mean they are not praying. They may not be. But isn’t it more charitable to assume they are? And when someone is praying audibly the others are following (one would hope) the prayer and saying a silent Amen (if not an audible one) to the prayer.

I recently read an article about ladies praying in the prayer meeting. More specifically, that they should be praying. I know ladies that would never ever ever pray audibly in a prayer meeting. This is because it is their honest Biblical conviction they should remain silent. I’m thinking especially of some elderly Godly ladies. Forcing them to go against their conscience I believe is unhelpful. There are then differing views on women praying in public. Personally, I have no objection to women praying in the prayer meeting if that is their conviction. Though to be honest after looking into this there’s a strong case against the practice. And it has nothing to do with male superiority but everything to do with how God has ordered differing roles for men and women.

Men not praying in the prayer meeting is another thing altogether. And I must address myself in this regard. Though even here there should be room for charity given differing abilities, self-consciousness, immaturity and so on. But as a general rule, the men ought to be praying.  If they are not praying, how should this be remedied? That is the question. Strong arm tactics I don’t believe are effective. Pummelling non-praying men with guilt is also not effective. But there may be a case for the Minister to lovingly draw alongside to counsel and encourage the brother.

The ‘Awkward Silence’

The ‘awkward silences’ are only a problem if we make them a problem. Let’s assume, for the sake of charity, the people are praying, just not audibly. Ok, it is a church prayer meeting where people, God’s people, gather to pray, aloud. But people will pray. People do pray. Just not everyone. Just not continuous non-stop prayer throughout the meeting. Perhaps accepting this as the norm is just giving in to the ‘problem’. But maybe it would take the pressure off and more would pray.

The Vicissitudes of Life & Warfare

The condition of the people is very varied. Some come almost straight from work, some with great burdens, some struggling with sin, lack of assurance, worries, illness, caring for loved ones, debt and many other conditions. Some are simply terrified at hearing the sound of their own voice or speaking in public. We definitely need encouraging. What I believe is needed most is preaching. Mini-sermons if you will. Not a Bible study. No hobby horses. Preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Preach the Majesty of God and His Grace to us His people. Preach His Kindness to undeserving sinners. Preach the Word and let The Spirit of God do the work that only He can do.

‘Inspirer and Hearer of prayer
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine’ (Augustus Toplady)

And,

‘Great Shepherd of Thy people hear;
Thy presence now display;
As Thou hast given a place for prayer,
So give us hearts to pray’ (John Newton)

There’s’ no doubt we are in a warfare as soon as we enter the prayer meeting. It will give the enemy of our souls great delight to see us not praying. On the other hand

‘…. Satan trembles, when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.’

And it’s true! But then I’ve heard that verse quoted many times in a prayer meeting and it has to be said, to little effect. One of the problems is the belief that if there’s a free flow of prayer that’s a good meeting. But if it’s hard work and a struggle it’s a bad meeting. The one makes us feel good, the other not so much. It’s good to have a sense of The Lord with us – of course it is – but we can so easily come to wrong conclusions. The reality is not always what it appears to be. Unless there’s a supernatural empowerment to pray engagement in warfare is going to be tough going.

Priorities in the Prayer Meeting

In our prayer meetings we all too easily start praying for stuff. It’s so easy to make it all about ourselves. We need to make a conscious effort to not do that. Even when urged to give God praise and thanks we so quickly and easily fall into making it all about ourselves. We need to cultivate a different attitude – this takes time. We need to be patient with ourselves and with one another. But cultivate the attitude we must.

What is wanted is something to ‘fix’ the meeting. I don’t believe that is possible. We can’t ‘fix’ anything. We need the Spirit of God to lead and guide us in our prayers. What does God want us to pray for, to thank Him for or to confess? With the best will in the world there will always be needs in the local, national and worldwide church and there will always be needs that suddenly arise so these could be mentioned at the meeting. But what if we had a list in our Bibles (perhaps inside the Church Bible as well) or on our phones that we can always bring to the meeting.

Here are a few suggestions:

To thank God for His being. Who He is. He is entirely self-sufficient in need of nothing and creator of all that exists..

The person and work of The Lord Jesus Christ. His Cross, His Blood, His resurrection, His intercession.

The person of The Holy Spirit. Pray that He would reveal The Lord Jesus to us and guide and help us as we pray.

To thank Him for the Holy Scriptures and the preservation of them for us.

To know God’s will.

His providence’s and the grace to persevere.

That the Triune God would be glorified in our church

Thank God that He has purchased a Church and those in it. Thank Him for our Salvation and that He keeps us by His Grace.

Thank Him for forgiveness, sanctification, justification and Glory.

To pray for the Pastor, Elders, Deacons. Pray they would be kept faithful and kept from falling.

To pray for the Word as it is proclaimed. That it might have the unction of God upon it.

To pray for the advance of the Gospel in our lives, church, locality, nation and world. Pray the Lord Jesus would see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

Pray for our persecuted brethren around the world.

Many many more could be added to this list. It isn’t exhaustive but these are the sorts of things that should be on our minds (and in our Bibles I suggest) already. But then add to this more specific needs (in the local church) as they arise. But keep these to a minimum. Perhaps communicate the needs of the church through other means as well (email, text etc.) so we arrive at the meeting ready to bring our requests before the Throne of Grace. If there’s a need you know about. Pray about it.

Be Challenged & Encouraged

I hope this has been of some help. It has challenged me to think in the way I’ve suggested. It also challenges me to put what I can into practice.

I’m not naive enough to think any of this will ‘fix’ the prayer meeting, and certainly not a quick fix, but I do pray both people and our Ministers will be encouraged. God is with us! Christ is our Advocate! We are indwelt by His Spirit!

Come Down LORD!

Isa 64:1  Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,

I’m reminded often of a passage in ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams translated by Bethan Lloyd-Jones. I’m paraphrasing but – ‘One brother began to pray in his usual lifeless and boring manner and as he continued praying in this way his prayer began to have life. As he then continued others were moved and The Spirit of God fell upon them – and Revival broke out.’

If I find the book I’ll correct it, but that’s the gist anyway. Isn’t that what we all want? But it’s not usually like that and it wasn’t for them either. But may it be so for His Glory – AMEN!