|THE WAY FORWARD
- A MESSAGE FOR THE NEW YEAR
A few years ago, as I waited on the Lord as the old year was about to end, three scriptures gripped me as messages from the Father to my own heart, and I feel that I should share them with you now believing that these are things to which we should all give heed in these critical days.
Quit Patching the Church. It Doesn't Work!
This is the first strand in the message, and is based on Mark 2:21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. “'
It would be difficult for anyone to deny that the organised churches of our day present the sad appearance of a sorely rent and patched old garment. Denominational divisions, doctrinal disputes, conflicting and confusing messages, failed leadership; these are just some elements of the tattered and torn clothing.
Many, aware of this grievous condition, are motivated to do something about it. They put their minds to situation, and they come up with a variety of new patches to repair the rents. Now, past my fourscore years on earth, I have lived long enough to observe what happens when these patches are produced and applied. Generally, each new patch is first presented with great hopefulness and confidence that this is just what is needed. The effectiveness of the proposed patch is loudly advertised and proclaimed before being sewn on amid much publicity and optimism. For a while it may look good, but, given a few months or years, the edges of the patch begin to fray, and, too soon, yet more tears are evident and the outer garment further deteriorates.
Among the patches that the past decade or so has seen here in N.Z. were “Rise Up Together N.Z.”, various much publicised crusades by prominent evangelists, multiplied seminars and courses, one of the latest of which, and the most currently trendy, is the Alpha course. Then there was the Toronto blessing and the related Pensacola movement. Patches, patches, patches! Despite them all the garment is tattier than ever. What can be done?
The answer is simple, although few are willing to accept it. We need a whole new garment. We must cast off the old, worn, multi-patched thing and seek the Lord for His new clothing, that will never need patching, for a radically different mode of Church, which is His way, the way that has long been revealed in the pages of the Scripture, and almost equally long neglected by those professing His name. The disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem at Pentecost were clothed in that seamless garment when the Holy Spirit descended in power upon them, evidenced by the unity of heart and mind and the love which characterised them. Too soon, garments of human devising, in the way of man-made systems and organisations, were put on instead of the heaven-provided clothing, with tragic consequences throughout history and till our day.
This revelation has steeled my own resolve never again to put confidence in any patch that man may devise to repair the Church, but rather humbly to seek the Lord, continually asking in the words of the prayer in Psalm 25:4-5:
“Make me to know Thy ways, 0 Lord: teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth, and teach me, for Thou art the God of my salvation; for Thee I wait all the day long. “
I wonder what you are going to do. Rely on yet another of mens' patches or seek the new heavenly garment?
The Way Forward
Psalms 42 &43.
This is the second Scripture which shone with new light for me. I believe it is a revelation of the way in which we can be prepared to receive the new garment of heaven-controlled Church-life in place of the much patched humanly-devised clothing of the the institutional churches.
The Prime Requisite - A Thirst for God Himself
This prime requisite is found in the first two verses of Ps.42
“As a hart long's
Here is described an intense longing and desire for God Himself, for a personal intimate relationship with Him. The psalmist wants nothing less than the “Living God”. He is not seeking some exciting new “experience”. He is not buying a ticket for some distant place to obtain at the hands of men the latest in religious blessings. What he yearns for is to know God, right where he is, in a vivid, living ongoing friendship in the context of the circumstances of ordinary everyday life.
It is clear that at this point the Psalmist's thirst is as yet unsatisfied. To “see the face of God” is what his heart is aching to attain, but he has not yet got there. He looks back and remembers past exciting religious experiences:
“How I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.”
But even these wonderful days of praise, rejoicing and celebration amid the crowds in the church of his time, had left him unsatisfied, his soul-thirst as yet unslaked.
Does not the experience of the psalmist find an echo in many hearts today? They have participated in exciting services, rejoiced in uplifting times of worship and praise. They have been carried along in the surging emotions of large gatherings. But deep within there is still a cry for something more. Only God Himself can satisfy that cry, and it is when we wholeheartedly identify with verses 1-2 that the first and essential condition for receiving the new garment is fulfilled. Even in recent months I have met those who are moving from church to church seeking something that will satisfy, without finding it either in mainline evangelical or Pentecostal congregations.
If I may be permitted a word of personal testimony, a like thirst to that of the Psalmist's, for God Himself, was birthed in my heart some twenty years ago, after a period of depression and dryness, and that was the beginning of my own pilgrimage towards an understanding and experience of the true “Spiritual House” which is God's Church The writer of our two companion Psalms did not arrive at his goal easily or quickly. Between verse 5. of Ps.42 and verse 2. of Ps. 43 he describes:
A Roller Coaster Experience
As I read these verses I am reminded of the old negro Spiritual;
“Sometimes I'm up,
When we mean business with God we must not be surprised if He allows us to go through even quite a prolonged period of testing and preparation for receiving the new garment of heavenly Church life. There will be times, as for the Psalmist, when we may feel overwhelmed, wounded, forgotten, cast off, when we weep and mourn. The questions, “Why?”, “When?” and “Where?” may be often on our lips.
But along with these sometimes desolating experiences there will be a constantly renewed underlying awareness that the hand of the Father is in it all:
A Crucial Prayer
Again a brief personal testimony: following my first desperate thirsting after God Himself, five years were to pass of undiminished thirst, questionings, sometimes experiencing the song in the night and the awareness of the sustaining steadfast love of the Lord, sometimes feeling overwhelmed and cast down, before the day came when there was wrenched from my heart a prayer just like that of Ps.43:3-4, a prayer that I might be shown the heavenly garment, the Church as God wants it to be.
“Oh send out Thy light and Thy truth
I have called that “A crucial Prayer”, not without good reason. If I have one message, one plea to people who really long for God and His way of Church as we enter the this New Year; it is this—let this cry of Psalm 43 come with earnestness and persistence from the depths of your hearts. There is no other way to the discovery of Church as God wants it than to abandon all other ways except the asking for His light and His truth to lead us. That means being willing to lay down all our preconceived ideas concerning Church. It means we will no longer be bound to the status quo, nor will we listen to men. Rather we will go to Jesus, the Light of the world and Himself the Truth; to the Holy Spirit, the Revealer and promised guide into all the truth; and to the written word which is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”. On that day of crisis, struggling to know what Father means by Church, that is exactly what I did, I pleaded with the Father out of my desperate thirst, “Send forth Thy light and Thy truth. Let them lead me. Let them bring me to Thy Holy hill and to Thy dwelling.”
But it is not just a question of a one time, instantaneous illumination, although that first brilliant shaft of revelation-light is unforgettable. This prayer needs to become our incessant cry to God so that we may receive yet more light and truth. We have so much more to enter into of all that God's holy hill and His dwelling mean.
A Glorious Assurance
Having uttered his prayer, our psalm-writer receives this glorious assurance:
“Then will I go to the altar of God,
Here he anticipates his thirst quenched, his heart rejoicing and his lips filled with praise, as he exults in the prospect of being able to cry out of a knowledge full and deep “0 God, my God.”
It is as each one of us presses into personal relationship with the Father through the Lord Jesus that we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:3) Also, as we concentrate on that intimacy with God, we discover that, in the words of Paul, “We are fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22) That is the New Testament equivalent of the Psalmist's arriving at “Thy Holy hill” and “Thy Dwelling.”
So, I see in these two Psalms clear pointers of the way for us to go forward to a fuller experience of the heavenly Church in 1999.
The Need for Patience
My third Scripture is in James 5:7 & 8.
“Be patient, therefore brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
God our Father is a husbandman, a gardener, if you like. Every gardener knows that from seed to fruit takes time. It is not a process to be hurried. We had fruit trees in our orchard at our former home which had been planted for eight years and still had not borne fruit. The nurseryman told us they would take ten years to reach that stage. So, what had we to do? Be patient!
Among those who have laid aside the tattered and patched garment of church-the-way-we-used-to-know-it, I sense there are some who are becoming impatient. They would like to hurry God along, and are even tempted towards trying to imitate the fruit they expect. James' word needs to be heeded. If we are obedient to the revelation of our two psalms, we can “establish our hearts” and know of a surety that the Lord will act in His time.
May these Scriptures encourage your hearts as they have mine as we go forward together into 2005.
The following verses of F. Brook distil the essence of the message I have sought to express:
My goal is God Himself, not joy, nor peace,
So faith bounds forward to its goal in God,
No matter if the way be sometimes dark,
One thing I know, I cannot say Him nay;