As 2008 turned over to 2009 I was in the midst of reading When God Comes to Church by Ray Ortlund, Jr. I didn’t want the year to get too far before I shared some great quotes from this book that came out in 2000. The first half of the book describes what God does to bring revival (comes down, reinvigorates, heals, pours out his Spirit, raises up, and restores).The second half describes what we can do to prepare the way (return, seek, humble ourselves). Each chapter is an expositional treatment of a specific Old Testament passage.
Ortlund begins with,
“Revival is a season in the life of the church when God causes the normal ministry of the gospel to surge forward with extraordinary spiritual power.” (9)
Later he says,
“True revival is a firmly established biblical tradition. It deserves our acceptance as accredited, orthodox experience with impeccable biblical credentials and deep historical roots. It stands firm as a valid part of the ways of God with his people, to be cherished in the past and sought after for the present. (46)
As I read the book, I realized that I want that kind of revival to be my prayer and expectation not only in 2009, but for the rest of my life. I never want to settle into a “business as usual” attitude when I lead worship, or think that the fruit of what I do depends ultimately on my preparation, planning, gifts, or experience. If we’re going to see any lasting change from our meetings, it must come from the presence of God in our midst.
Here are some quotes that stood out to me, along with my comments. I pray they’re an encouragement to you.
Hindering the Blessing of the Spirit
We cannot trigger a divine visitation on our churches, but it is our responsibility prayerfully to offer our Lord a church steeped in the gospel and tenderly responsive to his presence. His Spirit’s blessing should not have to work against the logic and ethos we create. (17)
Does my church function with a logic or ethos that hinders the blessing of God’s Spirit? Are we dependent on technology, manipulation, creativity, or our own giftings to effect change in people? Are we steeped in the gospel and tenderly responsive to his presence? Or do we emphasize what we do and barrel through our plan, hoping some good will come from it?
Settling into Routine
We can settle into a routine of activities at church and in our small groups and Bible studies, with little expectation of anything new. The familiar becomes the predictable, and everything from here on out will be more of the same. We dip our teaspoon into the vast ocean of the living God. Holding that teaspoon in our hand, we say, “This is God.” We pour it out into our lives, and we say, “This is the Christian Experience.” (41)
Do our lives reflect the power, wonder, glory, love, and holiness of the living God? Do we downplay people’s expectations of knowing Jesus Christ?
God is Patient, Not Us
We must not think of God as a cosmic miser, reluctantly parceling out meager blessings. Instead, we should think of ourselves as constantly hassling him with endless, rude entreaties. He is astonishingly patient and kind. (55)
How often to I assume that when God doesn’t answer my prayers, the problem is with him, not me? How often do I miss the countless ways he has already poured out his blessings?
A repentant church understands that methods are never value-free but always reveal where our trust really lies. (75)
It’s “risky” to trust fully and completely in God’s promise to actively work through his appointed means – the preaching of his Word, the proclaiming of the gospel, and the fellowship of his people (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 11:26; Mt. 18:20).
The Proof that the Spirit is With Us
So what is the proof that the Spirit is being poured out on us? The voice of the church rings with prophetic clarity. The people of God are no longer passive, intimidated, unresponsive, uncertain. They are no longer preoccupied with self, convenience, comfort. They are no longer complaining, whining, griping. Instead, they become outspoken in God’s praises and gospel truth, “declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11). (87)
To turn us from self-exaltation to Christ-exaltation, from self-focus to Christ-focus, is a true mark of God’s presence in our midst.
Active, but Not Alive
The church is to be set apart by spirituality. Revival triggers a firm rejection of the foolish devices of carnality firing up the engine of the church and a joyous rediscovery of the awesome power of simple, biblical spirituality. The revival of a dead church occurs through spiritual awakening granted by God, not through our programs and devices. If a church is invigorated with other animating forces, it may be active but it is not alive. (120)
May God protect us from having the appearance of life in our churches and ministries – activities, programs, busy-ness, full schedules – and no true life, which can only come through the gospel and the power of God’s Spirit.
What are You Expecting?
God is not limited to our past experiences, our traditions, or what we think the church’s next step should be. We must leave room for divine mystery, for surprise. God never acts out of character but he does exceed our expectations. (31)
What are you expecting God to do in and through your life this year? Are you anticipating that you might be surprised?