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?
Bob, thanks for posting these thoughts from Ray Ortlund Jr. The line of thought here reminds me of the argument from C.S. Lewis in the Weight of Glory:
Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
This is such a timely reminder at the start of a new year. I love the statement that:
“God is not limited to our past experiences, our traditions, or what we think the church’s next step should be.”
It is so important for worship leaders to remember this every time they lead worship. It is so easy to ‘expect’ God to work in a particular way each week, month or year based on what we have seen in recent history. However, God’s historical story indicates that He may just have something greater in store!! Obviously it is important to prepare diligently to lead worship but through prayer to remember that God may just choose to surpass all ‘expectations’ we have for a particular time, place or service.
Let’s be ready to be surprised. My prayer is that we will all be surprised by what God does in 2009!!!
What a great encouragement!
I feel convicted of my lack of faith in this area, but excited as I prepare for this Sunday. I trust that as I pray for God’s presence to be with us – he will exceed my expectations!
Thank you for having your blog available to e-mail. This post seemed to… jar…me with a reminder of Sun Jan. 4th during corporate worship that morning.
God showed, I believe, a “thickness of the presence of Holy Spirit-almost visibly a mist spreading over and in and between and around everything, in the room.
[NEW? perhaps bringing and or concealing things, now and to come. then drawing my attention to.
Lev.20:7-8 This seemed to bring a personal challenge and encouragement. I hope others are blessed by your writings
This is a book I need to read. As a worship pastor, I am tempted every Saturday evening and Sunday morning to ask God to take away my nervousness. Sometimes He has granted that request and I have felt completely at ease and in control before the congregation–that is a DANGEROUS place to be.
Thank you for sharing. Sounds like I need to add this to my ever growing list of books I need to read. The first two on your list hit very close to home for me. Especially this comment of yours, “Or do we emphasize what we do and barrel through our plan, hoping some good will come from it?” There was a moment during our service this past Sunday that still is bothering me – where I really felt like someone just needed to know that they were loved. I tried to convey that during the service but then the train just kept on running and I wonder if we missed it.
Thanks for this article. I need to get this book and read it. As our church prepares for the coming of a new pastor and beginning a 10 day revival in a few weeks this is a timely article for me. Thanks again for sharing this book and your thoughts.
Bob, Thanks, I needed that. This article was just in time and served as a confirmation to thoughts I’ve been having. As a pastor leading our church in transformation, I have been thinking about change and how to get God back in the church. I have this vision of God standing at the window knocking, but we will not let him in. We need God to come into our normal lives and do something extraordinary. We need a revival. Thanks for sharing, and this book is a must read for me.
Bob, thank you, thank you, thank you for stirring my heart with these quotes. Your timing is amazing. Hallelujah!
I’d like to thank you for sharing your heart so openly on your blog. I am frequently challenged and inspired by your thoughts!
A question from this post sparked a few more questions:
“Are we dependent on technology, manipulation, creativity, or our own giftings to effect change in people? ”
I have a pretty good idea of what dependence on these things would look like, but my question is:
Where do you believe the balance to be of God using the development of these elements in us as the instruments of His effective change and our holding them loosely and humbly??
Bob, This was sent to me by a good ycliffe Missionary friend, and I am indeed grateful This cry for revival to the church has been in my heart since Bible College days in the late 1950’s. I was most blessed to be a part of a legitimate spontaneous revival there, and have seen similar mini-revivals (if it be proper to call them that) in my ministry from time to time since. I am thoroughly convinced that we need more of this and stronger emphasis on the need for this throughout the church. Too much of the energy, weak though it is, has been directed toward social issues and activism and far too little toward the spiritual reviving of the Body of Christ! Please keep this coming, and may more and more people access this and be motivated by the Spirit to seek true revival with their whole heart!
I just discovered this blog post, and it is a timeless message and great set of questions for us to ask ourselves. Thank you very much for posting…I will have to get the book, read, and apply it. Based upon your commentary, it seems to dovetail nicely into the concepts we’ve been applying from Simple Church (by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger) – primarily that we don’t give enough room for the Holy Spirit to operate because we have too many programs, activities, and busyness which detract from our primary mission to connect people to Jesus, grow them as disciples, and enable them to serve Him with their lives.
Monte, you’re welcome! Glad the post served you!