Sunday 12th May 2019
I would like a show of hands please – who here would like to see the congregation grow? Over the past few months we have been looking at what it is to be a disciple of Jesus and why we should be making more disciples. We have used this picture as a reference:
I hope that those of you who are here regularly have this fixed in your mind because it is so important. All of us need to be trying to encourage people to move towards maturity in Christ. It is possible for someone to go from far from God to new Christian – many people have done that over the years: Paul. It is not possible to go straight from far from God to maturity, or even new Christian straight to maturity. Maturity takes time – but often not as long as we think it does!
So, how are we going to grow the congregation? What are you doing to bring people to faith?
As we have worked through this series on Sunday we have also been doing some extra bits at Growing with God groups. And I have felt particularly challenged about prayer. Some of you will know that I was at a course on praying in a Korean style. We had our 24/7 prayer room and I felt challenged to pray each day between Easter and Pentecost – so I’m in the room behind us from 6.30-7.30 Mon-Sat and 9.00-10 Sun. People have joined me most days and I really appreciate that effort. Something was bothering me though, and I couldn’t really work out what it was. It felt like something was missing. I was being really challenged about my practice and depth of prayer.
As you heard, some of us were at the Alpha Leadership Conference and on Tuesday afternoon Jon Tyson, an Australian who leads a church in New York, took a session on Spiritual Awakening, using the verse we read today. Something in it clicked with me – and with many others who were there.
Sow righteousness for yourselves,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unploughed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
and showers his righteousness on you.
First though we need to think about what spiritual awakening is. I think it is one of the largest movements of God’s kingdom. When we experience God we normally start with regeneration. This is where Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins and we draw close to God in faith, becoming new creations in Christ. This is death to life stuff. It is followed by a period of restoration where God begins to work through your past, bringing back things that were lost because of sin. This should lead to reformation. This is when we become aware that we need to become more like Jesus, reading and praying together, building each other up. These three are primarily personal.
If enough people get involved it sometimes leads to renewal in a congregation or a place – this cannot be manufactured, it comes from God, by his Spirit. There is an energy, vibrancy and sense of expectation among God’s people. Spiritual gifts begin to be exercised and there is a sense of expectation as people meet together. This occasionally leads to revivalwhich the theologian Jonathan Edwards describes as ‘the acceleration of the normal work of the spirit’. In revival the number of people that come to faith in twenty years come in a few months. Everything gets speeded up, spiritual gifts are more obvious and God’s kingdom is very apparent. But it is mainly in the church, for the church. These are essentially corporate. Someone once asked the evangelist Billy Sunday whether his revivals lasted. He replied, “No, neither does a bath. But it’s good to have one occasionally.” It’s good to ask God to revive us again and again. I know that I need constant revival. You do, too. We all do.
Think Lewis revival. It started with prayer – fervent persevering prayer. Christians were revived first but it very quickly spread from Barvas. People walking or driving past the church were convicted of sin. Some turned up at the local police station because they didn’t know where else to go – the normal work of God speeded up!
Spiritual awakening is when God transforms the culture of a region or country. When the Wesleys were not allowed to preach in churches they preached in the open air. God used them powerfully
Hosea sounds an alarm to the people of God. There is unfaithfulness and God calls them back. They have turned from him to worship idols and they have made treaties with neighbouring countries to try to protect themselves, rather than relying on God. Hosea tells them that even now, if they would turn to him, God would forgive them and restore them. I believe that’s also a message to the church in Scotland, and to us. In these last years we have seen people being restored and reformed. People are growing faith and we should not forget that – but there is more with God.
Break, sow and seek
Break– break up your unploughed ground. If you leave ground unworked for too long it becomes hard and unproductive. Jeremiah 4:3The Lord is saying to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Plow up the hardness of your hearts; otherwise the good seed will be wasted among the thorns.
If there are areas in your heart that have become hard you need to break it up.
Break up complacency with discontent – discontent for change which will make things better. Don’t manage discontent – it’s bound to get better! This is what we do in church – we’re not happy with it but we’d rather manage than change.
There is ‘godly discontent’. Nehemiah became discontent with the situation in Jerusalem. People had known for years that the work wasn’t being finished, but it took discontent within Nehemiah to change things. That discontent came from God and when Nehemiah responded to it God used him to restore the walls of Jerusalem.
Are we content to see our family members, friends and neighbours die without God? Are we content to sit by and ignore the fact that there are more slaves in the world today than at any time in history? What does God want you to be discontent about?
Break up cynicism with hope. People don’t know about God so they are without hope. How do we pass on hope? Live it out. Live with hope in our hearts. Renew the fame and deeds of God in our time.
Break up fear with faith. Have you got into the habit of saying, “I can’t….” You’re frightened of what people might say or think about you. You worry what someone might say if you invite them to church or talk about Jesus. Joshua – be strong and courageous!
Sow. What are we currently reaping? There is way to do ministry that removes all power from the cross 1 Corinthians1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
the Corinthians thought that Paul’s teaching was of no value – the problem was they wanted entertainment and pleasant words. Paul was too challenging! I wonder what it is in our day?
We are reaping a wider sense of decline, of loss of people and lack of money. There is also that Scottish thing of, “I’m not good enough.”
In this place I see something positive. I see good fruit being produced because there are people here who have sown good seed into their lives. People who have listened to God, have read his word and have grown in faith.
If you want a different harvest you need to sow a different seed.
Sow repentance! Moses stole God’s glory when he struck the rock and claimed credit for producing water – we can miss out on the blessing God has for us
Sow resistance to evil.
Seek God. Ask for the burdenof intercession. Paul was irritated when he saw the idols in Athens. Moses fell on his face pleading for Lot, Abraham prayed for the people of Israel, Hannah prayed desperately for a child, Elijah prayed that it would not rain and that it would rain, he called out to God for the widow’s son, Daniel prayed with the lions, Anna and Simeon prayed that they would see the saviour, Jesus prayed habitually and in the garden of Gethsemane prayed in anguish, etc etc.
Ask for a release of Holy Spirit. The timing of the clock is vital to how we play the game! This is the hour for the Western church.
Reap the fruit of unfailing love.
3 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.
2 Lord, I have heard of your fame;I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.Repeat them in our day,in our time make them known;in wrath remember mercy.