- Ezekiel 37:1-14
- Zachariah 8:14-23
It’s that time of the year: colds, flue, coughs, muscle pains and pains in the joints. Winter time surely has its rewards. In most cases our bodies do not have the resistance to these ailments. We take vitamin tablets, we need antibiotics to help fight our systems against the bugs attacking us.
On the spiritual side of things our enemy seems to more active now than ever before. We are bombarded by those who attack the God-ordained institution of marriage. The privilege of Scripture classes in schools is under attack. In the name of political correctness Christians are not allowed to say anything Christ and the Bible in their workplace. Tolerance only applies when you believe in nothing; when you are are Christian you’re free game. This is persecution, but only in its early stage. Hundreds of thousands of Christians suffer under brutal Islamic regimes.
The Church of the Lord Jesus finds itself in a spiritual winter: we are being attacked from all sides; but the most dreadful truth about it is that we are spiritually sick – we are not in a state that we can effectively stand against the attacks.
The British paper, The Spectator, published an article this week, predicting the death of the Church of England by 2067. Between 2001 and 2011 the number of children born into Christian homes in Britain fell by 5.3 million — about 10,000 a week. The paper makes this comment:
We often hear complaints about ‘militant secularism’ and religion’s ‘exclusion from the public sphere’. Many Christians seem to believe that the only thing stopping people of faith sharing the ‘richness’ of their traditions is a conspiracy organised by Polly Toynbee, Richard Dawkins and the BBC.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the USA has lost about 800,000 members since 2003, when membership peaked at about 16.3 million.
Our biggest enemy is not outside of us, its within. We’ve tried everything to draw the masses in, and apart from pockets in the world where thousands are still saved on a regular basis, the West has lost ground. Why? Worldliness is one reason; but prayerlessness in submitting to the will of God has to take the blame.
With all my heart I believe what Jesus Christ said in his last address to his church:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20, NIV)
A short history lesson
There were glory days in Scotland after the Reformation led by John Knox. That was around the 1560’s. A century later the Covenanters protested against a watered down Gospel in Presbyterian churches, and many died at the stake or otherwise, unwavering in their faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But towards the end of the 17th century some children of the Reformation became wary of the battle and started to slip away from the true Gospel of Christ. Bible teaching no longer constituted the fabric of the people, but became one of many diverse opinions. The age of secular pre-eminence was dawning. Old established beliefs, hallowed by tradition, were no longer sacrosanct. Young people met together in clubs and there they pulled to pieces the manners of those that differed from them. At a stage there were seventy-two meetings for prayer in Glasgow, which shrunk to five. The young ministers and students of divinity were falling in with the English fashionable way of preaching and love to call grace virtue. The new teaching took full advantage of ignorance but had little sense of sin.
But there will always be a remnant of believers in the Church of Christ. Around 1730 true Christians saw “the valley of bones” around them and gathered themselves in prayer groups, which they called prayer societies. They found themselves in a spiritual winter and lamented the spiritual deadness in the the church.
During this time a certain Rev William McCulloch was called to the little village of Cambuslang, somewhat to the south east of Aberdeen. The spirit between ministers in his presbytery reflected what was going on in about all of the church: there was strife, tension, harmful paranoia, suspicion and mistrust between members of the court. In this time McCulloch went to see a colleague, who wrote about that meeting:
… [McCulloch] knew he was not called of God, and who was nothing but a hollow hypocrite, to demit his Ministry, and give way to another, who might be useful? He opened his mind very fully to me. The main problem was that since his ordination, he has been preaching on Conversion, and the nature of it and now he thinks he is perfectly a stranger to this great work’
How many times a find myself in that boat! You just want to give up and walk away. There is worship, yes; there are Bible studies, yes; there some who attend prayer meetings, yes; we pray for something more, but it just doesn’t happen. Why?
Then, prayer meetings became a movement. Members of Cambuslang and other churches pleaded incessantly for the outpouring of the Spirit of God to revive his Church. All along McCulloch resisted emotion and sensationalism, teaching his congregation to maintain decency in all matters, especially within the church. God used the prayers of his people.
As the fervour of the congregation rose, so too did the fervour of McCulloch’s preaching, until on Sunday February 14, 1742 a woman came under extreme conviction in the morning meeting. She was carried to the manse and there McCulloch answered her anguished cries of despair with promises from the Bible. McCulloch kept the event as orderly as possible by having those gathered sing psalms from time to time to settle the atmosphere. At the end the woman came to a glorious conviction of salvation.
On the 18th of February 1743 fifty came together to the manse, under convictions and alarming stirring by the Spirit about the state of their souls. This went on for twelve weeks and eventually spread to other towns, and England.
That woman’s conversion popped the cork on the revival that had been brewing for many months and which had been bathed in earnest prayer. Word spread like wild-fire and crowds were drawn from far and wide.
In August of that year at a special celebration of the Lord’s Supper, ministers were called in to meet the needs of the ever growing crowds. Tents were erected near a spacious natural amphitheatre close to the church, as well as in the church yard and a nearby field.
It was estimated that not less than 30,000 people attended on that occasion. Four ministers preached on the Friday, four on Saturday, fourteen or fifteen on Sunday, and five on Monday. There were 25 communion tables, 120 at each, in all 3,000 communicants. Many of these came from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and other towns, even some from England and Ireland. God stirred his work in America through the ministry of George Whitfield and carried forward by Jonathan Edwards.
How did this happen? Surely it was the work of God through his Spirit, but God used the prayer of small numbers of people who constantly and earnestly prayed the He would restored his church to spiritual health.
The prayer groups formed through Scotland, Northern Ireland and the United States were called Prayer Concerts. Regularly, on certain days of the week, small groups of people united in prayer, and prayed for the Spirit of God to revive his church.
The pattern, even before and during other revivals was just the same: God answered the prayers of devoted Christians for the Spirit to give new life to his church. This happened in Wales after Rees Howells became an intercessor for his people and others joined him. In 1860 a Spirit-driven revival hit South Africa and thousands upon thousands came to the Lord.
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’ ” (Zechariah 8:20–23, NIV)
God’s plan for this word yet to be completed
The Bible proclaims glorious things about the growth of his church have never yet been fulfilled. There has never yet been any spread and pervasiveness of the Gospel to the extent and universality which the prophecies represent. Let’s look at some verses:
God’s promise to Abraham, and through him to Jesus Christ:
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3, NIV)
About the Messiah King:
May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him. May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed. (Psalm 72:11, 17, NIV)
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. (Isaiah 2:2, NIV)
At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honour the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. (Jeremiah 3:17, NIV)
From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:23, NIV)
By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. (Isaiah 45:23, NIV)
“…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. “The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” (Daniel 2:44–45, NIV)
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14, NIV)
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10–11, NIV)
Jonathan Edwards writes:
It is natural and reasonable to suppose, that the whole world should finally be given to Christ, as one whose right it is to reign, as the proper heir of him who is originally the King of all nations, and the possessor of heaven and earth.
How will this happen?
Our Lord knew what He said will happen. It is possible because He will make his enemy his footstool. But He also taught his church to pray:
Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.
Surrendering our will, confessing our sins to Him, putting his Kingdom first, lifting up his Name – this is where it starts. The disciples waiting upon the outpouring of the Holy Spirit were praying; when they were persecuted, they were praying; when they faced problems, they were praying; when facing a new task, they were praying.
We can plan and scheme as we like, but without praying we will go nowhere. Allan Webb, a former National Director of OMF Australia said,
“We can do more than pray after we have prayed, but we cannot do more than pray until we have prayed.”
Are we praying?
I want to suggest that we submit to the Lord in prayer. Small groups, regularly, earnestly, purposefully. Think about what family you will team up to pray regularly with. Make it a standing item on your agenda. If you like I will work on prayer points and have it published on the pew sheets.
It will be a concert of prayer – to the glory of God.
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us. Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us. Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself. Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish. Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:1-19, NIV)
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 June 2015