What are our greatest needs as a church? Amid the busy-ness of life, it is easy to lose track of our great priorities. The beginning of a year is a good time to stand back, take stock, and renew our vision. Perhaps it would be helpful for you to sit down with pen, paper and an open Bible and ask yourself “What do I want most for the church in the year 2003? What are the things for which I should be praying daily?”.
Here’s my list of the six big things I find myself praying for most often.
1. That we’ll have the felt presence of God in our meetings. There are times when God’s Spirit descends upon a meeting – and everybody knows God is present. The unseen world becomes terribly, wonderfully close. At those times, the preaching is transformed. The preacher speaks with a boldness and an authority that is obviously supernatural. Hearers forget the preacher and hear only the voice of God speaking to their hearts. Familiar truths become real as they are preached. Those who listen tremble at the thought of God; they shake with fear as they are made aware of their sins, they are overwhelmed with wonder as they hear about the cross of the Lord Jesus, they are filled with a joy that can’t be put into words as they are reminded of heaven to come. The singing is transformed. People sing as they’ve never sung before, realising how wonderful the words are that they’re singing – and conscious that God is listening. The praying is transformed. God’s people pray with confidence, earnestness and with the wrestling spirit which says ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’.
All of us, I hope, can remember meetings when we’ve had a taste of that. But I want all our meetings to be like that. I want to know that God is among his people whenever they meet.
2. That we’ll see people of every sort, from every background, converted. I long to see real conversions – powerful, unmistakable conversions. I long to see people terrified at the thought of the wrong they’ve done to God, calling out ‘what must I do to be saved?’ I long to see them drawn to Christ, thrilled with him, overwhelmed by his willingness to save sinners. I long to see them breaking with the old life completely, turning their back on the world, being baptised, giving themselves in consistent obedience to Christ.
And I want to see this happening with people of all sorts. One of the great proofs that the gospel is true is the fact that it has power to reach the hearts of every sort of sinner. I want to see young children saved – and elderly folk in nursing-homes. I want to see bright young students saved – and illiterate tramps who sit on the pavement with their ‘Homeless and Hungry’ signs. I want to see God’s saving power working among wealthy business-people, among Albanian asylum-seekers, among delinquent youngsters off the street-corner.
Most of the folk added to our membership in recent years have been ‘university types’, scientists, musicians, computer experts.. It’s grand to have them – but where are the brick-layers, the window-cleaners, the taxi-drivers – and the unemployed? Without that mix of people, the church will become unbalanced. I’m praying that we’ll see many such folk turning to the Lord in 2003.
3. That divided families will be united. We want folk of every sort to be converted. But of course, we have a special concern for the unsaved members of our own families. I want to see the Holy Spirit coming upon very young children from church-families, as well as on our unsaved teenagers. I want those who grew up in the church but long ago turned away to be brought back, repentant. I want to see unsaved husbands turning to the Lord Jesus and becoming the spiritual leaders in their own homes. (We’ve prayed for some of those men for twenty years or more). We’re warned in the Bible that the gospel will often divide a home (eg Luke 12:51-53). We’ve seen this happen many times. But the Bible also gives us examples of whole families being converted together (eg Acts 16:33-34). I don’t think we’ve ever seen that happen. Perhaps we will in 2003.
4. That every member of the church will be filled with the Holy Spirit. I am not talking about one great crisis experience. I am saying that every one of us ought to be brim-full of the life of God every moment.
If we were filled with the Spirit, we would have a great sense of the love of God towards us. We would be able to say, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). And we on our side would love the Saviour with a warm, steady love. We would long for the day when he comes again. We would want to serve him with all our strength.
If we were filled with the Spirit, we would love one another more warmly, more affectionately and more practically. We would pray for one another more consistently. And we would commit ourselves to the life of the church more thoroughly. We would be eager to be with our fellow-believers, listening to God’s Word, so we would do everything in our power to be at the meetings. We would look forward all week to being at the Lord’s Supper and feeding on Christ there.
If we were filled with the Spirit, we’d be very careful to avoid anything sinful or even dubious. We’d turn away from worldly entertainments and distractions. In every situation our first question would be ‘How can I honour God’ not ‘What do I want to do?’. We’d deal with our problems – especially our disagreements with other church-members – in a biblical way. We’d never let dislikes or grudges fester in our hearts. We’d learn to say sorry. We’d learn to be straight with people. We’d learn to talk to people who offend us, not talk about them behind their backs.
The Lord Jesus has promised that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:!3). Is it too much to ask that the whole church should be filled with the Spirit?
5. That people who have left us in the past will be restored. Too many people have left us over the years, bitter and angry. In some cases, they left under discipline. The church judged that they had acted sinfully; they refused to repent, and they departed. Others left because they were offended by a word or reproof or warning. Others because they had fallen out with another member or with the leaders of the church. Yet others left for reasons which they have never been able to explain – they can only say that they were unhappy.
I must admit that I don’t feel the same way about all these different folk. Some of them were with us only a short time: they had moved from one church to another to another, not staying with any church more than two or three years. They were only passers-through. But some were converted here among us – they have a special place in our affection. We still feel them to be part of the family. Without them we are not complete. In some cases, relationships have been rebuilt over the years. But with others there is still awkwardness. They can’t look us in the eye or shake our hands.
I don’t pretend to understand all these situations. But I know it shouldn’t be like this. So I’m praying that in 2003, God will bring back to us those people whom he views as being absent members of the church-family here. I’m praying that where wrong has been done, there will be repentance and restitution. I’m praying that where relationships have been soured, they will be healed. The Lord Jesus prays that “all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” Will the Lord Jesus have the joy of seeing answers to his prayers in 2003?
6. That the Lord will build a team of godly leaders for the church. I can’t get out of my head the picture we have in Acts 13:1-3. In those verses we see the leaders of the church in Antioch, “worshipping the Lord and fasting together”. It was to those leaders that the Lord revealed his will for the church. That is how a church should be led – by a team of godly men willing to give themselves together to prayer, fasting and the work of shepherding the church.