I’ve just been listening (repeadtedly) to a great sermon by my good buddy Jonathan Martin, pastor of Renovatus in Charlotte NC. In it, he talks about ‘Drinking the Cup’; meaning surrendering to God’s will, even if it’s very bitter, regardless of whether or not it brings any reward. It’s not sexy. It’s not flashy and it’s certainly not easy, but it might just be the most important thing we’ll do with our lives. It’s a sort of antithesis of the Prosperity gospel, if you like.
He talks really honestly about our collective (and personal) addictions to performance, affirmation and entertainment. Of how we chase the dragon of spiritual highs, where really what we badly need is to be obedient in the small things.
The message was apparently borne “out of many questions that have been raised to me in recent weeks about different contemporary incarnations of “revival.” I tried to be honest, delicate, but candid”. I believe he suceeded on all three counts. The message got me thinking quite a bit about the whole nature of Revival.
Revival is something that I have heard talked about all my life. Between 1949 and 1952 my home island, the Isle of Lewis, witnessed an incredible and powerful move of God which swept through whole communities, particularly in the parish of Barvas, and transformed the entire spiritual outlook of a generation of islanders. It was not planned. It was not timetabled. It was not streamed over the internet or TV. It was just a spontaneous move of God which brought people to their knees, sometimes literally in the fields at work. Whole villages who had virtually no christians living in them spontaneously arrived at church buildings for meeting which were not even scheduled to occur. When I think of revival, this is what I think of. A tangible change in the spiritual temperature of a whole community on a big scale and not done to human timetabling. God starts it, God keeps it going, God ends it and the centre of the whole thing is Christ and people’s relationship with him.
That’s why I find it rather strange to hear, particularly from the States, “Such & such a preacher will be having a “Revival” at such and such a place… etc”. The use of the term “Revival” seems to have been hijacked and cheapened a little and has come to mean merely, “A Big Conference”. Maybe I’m wrong, but to my mind Revival is always something bigger than that. I think of the kind of thing that’s happening in China and Korea, where thousands of people are coming to Christ daily, rather than a planned local outreach campaign.
I’m not criticising specifically. It’s always a very dangerous thing to declare that something is or is not of God. I saw things with my own reformed evangelical hebridean calvinist eyes that have put me now in the camp of “Charismatic with a Seatbelt” (to quote Mark Driscoll); stuff that I’d always previously poo-poohed. People did the same with the ’49 Revival in Lewis. In fact it was actively preached against from certain well-meaning pulpits. What I AM saying is that sometimes I will watch Christian TV or hear of amazing things going on in various places around the world and I find my skepticism alarm beeping, particularly if the shadow of consumerism looms over things.
Am I just being cautious? Am I being overly skeptical? Am I doubting the power of God the Holy Spirit? Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve been checking out some footage from the current hot-potato of Christian TV, the Lakeland Revival in Florida, where Todd Bentley is preaching. I have very good friends who’ve actually been over there to see what’s been happening and told me of amazing things. And me? I have no idea what to do with it. I believe God can heal. I’ve seen it. I believe God can give incredible insight into specifics of a person’s life. I’ve seen it. It’s just that when something gets talked about to the degree that the likes of Florida has, and gets fired all over the “Christian Media”, I suppose I’m the kind of person who has to “put my fingers in the holes”, I guess. I’m not condemning or accepting. I just don’t know.
The loud and the flashy and the miraculous can be such a distraction to us. It can very easily entertain us out of maintaining the integrity of our walk with God, and by ‘Entertainment’, I mean “To keep something in between”. In other words, putting stuff between ourselves and reality, or ourselves and God. Even if it’s good stuff. This again is not a criticism of Bentley and others like him. I’ve seen just as much christian entertainment in traditional Scottish Presbyterian churches, although it’s of a very different nature. There are times to be loud and times to be still. There are times of Revival and fallow times. Whatever our denomination or our theological bent, we (and I) must be careful that we don’t fill our lives with so much spiritual “Munro-Bagging” that we lose sight of Jesus in it all. And of course, don’t forget that although it’s great that God is doing something THERE, shouldn’t we pray all the more that he would change lives HERE? Otherwise we’re like a Fireman watching ‘Ladder 49’ while his town burns to the ground.
I suppose what I’m saying is, as long as Jesus is being held up and glorified, as long as the focus is on him, it doesn’t matter whether we are in a spiritual high or a spiritual low. It’s not sexy, but we just need to keep ‘drinking the cup’.
Come and get some…