The previous generation sometimes talks about “the good old days” as if everything was perfect back then and totally unacceptable now. I’ve never done that. Perhaps it is my tendency to remember the negative of life, but I remember those “good old days” had their share of misery and trials.
The writer of these devotionals on the church looks at the early church and compares today’s church in an unfavorable light. In trying to be more objective, I notice church problems too, yet no matter the era, the church is filled with people who are battling sin, and that means people with problems. Besides, the Bible says Jesus is building His church; I hesitate to be critical of what He is doing.
Yet the writer does have a point. Many of today’s congregations seem to be asleep, oblivious, stuck in their ways, disunited, weak, declining, and a host of other negative descriptions. We are supposed to be united as members of God’s family, standing strongly on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself being our cornerstone. In Him, the whole church is supposed to be joined together and becoming a holy place in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19–21)
I’m blessed to be in a local church that is alive and well, but not all of them are like that. In fact, in North America at the least, nonbelievers have lost respect for the church, or at least for what they call “organized religion.” They say, “God is dead” and the same thing about His church.
Individual spiritual lives are like that too. We begin our journey with God filled with vibrancy and excited hope. As we draw closer to Christ, we begin to be more aware of our sin, sin we never noticed before. Then the battle with it begins. For many, we become discouraged with ourselves, even with God and with other Christians. With this happening to individual members, little wonder it also happens to congregations.
Also, the Bible says we are saved by grace through faith, and that we are also to walk by faith, trusting Christ for everything. However, the human default is trusting in ourselves. If I do that, not only do I make an idol out of me, I become proud when I succeed and discouraged when I fail. My eyes are off Christ and on my performance. I compare myself with others to measure how I’m doing, am threatened by those “more spiritual.” This adds to that downward spiral. Without diligence in spiritual disciplines and the power of the Holy Spirit, I will hit a low spot and am apt to take other Christians with me.
All this is the reason for the exhortations in the New Testament. God uses strong language to tell His people what they must do, such as, “Prepare your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13–16)
Yet Christians fail. We could say “The devil made me do it.” We could speak about our weakness and gullibility. We could even excuse ourselves with “Life is too hard” or “I am just so busy making a living.” Excuses don’t cut it, so what is the remedy?
David knew. He was a good king, a “man after God’s own heart,” but he fell into sin. He didn’t make excuses, but confessed his sin (read the whole psalm). Then he asked God to fix it, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” (Psalm 51:10–15)
Notice that David knew the result of God’s cleansing power. He would be restored to joy, teaching sinners about God and praising Him —activities of a healthy spiritual person and a healthy spiritual church.
Churches who have stumbled into a slump need to confess as David did. We need to say to God, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:4–6)
The Lord is faithful. He says, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Renewal or revival is an intensified version of the normal work done by the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people. Through the years, the church’s effectiveness has gone up and down, down through unconfessed sin, but up through personal and corporate revival. It is always the right time for another one.