Several years ago a movie was made named Evan Almighty. It was actually a pretty decent movie with a powerful message of obedience to God regardless of how the world reacts. There is one exchange in this movie in particular that I think speaks fairly strongly to our current cultural environment. In the exchange we find the wife of our modern day Noah, speaking to God (though she thinks he is simply a waiter) about how she should handle the situation. His response to the situation;
Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?
In one of the rare cases where Hollywood gets something right a truth is revealed that we all know deep down to be true. God rarely zaps our prayers into existence, but uses the environment around us to grow and shape us. When we pray, God directs, but it is rarely as we expect it to be.
Over the course of the past decade I have prayed alongside thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ across this nation for revival. It has become clear to all that the American church is in deep need of a fresh fire that can only be brought about by a movement of God.
Attendance is down, professions of faith are down, baptisms are down, and many churches are closing their doors for good. Of those who remain open there are large numbers of churches who clearly have lost their first love. I have even begun to call some ecclesiastical gatherings, because the resemblance to what the church of Christ should look like is almost nonexistent. To say the American church appears to be in trouble could be looked on by many as a vast understatement.
Many of us have been grieved, and we have cried out to God to move in the hearts of the church.
This past week many in religious circles cried out in fresh anguish following the ruling from the Supreme Court in regards to same-sex marriage. With the legalization of same-sex marriages now in all 50 states many see the very real possibility that the attack on the church in America will become much greater, and life as Christians may no longer be as easy as it once was.
Churches are going to have a harder time keeping their building doors open. Following Christ in America is going to begin to cost a great deal more than it once did. It appears life as a Christian is about to get harder in the United States.
Perhaps this, though, is an answer to a prayer that we have had for a long time. Perhaps instead of seeing this as another nail in the coffin of the church we should instead see that God is working around us for revival in the church.
Think back to our Hollywood God with the great words of wisdom. How does God answer prayer, by zapping things into existence, or by opening up situations where the answer can be developed?
Tertullian once said that ‘The blood of the martyr is the seed of the church’. While looking into the environment he lived in he realized that the church is never healthier than it is when it is being squeezed by the culture in which it lives in. As we look across the global landscape of Christianity today we see the truth in that statement. In the places on Earth where persecution is the greatest, and the cost to be a disciple of Christ is the highest, the church is the healthiest. In fact, in some of the places where following Christ could cost you your life the church is thriving.
In America, where the church has been looked upon with favor for hundreds of years, the situation is much different. Where Christianity comes with no cost, and favor has even been granted for those who hold to our world views the church appears to be dying.
In America all 4 soils exist as described in Matthew 13, but we have few sources of heat to scorch and few thorns to choke out. The church appears to have experienced great growth over the years, but how much of it was from the good soil, yielding crops?
Many times our churches have been filled with unfruitful, bad soil, “Christians”.
Imagine a farm where most of the field yields no crop. That is our current environment, and the reason for our years of prayer for revival.
Perhaps God is answering our prayer for revival.
Perhaps God is allowing the church to enter into a season where the trappings of acceptance will no longer hinder the movement of the Gospel message. Perhaps God is allowing the church of America to begin to experience for the first time what it means to count the costs.
Many have argued over the years that our church rolls include a large number of unregenerate souls. The events over the past couple of years, and the events that most of us can see coming in the future will work to change that. No longer will the church be a place of social gathering, or an entertainment on Sunday morning. The church will be gathering together in the midst of the storm crying out in worship to the only One that can take them safely to the other side.
The church will be filled with people who have counted the costs and have determined that Christ is worth losing everything for.
It will be filled with people on mission for God knowing that everything they do is for His glory, because the rewards will be fewer on this side.
Imagine a church like that.
As I see those around me weep because of the state of the land in which we live in, I have to admit that I am quietly celebrating. I am quietly counting it a joy to live in the time in which I live.
God is going to do great things in this land. I believe with every fiber of my being that the revival that we have so desperately been praying for is about ready to begin. I believe that we will have the privilege to see acts of God in this land unlike anything that we would have ever have been able to see just 100 years ago.
It may look much different than anything we thought we were praying for, though. The American church may no longer look as it does today, and the rolls may reflect the pilgrimage away from the church of many who are finally forced to count the cost of following Christ, but the church will be heathier for it.
Revival may not mean greater numbers, but a greater depth from those who are in fellowship. It may not mean more churches, but more effective churches. It may not mean bigger budgets, but more souls coming to Christ.
I am reminded of the old adage, be careful what you pray for. God just might answer.
So what are we to do? The same thing the church has always done in times of trouble, lean on God for everything we have, buckle down, and get to work reaching the World with the Gospel message.