The sea turtle. “I am amazed at how much I have been received and I am, at the same time, amazed at how much I lack.”
We have spent this whole year focussing on the Holy Spirit, working our way through Jim Cymbala’s book “Spirit Rising” and learning how to wait on and move in the Spirit. We’ve looked at fullness, gifts of the Spirit, The Spirit in the Word, the Spirit in prayer and so on. Today is a conclusion of sorts but not really because we never really conclude our understanding of the Spirit or our work in the Spirit.
So the big question for this morning is in the title of the sermon: “Where Do We Go From Here?” in the Spirit. I spent time in prayer this week asking God this question – Where to now? – and I heard God speak into my heart. He said, “Wrong question!”
The question is not (yet) ‘Where to now?’ but rather ‘What has been going on recently?’
I look at the life of our church over the last six months and I see more new people coming in, the women’s group start up, a PDL study group with a second in the works right now, the youth group move to Friday night and already seeing more new people coming in there, the Church Lite services start with, again, new people coming in there. In many ways these are humble beginnings but unmistakably, this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
So, what’s been going on recently in our church? The Holy Spirit has been moving!
This is not simply about busying ourselves with “church activities”. It’s a matter of
discipling (small groups) and
growing to maturity.
It’s the unifying of current members and the building of faith.
Over the last few months I was hospitalised and diagnosed with lymphoma. The church rallied and came before God with prayer and fasting and covered me with love. The cancer has been removed and shows no signs of coming back. Last Friday my follow up CT scan came back completely clear. The Holy Spirit has been moving through the prayers of the church.
In other prayers we’ve seen healing, deliverance, the breaking of sin habits, guidance given and more.
The Holy Spirit has been moving. Sometimes we’re so close to the changes it’s hard to see the growth (like a child measuring herself everyday) so we need to step back a bit and see things as a bigger picture. And when we do, we see that the Holy Spirit has been moving in our church.
It’s important that we recognise this and celebrate it.
There was a very significant incident that happened in the early church. When the church at Antioch was meeting together (Acts 13), they were worshipping and fasting in the Lord and at that time the Holy Spirit spoke (we don’t know the mechanics of it) and told them to set aside Paul and Barnabas for missionary work. This Holy Spirit directive and the ensuing work of the Spirit would change the course of history.
There’s a valuable lesson here for us. We’re not all Pauls and Barnabas’s but when we seek and follow the Holy Spirit, He will call and lead and equip us for the work He has prepared for us to do.
“When God’s Spirit moves, a continual process of setting believers apart and sending them out to work for Christ is set in motion.” Cymbala p180
This is what we have begun to see in our church.
This is by no means just a ‘group formation’ thing. It can just as easily be a spontaneous action involving just one or two members. We’ve seen this just this week with Michael’s support of Nobuo-san.
Everyone plays a role. Every person is needed for the life of the church to function as it should. Regardless of training, experience, age, gender, nationality or personality, when God calls, He equips.
“When the Spirit is moving and we yield to His influences, life becomes both exciting and filled with challenges only God can meet. No-one is left to be merely a spectator.” p180 (My italics)
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 1 Cor 1:26-29
This is all a work of the Holy Spirit.
In following the Holy Spirit, we must remember that human plans must yield to God’s plans.
We can and should use common sense. But what seems like common sense – or the obvious way of doing things – must yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
– Phillip going to the chariot and just waiting there.
– Paul preaching to the gentiles
– Peter preaching to the Jews
These were God’s plans and they changed the world.
Remember the sea turtle – wonderfully blessed but at the same time still lacking?
We’ve reviewed our blessings. Now, what’s lacking? Where to now?
We’re about to head into the Christmas/Advent season but what happens through that season and where do we go after it next year?
We need to keep an eye on the promises that have not yet been received.
We ought to be amazed at the things God has been doing and the blessings we have received but we should also, at the same time, be amazed at what we still lack.
How do we get what we lack in the Spirit?
Many years ago in this church we had a visiting scholar join us for a few months. On his last Sunday he stood up in front of us and said that ‘No-one here was particularly talented of gifted’. It was at that point that I realised that I had pride because I silently took offense at that. But he continued. ‘So we all need to keep our eyes focussed on Jesus.’
It’s a timeless truth.
There is, in fact, a desperate, urgent calling on for us.
In the OT desert wanderings, the Israelites were led by a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. It was the very presence of God leading them.
When did it stop? (We don’t know.)
Did the people notice?
Did they care?
Did they notice or care that God was no longer leading them?
Would we notice if the Holy Spirit stopped showing up? If the presence of God was no longer here and we just continued out of routine, how soon would we realise that God was no longer here? And what does that say about the life of our church (or any church)?
Conversely, would we notice if the Holy Spirit moved in a fresh way?
Perhaps the Israelites became comfortable with their way of life in the desert. It became their norm. So they slowly forgot about God.
Does/Could that happen today, too?
“When we consider the movement of the Spirit and the great work accomplished for Christ in the early church and compare it to our lives and congregations today, it’s hard not to wonder what happened. Why have we settled for an anemic Christian living and lifeless church routines when the living Spirit of God is available for the asking?” Cymbala p191
I don’t think this is an accurate reflection of our church but let this be both a warning and an encouragement to us.
“Desperate prayer has marked every spiritual revival God ever granted. Believers sense their loss and can’t settle any longer for merely going to church. They must have God himself filling their lives.” p192
Moses refused to go to Canaan unless God’s Presence went with them. We should have the same mind in coming to church!
In this way, the goal of the early church – which should be ours, too – was to have people visit the church and leave at the end saying “God is really among you”.
What can we do to allow God to move more freely amongst us?
To enable the presence of God to fill our lives and our church, these things are to be done:
– Confession and repentance. True repentance will turn us away from ‘self’ and toward God.
– Fellowship with God through prayer and serious study of the Word
– Patient waiting on the Holy Spirit
We’re already doing this. But there is a desperate call for us to do to it with greater faithfulness, greater patience, greater discipline, greater joy.
“When the Spirit works through surrendered, faith-filled people like you and me, Christ will be glorified. The church will be built up. The Word of God will be honoured. The Kingdom of God will be extended.” p194