19 April 2007

Yearning for Revival

Do You Believe This?

Informed of His friend Lazarus’ illness, Jesus declared, “This sickness is not to end in death,” and decided to remain where he was staying for a couple more days. Though His remarks and behaviour confused and startled the disciples, Jesus knew God was ordaining a circumstance that would increase His glory. In the tomb where Lazarus lay, all appeared final and hopeless, as death does, but it wasn’t to be; Jesus was about to manifest His power there and offer proof He was Messiah.

But a barrier stronger than death lay outside the tomb—unbelief in the human heart. When Jesus met Martha just outside Bethany, He asserted, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live even if he dies.” Then He asked her a penetrating faith question, “Do you believe this.” Though she replied she did, confusion came over her and she departed to ask Mary to talk with Jesus. When they met, Mary cried out through her tears, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” To her and the rest, Lazarus was dead, and that was that.

But Jesus knew God’s purposes. Before a weeping crowd and doubting clamourers, Jesus called for the cave’s stone to be removed. Imposing her doubt against this intrusion of her brother’s grave, Martha protested that Lazarus’ body had certainly begun decomposing. To that Jesus replied, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Lest anyone doubt who He was and what His mission meant, Jesus prayed to the Father, and then commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!” And when Lazarus walked out, pulling off his wrappings, those who saw what Jesus had done believed in Him.

If you’ll allow me, I would like to make a connection between this call to faith and the situation of churches today. All around London, near-empty chapels remind us just how far away we’ve come from a not-too distant time of fullness and life. And even in churches that appear more healthy (larger anyway), many distractions and demands on time are dulling the hearts. Centres once blazing with gospel fire appear nearly extinguished. So desperate is the situation that some among us might even be tempted to say like Mary, “Lord, if you had been here, our chapels would not have died!”

But with God all things are possible. And in this season of decline, I hear our Saviour saying, “Do you believe?” The call is not to despair, but to live in faith. Faith that comes from the surety of God’s Word. Faith that is strengthened through prayer. Faith that is exercised in persistent gospel efforts despite the paucity of the present response.

Spurgeon declared in one of his sermons,

“Before the Lord blesses a church, he prepares it for the blessing. A number of sailors wrecked on a desert island are thirsting for water; but suppose a shower comes at once, it will be wasted blessing. They must be so thirsty that they are led to put up an apparatus for catching the water when it comes; otherwise the water comes too soon, and is lost. I love to see a church in such state of agony for God’s grace that it has got, as it were, the reservoirs ready to hold the grace when it comes.”

This same spirit holds residence in my heart. The situation is bleak, no argument there, but the same God who touched dire times with a fullness of blessing and power still lives. The Word carries the same sharpness to pierce all unbelief. The same Holy Spirit is able to bring a season of refreshment to God’s people.

Jesus asked, “Do you believe this?” And today He repeats the question to us. Do we believe this?

O, yes, Lord, we do believe, help our unbelief. Make us a people prayerful and proclaiming. Make us a church ready and waiting for the blessing. Make us a church that has filled the valley with ditches, prepared to catch the rain when it comes.

Lord, we do believe this!