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Synod Sunday Message - The Cry for Revival
By Rt Rev Keith Lai
Jul 2019

    1. Why do we need Revival?    

"Unrealism" in Us and the Church

As a branch of the church of Christ in Singapore, we are thankful for the blessings of peace and prosperity that we have experienced over so many years. We praise God for the fervor and zeal of the churches in reaching out to the whole nation in the recent Celebration of Hope. While we celebrate the progress and growth, we also have to be open to hearing what Christ thinks of His church.

I just came back from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (COS). This took place over 7 full days, from 9am to 5pm. COS is facing a major crisis due to a rapid decline of membership. Since 1950s, they have lost 80% of members, and an annual decline of 4% is predicted. They have many old and empty church buildings which are in all the "wrong" places. Churches are either being closed or sold because of dwindling congregations. Morally, they have lost ground as they have allowed gay ministers to remain in COS. Individual churches are free to choose their convictions about gays and their lifestyle.

After resisting change for many decades, a special commission was set up in October 2018 to examine these challenges and to propose radical action plans and reforms. This included the tough decision of reducing 46 Presbyteries to 12. COS is at a crossroad. They are awakened to the fact that unless something radical is done, COS will be no more in 20 years. In my private conversation with an experienced Senior Minister, he expressed that it could already be too late to turn things around.

So what is our response? Do we say, "No, this will not happen to us!"? I am sure the Church of Scotland thought the same many years ago. We need to hear what Christ is saying to us, Reformed and Reforming churches.

The most indicting and piercing words that we will ever hear from our Lord Jesus Christ were spoken to the church in Revelation 3:1.

"I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead…you are neither hot nor cold, because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth."

Packer in his book Keep in Step with the Spirit, exposes the "unrealism" in our churches, which he describes as "our attitude toward ourselves that are either starry-eyed romantics, kidding ourselves that all is well, or at least well enough, or at any rate will magically come right some day without our needing to take any action".

A paraphrase of Rev 3:12-22, may sound like this:

"I am fully aware of the intrinsic nature of your works and 'good-looking' activities - but in reality what they tell me is rather disturbing and repulsive - lukewarm, tepid, apathetic; in essence, nauseating, fit only to be vomited out in disgust. So what I am saying is - I know you but you do not know yourselves! For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked."

Whatever the life stage our denomination and church may be in, we need an openness to God, an honest self-assessment that is guided and enlightened by Spirit of God. This kind of Spirit-led examination will produce a deep realization of the sinfulness of sin, the evil of egoism, the radical nature of repentance, divisive strife among leaders, our hurtful words, ways and behavior.

Having served in the church and the Synod for the past 30 years, I have witnessed and personally experienced the many ways we hurt one another as brothers and sister in the Lord.

Many times, within the Church, we have the ugliest fights. Other times, the Synod may do things that hurt the churches. The worst is that having done all these, we are oblivious and ignorant of the offensiveness of our behavior. We go about business as usual, as if nothing has happened. Repentance is the last thing on our minds.

    2. What is revival?    

The Presbyterian emblem of the burning bush is a constant reminder that our relationship with God should be characterized by a deep and passionate awareness of God’s Holy Presence.

Many years ago I was challenged by this question:

"Is the bush still BURNING? Where is the FIRE?"

Today, it is still challenging me. I remembered sharing this with some Presbyterian pastors at that time, but they were offended.

I ask myself, "Has the fire of reformation and renewal been snuffed out by my busyness, compromise and 'religiosity'?"

Just like Moses who had to be awakened to God’s Presence, and became alive to His calling and working, so we too need to be awakened to God who is at work among us and through us.

Packer's theology of revival has four dimensions. He feels that revival is

1. God revitalizing His Church
2. God turning His anger away from His Church
3. God stirring the hearts of His people
4. God displaying the sovereignty of His grace

(Keep In Step with the Spirit, p.255-257).

    3. How does Revival Come?    

Since God is sovereign in revival, what part do we play? What should those who long for revival do? Packer proposes three things we can do.

First, preach and teach God's truth.

Preach and teach, because it is through truth— Bible truth, gospel truth and truth taken into the mind and heart— that God blesses.

Second, prepare Christ's way.

Prepare by removing boulders from the road — obstacles such as habitual sins, neglect of prayer and fellowship, worldly-mindedness, indulgence of pride, jealousy, bitterness, and hatred as motives for action. Repentance on the part of Christians is regularly the harbinger and forerunner of revival. Calvin, a firm believer in the need for repentance says, "...through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in His elect the corruptions of the flesh, cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to Himself as temples renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance throughout their lives and know that this warfare will end only at death". (Calvin Institutes 3.3.9)

James 4:5-10 says that we are called to choose brokenness and humble repentance.

"Does the Scripture mean nothing to you that says, "The Spirit that God breathed into our hearts is a jealous Lover who intensely desires to have more and more of us”? But he continues to pour out more and more grace upon us. For it says, God resists you when you are proud but continually pours out grace when you are humble.” So then, surrender to God. Stand up to the devil and resist him and he will turn and run away from you. Move your heart closer and closer to God, and he will come even closer to you. But make sure you cleanse your life, you sinners, and keep your heart pure and stop doubting. Feel the pain of your sin, be sorrowful and weep! Let your joking around be turned into mourning and your joy into deep humiliation. Be willing to be made low before the Lord and he will exalt you!" (James 4:5-10, The Passion Translation)

Third, pray for the Holy Spirit's outpouring.

Pray, because God has told us that we need not expect to receive anything unless we ask. Jonathan Edwards, the classic theologian of revival puts it this way, "when God has something very great to accomplish for His Church, it is His will that there should precede it, extraordinary prayers of his people." (cited in Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit). This is manifested in Ezekiel 36:37 and Zechariah 12:10.

    A Story of Revival in a local Presbyterian Church    

In 1976, a Presbyterian Church in Singapore experienced God’s reviving and stirring Presence in one of their prayer meetings. This account was recorded by the Elder who gave the message in the prayer meeting.

"There was a group that identified themselves as 'prayer warriors' who carried the strong conviction and commitment to pray for the revival of the church among other things. It is the practice to give ourselves to praying ceaselessly and we have been doing this for some time. We often meet on Wednesday nights in my home for such prayer times.

The upper room in our Church level 2 is the meeting place for our weekly prayer meetings. That evening in September 1976, it was packed. The attendance was unusually large. This large gathering was a sign of God's favor as He stirred His people to pray. The prayer meeting is the engine room of any church. Its spiritual health can often be determined by the prayer meeting.

What happened after sharing the 20-minute God-given message titled 'Brokenness and the Spirit-Filled Man' caught all of us by surprise! Like the rushing of wind, the atmosphere was specially charged! I would liken it to an electric-charged atmosphere. The one main thing without doubt was the strong and awesome sense of the Holy Spirit and Presence of God. It was evidenced by loud and deep sighing and groanings.

There was deep sorrow, contrition and conviction of sin. Many members broke down and started confessing to the Lord in a loud audible chorus of voices. People were getting down from their chairs and falling to their knees on the floors as acts of repentance. Some lay prostrate, uttering forgiveness and choking with deep emotion. One faithful brother went down to the floor wailing over their sins, thumping the cement floor, pledging to walk closer with the Lord. It was like members were giving or pledging their commitment to the Lord in their own ways – very unlike the usual prayer meetings. Most felt that the Holy Spirit had visited them.

As I look back, I can say that the Lord loves His church and has visited us. The abundant blessings that followed this visitation of the Lord included a growth in passion for outreach, the planting of a new congregation 2 years later, plus two more in different locations subsequently. There were also more missionaries getting sent out."

    Another Story of Revival    

In 1949, one of the greatest revivals in the history of the United Kingdom took place in the Hebrides. Duncan Campbell, the preacher at the centre of the revival, later described how it began.

Seven men and two women had decided to pray earnestly for revival. One night, at a prayer meeting held in a barn, a young man took his Bible and read from Psalm 24:3-4a, "Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart."

He shut his Bible and said, "It seems to me just so much sentimental humbug to be praying as we are praying, to be waiting as we are waiting here, if we ourselves are not rightly related to God." He asked God to reveal if his own hands were clean and his own heart was pure.

That night God met with them in a powerful way. As they waited on God, 'His awesome presence swept the barn'. They came to understand that revival was always related to holiness. A power was let loose that shook the parish from centre to circumference.

'Three men were lying on the straw having fallen under the power of God. They were lifted out of the ordinary into the extraordinary. They knew that God had visited them and neither they nor their parish could ever be the same again.

Four miles away, two sisters aged eighty-two and eighty-four had a vision of God. They saw the churches crowded with the youth and the community flocking into the churches. They had 'a glorious assurance that God was coming in revival power'.

Duncan Campbell was invited to come and speak to them. When he arrived in the parish church, it was packed with hundreds waiting outside. No one could explain where the crowd had come from. Within ten minutes of the service starting, men and woman were crying out to God. They were meeting with God in all His Holiness.

There was such a sense of the presence of God on the island that a businessman visiting said, "The moment I stepped ashore I was suddenly conscious of the presence of God."

God was meeting with His people.

    Brokenness and Humility: Birthplace of Revival    

It was a renewal and revival that was birthed through a deep hunger for God's visitation, sustained by a spirit of brokenness and prayerfulness. May we have the same fervor in prayer for the revival of our Presbyterian churches. May we fan into flame the fire of God's love and renewal, stirring in us and spreading the passion to finish the Great Commission in our lifetime.




 
 




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