We have experienced something very special over the past several weeks here at First Baptist, Metropolis. For nearly two months now God has moved within our congregation in a very special way. Last Sunday night in our deacons meeting we rejoiced in the fact that last month eighteen people joined our fellowship, most of them by baptism. What’s even more exciting is that nearly every week, I am hearing from other Pastors around the country about how God is moving in their congregations. Couple that with the fact that right not across the nation there are two films in the theaters that expressly present the gospel (Son of God and God is not Dead) and it becomes clear that something special is beginning to happen. While it is too early to call it revival, God is clearly up to something and if you pay attention you will see Him moving all around you. With this in mind, I want to encourage everyone who reads this to refocus and rededicate themselves to the work of prayer.
It is no secret that every revival in the history of the church has begun with people setting aside time to pray and to seek God’s face. We are all familiar with 2 Chronicles 7:14 which says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Notice the emphasis here on prayer and repentance. These are the two key elements in every great revival that has occurred in the church. Therefore, over the next couple of weeks, I am going to dedicate this blog space to encouraging and equipping Christians for the work of prayer.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” One of the first things that stands out in these verses is that these commands are to be the perpetual activity of Christians. We should always be rejoicing, always praying, and always giving thanks. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to serve with an older Pastor named Tom Darter. One of the interesting characteristics of Tom’s personality was that when he started to pray he would begin with the word “…and.” So if you were sitting down to a meal with Tom he would pray, “…and Father we thank you for this food.” If you asked him to pray for a need he would say, “…and Father I come to you today on behalf of Joe…” If he was praying in the worship service he would say, “…and Father we praise you today for…” He always began his prayers with the word “…and.” One day I worked up the courage to ask Tom why he did this. I will never forget what he said, “Joe, prayer is the continuous work of every Christian. Our prayers do not have a beginning and an end, our lives are just one continuous prayer.” Tom went on to explain that when he prayed he was just continuing an ongoing conversation with God that had begun at the moment of his conversion.
This is what Paul has in mind here when he says “pray without ceasing.” We should be in an ongoing conversation with God that reflects our gratitude, our dependence, and our adoration. Today, as you go through your daily schedule I hope that you will strive to keep up a constant conversation with God. As you go through your day, talk to Him. Praise Him for His goodness and grace. Ask Him for the things you need. Thank Him for the many blessings, even the small ones, that He sends your way. Pray without ceasing.
Easter will be here in just fourteen days and this is one the greatest seasons for growth in the life of the church. The weeks leading up to Easter give us an opportunity for our own spiritual growth and renewal plus they offer us an unparalleled opportunity for inviting unchurched people to come to church. Let me share with you three steps that every Christian can take to experience Spiritual growth and renewal during the next several weeks.
1.) Renew- The days leading up the celebration of Easter provide us with a great opportunity to examine our own lives and experience a personal renewal in our spiritual lives. I find that in my own life, the lead up to Easter is always a time of growing spiritual intensity and spiritual sensitivity, therefore, this is always a good time to concentrate my efforts on spiritual renewal. Here are just a couple of suggestions for how you can pursue this in your own life:
Take a Spiritual Inventory– Before we can experience renewal and revival in our spiritual lives we need to take an honest examination of our lives. Click here to be taken to a tool entitled “Heart Searching for Prayer, Preparation and Personal Revival.” I have used this tool many times in my own life and have found it to be very helpful in allowing the Holy Spirit to examine my life. Recently, I shared a post entitled “Escaping the Idolatry of Ministry” where I share a little more information about how to take a spiritual inventory.
Get alone with God for an extended period of time– We live in a busy world and sometimes we find it difficult to carve our time to really devote to our spiritual lives. I find that it is helpful to periodically carve out an entire day or even just an afternoon where I can get away from the hustle and bustle of life to simply concentrate on my own spiritual life.
Read the Gospels– One of my favorite things to do in the lead up to Easter is to read through all four of the Gospels. My suggestion would be to spend the next month thoroughly saturating yourself in the gospels by reading one each week for the next month. Start in Matthew today and read straight through it. Next week concentrate on Mark, then Luke, then John in the following weeks. This would not only offer a nice lead up to Easter but would also keep your focused on Christ in the weeks after.
2.) Invite- Sit down and make a list of the five to ten of your friends, neighbors and co-workers who don’t go to church. Make a commitment to pray for each of them everyday and to invite them to church on Easter Sunday. Statistics show that 80% of people who visit a church for the first time come because someone they knew invited them. Easter is the single best Sunday of the year to invite unchurches people to come to church. Use every available means at your disposal to invite your friends and family to come to church this Easter. Call them, email them, Facebook them, visit them, do whatever it takes but make sure that you take the personal responsibility for inviting as many people as you can to come to church with you on Easter Sunday.
3.) Connect Getting someone to visit the church for the first time is really the easy part. But once they come we need to take on the responsibility of helping them to connect to the church. If you invite a friend to come to church and they come, it is your responsibility to help them get connected by introducing them by inviting them to sit with you during the services, introducing them to other people in the church and following up with them throughout the week. The simple truth is that unless people connect to other members of the church within the first few days after their first visit, they are unlikely to come back.