I was visiting a friend of mine recently and as always I asked her if there were any particular spiritual problems on her mind. Immediately she remarked that she didn't seem to be praying and singing to the Lord as much as usual. Assuring me that she was not resisting the presence of God in any conscious way I sensed to take a different tack.
She had mentioned in passing an impression that many folk share today, "The world seems to have gone crazy." Whilst the situation in contemporary Australian is much more peaceful than so many other parts of the world, it is still the case that global terrorism, economic uncertainties and rapid change e.g. the "equal marriage" push, are deeply disconcerting for many Christians.
I put it to my friend had become distracted. She accepted this analysis and to help her understand what was going on I read her a passage from what some find the scariest part of scripture.
Who's in Charge?
In Revelation chapter 6 Christ the heavenly Lamb sequentially opens a seven-sealed scroll releasing progressive terrors on the earth, the famous "4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse". At his initiative war, violence, famine and plague in turn carry away huge proportions of the human population.
Yet this "revelation of Jesus Christ" is designed not to frighten but to comfort those who are sealed by God as true followers of Jesus (Revelation chapter 1verse 1; chapter 9 verse 4). It is an immense relief to know that no power in this world, however evil, is free from the loving sovereign control of our Saviour. This empowers believers to live peaceful lives far different from the average woman in the street.
Whilst conveniently ignored by us most of the time the Bible exhorts, "test yourselves." (2 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 5). My friend agreed that she needed a devotional realignment in the light of scripture. The frightening scenes in Revelation are punctuated more than any other New Testament book by images of prayer and praise (chapters 4-5, 7, 11 etc.).
Tribulation should draw worship out of God's people. Jesus teaching exhorts us in this direction. After prophesying of a coming time of great tribulation, of "people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world", he encourages faithful believers to "raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke chapter 21 verses 26 and 28).
The worse things get in the world the greater the power of lives that by prayer and song give thanks to God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verse 18). Putting aside the formalities of Sunday services, why aren't we seeing a revival of prayer and singing in the daily lives of Australian Christians? As always we must turn to Jesus as our answer.
The Cross Tests Everything
The above sub-heading summarises a profound insight from Martin Luther. We either look at things in life through the lens of the cross or from a worldly perspective. Whatever Christians might say they believe about the centrality of the cross the shortage of prayer and praise amongst us testifies that the crazy conditions of our age, and believe me they are going to get crazier, have distracted us from living cross-shaped lives.
Christ himself needed to "sing a hymn" to prepare him for the coming ordeal of dying in our place (Mark chapter 14 verse 26). We too need to be people of prayer and praise to sustain and strengthen our testimony to Jesus in these darkening days (Acts chapter 16 verse 24 and 25). This is not some sort of act of denying reality but one which places us in touch with the deeper dimensions of the new creation come in Christ.
As the old saying goes, "Grace is always surprising." As I quietly go about my own life aware of the depravities of our age I find my heart strangely filled with a sense of the wonder of God. The Lord is wonderful, not despite the evil of humanity, but because in his own life he has triumphed over it (John chapter 16 verse 33). Such a triumphing over evil's intimidations is our call also, not only that we might bring pleasure to heaven, but be living beacons of hope in a lost world.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 5 grandchildren. He spends his time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html