I wish I had grand things to say. I’d like to write BIG things as does a friend of mine who preaches in Africa so when he blogs he says things like, “The whole village came out some walking for miles” and “Thousand stood in the hot sun listening” or “Over three hundred came forward when the invitation was offered at the end of my message.”
To those of us who work in small places where people’s hearts are hardened and opposed to Christianity we often feel as though God has forgotten all about us. We have to have our vision focused like a lazer to see the miraculous but the truth is, a miracle does not have to seem enormous in order to be astounding.
When I was first saved I ran into all sorts of people who would argue that the Apostolic gifts were over in the first century with the death of the Apostles. Though there is neither scriptural or historical proof of this these people (many of them Bible scholars) ascertain and maintain that this is so. I am sorry to report that this has not been my experience at all and the truth is, it is not been their experience either. The miraculous happens all of the time and all around us. Let me illustrate this by the prophetic gifting.
The prophetic has gotten a “bad rap” of late and perhaps for good reason. There are some prophetic meetings that border on nothing more than fortune-telling and regrettably there have been more false prophets and false prophesies than anyone cares to count. A large percentage of cults and false religions were launched through a so-called prophet. I understand why serious Christians can be slightly nervous when they hear that this or that “Prophet” is coming into town. Additionally, many undiscerning and inexperienced church members who have never so much as read the Gospel of John will drive hundreds of miles at great personal expense just to hear a word which could unravel all of the ponderous mysteries of life. In spite of all of the warning in scriptures regarding false prophets, the testing of spirits and prophesies I believe that we should “despise not prophesying.”
I work out of the prophetic gifting so I am particularly sensitive to listening and watching for what God seems to be saying and doing at the moment. For me, this is the secret to ministry success. One moment in the middle of what Jesus is doing is worth a lifetime of activity in the flesh.
So this was the occasion at Elgin. I don’t believe I made any mistake by going there. Sunday morning there was once again a small crowd and I preached the best I could. I think that several were touched and helped but I could sense the discouragement on the heart of the Pastor and his Board. Actually, to me, it seemed that everyone just felt a little in the dumps not seeing a fresh move of God in their midst and I too felt that perhaps (even though I know better) that I had failed to help them in the best way I could. I thought, “Well, maybe I missed it this time.”
At the conclusion of the preaching and after a couple of closing choruses were sung, the Pastor rose and came to the pulpit for what I thought would be a benediction but instead he just stood there in silence weeping and adjusting himself until he could muster the words to say. After a long and uncomfortably silence, he did, and when he spoke he shared how much he felt like leaving and doing something else. He wondered if he could find the path to leading the church to any worthwhile ministry impact.
When there was opportunity, I stood to point out that often it is the Pastor who is all alone but I can tell that the entire church Board shares with him in his sorrow. He is not alone. Well, it was then a man raised his hand and asked if he could say something. We all felt that this was a divine moment so we gave him the floor. He said something like this, “You don’t know me but I have been coming by this church for years and often thought to stop in and visit with you. I live in Rochester, New York but I cottage in this area. Hearing that you were having special meetings I decided to attend Bible Study here this past Tuesday evening. After a good time with some of you and studying Scripture together, I went away thinking, ‘These are Godly people. I feel that I need to get behind this little church.’ I am not a prophet but this morning I believe that God has given me a word for you.” He went on, “I have been a Christian for forty-two years and active in my church of about three hundred people. The Lord wants you here to get a few people and call a period of fasting and prayer and I’m going to do that too. I also promise that I am going to enlist my fellow church members in Rochester and other friends to join me in praying for you. You are not alone.”
Well, we all felt that this could not have come at a better time and left everyone with questions like, “What does this mean about the future of this church? What, if anything, is about to change?”
Later, another lady known for her ability to speak into the unseen world of faith privately said, ” The Lord has shown me the picture of Gideon and the breaking of the clay vessels. When you hear the shout all of you break the vessels at the same time! They did and the light shown forth from all of the lamps and though Gideon’s army was much smaller in number the enemy fled at the sound and sight. This is the breaking of those vessels,” she said. Several of us confirmed her word.
Now some of you, like those churchmen who maintain the gifts are not for today fail to see it when it happens among them. After the prophetic word of “telling-forth” (planned and prepared sermonizing) I have seen an old, cessationists, Brethren Elder stand to his feet and ask that the doors of the inner chapel be closed tight for he felt that the Lord had giving him a word. Of course, he prefaced his remarks by reading a text of Scripture but my point is, this wasn’t planned. This was a prophetic (forth-telling) – a hot Word, off of the altar – a Word from on High. The room listened in stunned silence and in less than ten minutes a fresh wind of new life visited the people. It remains true that five minutes with Jesus is worth twenty years of sermons. Mark Rutland once said, “If Jesus showed up in every seminary classroom at ten o’clock next Tuesday morning we could shut them all down and padlock the doors. We have seminaries because we don’t have Jesus.”
If I had said to that older gentleman, “Sir, thank you for the word of prophesy (word of wisdom or knowledge) this morning.” He would have most likely said, “The gift of prophesy is not for today and then punctuating his remarks by quoting First Corinthians 13:8-11, “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Of course he and others have come to believe that the “perfect” mentioned in the text is the Word of God (the Scriptures) while others believe that this has to do with the full coming of the kingdom in the return of Jesus Christ. I believe the best reading of the text has nothing to do with the assembling of the Canon and everything to do with the coming of Christ.
It has been said that miracles happen all of the time except to people who don’t or won’t believe in them. I personally believe that it is always a miracle when hundreds respond to an altar call in Africa but this is no greater a miracle than what we witnessed on Sunday morning in the little town of Elgin, Ontario. Regrettably, even some of those in attendance might have missed it.