Attending to God’s Presence

Barbhas Parish Church, where the Lewis Revival began. From a picture taken on my visit in October 2006.

I’ve been to the Isle of Lewis this week. Not physically (although that would be nice!), but in my mind’s eye and heart’s longing. I have read many things on the Lewis Revivals (and the several Scottish revivals) and they are so interesting because they are still tangible. What I mean by that is that I’ve met people who’ve experienced them and lived through them.

What is important to note about that season of revival where hundreds were powerfully arrested by the presence of God, is that there was so much happening to create the atmosphere and freedom for the Spirit to break in.

Firstly, there was prayer. The prayers of the octogenarian’s, Peggy and Christine Smith, and the spiritual authority those women had due to the nights of prayer on their knees pleading for their community was amazing and, quite frankly, humbling. When reading the reports and articles of the revival, there is a kind of prayer that emerges that is more than your average ‘please bless us’ prayer. Partly due to the translation of the words from Gaelic, the prayers of the people sound strong and direct, but this is not the only reason. There was a strong sense for those people that there are promises in God’s word that he makes to his people and are part of the covenant he has with us. More than once, the prayers are simply people calling God out on his promises. That may seem presumptious to us, but it is not a million miles away from the pleading you see in the psalms or out of the mouths of the prophets.

Secondly, there was the foundation of the bible. And this, dear friends, is where we have to say that we may not ever be in the same league as our Lewis friends for a similar move of God. The Western Isles, although at the time they were dry, church attendance was low, and morality had hit the bottom of the pit, there was still a strong Bible culture. Most families would still, in the 40s and 50s, have times of ‘family worship’ where the bible was read in the homes, where prayers were said, and church-going was a cultural norm. What, in a sense, was happening was a revival that was birthed on some good prepared soil. All the Spirit had to do was illuminate Jesus and there was a powerful response.

Thirdly, there was supernatural power unleashed upon a people pleading for purity. Let me explain that – the people of God were repentant and desirous of God to pour out his Spirit and revive his people. That’s the first step. The second step is where God comes in in a major way! You have to understand that the cultural context of these revivals was almost primitive, and in a very staid and restrictive church culture. The amazing thing however, is that when God does appear all over the place, there is no doubt that he is causing it: people in trances; people moved to weeping on the streets, arrested by the presence of God in their workplaces; houses shaking; people praying all night; in on church, people were ‘zapped’ by God in their pews and remained unconscious for hours either slumped or with their hands in the air where they sat; there were heavenly lights, visions, voices, revelations of Jesus; there was supernatrual conviction of sin; amazing reports of powerful psalm-singing that seemed like the angels were joining in; and, finally, conversions – of everyone of all sorts of walks of life. Something only God could do – it certainly wasn’t worked up hype and it wasn’t organised or advertised…the ministers working at the time were being constantly amazed by congregations just appearing at all times of the day and night desperate for God.

Why do I say all this? Well, on one hand, if there is to be more revival in our life time, I do suspect it may be more difficult and may look different. It also strikes me that revival is rarely sustained over a long period of time, and so it is not the silver bullet to the challenges of our context. We also don’t have some of the foundational ‘conditions’ that are common to many 18th, 19th and 20th Century revivals in the sense of peoples predisposition to church, the bible or to God.

I mention this topic at all because I am entirely convinced that God does, however, move in response to his people’s prayers. I don’t understand how, why or whatever, but there appears to be that generosity whereby God incorprates the prayers of his people into his will. As I say, I’m leaving how he does it up to him, but I continually feel that burden to be praying that God would move among us in whatever way he chooses.

As a church, we need to ‘attend to God’s presence’, which is a phrase that has come to me several times in prayer over a sustained people. I sense that God invites us to do this. I suspect that when we do, as gathered people of God, we begin to sense his heart, his will, his purposes and how we would live them out.

Rightly or wrongly, people look to ‘leadership’ for direction and strategy. And, there are always things that one can suggest or experiment with. My strong hunch, however, is that any significant work that isn’t birthed from the place of intimacy with God is doomed to fail. My stronger hunch is that it’s not so much that people in the community need to hear of our plans and activities, but that they encounter God in the context of generous Christian community and the power of the gospel.

There is a deeper waiting on him that I feel we must learn. Pragmatic evangelicals are not always good at this – we want it done a week past Wednesday. But there is a real power in aligning ourselves with God through that process of prayer and being in his presence. Out of the secret places comes strength, heart and desire to seek God’s Kingdom in all it’s powerful manifestations. God help us.

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