You may have heard the story of the two shoe salesmen who were both sent by rival companies to a foreign country at the turn of the twentieth century. After several days there, both sent a telegram back to their respective head offices. The first man wrote “Research complete. Unmitigated disaster. No-one here wears shoes”. The second salesman wrote “Research complete. Glorious opportunity. No-one here wears shoes.”
So, what do we see as we look at this present situation? That may depend on whether we are looking by natural understanding or by the Spirit. Surrounded and hemmed in by the enemy, the prophet’s servant could only see problems everywhere. But filled with the Spirit, Elisha prayed “Lord open his eyes” and when the servant looked again, by the Spirit he saw the hills were filled with an angelic army (2 Kings 6:15-17). Do you really think that this present pandemic came as a surprise to God? It is for such a time as this that we have been prepared, to be a people so rooted in our identity as children of God, that we live knowing we have in Christ all we need, to thrive in all seasons (Philippians 4:12,13).
None of us likes anything that appears to restrict our liberty to worship, but it was the capacity of the early church to worship under much more severe restrictions than these, that spoke powerfully to their society. We respect and pray for the governing authorities placed over us, but we do not look to them to provide us with the right conditions for worship. The authorities in Philippi provided Paul and Silas with a dungeon and chains and from that confinement came worship that shook the earth! No external restriction can hinder our worship, only what we believe in our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). By God’s grace, external pressures only serve to reveal in us what cannot be crushed (2 Corinthians 4:7-12). Whatever restrictions are put on our ability to gather together to worship, they still pale before the restrictions confronting the church for the first 300 years after Christ’s ascension. Yet from kitchen tables in humble homes they radically transformed their society.
For years we have prayed for ‘revival’ to come, without much idea of the great change and upheaval that would come to our lives at such a time. In our natural understanding, we have got so used to tying our hopes to carefully laid plans, that to enter a season where such plans count for little, has challenged us to think profoundly about the expression of our faith in this generation. To all the plans of each Church generation, Jesus gives the same reply; “Follow me!”. As Elisha discovered, there cannot be a following without a leaving! (1 Kings 19:21). With the call of God comes the grace, the capacity, to leave behind what needs to be left behind.
This may look like a time of great restriction on the Church, but it is in fact a time of great renewal. We are being pushed out of the nest and must leave behind much of the tradition and form of ‘doing’ church, in order to grow in the revelation of ‘being’ Church. We will be surprised at the effectiveness of believers thrown into living one day at a time, but the early church would not have been. They saw the Kingdom of God impact society to a measure we have not, while living day to day under oppressive conditions.
The Ekklesia of God is not a building or a denomination, but the people of God living one life, in one mind, by one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is the expression of the life of Christ, through a multitude of diverse lives rooted and established in their identity in Him, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to the world of business, education and culture. Buildings and denominations are simply servants of this Kingdom, not the Kingdom itself.
Paul shed no tears over the wreck of the ship that brought him to Malta. He simply used the pieces left to press on into the new day before him, for he knew that God was with him, not the ship! I recommend we don’t waste time trying to rebuild the ship. Let us also use what we can salvage and set out boldly into this generation with the message, “The Kingdom of God has drawn near you, for look, it cannot be contained nor defined by a building!”
The harvest the Church has been praying for is now knocking on our door. It looks as alien to us as Saul did to Ananias, but the Spirit is here to open our eyes and ears to the truth; ‘those who are with us, are greater than those who are with them’ (2 Kings 6:16). Welcome to the great renewal!