In an early morning prayer meeting in Wesley Church I sensed a very strong disturbance in the heart of God, but one followed by a wonderful promise. The key passage is Joel 2 which contains a divine strategy for the terrible times in which we live.
““Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm…Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord…is near, 2 a day of darkness and gloom… the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it? “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him….Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber…. And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”” (1-2, 11 – 16, 28-29).
See the Evil
As God sent Joel to alert slumbering to the great danger coming against her so the sleeping Western Church must be alerted to the threats surrounding her (Eph 5:14). The Spirit is simultaneously speaking from two very different directions about the monstrous scale of evil in our world. If the message from inside Australia via the revelations of institutional religious child abuse has not awakened us, he is speaking loudly through global terrorism. God’s message is very clear; the world is a much more evil place than any of you want to believe. Despite the blatant testimony of scripture, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil…”; “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can understand it?” (Gen 6:5-6; Jer 17:9), we habitually refuse to acknowledge the perversity of the human heart. Do we really need TV images of massacres, tales of the beheading of children, the kidnapping and forced marriages of school girls and the crucifixion of men to convince us that human beings are incredibly evil! What is our problem and what is the Lord’s strategy?
No Happy Cross
The central source of our squeamishness about the depths of human depravity is our turning away from the horror of the cross. Though so familiar with “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19) the vast bulk of us have lost touch with the fact that the crucifixion of the Son of God is the full and final measure of the limitless evil of our fallen humanity. Because we have taken our eyes off Christ-crucified we are startled at the things that are happening in our world! Westerners, and especially West Aussies, want to live in a fantasy world where things are never as bad as they seem. Truthfully, things are always worse than they seem! We are bewitched by our own culture’s opposition to the pain of all things crucified (Gal 3:1)
Introducing himself to his Perth audience some years ago American sociologist-preacher Tony Campolo declared; “I know all about you people, a friend of mine has done research on the primary motivation of mothers in Australia, 90+% of mothers want their children to be HAPPY.” To fail to preach Christ crucified with full conviction is to avoid the biblical exposure of the wickedness of the human heart. The false comforts of popular preaching may keep the masses superficially HAPPY but it also keeps them totally unprepared to deal with the true evils of the world around us. It is time for us to hear the word of the Lord, “rend your hearts and not your garments”, “exhort one another daily …that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Joel 2:13; Heb 3:13). Our hearts are more hardened than any of us can imagine, but the Spirit has given us a strategy
Joel’s urgent call is that the whole people of God gather in solemn prayer before the Lord to seek his mercy. No-one is excluded: elders, children, nursing infants, bridegroom, sons, daughters, old men, young men. All these ages and genders were present on the day of Pentecost when the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy took place and all were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). Mothers, babies and children were amongst the 120 in the upper room (Acts 1:15). The whole Church knew that the reality of the fearsome day of the Lord had come upon Christ on the cross, and that the Spirit had been promised to the totality of the people of God – so they were all waiting with expectation (Joel 2:2; Matt 27:45). What we must do today if we would see the fullest possible outpouring of the Spirit is simple.
If children are being beheaded for their faith, children must be gathered to pray, if women are being raped, let women pray, if young men are being forced to fight for the Islamic State, let young men pray, if girls are being abducted and forced into marriage let young women pray, if the aged are left behind to perish let the aged pray. This call to a solemn assembly of prayer is truly communal; no-one is to be left out. It is time to stop limiting God; the enemy is at the gate and we can no longer pretend that the world is not really that bad (Mat 16:18).
Our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world need the outpouring of the power of God’s Spirit to sustain them in their hour of trial; “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” (Rev 13:10 ESV). Harassed or indifferent, the Church needs of a global Pentecost. The Father has promised us the Spirit as our inheritance in Christ (Acts 1:4, 8; 2:33). But, and it is a “but” I have never yet seen overcome across the Australian Church, this promise is prefaced upon identification with the suffering of Christ.
On his way to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus the murderous rampaging Saul was supernaturally struck down and heard the strangest of messages, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me. And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:4-5). When the Body on earth suffers the head in heaven cries out in pain! How much pain is in the heart of Jesus today over what is happening to his Body on earth? Will you stand with Jesus today as he stands and prays as one with the anguished children of God in the Middle East and beyond (Acts 7:55-56). Will you bring your husband, wife, young people, old people, children and babes in solemn assembly? This will not be a happy experience, but I totally believe that through it we will see the glory of God (Hab 2:14; John 7:37-39; Rom 8:17). Will you sound the alarm will you obey the call will you come and pray with us?