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In Jonathan Edwards¬í day, the powerful presence of Christ represented by the Holy Spirit brought new life, purity, and love to the church in New England. This is only one of many such occurrences. They are usually called revivals, spiritual awakenings, or renewals.
In any case, a powerful work of the Holy Spirit brings renewed holiness and purity. The Spirit also brings healing and reconciliation to broken relationships. God is obviously present and actively working with amazing grace. Spiritual awakening is born out of a new passion for prayer and is maintained through fervent commitment to God in prayer.
In 1904 and 1905 after much prayer, a mighty work of God¬ís grace swept through Wales in Great Britain. Arthur Wallis told of a meeting near the town of Gorseinon that continued throughout the night. A hardened, godless miner was returning from work at 4 A.M. that morning. Seeing a light in the chapel, he decided to investigate. As soon as he opened the door, he was utterly overwhelmed by a sense of the presence of God.
With great surprise to himself and others, he exclaimed, "Oh, God is here!" Afraid either to enter or depart, he stood there at the door, as God¬ís Spirit began melting his heart and bringing the work of salvation to his hardened soul.
Fruit from this renewal continued for years in the changed lives of many individuals. With the passing of time, however, the corporate life of the churches drifted downhill to the old ways of unbelief and selfishness. Today, the churches scattered throughout Wales need another visitation from God, another awakening from the Lord.
Does it have to be this way? Does the Lord Jesus Christ merely want a temporary visit with His church? Does the church only require the fresh visitation of God when times are desperate and homes are broken? Certainly not!
Christ Should Obviously Reside in Our Midst
Our Savior, the Lord Jesus, knows that His presence and active leadership are absolutely essential to the spiritual life of our homes and churches. He wants to become a "permanent resident." He promised that He would be in the midst of even two or three who gather together in His name (Matt. 18:19-20).
The assembly of Christians is called to be a dwelling place for God on earth. This is described in Ephesians 2:18-22:
"For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."
After declaring that all believers have access to God in prayer by one Spirit, Paul explains that we are "the household of God" (v. 19). The apostle also declares that our lives are being "built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (v. 22). Paul prayed, "May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell [settle down, abide, make His permanent home] in your hearts" (3:17 Amplified New Testament).
Christ was in the midst of the seven churches (Rev. 1:12-20). He actively took charge of them. He commended them for their good qualities and also pointed out their sins. He called on them to repent of their corporate sins or face the consequences (chaps. 2-3).
Even in the Old Testament, God was present in the midst of His people. He actively took charge in a special way. God met with the congregation of Israel at the tabernacle. He dwelled in their midst and ruled over them as their God (Exod. 25:22; 29:42-46). God made His presence obvious through the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. His glory hovered over the tabernacle and filled it (40:34-38).
The temple was known as God¬ís dwelling place in later times and served as a special place to assemble for prayer. He proclaimed, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Isa. 56:7).
God¬ís presence in the midst of His people marked them as united with Him as His dearly beloved. As such, they enjoyed His special protection and care. Disobedience and idolatry caused God to withdraw temporarily from the camp of Israel (Exod. 32:1-8; 33:1-10). Moses made a strong plea for God to keep His residence in their midst. He saw God¬ís continued withdrawal as an invitation for disaster. God¬ís presence made the difference between Israel and the pagan nations (33:15-16).
Christ¬ís special presence is, likewise, essential for the life of the church. When He departs from a congregation, it dies. Unfortunately, the dead church does not even know it, just as a pastor once said, "If the Holy Spirit left the church, no one would notice because it runs so smoothly without Him."
At Laodicea, Christ was outside the church. He gave it one final call to repent of its sins or He would disown the congregation and vomit it out of His mouth (Rev. 3:14-22). God looks forward to dwelling among His people forever, when their sins and backsliding ways will never again cause His withdrawal (21:3).
Enjoying the special presence of Christ in our midst, as well as welcoming Him there, ought to be the essential ingredients of our church ministry. The tendency is to wait until the church falls into desperate spiritual need before we wake up and honor the Lord¬ís presence.
The church today needs to purpose in its heart to seek God earnestly, just as Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself by eating the king¬ís meat (Dan. 1:8). We need to make up our minds by asking whether we want Christ among us. If so, we need to make the Lord Jesus completely at home in our midst, at all times, always. We desperately need to unite in loving, trusting, and obeying Him, for He is our life. Without Him, our homes and churches are spiritually dead.
Examples of Our Lord Obviously Residing in Churches
Some pastors have led their churches to enjoy consistently the presence of Christ. For instance, Dr. C. John Miller, former professor at Westminster Seminary and founding pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, held prayer meetings where Christ was obviously present and actively in charge. Because the meeting was exciting, attendance grew. When they outgrew the basement, they moved to the auditorium. The lost were frequently saved in answer to prayer. Often, the new believers began attending prayer meeting. The lives of believers were wonderfully transformed.
Ten years earlier, Dr. Miller had served another church and had watched helplessly as his prayer meeting went through death throes and finally died. He concluded upon reflection that he himself had killed it. His great self-reliance had caused him to believe that his preaching and hard work were all that was necessary for success. Consequently, he had given prayer and the active work of the Holy Spirit a minor role, at best.
By the time Dr. Miller started New Life Presbyterian Church, he understood the crucial importance of the prayer meeting. He had learned to depend completely on the Lord in prayer for every aspect of His ministry. He led New Life Presbyterian to do that, too. His book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, tells how he prayed for the prayer meeting and saw it develop into a powerful time that gave birth to a church that was alive under the powerful, active leadership of Christ. With the Lord in charge, New Life Presbyterian Church grew from a home Bible class to more than six hundred members. In addition, it sponsored two daughter churches.
Adoniram Judson Gordon, one of the great men of American history, lamented his dead church. Like dust, a thick layer of death covered Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston. This was the fashionable congregation of its time where bankers and Boston¬ís social elite gathered. A secular, worldly spirit dominated nearly every aspect of its life. The pews were rented. Unsaved singers from the opera were hired and they rendered music as spiritually dead as the singers themselves.
A deacon dared to print a leaflet that stated, "Strangers welcome." He was promptly rebuked by an elder who said, "You might get the wrong kind of people in here!" Of course, everyone knew about "the right kind."
Pastor Gordon¬ís heart experienced deep travail, grieving continually over the spiritual condition of his church. Maintaining the appearance of a "proper" pastor became a heavy load, pressing him to the point of desperation. He knew that his people needed to repent and return to Christ. Therefore, he spent more time on his sermons. More disappointment followed as few, if any, were converted even after he spent a week of solid toil in sermon preparation.
Pastor Gordon could have listed his prayer meeting in the obituary column of the local newspaper. He thought, "If I could only get the people together to pray." Yet, in spite of all he could do, very few attended prayer meeting. Of those few, no one ever rose to pour out their heart to God for the sad spiritual condition of the church.
About this time, the administration of the church began to come unglued. Strong opposition developed among some of the church officers. Pastor Gordon was forced to devote his time and energy "to get the members to vote as they should." He anticipated that certain members would help him. Instead they hindered. Faced with tremendous discouragement, sleepless nights, and pressurized living, he made a trip to the doctor, who prescribed absolute, complete rest as the only remedy.
While struggling to continue in the ministry on such "rocky soil," the pastor fell asleep one Saturday night as he was completing work on his sermon. He had an unusual dream. He was standing in the pulpit, about to preach before a full auditorium when a stranger entered the church. The stranger passed slowly down the left aisle, looking for anyone who would share their rented pew. Halfway down the aisle, a man offered him a place and he quietly accepted. Gordon¬ís eyes were riveted on this visitor. He wondered, "Who can that stranger be?" He determined to find out.
After the sermon, the stranger slipped out with the crowd. The pastor asked the man with whom he sat, "Can you tell me who that stranger was who sat in your pew this morning?"
In a most matter-of-fact way, the man replied, "Why, don¬ít you know that man? He is Jesus of Nazareth." Seeing the pastor¬ís great consternation, the man assured him, "Oh, don¬ít be troubled. He has been here today and, no doubt, He will come again."
Gordon was filled with an indescribable rush of emotion and self-examination. Why the Lord Himself was here listening to the sermon today! He asked himself, "What was I saying? Was I preaching on some popular theme in order to catch the ear of the public?" With a sigh of relief, Pastor Gordon remembered that he was preaching Christ.
Then his conscience demanded, "But in what spirit did I preach? Was it in the spirit of one who knows that he himself is crucified with Christ? Or did the preacher manage to magnify himself while attempting to exalt Christ?"
For the first time in his life, A. J. Gordon was electrified with the truth that Christ Himself had actually come to church! The pastor could never again care what people thought about his preaching or his church. He thought, "If I could only know that Jesus was not displeased, that He would not withhold His feet from coming again because He had been grieved at what might have been seen or heard!"
All of Pastor Gordon¬ís priorities were changed. His life and ministry would never be the same. He fell at the feet of his Lord in worship and turned the administration of the church over to Him. The pastor then taught his board and his people to let the Holy Spirit actively take charge on behalf of Christ.
"Not that I attach any importance to dreams or ever have done so," the pastor wrote. "I recognize it only as a dream; and yet I confess that the impression of it was so vivid that, in spite of myself, memory brings it back to me again, as though it were an actual occurrence in my personal ministry."
Belief that Christ actually does come to church and is ready to take charge transformed Clarendon Street Baptist. The people let Jesus take charge. Over a period of eight years, the presence and leadership of Christ became the focal point. The pastor and the leaders genuinely sought the Lord in prayer and the church was wonderfully changed.
Adoniram Gordon replaced the spiritually dead opera singers with lively congregational singing. New life came into the church and the spiritually dead members who refused to repent drifted out. The Lord sent the church an ardent soul winner by the name of Uncle John Vassar. This man shared his vision of evangelism and won many to Christ through prayer and door-to-door visitation.
D. L. Moody built a tabernacle a few blocks from the church. A number of new believers, including ten men addicted to drink, were converted and came to Clarendon Street. "They won¬ít last," the skeptics insisted. But they were wrong. These men and others from Moody¬ís meetings became strong, steadfast Christians.
The church developed an outreach to the ethnic communities in Boston. Missionaries went out to foreign lands. A training ministry began to prepare workers for the harvest.
Christ transformed the ministry of A. J. Gordon and changed Clarendon Street Baptist Church into a powerful spiritual lighthouse that endured for many years. The church literally passed from death to life. It came about as the pastor taught his people the reality of letting Christ come into their midst by the Holy Spirit and actively take charge. Christ is ready today to settle down and make His home with any couple, small group, or church where Christians open their hearts in one accord in prayer to welcome Him.