History: Much more than just a bunch of dates and names

jonathan-edwardsThose who know me well know that one of my passions is history.  I just absolutely love to dig into history whether through reading a book, going to a historical location, or watching a good movie/documentary.  I realize for some of you (maybe most) just reading that list of things causes your eyelids to get heavy and a yawn to creep up into the back of your throat.  I remember a time when that was exactly how I felt about history, so I sympathize, but I’m not going to let you get off that easy!  For far too long we in the church have looked on church history as one of those courses in college that you have to take to get your diploma, so as long as you scrape by with a passing grade you’ll be satisfied, sell the books back to the bookstore and ne’er remember the dronings of the prof ever again.  Shame on us!  We rob ourselves of priceless life lessons and more important some amazing stories of individual faith and community piety because we ‘believe the lie.’  I fear we have over done it with our buy in to autonomy and individuality that are so prevalent in our culture.  Everything is about forging our own path and standing on our own two feet, which aren’t necessarily bad, but who said seeking counsel and learning from the successes and failures of those who have gone before us makes us any less an individual.  Perhaps its more a question of wisdom than individuality.  I was recently reading a biography of the great American pastor and revivalist Jonathan Edwards and was stunned to find that shortly after he lead his church through one of the greatest seasons of revival this nation has ever known his church had him removed as their pastor.  This sad story was actually a source of encouragement for me as a pastor because it revealed the nature of ministry even for the greats.  The highs and lows that I have experienced in ministry seem small in comparison to the story I read of Jonathan Edwards, and yet he remained faithful to the call God had placed upon his life and pressed on.  The amazing thing about history is that it is full of stories like this, stories that speak into our life situation right where we are at and shed light on dark places for us.  Church history really is more than just an endless list of meaningless dates and names, it is the story of life.  It is the conglomeration of the stories of those who have gone before us, and one day, future generations may be looking at our stories for wisdom and encouragment.

Inside the Circle

I’ve been talking about revival on Sunday mornings at church from the Old Testament books of Haggai and Zechariah.  During my study I came across a story from the life of traveling evangelist Rodney Smith.  He was a Brit who’s ministry spanned the late 19th and early 20th century.  He made over 40 trips abroad to places like American, Australia, and South Africa sharing the gospel.  Most of us wouldn’t recognize him by his given name because he went by the name Gipsy Smith, which I happen to think is an awesome name for a traveling evangelist.  Anyway, during one of his meetings, Smith was approached by a young man.  The young man asked Gipsy how to have revival.  Smith responded by asking the young man, “Do youchalk_circle_jpg have a place where you can pray?”  The young man replied affirmatively.  So Gipsy said, “Tell you what to do, you go to that place, and take a piece of chalk along.  Kneel down there, and with the chalk draw a complete circle all around you – and pray for God to send revival on everything inside of the circle.  Stay there until He answers – and you will have revival.”

There may be a lot of words we could use to describe Smith’s response from sarcastic to frivolous to trite, but the truth is it is a deeply profound and compelling statement.  In my observation, our tendency when talking about revival is to talk about how everyone else needs a good dose of it; our neighbor, our community, our nation, the church down the street.  But seldom do I hear individuals proclaim with deep sincerity their need for revival.  Imagine the outcome if every one us would find a place to pray, kneel there, draw a circle around ourselves, and pray that God would send revival to everything in the circle, then not leave until it comes. 

If I genuinely want revival then I must realize it starts with me.  If you genuinely want revival then you must realize it starts with you.  And as God stokes the individual flame of our hearts and they come together the divine flickers will turn into a raging inferno blazing across the landscape and all people will see and hear that our God truly is a consuming fire.  With that said, pardon me while I go draw my circle.