INTRODUCTIONLike the prophets I go through periods where things are exceptionally bitter for my spirit (Isa 22:4 ESV; Jer 13:17 ESV; Lam 3:15 ESV; Ezek 3:14 ESV; Zeph 1:14 ESV). In several public meetings last week I was left despairing at the dullness of Christian leaders concerning what the Lord is doing in the world (Heb 5:11 ESV).
Western civilisation is in the midst of an accelerating and unprecedented transition from a Christian to a post Christian society. Much is being written about this, but it’s hard to find someone speaking God’s word to the spiritual roots of our cultural crisis.
Secular humanism, radical feminism, cultural Marxism and the LGBTI lobby are easy targets for Christian apologists, but in the end its God we have to deal with. It’s the strong hand of the Lord in his wrath and fury which is handing our culture over to its many moral insanities (Ex 6:1 ESV; Neh 1:10 ESV; Jer 21:5 ESV).
As the Lord sent plagues upon the Egyptians and an army on Babylon to move his people out of cultural captivity, so he is releasing a plague of indecencies today for the same purpose. Bob Chapman defines discipleship as, “Extreme lives for extreme times.” Extreme times surround us, but extreme lives are rare. Thankfully there is a great plan in God’s heart to extremise our responses to the wickedness of our days.
A SELECT HISTORY OF GROANING
Under the deepest pressure the soul groans (Job 24:12 ESV) and its Maker has compassion on intense pain. When the Lord heard the groaning of the people of Israel in Egypt he “knew” their condition and delivered them (Ex 2:23-25 ESV; 6:5 ESV).
In the terrible time of the Judges “the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning” and repeatedly saved the nation (2:18). As real people the psalmists unashamedly present their broken hearted groaning as a ground for divine deliverance (Pss. 5:1 ESV; Pss. 12:5 ESV; Pss. 32:3 ESV; Pss. 38:8 ESV; Pss. 79:11 ESV; Pss. 102:5, 20 ESV).
Revelation concerning the apostasy of Israel makes the prophets groan, ““As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.” (Ezek 21:6 ESV cf. Jer 45:3 ESV).
Only those who sigh and groan over the idolatries and immoralities of Jerusalem will be spared from the coming wrath (Ezek 9:4 ESV).
Groaning is something normal for God’s people in this wicked world.
When the Lord allowed the communists to conquer China and the radical Moslems to take over Iran the little churches in these nations groaned in despair. The result has been an unprecedented spiritual renewal because their cries of agony were a share in the power and wisdom of the cross (1 Cor 1:24 ESV). But few seem to value the gift of groaning today.
NEW CHURCH, OLD CHURCH, CRUSHED CHURCH
offers a total spiritual experience; but its failure to move the saints to leave worldliness behind shows it is not putting people in touch with the power of the new creation. Someone sent me a Hillsong clip recently. I actually liked the song, but, to speak dramatically, since there was “no blood on the stage” it really was a rather powerless spectacle.
on the other hand panders to the safety of theological and political conservatism; but the apostolic preachers “turned the world upside down …acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”” (Acts 17:6-7 ESV cf. John 12:19-15 ESV).
Both forms of Church fail utterly to grasp, or, to be grasped by, the present crucifying of Christianity as we have known it for centuries.
Both forms of Church are substitutes for the utterly uncompromising kingdom power of God. I despair of folk unwisely praying for revival, asking God to do a work in the world when his priority is to more intensely bring the power of Christ’s death upon the Church (1 Pet 4:17 ESV).
If groaning is truly spiritual it must come to us from heaven (John 3:27 ESV).
THE SPIRIT GROANS
Paul teaches, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth” (Rom 8:22 ESV). Most potently “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26 ESV).
God himself is groaning in order to bring in the new creation, the centre point of which will be “the revealing of the sons of God” by resurrection from the dead (Rom 8:19-23 ESV).
Groaning is an essential part of what it means to be an adopted child of God in the likeness of Christ himself.
If groaning is strange to us we need to go back to the source of all holy groaning, the cross. It is commonly observed that Jesus’ cry from the cross, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34 ESV), is a quote from the first part of Psalm 22:1 ESV.
What we often miss is that the psalmist goes on to describe his cry as, “my groaning”. Jesus and the Spirit were perfectly united in groaning from the cross for the birth of the new creation.
The time when there will be cause of groaning (Rev 21:4 ESV).
Jesus groans on the cross were not for himself, but for the salvation of the world. They were vicarious glorious groans, groans heard by the Father and answered by resurrection from the dead (Acts 13:34 ESV Rom 1:4 ESV).
Whoever groans in the Spirit of Christ will certainly receive an answer to their prayers.
GIFTED TO GROAN
Groaning in the S/spirit is a sign and share in our future glorification. vs.16 “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, vs.17… heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:16-17 ESV).
Spirit inspired groaning over this ageing creation is a sign not of defeat but that we will inherit the whole world (Rom 4:13 ESV). Such mourning is a share in Jesus’ grief for a lost race and a witness to a genuine maturity in Christ (2 Cor 12:21 ESV).
The absence of mourning in our Church meetings is a sign that we have been desensitised to the absence of the presence of God.
True spiritual intimacy is much deeper than knowing the Bible, exercising spiritual gifts, growing to Church or being blessed. The intimacy the Father seeks involves us embracing groaning in the Spirit of Christ to his glory (John 4:23-24 ESV). How can this ever happen?
No one can initiate a groaning in “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” (Phil 3:10 ESV). We need the strong hand of the Lord on us to move us to groan (Isa 8:11 ESV; Ezek 3:14 ESV).
Through Jesus we understand this is the sacred weight of a crucified hand that may crush but will never destroy us (2 Cor 8:1 ESV). More than this, through the travailing Spirit we can receive a vision of the new creation coming through our afflictions that makes all our struggles seem worthwhile (cf. Luke 24:26 ESV).
Only insight into these majestic eternal purposes can wean us off both “New Church” and “Old Church”.
Whilst surrounded by Christian bodies who by their size, success or dullness will keep resisting the Lord’s crucifying work the Lord has a remnant called to be radically different (2 Cor 4:10-11 ESV; Gal 2:20 ESV).
The strange wisdom of the cross (1 Cor 1:25 ESV) beckons us to call on our heavenly Father for the gift of groaning in Christ.
This would be a genuine Spirit-filled experience (Rom 8:26 ESV).
When the Father answers this prayer, when we begin to hear shameless groanings in prayer in our churches, the revival we need will have begun.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 25th Feb, 2017 |
Author: Dr. John Yates
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