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Often, when we think of God speaking, we think of him speaking to us as individuals (which of course he does). However, the Bible is also full of examples of God speaking to his people as a group and particularly addresses the church in cities. Think of Revelation 2 and 3 where John relays messages from Jesus to seven city churches. Each message was unique for the particular context and challenges being faced by that church. Also, many of Paul's letters were addressed to city churches across the Roman Empire. Note that although there may be multiple congregations in each city, God sees them as one church (See 1 Cor 3:16).
This raises the question, "What is God saying to the church in my city?"
This question is important because, as Isaiah 55 declares, God's voice is like rain. If there's no rain, nothing grows. There can be no flourishing without God's voice. Likewise Deuteronomy 8 teaches us that we do not "live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Deut 8:3) Therefore, there is no life without God's voice. Every idea and iniative that is founded only on human words will ultimately fail. And yet, how easy it is for the modern church to forge on in ignorance of what God is saying.
Deuteronomy 8:3 is insightful because it shows us God's process of teaching his people the importance of his voice. Speaking at the end of Israel's 40 years of desert wandering, Moses says that God used this time to humble his people, causing them to hunger and then feeding them with manna which was something they had never heard of. Manna is an example of how God's thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours (Isaiah 55).
For the nation of Israel, understanding that there is no life without God's voice was not learned in a ten week course but was taught in the real life expereince of wandering through the desert, being humbled by their inability to feed themselves, hungering and seeing God provide for them in miraculous ways according to his word.
The process could be summarised like this: God Humbles his people, causing them to Hunger for his Higher Ways.
I believe this is still the process that God leads his people through today. I believe that the current challenges the church is facing particualry in the west is at least in part God wanting to do a deep humbling work in us. He is helping us to realise that we don't have the answers and are incapable of saving our cities, that our methods and techniques to build the church are falling short. In some cases, the church has actually contributed to the increasing evil that is characterising the decline of western culture. (Think of the institutional child abuse scandals that have sadly plagued many denominations.)
Will we submit to this humbling process or will we continue to do things the way we've always done them, as a church divided over theological differences and ministry philosophy instead of being united in a spirit of Christ-like humility?
Psalm 29 is an amazing poetic portrayal of the power of God's voice. In this psalm God's voice is depicted as thunder, earthquake and storm - pictures of the earth-shaking power of God's voice. When he speaks, things happen.
John picks up on this theme in Revelation 8 where the prayers of the saints are combined with fire from the altar and hurled back onto the earth resulting in lighting, thunder and earthquake, images that bring to mind Psalm 29. It's a powerful picture of the prayers of God's people releasing the earth-shaking voice of God on the earth.
I believe that a humble people who are hungry for God's higher ways will pray. According to Revelation 8 those prayers will come back to earth releasing the powerful voice of God with mighty results.
Will the church embrace a radical humility that considers others more important than themselves, that recognises the priority of being a unified church and join together to pray for the release of God's voice in whatever city they are in?
Just as he provided manna in the wilderness, so I believe God is wanting to do a unique work in his church today, something that neither we nor our ancestors have konwn. However, this work of God is conditional upon us submitting to his humbling process and hungering in prayer after his higher ways.
This blog summarises a sermon preached by Evan Shelton at Rangeville Community Church on October 17, 2021. You can watch the sermon here
Evan Shelton works for Movement Australia in communications and media.