Last week I received the latest Arab World Ministries booklet, and on the back was an article entitled: ‘Will you help change a region for Christ?’
Changing a Region
The headline stood out for me because it could have said: will you help change an individual for Christ? … or a family, a street, or a town. It could even have said the world – but it didn’t. It actually suggested that people like you and me could change a region. That is the challenge I believe the Lord has laid upon St Michael le Belfrey Church: ‘Will you help change a region for Christ?’
So – will you? Will you help in serving God’s transformation of our region – of the North of England? To play our part in that, we’re going to have to see more clearly what that transformation might look like. So over these coming weeks I’m going to blog and paint a picture of what a transformed North might look like, so we can begin to imagine it. You see, once you can imagine it, you can begin to grasp it, pray it, live it and finally see it in our lifetime.
The Power of Imagination
Imagining is important. Paul Yonggi Cho (emeritus pastor of the largest church in the world in South Korea, with over one million members) advises that we use our imagination much more creatively in prayer. For instance, when you find it hard to pray for someone to become a believer, Cho suggests you use your imagination. He advocates that you imagine them doing something overtly Christian, and then ask the Lord for that scene to become reality. So you might imagine them sitting at a table and intently reading the bible, or with hands raised in heartfelt praise and worship. Cho rightly says that the imagination can be helpful in building faith in us, in causing us to pray and work so that we see those prayers fulfilled.
Now, how about doing that for the North of England? Let’s begin to imagine the North of England transformed in worship. What might that look like? Can you imagine it?
You might find it informative to read 2 Chronicles 30, which is the story of King Hezekiah re-starting the Passover in Israel. It’s a story of a people renewed in worship, as Israel turns back to the Lord. It has much to say about transformed worship.
Churches Not Empty
A revived North would mean that most churches in the North were full. Not empty. Most of us expect UK churches to be virtually empty because that is our experience and that’s what we imagine as normative. But in a revived North churches that were once quiet and sleepy will be full to overflowing. With multiple congregations. I saw a glimpse of that during my curacy in Dore in Sheffield in the 1990’s. A small semi-rural parish church that would normally seat just 140 was often full to overflowing time and time again, sometimes with 300+ people crammed in, with people standing round the walls and even sitting on the floor in the centre aisle. We see that in 2 Chronicles 30, where renewed worship results in the gathering of ‘a very large crowd of people’ (v13).
A revived North would see crowds worshipping in great celebration with much joy and thanksgiving. That is always a mark of revival. Hezekiah saw it in his time too, with the Chronicler describing is as follows: ‘There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon … there had been nothing like this’ (v.26).
In a revived North you will see people finding deep and lasting forgiveness – a forgiveness that heals the soul. As people survey the wondrous cross of Christ, they will experience his cleansing and saving power. Back in 2 Chronicles 30 we read of Hezekiah praying for this forgiveness to be known by his people: ‘May the Lord who is good, pardon everyone who set their hearts on seeking God’ (v.18). So in a revived North, many will find peace with God in the context of worship, as God pours out his Spirit in convicting and reviving power. And hearing stories of people finding forgiveness in Jesus Christ will be common-place whilst also constantly enthralling.
Queueing to Worship
A revived North would result in snakes of people forming outside churches, sometimes hours before doors open, as men and women queue for the best seats. Some of us have seen a foretaste of that in the queue that develops each year outside of York Minster before The Belfrey’s Carol Service. Passers-by always ask ‘what is this queue for?’ – and it’s great to be able to say ‘they’re queueing to get into church!’ That kind of thing will be common.
Worship on the Streets
A revived North would be a place where the presence of the living God is tangibly felt, known, experienced and appreciated – in church worship services but also in homes, in workplaces, in schools, in shopping centres and on the streets. Things like Healing on the Streets would be much more common, and would often happen spontaneously and naturally. I was walking with someone in the summer and we were having a conversation about what it means to be fully devoted to God, and I said that it was important to be able to say ‘God, I’ll go wherever you send me, and I’ll do whatever you tell me. I am yours’. When I added that I felt this person needed to be able to say that to God, they replied, ‘can I do it now?’ to which I replied ‘Now would be good’. And so they knelt down exactly where we were – which was on tarmac in middle of a carpark – and I knelt down with them, and there they wept as they gave themselves wholeheartedly to God. It was a wonderful moment! In a revived North that kind of thing will be much more common. Much more normal. Out in the streets. And those who aren’t Christians will see that kind of thing and even if they don’t fully understand it, they will not think it’s abnormal, because it’ll happen quite often. We see something of that in 2 Chronicles 30 where the foreigners, who don’t share the faith see it all happening and are even caught up in the rejoicing (v25).
Strong Local Churches
A revived North will mean that every community would have at least one strong local church. And in that church the profile of the people will normally reflect the age, ethnic and social background of the local population. Skilled and anointed musicians will lead people in exuberant praise, as they discover new songs, new sounds and new creative ways to worship Almighty God. We see this in 2 Chronicles 30 with those leading the worship praising God ‘with resounding instruments dedicated to God’ (v21).
This praise will involve many young people – excited about the life-call to follow Jesus Christ and pleased to give themselves to God’s service. The young were certainly included in the revived worship in Hezekiah’s day (v.9). In a revived North young people will trail the way and not be ashamed of singing about their good God and his good news.
Noisier Local Churches
A revived North will create noisier churches. That doesn’t mean there’ll be no space for quiet and reflection; there will be certainly be times like that. But it does mean there’ll be times when worship will be very noisy, as people find themselves ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’ – as in the days of Wesley and Whitefield. In 2 Chronicles 30 we’re told ‘for seven days they celebrated joyfully‘ (v.23). In a revived North the roofs of churches will be raised, as God’s people are caught up in strong praise to the King of kings.
In a revived North you’ll hear the sound of prayer and praise not just in large church gatherings, but within family homes. Maybe that’s what happened in 2 Chronicles 31:1 when the people ‘returned home’. In the winter in a revived North you will walk down quiet streets in the early mornings or during the evenings and hear the muffled sound of families praying and singing to God from behind closed doors. And in the summer, when the windows are flung open you’ll hear more clearly the sound of families rejoicing together in prayer and praise to their Saviour and Lord.
So even from this brief sketch, can you imagine something of the revived worship of a region? Can you sense it? Can you see it in your mind’s eye? If so, come with me into the future. Pray the future in. That’s what we want to see.
I invite you to pray with me: ‘Please Lord, we cry out to you to bring your kingdom transfomation to the North of England. Do it in our day. In our time. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.’