The church is of course you and me. But anyone who loves Christ and loves his church will agree instantly that the church is a far cry from where it should be. The church is supposed to present itself to Christ one day as a bride “without spot or blemish”. We are nowhere near that today.
Sure there are lots of great Christians doing lots of great things, fully sold out to God, and fully dedicated to the Kingdom, but they are only a minority, a remnant. The bulk of the church today is sold out to materialism, apathy, greed, worldliness, compromise, rebellion, unholiness and double-mindedness.
Those who know and love Christ can only weep at such a situation. Those who do not weep are part of the problem, not part of the solution. And as always, the Old Testament has so much to teach us here. As I keep saying, those who do not know the Hebrew Bible do not really know their Lord.
I was talking to one Christian today who has been a believer for quite some time now, but he admitted to not having read the entire Bible; perhaps all of the NT, but certainly not all of the OT. He did however assure me that he would seek to rectify this in the near future. Good on him.
But far too many believers know so little about the OT. Yet it is dripping in rich spiritual treasures which we ignore at our own cost. Consider what I read in Nehemiah this morning. The opening chapters have some real nuggets, directly related to the topic I am writing about here.
We read in the first four verses of the book these words: “The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’ When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”
God’s dwelling place was in ruins, and the only appropriate response of Nehemiah was to weep, to fast, and to pray. Can I suggest that the dwelling place of God today is in a similar condition? For the most part the church, the dwelling place of God, is in ruin, in decay, in stagnation, and in disarray.
Wherever we look we see rampant sin, compromise, carnality, worldliness, disobedience and outright rebellion. I have documented this so many times on this website. Yet instead of allowing this news to break us, crush us, and drive us to our knees, we simply think it is business as usual.
Far too many believers will try to make excuses for this, seek to justify this, or try to downplay this. They will say, “Bill, you are overstating the case. You are just too negative. You only see the dark side of things.” Maybe, but the exact same things could be said about the prophets of old.
Indeed, God’s people so detested the prophetic word that they rejected the prophets, persecuted the prophets, and ignored the prophets. They refused to listen to them, and chose instead to listen to the false prophets who only told them what they wanted to hear.
The false prophets told them that everything was just fine. “No need to get too over-spiritual here. No need to take all this holiness stuff too far. No need to get all concerned about your spiritual condition. No need to get worked up about things.” “Don’t worry, be happy” was basically their message.
This was not how Nehemiah saw things. Consider the first three verses of chapter two: “In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.’ I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’”
Should we not be saying exactly the same thing? “Why should my face not look sad when the church where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Everywhere we see ruin and destruction; how can we be chirpy and cheerful in such a situation?
Sure, the joy of the Lord is our strength, and we rejoice in Him. But no true saint can not have a heavy heart when he contemplates the state of the church today. Sadness, weeping, prayer and fasting have to be the response of the godly.
But so many churches today will not even hear of this. They will say this is a “negative confession” and we must renounce it at once. We must not dwell on the negative, but just focus on the positive. Yet all around us the church lies smouldering in ruins.
Indeed, I recall one Christian leader recently absolutely mocking and scorning a call we had put out for prayer and fasting for the church and nation. He said he would have nothing to do with this, and would be eating pizzas instead. Really!
He thought such activities were a waste of time and totally unnecessary. But those who are close to the heart of God know better. Anyone close to their Lord will share his heavy heart, and will participate in his great grief.
As the psalmist so poignantly said:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy. (Psalm 127:1-6)
Many of our leaders today will also torment us, demanding we go all happy clappy when deep down we grieve for the ruin of the church. Indeed, we hear exactly this rebuke from Yahweh in Amos 6:1,6: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion … Woe to those who do not grieve over the ruin of Israel”.
Is there a place for praise, joyful worship, and celebration? Absolutely. But there is also a place for getting on our faces before God and repenting, asking for his mercy, and weeping with him over the sad state of his people today. And only those who have been broken before him, and on their faces in tears and prayer, can really know what the joy of the Lord is all about anyway: “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Day always follows the night, and the joy of the Lord always follows being soft, melted and wounded before him. We need both of course. For all eternity we will sing his praises. But now, when the walls of the church lie in ruins, there is a real place for weeping, fasting and praying. How can we do otherwise?
I close by inviting every single one of you to watch this short music video clip by Keith Green. Let it break your heart and spur you to seek him more, to pray and weep even more, and to come closer to his grieving heart: