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Embracing New Things from God

A New Thing

by Dennis Pollock

“Dull – routine – tedious – boring – monotonous…” When we use words like these we are often speaking of something or some practice which has become so commonplace in our lives that it has lost any luster it once possessed. We have seen it or heard it or done it so many times that all its novelty and sweetness has long since dissipated, much like a piece of chewing gum which we have kept in our mouths far too long. We may still need to see it or hear it or do it many times more, but we no longer enjoy it. What once was interesting and perhaps pleasurable has now become a grim duty or a sadly inescapable part of our life.

There is nothing essentially wrong with this desire for new things. It is in fact a part of being human. We were made to need new challenges, new experiences, new relationships, and new seasons of life. As conservative as we may be, and as much as we may think that we would love to place ourselves in a permanent “pause” mode, the truth is that every one of us craves at least a little novelty in our lives. And this is a part of spiritual growth. We typically grow as we pass through various new seasons and challenges in our lives, and we stop growing if we can ever find a way to artificially put ourselves in a position where everything is precisely the same every day, every month, and every year. God is not unaware of this. He is the One who made us the way we are, and He wisely knows that we must have a wholesome blend of the new and the challenging with the old and comfortable aspects in our lives.

“New Measures”

In the church it is no different. In my younger years I read much about the great spiritual awakenings that occurred throughout church history. One book I read was by Charles Finney, titled Revivals of Religion. This book has a section in which Finney discusses a frequent criticism made by many Christians, about what they called in those days “new measures.” Finney had been charged with this often, due to the fact that he had an incredibly creative mind and was a natural innovator. One example of the many “new measures” he introduced was the “anxious seat.” This was a series of chairs, or a bench, where non-Christians, concerned about salvation were invited to come and sit after the sermon had concluded. The men and women who occupied these seats were then invited into a private room where counselors could talk to them about their souls, and encourage them to give their lives to Jesus that very evening.

This was preposterous to many believers in Finney’s day. It just wasn’t done! In those days, it was believed by many that if you were one of God’s elect, you would eventually and inevitably be created a new creation in Christ, and it would be presumptuous for anyone to try to encourage you to receive Christ as your Savior right there on the spot. As a result of this erroneous doctrine, many non-Christians felt under no great pressure to surrender to Christ.

But Finney would have none of it, and called for people to give their lives to Jesus immediately, just as the apostles had insisted on in the early days of the church. As a result of this and certain other practices, he was fiercely censured, and accused of bringing “new measures.”

In his book on revival Finney takes up the idea of new measures at great length, and demonstrates that God has always used new measures, due to the very nature of men and women. He wrote:

If we examine the history of the Church we shall find that there never has been an extensive reformation, except by new measures. Whenever the churches get settled down into a form of doing things, they soon get to rely upon the outward doing of it, and so retain the form of religion while they lose the substance… Whenever He (God) has found that a certain mode has lost its influence by having become a form, He has brought up some new measure, which would break in upon lazy habits and wake up a slumbering church.

And great good has resulted… Without new measures, it is impossible that the Church should succeed in gaining the attention of the world to religion. There are so many exciting subjects constantly brought before the public mind, such a running to and fro, so many that cry “Lo here!” and “Lo there!” that the Church cannot maintain her ground without sufficient novelty in measures, to get the public ear.

Waves of Blessings

Finney was exactly right! Throughout the history of the church, new waves of blessing and revival have always brought new styles, new songs, new emphases and themes in preaching, and new ways of worship. Young people today, who read little of church history and have spent only a few years of time in church personally would not recognize this. They might assume that we “do church” about the same way it has always been done. But we most decidedly do not! The Moody/Sankey revival meetings took Europe by storm in the latter part of the 1800’s. Moody faced criticism, not for his preaching, but for all the new songs his partner, Ira Sankey, was introducing and for the small accordion-like instrument that Sankey played. One minister told Moody in a grave voice that this was a very great sin to have such an instrument in the house of God. Moody, tongue in cheek, replied that it couldn’t be a very big sin. After all the instrument Sankey played was quite small. So it must be, at most, a very little sin.

In the Welsh revival there were new songs and new styles of ministry, which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, shook Wales to its core. In the charismatic revival that swept through the church in the late sixties and throughout much of the seventies, new songs and new styles of worship swept through the church. Gone were the song leaders standing stiffly at a microphone, telling people to turn to page 255 and sing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. Books were set aside and lyrics were beamed onto a screen or a wall by a projector. Hundreds of new songs were coming out, as fast as the churches could learn them. Some were silly, but many were quite powerful, and the anointing that accompanied them was amazing.

I can remember times during those days when I would be singing those songs with tears coursing down my cheeks. The presence of God was so tangible you felt you could almost bottle it. Traditional churches first disapproved, but when these churches began to grow in ways the mainstream churches could not touch, eventually they began to hesitantly copy their charismatic cousins. After a while churches began having two Sunday services, first the “traditional worship” for their older folks and then a “contemporary worship” service for the younger and middle-aged members.

Today the songs from the early charismatic movement have nearly all disappeared, except in a few churches trying to recapture what God was doing in those days, a feat which is patently impossible. Changes are still coming. Pastors have shed their suits and ties. In many churches, they preach on Sunday morning wearing jeans and casual shirts. People come into church with their Starbucks lattes, sometimes wearing shorts or cutoffs. Loud, forceful, pound-the-pulpit preaching has given way to shorter teachings, with lots of humor thrown in, and sometimes even a slightly risqué comment or phrase injected to prove to the people that their pastor is one of them.

Not all changes are positive, and it is not necessary or wise to assume that every change must be accepted and swallowed without question or analysis. Some change is silly, some is stupid, some is just plain wrong… but some is both inevitable and absolutely necessary. We are not going to capture the attention of our secular, unbelieving, social-media obsessed world with modes and forms that worked in 1952. For young people this is not a problem. Youth adapts to change easily and naturally. But when the years start to accumulate, we can find ourselves with a knee-jerk resistance to any and every change, and end up stifling the work of the Holy Spirit.

On the Other Hand…

saladThere is another side to this question. Some things will not and should not change. I was eating salads when I was in my twenties and now forty years later I still eat salads – and I enjoy them. The same can be said of steaks and hamburgers and strawberries. Why don’t I ever “burn out” on these foods? God, knowing that we would need to eat many of the same foods all our lives, has given us taste buds that make foods a delight to experience even when we are eating them for the umpteenth time. Some people tire of their spouses after a few years, divorce them, and try someone else. This is clearly not God’s will or intention for marriage. God calls men and women to various ministries, and this calling is often a lifetime calling. I was preaching Christ and writing in my twenties, I am still doing it today, and if I should live another twenty years into my eighties, the Lord willing I will probably still be preaching Jesus and writing. Some folks stay happily married for fifty, sixty, or seventy years. Not all things have to change or should change!

In cases like these and many others in which we must repeat the same actions or stay in the same relationships for decade after decade, how can we keep things fresh? Just as God gives us taste buds which enable us to enjoy the same food year after year, so He gives us emotional and spiritual refreshings which keep things new and pleasant even though we may have experienced them countless times over many years. God is the God of the new and the fresh! In announcing the work of His Son, He declares, “Behold I will do a new thing…” (Isaiah 43:19). Some things in our lives must inevitably change, but others are supposed to remain static over the entire course of our lives.

“I Change Not”

The greatest unchangeable fact of our lives is God Himself. When Jesus Christ enters our lives after we receive Him as Lord and Savior, everything becomes new. The Bible tells us: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Instantly the old life passes away and a new life comes: new values, new attitudes, new hope, new joy, and brand-new rivers of living water begin to course through us. Life is transformed from black and white to living color. We are both adopted and birthed into the family of God and relate to a Father who never changes. From that point on God becomes a constant Factor in our lives. Much in our lives remains fluid, however. As before, situations change, relationships come and go, and circumstances, pleasures, and struggles wax and wane before us. But in every circumstance and in every season of life, God remains the same, and Jesus relates to us as our faithful Good Shepherd who leads, comforts, and provides for us continually.

Because Christ is our constant Rock, we can and must learn to adjust to new seasons, new opportunities, and even the letting go of old and favorite blessings which God deems are no longer profitable or necessary. Flexibility and the ability to adjust to new and different conditions should mark the lives of Spirit-filled men and women. Whether it be in our local church or in our personal lives, we must recognize that the only part of us that is locked down permanently is God Himself. Every other thing, relationship, pleasure, habit, routine, and blessing is subject to revocation or replacement at the will of our divine Master.

When Israel journeyed through the wilderness after being liberated from Egypt, they were led by the cloud of God’s presence. At times that cloud would settle down and they would camp and remain by the cloud – for a day, a week, a month, or a couple of years. But at some point the cloud would eventually rise and start to move. When this happened, the Israelites would gather their belongings, pack their tents, and follow the cloud. It was not their responsibility to choose their paths or the places where they would stay. Theirs was to faithfully follow the cloud.

Today we follow Jesus. Whether He directs us to remain in the exact same encampment for thirty years, or for a few months, we trust in His judgment. He knows best. And He never changes.

 

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