What's the most urgent need in the church of the today?
Many different responses are given to that question.
Is it the need for purity in sexual matters? After all we live in a culture obsessed with sex at almost every turn?
Is it integrity and generosity in the financial arena? I say that because the raw worship of money has become so bold, so outrageous, so pervasive in our world during the last decade that many of us are willing to do almost anything, including sacrificing our children, provided we can get more money.
Is the most urgent need more evangelism & church growth? Careful studies show that perhaps 4% of those who make decisions at major crusades are persevering with Christ five years later, and while there seems to be an uptick in church attendance its rarely accompanied by an increase in holiness.
Is the most urgent need disciplined, biblical thinking & strong biblical scholarship? Probably not, because many students and faculty in seminaries, colleges and universities, have an extraordinarily shallow knowledge of God, despite of all their academic work?
Is it unity of the believers? After all, many churches are known far more for their complaining, backbiting, gossiping & downright cruelty to each other.
Is it discipleship? After all, how many believers know how to disciple others, much less be a disciple themselves.
Is it small groups or missional communities? After all how do you get folks to grow deeper if they don't get involved in small groups? Or how do you get folks to be more on mission with God if not thru missional communities?
Some groups point to the desperate need for real, vital corporate worship; others focus on trends in the nation & therefore the need to become involved in politics & policies.
Clearly all of these things are important. I would not want anything I have said to be taken as belittling of evangelism & worship, or of the importance of purity & integrity, or a carelessness about disciplined Bible study. But there is a sense in which these urgent needs are just symptomatic of a far more serious lack.
I say that because I believe that the one thing we most urgently need in our lives & churches is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.
When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted.
So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs - and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness & fulfillment, and in that environment God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs & fulfills our aspirations.
In that environment, we think rather little of what He is like, what He expects of us, what He seeks in us. We are not captured by His holiness & His love; His thoughts & words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities.
In the biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private & corporate worship, and much more.
But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God's blessings without running after him.
We are even worse than the man who wants his wife's services - someone to come home to, someone to cook & clean, someone to sleep with - without ever making the effort to really know & love his wife & discover what she wants & needs; we are worse than such a man, I say, because God is more than any wife, more than the best of wives: He is perfect in His love, He has made us for Himself, and we are answerable to Him.
In a book I'm reading entitled, A Call To Spiritual Reformation: Priorities From Paul And His Prayers, by Dr. D.A. Carson, he talks about all of this. So as I thought about what he was saying, I said to myself, so how does Paul pray for the church. To answer that question I looked at Paul's letter to the Ephesians.
What I found was that Paul knew that in the Ephesian church people struggled with lying, anger, stealing, improper speech, strained relationships, unforgiveness, sexual immorality, covetousness, drunkenness, and more. (Just read chapters 4 and 5)
But how does he pray for this church? Does he pray for the power of lust to be broken in their lives, for them to have restored relationships, or for idols to be destroyed? As good as these things are, no, and it dawned on me. If he prayed in these ways, he'd be fighting the wrong battle because these things aren't ultimately what their problem is. Their problem is owing to a lack of something else, something truly more important.
In fact, Paul's prayer for the Ephesians is found in Ephesians 1:15-23, which reads, "For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus & your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom & revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead & seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power & dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come, and God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."
Paul really only prays for one thing in verses 17-23. In fact, everything after verse 17 is an expansion of what that one thing is, which is, that God may grant the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom & of revelation in the knowledge of Him.
What's their greatest need? A better knowledge of God... in their heads, hearts & hands, that's their greatest need. If this prayer would be answered, all the other issues would disappear.
And you know what... it's the same for us in the 21st century. We need to know God better, and if we really focus on that & let it permeate everything else, we too could be truly different... both on the inside, as well as on the outside.
What is God saying to you thru this post?
What are you going to do about it?
What's holding you back from better knowing God?