Sunday, January 31, 2010

God's Presence or Just Routine?

Psalm 61:-1-3
When I was a child I marveled at the stories in the Bible. There was something in my heart that longed to see the manifestation of God’s presence working intimately among His people. I wanted to experience the Lord’s presence in the same way as did those people in the Bible. I especially remember sitting in a revival meeting in our Baptist church and feeling such frustration at how complacent and satisfied the people seemed to be. The Lord was with us; I knew that. But I felt so strongly He wanted to do more and that He would surely come if we asked Him. I decided to do something about it.

When the pastor gave the invitation at the end of his message, I walked up to him and asked if I could say something to the congregation. He stopped the music, asked the congregation to be seated, and stepped back so I could speak. I am sure he thought it would be a good thing and “safe” to let a sixteen year old boy speak to the congregation.

Everyone listened intently. I looked over the crowd and said, “I don’t think we as a people are really praying and asking God to work among us. If each of us would actually take time talk to the Lord before we come to these meetings, and ask Him to visit us, God would surely be here revealing Himself in some special way. I don’t know what He would do, but I know He would do more than what we are seeing here now. As we sing another verse of the song, I want those of you who feel the same way to join me up front, and let’s all kneel down here and ask the Lord to visit us.” The worship leader resumed the music, I knelt on the front row to pray, and about twenty-five or 30 people joined me. My heart rejoiced. People were responding. Something wonderful was happening. "Surely there will be a change now," I thought. "The Lord may visit us in a special way tomorrow night." I naievely thought the people would all go home and take some time to pray, and that the pastor would be so happy about what I had done.

I was disappointed the next evening when I saw that everything was back to routine and nothing had changed. I thought, “Obviously not many, if any, are praying at home, and no one seems really hungry to see the Lord work among us beyond this ritual and routine.” So during the invitational song I once again went up to the pastor and asked if I could say something. He very politely declined and said, “I think it is best if you don’t say anything tonight.”
My heart sank. I realized then that he was satisfied with things the way they were. He was not interested in God's “showing up” beyond the usual, and he especially did not want the congregation at the altar praying on their knees. He was afraid of what might happen, and he was not about to allow a 16 year old boy to instigate such activity.

But something happened a few months later to highlight the issue in my mind once again. During another revival meeting, a very well-dressed military man walked into the back of the auditorium during the meeting. I saw him bend over and whisper to a gentleman on the back row, who then arose and walked over to one of the families in the church and led them out to speak with this visitor. The pastor followed them out, and after a few minutes, he returned to the meeting, and stood before the congregation to share the terrible news. “The C___ family has just received news that their son’s plane has been shot down in Viet Nam, and he is now missing in action. Let’s all come up to the front and pray for God to save this young man’s life.” I watched as almost the entire congregation gathered at the altar area to pray.

I asked the Lord, “If this is the thing to do now, to break the routine, to gather in prayer to lift our voices together to cry out for God’s help in an emergency, why then do we not do it all the time? Why is it not a way of life? The world is full of emergencies and needs. People are always suffering everywhere. People are groping about and in need of God. People need the Lord. Why do we not sincerely and passionately call upon Him as part of our daily routine? Why is this not a part of our daily spiritual life as a people?” It blessed me to see the church in agressive and passionate prayer during this time of need. But my question was, "Why do we not thirst like this every day? Why do we not thirst to know Him?" To seek to walk intimately with the Lord daily, will this not strengthen our faith when we call upon Him during our times of need?

“Arise, cry out in the night, At the beginning of the watches; Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord. Lift your hands toward Him for the life of your young children…” Lamentations 2: 19

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens! That you would come down! That the mountains might shake at your presence…” Isaiah 64: 1

“Oh God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no waer. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.” Psalm 63: 1-2


steve H said...

Timely, Billy, timely! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I remember this also as if it happened yesterday. Eva

Alyssa Guthrie said...

Thank you, Uncle Billy (can I still call you that?). I have seen more and more that my generation is done "playing" church and we are done with "religion." Other than you, it has been hard for me to find a pastor who is for real. I finally have, but have to drive 45 minutes to church! Sometimes it feels like spiritual boot camp, but it is worth it.

Billy Long said...

[I am inserting here an email I received from Kirk Dearman. Kirk, by the way, is the one who wrote the praise song "We Bring A Sacrifice of Praise."] --BL

Just read your blog posting for today. Excellent!!
I remember feeling the same frustration in church "revival" meetings as a teen. I would think, "What if Jesus were to suddenly physically appear and walk down the aisle? Would it make any difference in how these people are responding? Or would they fall down on their faces in deep reverence and awe and worship Him?"

A.W. Tozer - my favorite "old school" author - says that the number one critical need of the Church in this hour is the conscious and manifest presence of God in our midst. It would definitely change the way we "do" church . . . and our so-called "revival" meetings!

Just wanted you to know I appreciate your blog ministry. You've got a great thing goin' on there. Don't stop! It's ministering to me, my friend!

Much love to you and Laurel,

Beth said...

As many have said in movies and more, "thanks, I needed that!" Very timely and much appreciated!

Billy Long said...

[I am inserting here a comment I received by email from a friend in Durham].--BL

"Thanks Billy, I read your blog all the time...It's like water to a drowning man!! I'm being silly, but in a way it's true, just because you are surrounded by water, it doesn't mean your not thirsty. There are churches everywhere, Christians everywhere, yet I find there are few that know the heart of God, or want to get that close. So I treasure someone who wants to know!"
Susan J

Anonymous said...

Amen, Billy. I think you hit the nail on the head. Love to both of you...Debbie

Billy Long said...

[Inserted here is an email response I received from a good friend in the Charlotte area]

That was a very inspiring story about God leading you when you were 16 years old. Having known you for 10 or 12 years now, I know that He is still leading you to know and do His will. You have always been one of the best joke/story tellers I have ever known. But it has also been obvious to many of us at Myrtle Beach that you have a very deep Spiritual Gifting that goes beyond what you may even be unaware of. I don't know the details of you current life, but I know from experience that when we have "the call of God" on our lives, we can never be fully satisfied until we are fulfilling that calling. I am neither a prophet, nor a son of a prophet, so this is just the heart of a friend praying that, IF God is speaking to you at this time about changes He wants you to make, you will hear with the heart of that 16 year old boy and let NOTHING stand in your and G! od's way. Naturally, if I am totally off, just know that this attempt came out of a heart of love for you and Laurel. God Bless you and your family.
Jim Shock

Billy Long said...

[A comment from Brunswick, Ga]- BL

Hi Billy:
I believe that if we Christians would get serious with God, He would turn the world upside down. We could be feasting on the meat of His word instead of being content to drink milk. But most Christians as content to be status quo. Sad!
Dwayne Gibson

Billy Long said...

[An email response from a friend, Don Smith, in Myrtle Beach, SC]-

Billy, your post reminds me of my teenage years attending a small Baptist church in a town that everyone knew everyone.

The music director of the church, his wife the pianist, noticed the preacher's daughter, a married young lady, had returned to the church that weekend to visit. His said that she had been asking him to sing a song for several years and he had put it off many times, but felt that he had better do it today...the Lord was telling him he may not get another chance to do it. ( I had never heard this man sing a solo and was mildly shocked he would sing alone due to the whole of the choir voice mostly sounding close to a joyful noise as they sang)

I do not remember the song, I remember he sounded beautiful....very melodic...and I remember as he loudly closed the hymnal he fell dead upon the floor. I remember looking at his wife... and she was relatively calm as one one person, a medical person in the church body came to work on him and one person leaving to call the rescue squad. The body of the church began to pray for him and some were crying very softly.

He did not survive, but it left an impression on me...and others.

I enjoy your postings and get something from each of them. Continue to feed us, Billy.

Anonymous said...

I love readding, and thanks for your artical.........................................

Billy Long said...

[The following comment was emailed to me by Joyce Morgan, a friend in NC].--BL

I could not figure out how to post these comments, so in this email, here they are.

Your blog about wanting the presence of God really strikes a chord in my heart. Your blogs are so down-to-earth and edifying.

I find myself praying for the kind of HUNGER for God's intimate presence that puts a demand on God to show up. Many years ago, the Holy Spirit gave me an interpretation of a song I was singing in tongues (when I asked Him for it). Here are the words:

I am satisfied with Thee
But I want more and more
I want cisterns dug in me
To hold abundant store

Others coming thirstily
To dip their cups within
Tasting that the Lord is good
Will come and drink again.

This perfectly expresses my heart, and the reason I need MORE. There's a world out there dying for the water of life. Come, Lord Jesus!