Very soon it will be Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church. My wife and I think a lot about birthday parties these days, because we have six grandchildren! There’s always one party just around the corner, and we’re always thinking about what our precious grandchildren will want.
As the American church begins a post-COVID-19 era, I find myself wondering what the church really wants for her birthday. The Lord gave a powerful promise to His church that seems to indicate that He desires to give her what she wants … if she wants what she truly needs:
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7 ESV).
The “you” in this verse is plural. He is not giving a promise to an individual but to His people together—to His church.
But since the church is made up of individual believers, let’s personalize the question:
What do YOU want for your church birthday?
What do you really long for? What do you desire God to do in you and in His people? Is there anything that you ask God to give the church, like a child pleading with his father for a desired birthday present?
We don’t have to guess what we SHOULD be asking for. The Lord tells us in the next verse what really matters—what will glorify Him:
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
I wonder what would happen if the church in America really longed for this for her birthday?
When you check out social media, it looks like the American church wants everything else but to simply bear fruit and prove to be disciples of Jesus. It looks like we think we need other birthday presents—like making sure everyone has their doctrine and ecclesiology straight (in line with my own, of course), the right people elected to political and denominational positions, and more people in our church buildings.
But that’s not the case everywhere. Perhaps the greatest movement of God in the world today is taking place in a country we normally only think about as an enemy. It is very possible that what God is doing in the nation of Iran through a massive movement of His Spirit could bring down an evil government!
If you have not watched the documentary “Sheep Among Wolves, Vol. 2,” go to YouTube and watch it now. From this amazing film, we learn that the Iranian awakening is a rapidly reproducing discipleship movement that has no denomination; it owns no properties or assets; it has no 501c3 status, or any other identifier the church in the west thinks essential. And it is predominantly led by women.
I also have very good friends who are missionaries serving carefully in that part of the world, and they have confirmed to me much of what is in this documentary. God is granting the wish of a courageous church in Iran by giving them what He promised in John 15:8—a discipleship movement that is bearing much fruit!
And it’s not just Iran where God is at work. Missiologists believe that more Muslims have come to faith in Jesus worldwide in the last 15 years than in the previous 1500!
There is an opportunity here to join the great movement of God taking place outside of the western world. We may never have this opportunity again. As one leader from the Iranian church says, “What is happening in Iran right now is an invitation from Jesus to the American church to say yes to more.”
But for the American church to say yes to more of what Jesus wants to do—to say yes to more fruit—we must truly become disciples. Actual followers of Jesus. And this means that safety, security, and success can no longer be our primary objectives.
Hear the words of a leader from the Iranian church:
In Revelation, the only church that Jesus did not critique was the church of Smyrna, and it was the only one under suffering and persecution the whole time! I would rather see millions come to Jesus than have freedom. I would rather see millions come to Jesus than to democracy. If freedom is such a great thing for the kingdom, why is the church in America and Europe in the state that it’s in right now?
Now, honestly, is that what we want for the birthday of the American church? Is revival more important to us than the American dream?
Are we willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus into suffering instead of success? Are we willing to passionately cry out to Him for the birthday present of revival, even if it costs the things that we spend most of our time pursuing in this country?
I realize these are hard questions to answer honestly. I’m not sure if my own answers are authentically what I wish they would be. But I want to pursue what Jesus says matters most.
I just received this email from one of our missionary friends working closely with the move of God in Iran and other places. I have removed their names.
Today our son turned 12 years old. When we asked him what he wanted, at the top of the list was to be able to go and help at the special needs orphanage he and his sisters have served at the past few years. Because of COVID-19, they have only been able to go a handful of times the past year. When we contacted the sisters at the orphanage a few days ago to let them know of his request, they told us they would get back to us. Needless to say, it was a yes.
When our son and his four sisters arrived this morning, the sisters had another gift for him. Inside the gift bag was a note. “Happy Birthday: We give you the best gift we can. The news that you can come every week again!” The sisters had contacted several pediatricians, and others in their order, to get special permission for our children to again serve weekly. They are all thrilled.
So … what do YOU want for your birthday?
I wonder what would happen if we had the heart of this 12-year-old boy—to want for the birthday of the church what he wants—just to be able to love, serve, and share the gospel with others, and to put aside all else as lesser things.
I think I know what would happen. I think revival would come to the church in America. I think we would see a reformation in the next two years that would raise up a remnant church to fulfill the Great Commission before Jesus returns.
I hope I see it. I hope we don’t miss it. I have hope! Growing hope. I am hearing more hunger and seeing more brokenness than I have in many years.
But much of the future of the American church remains to be seen. And each of us has a chance, as we approach Pentecost, to make a birthday wish.
Happy birthday, Church of the Risen King! Lord God, have mercy on us, and change what we want so that we want what we truly need!