They call it déjà vu: we have seen it all before. And it also applies to our desire for growth, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. It applies in our national economy, in that we all want growth but that it should always be achieved by the efforts of somebody else. Those who support public spending want growth to come from more taxation – of others, of course, and by more borrowing: borrowing our way out of debt (??). Those who support private initiative want taxes lowered, and with them spending – but just who should suffer the cuts is of course another story.
But there is also something of this in the church. We all want growth: but just what do we mean? More people in our pews? More communicants? More activity in our buildings? A stronger local reputation? These are probably all part of our view of growth, but they miss something essential. The growth means others coming in, but into what? The church as we have always known it? Our existing pattern of services and activities? Our existing pattern of vestry membership and our existing agendas?
This may produce a form of growth, but it could be a form of growth after our own agenda and that is not the same as the kind of growth that God is looking for. We may appraise the life of the church but end up doing so only to meet our own needs and priorities. I strongly doubt whether this is the growth that the Lord seeks, who daily added to the church of the Acts of the Apostles, and when the church grew not only by addition but by multiplication. That is not growth but revival, and there have been instances of it in this country in the past. There was the Welsh revival and the Hebridean revival, both in the early years of the 20th century.
This kind of revival is often desperately sought and yet may be deeply challenging. More to the point however is the way we present ourselves to the Lord in search of growth. Is it with prayer and repentance? Is it with vigils and fasting? Is it with hearts united in a wholehearted determination to let the Lord have His way among us, come what may? Is it an open invitation to Jesus Christ to move among us as He wills, to encourage and to convict, to stir up and to settle down? For some there may be a call to a new kind of boldness, a new kind of self-giving, a new dimension in prayer and a new strength of faith. It would almost certainly be costly, and we may be pressed in many ways that we cannot imagine.
But if we really desire growth, it would have to be as the Lord brings it, with His agenda: the fruits of His Spirit of love and the gifts of His Spirit of power. This is all dangerous stuff. Is this what we are praying for?
Every blessing as we draw nigh to Pentecost.