Not long after we join a church or para-church movement we’re told, either bluntly, or ever-so subtly, that we’re all on a mission for God. Out there in the big wide world are millions of our fellow-men and women, those who don’t know Jesus like we know Him. The Christian life is one big mission, the evangelising of the whole world no less. If we don’t get it done nobody else will, and to accomplish it we need to commit to our sect of choice.
Of course, there are many varied brands within the Christian flock, but we’re told by much older experienced hands that the holy grail that we singularly seek is revival. Now I’m all for revivals when they come along, but I’m not so sure that Divine Love is obsessed with them. And lets face it, numerous revivals have been claimed, when they are really no more than subtle mind-control events, hyped up with seductive music and a touch of show biz glamour.
In my dour wee homeland of Northern Ireland, a revival took place in the early 20th century. At the heart of it lay the fiery preaching of WP Nicholson, a travelling evangelist from my home town, who literally scared the hell out of folk. Gifted with the blunt language of the common man Nicholson painted a burning end for those who didn’t respond to his particular take on salvation. So effective was he that his converts returned a mountain of stolen tools to the Harland and Wolf shipyard, builder of the ill-fated Titanic. Yet, can terror or hell-driven conviction for sin really be the sign of Divine Love at work. I tend to think not.
Anyway, when we’ve signed up to our beguiling new Christian movement we’re informed that something big, really big, is just around the corner , like the visit of the aliens in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, only holier. Yes, you guessed it – God has plans for a great world revival and we’re at the heart of His planning committee. Of course as a new convert, one eager to please both God and man, we tend to believe such sacred spin. And so our addiction for pre-revival disciplines begins.
I’ve done them all in my time. Prayer and fasting are the biggies for many revival heads. The game plan is simple: the more we pray the more God turns up. The more we fast the more powerful or influential our prayers. Now this raises a few important questions. Why does God not come at the first sign of a request from His followers? Why does giving up our daily sustenance twist God’s arm even more. One begins to wonder if God is really into this penny in the slot, type of faith dynamic.
In my own Charismatic sect of choice, we discovered that an ancient Celtic monastery in our town had established a 24 hour prayer and praise regime during the early medieval period. For over a couple of hundred years Celtic hymns and contemplative prayers were offered up without a moments break. Three 8 hour shifts of chorister monks at full throttle, copying the daily routine of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Hundreds of monks travelled from my wee town to the pagan lands of Europe with much success in their attempts to introduce the wild Germanic hordes to the love of Jesus. So, inspired by our ancestors pious dedication we began. The task of continuous prayer through the hours of darkness was handed out to the men of the fellowship. If one refused, a not so subtle demotion in the eyes of our zealous leaders resulted, doubting one’s commitment or indeed manhood. The dear women of our group theoretically covered the daylight hours, when they weren’t being model wives and mothers.
Yep, the Prayer Watch, as it was known, marked us out as one spiritual notch above the rest in the religious Bible of Northern Ireland. As dragged ourselves out of bed at some unearthly hour to tumble down to the church offices to pray with our prayer partner, the spirit was willing but the flesh extremely weak. Boy those were the days – days of madness in hindsight. Of course not everything went to plan. I well remember the night when my partner and I got stuck in a snow drift and couldn’t fulfil our obligations. The poor duo who we were supposed to relieve on watch, had to do our stint as well. I’m sure many employers wondered why once a week their model Christian workers would turn up to work fit for nothing, catnapping their way throughout the paid working day.
I guess we were peer pressured young idealists willing to join the revivalist treadmill. After all, if we put in the effort God would surely deliver – wouldn’t He? Of course it was a recipe for psycho-spiritual burnout. A presented but unreal God who expected us to put in a good penny’s worth in order for others to discover him for themselves.
Is it any wonder that we eventually fall off our religious treadmills, exhausted and somewhat disillusioned by the modus operand of our particular revivalist sect? There is much madness in the Christian world whilst wisdom, true wisdom lies within. So, if you’re tempted to sign up for a spiritual gym with the carrot of revival set temptingly before you, best return to the privacy of your own Self and listen for the still small Voice.
Next week I’ll tackle the crazy practice of fasting as a prayer enhancer. More crazy tales of a semi-starving religious junkie.