Another from the archives

Another excellent article reprinted from a 25 year old ARMNZ Magazine…


From an address given by Dr George Carey at an ARMNZ Renewal Conference
at Ngaruawahia, 5 August 1987

1. Spiritual renewal invites me to die.

In my more sceptical moments I wonder who we are serving. Who is Lord of my life? Who is Lord of your life? Do we share that great conviction of John the Baptist: “He must increase and I must decrease”? Are we really prepared to die? If renewal is authentic biblical renewal it invites me in a threefold surrender:

a. To make sure that the real centre of my life and ministry is Jesus Christ my Lord. All of us have a need to be affirmed in ministry but sometimes that need to be affirmed can take the attention away from Christ whom we should be adoring and honouring. If He does anything through our ministry it must come from Him in any case but there is a need we find in all of us to try to grab the attention and we have to avoid that. We all need to be affirmed but we must be very careful about praise when people say great things about us. We don’t want to slap them in the face but we need to say in our hearts “Lord, I want to give the glory back to you because You must be the real centre of my existence”.

b. I must make sure that my ambition is to be what He wants me to be and to go where He wants me to go. Ambition is there in the Church’s ministry. People often say “Of course there is no ambition in the church’s ministry. We are all the same”. Rubbish! Of course there is ambition there. It may be the secret tension to be the vicar of a successful church with lots of people in your congregation and to see success. Even to be a holy person, to write books and to be famous. And Christ can subtly, instead of being Lord, be removed from the position of Lordship that is His. We see the classic of that when after Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi and Jesus’ prediction of his death Peter says “No, Lord!” To say “No, Lord” is a contradiction, and we sometimes do that as well. I have on my study wall a little couplet which says:

“Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought and loved and known;
Yet how rich is my condition, God and Christ are still my own.

I say these words daily because I need to hand the glory back to Christ. If we can do that we can do what Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar, said of the man he replaced out there who lived for forty years in a ministry where he was totally insignificant “He could gladly accept the day of small things because he had a vision of what things were going to be”.You can live with significance if you know that God is glorified in your life.

c. Spiritual renewal invites me to take on board deep personal sacrifices that may involve my loved ones and my family. Anyone who has tried to serve Christ wholeheartedly, whether ordained or not, will have learned that it often causes pain in the family circle. One day my ten-year old daughter asked me, “Dad, do you love me as much as you love your work?” I was absolutely devastated by that “Is that how she sees my life, that work predominates over my family?” It is a real dilemma in ministry. Of course Christ must come first Bonhoeffer in “Life Together” said Christ must come in between every relationship. He must be first, but in coming in between he never comes in to divide, but to unite, to draw together. So we must take enough time to allow family life and rest and watch for the warning signs of exhaustion. Yet the sacrifices will continue and the Spirit will sustain in those.

2. Spiritual renewal invites me to share God’s vision.

This is very much at the heart of renewal. We hear it often said today that the Church is in crisis but that has been said ever since the Reformation yet somehow the Church of England always manages to survive and be part of the fabric of our society. But if we are to embrace God’s vision for the world it is going to involve us in a certain number of things.

First, it is going to involve us in clear and effective leadership. The Church is changing. A few years ago the Archbishop of York said to the Council that chooses people for ordination that we are no longer seeking men and women who can lead the mission of the people of God. We are under enormous pressure in the ministry today with scattered congregations often in hostile or indifferent environments, and with acute financial problems. We must see the leadership we have been given as a gift from God that we give to His people. The quality of true leadership is offered humbly as a gift to the people of God. A true leader does not expect affirmation or praise for his gift. It was said of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher that he was able to go through his entire ministry without having true recognition of his leadership. The praise always was given for the school (Repton), or the diocese (London), or the state of the Church of England but rarely to the man whose able service was making it possible.

Secondly, vision means that we can open to change. To be committed to renewal in the Church is to be committed to inviting people to take on board change and people may not like that. Life without change is so much more scure and hassle-free. All of us are in favour of change as long as it doesn’t make any difference! Like the little doggerel:

My ancestors have been churchmen for a thousand years or so
And to every new proposal we have firmly answered “NO!”

Your job and my job is to invite people to a greater usefulness for the Lord and to take on board that God is doing new things in the world today. And the constant heresy we have to combat in Christianity is that it exists for itself alone. “Don’t touch my worship! It’s ours. We’ve got it just as we want it!” But the Church exists for the Kingdom of God. We have to be thinking beyond our own time because the church stands always one generation away from extinction if we don’t pass on the Gospel.

3. Spiritual renewal calls you and me to live expectantly.

To be a Christian is to be a person of hope and to look ahead with confidence because this is God’s world and He is going to bless it. This means we have to be planners as well as pray-ers. We have to find and grasp God’s vision for our churches and for the world. Church life should not have the predictability of a Mediterranean cruise. It should be going somewhere adventurously for God. We therefore need clear goals what, where, and how much, soaked in faith-filled prayer. Our tendency in church life is to do too many things inadequately. We need to be selective, visionary and prayerfully expectant.

4. Spritual renewal calls all of us to share our priesthood and our ministry with the Christians we serve.

Wherever you have the work of the Holy Spirit you are going to find that God is going to do something dramatic — He is going to speak to members of the congregation as well as to the vicar and sometimes those of us in authority don’t like that. Sometimes the vision is caught first by ordinary people and we will become aware of how threatened we are by other peoples’ vision. How we need to know that ministry starts by sharing ministry. On the one hand leadership is a gift, so do not reject that ministry; but our work is also to equip the saints for ministry, to serve them and therefore the moment we take ministry into ourselves we can cause the church to die. Let it not be true of us as in the reputed bishop’s last farewell to his clergy:

Tell my priests when I am gone, o’er me to shed no tears
For I shall be no deader then, than they have been for years!

If we are to take seriously the gift we have of leadership and that our work as ordained leaders of the people of God is to encourage and allow them to grow, so we must know that whatever ministry we exercise in the church we are doing as a service to the people of God, using and encouraging their gifts. As we are doing this we are dying in the process because we are giving up, surrendering, giving over. Constantly we must go back to the Holy Spirit of God for renewal, for refreshment, for life and for direction and to say with John the Baptist “He must increase, I must decrease”. We must reflect that God has chosen weak and fallible and stumbling instruments to serve Him and as such I have to stand alongside those I serve and to serve them the best I can as a very fallen creature, affirming them just as I allow them to affirm me.

5. Spiritual renewal calls me to be open to the Spirit of God.

We need to ask ourselves, “How can I possibly deny whole chunks of scripture that talk of God meeting men and women through His Holy Spirit — the Spirit touching and healing and reviving and anointing and blessing — how can I deny that? And how can I deny that there are eminently respectable men and women in the Church of God today, intelligent, godly people, whose lives have been radically turned upside down through the Spirit of renewal?” That kind of challenge needs to be faced.

“How can I deny that the charismatic witness in Christianity has been the most significant thing in the history of the Church this century, as Newbiggan has pointed out?” “How can I as a modern Christian learn tht the Spirit of God awaits my response and that it ought to be more my desire to be more like my master, more teachable more trusting of the Father’s desire to fill me with His Spirit?” We need to say the Lord, “Lord I want you to continue doing a work in my life. I don’t want to claim that I have arrived, that I know it all. I must constantly make this journey with you into ever deepening experiences of your love and your grace and to say in the words of that lovely chorus,

“Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me,
Break me, melt me, mould me,
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me”.

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