Awaiting the Golden Hour
This is a tiring hour for gospel workers. Men are having to run at full speed to keep their churches in the same place. A widespread awareness is abroad among us that forces of unbelief and secularism are exerting titanic pressures on the true evangelical church. Faithful servants of Christ are toiling manfully, even heroically, but encouragements seem scarce. Veterans are able to talk of brighter days, but these are now in the past. The temptation is to break down or else give in. Many struggle with the thought of lowering the quality to increase the membership of their churches. The most idealistic among good men have their dark wrestlings with the spectres of fear and disappointment. Some words therefore must be addressed to this situation which we face.
The Strain of Waiting
We need first and foremost to reassure ourselves that it is a noble service to Christ to wait patiently for him to revive his work again. This is not idleness or inactivity. At least, it need not be and ought not to be. There are situations and occasions when the best way to protect the cause we love is by patience and waiting rather than by feverish endeavour.
There is a particularly notable illustration of this in the history of ancient Rome. During the period of the Punic Wars, Hannibal had invaded Italy and was at large with his armies but unable to capture the city of Rome itself. Some of the Roman leaders were bent on making an all-out attack on Hannibal and hazarding all in the field of battle. But those who did so were disastrously defeated at Cannae. The hero of the hour was the prudent leader Quintus Fabius Maximus who counselled delay. His policy proved to be correct. 'One man,' history relates, 'saved the state by waiting.' There is a lesson in that for our spiritual warfare today.
Then, secondly, we need to recall that the declension sent by God in our day is testing our character. This is certainly a reason for the times through which we are all passing. It was said of Joseph that 'he was laid in iron: until the time that his (i.e., God's) word came: the word of the Lord tried him' (Psalm 105:18-19). Disappointment and affliction, in God's purpose, were testing and trying the soul of Joseph. As a youth, he was subjected to a barrage of unwelcome providences by God until his character was educated to the necessary point. But the time came when God's purpose was fully ripe. The sequel shows that God gave him ample recompense for his early difficulties and sufferings. They were a sore affliction at the time but they were an essential part of his preparation for great work in the world later on. 'The word of the Lord tried him.' This was true of John Knox at the Reformation and of Brainerd in North America and of a host of others. It is a principle which we need always to keep in mind. It is a great antidote against becoming impatient with God when he seems to work more slowly than we think good.
Further, we need to remind ourselves that there is always a connection between our prayers and the progress of events in the outward world. As Elijah intercedes, a tiny cloud begins to form. At first it is only the size of a man's hand. But in due course it heralds the sound of abundance of rain. That is a truth of the utmost importance for us today. We think we see little good for our prayers. The churches appear only to mark time. Converts are few. The time is long. But matters are never as they seem. We must believe that God's hand is at work in national and international affairs today in a significant way. Whilst we look for answers to our prayers on a local scale, God is perhaps answering on a global scale. Who that is aware of events in Eastern Europe can doubt that 'the Almighty is shaking the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land' (Haggai 2:6)? Such shakings are not random or meaningless. Though their precise significance is above and beyond our powers of understanding, yet we know by faith that these things are all related to the progress of the kingdom of Christ. Therefore they are related to the prayers of Christ's disciples on earth today. The stage is being set for some great coming future event which will bring comfort and joy to those who love God. It will then vindicate their patience.
It is doubtful if we believe as much as we should in the idea of a divinely ordained turning-point in the affairs of this world. There is plenty of evidence from Scripture (and from history too) that God has appointed some periods and some events to be significant turning-points in the unfolding of his plan for mankind. The Exodus of Moses' day was one such turning-point. All appeared hopeless for the nation of Israel. Their bodies were enslaved and their male infants were being murdered. But then God's critical moment of deliverance came. The decree of Cyrus is another case of this. The same is true of the time when Christ was born. False religion was all but dominant among the Jews. The outlook for the truth appeared bleak in the extreme. But then God's hand intervened wonderfully. Again the same is true of the Protestant Reformation. When superstition threatened to reign supreme, then came Luther. The Jews have a proverb which expresses it perfectly: 'When there is no straw, then cometh Moses!' That is a wonderful comfort.
Churchill used the expression 'the hinge of fate' to describe the crucial importance of the battle of Alamein in North Africa during 1942 in the Second World War. Before that battle the Allies had known only disadvantage and defeat. They were forced to fight for their very existence. But after Alamein, though eventual victory was still a long way off, the going was largely down-hill. 'Before Alamein we never had a victory, after Alamein we never had a defeat.' We must expect such things. Leaving aside just now the precise questions at issue in the Second World War, we may confidently believe as Christians that a 'hinge' or turning-point will come in the critical hour when the forces of light and truth are threatened, as today once again they appear threatened, by the powers of darkness. It is our comfort to expect such divine interventions.
How Should We Wait?
We said earlier that the Christian who waits on and for God is not being idle. This brings us to enquire how we are to wait.
In general, waiting on God refers to prayer and waiting for God to expectancy. The two are clearly very closely related. Our Lord told us to 'watch and pray'. They are two aspects of the same vitally important work. If we are to serve God faithfully in this time of spiritual declension, when there is little of an outward kind to cheer or encourage us, we must excel in these things. Let us come to some of the specific ways in which we ought to wait on and for God in our day.
For one thing, we must recall that God does not reckon time as we do. The apostle Peter informs us very clearly on this point when he states that 'one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day' (2 Peter 3:8). The great danger is that we imagine God to be 'slack concerning his promise'. Peter, of course, refers to the promise of ultimate salvation in the 'new heaven and new earth.' But God is not slack concerning any of his promises. Each successive hour of darkness will be relieved, even in history and in time, by a God-given respite. A 'way of escape' will always come. There will be eventual relief from the present gloom and spiritual darkness which hang over our heads today. In that knowledge we await God's time.
Then, we wait for God to work in the assurance that the friends of the truth will be blessed with joy when the hour of visitation comes. This has always been the case. When God turns back the captivity of his people, their mouths will be 'filled with laughter' (Psalm 126:2). That is not true of those who have been unfaithful. But it is the reward prepared for the servants of the truth and it will not fail to come in its time. Our present duty is therefore to continue faithful to Christ while righteousness is trampled on in the streets and truth is outlawed and placed on the scaffold. Evangelicalism is gagged and pilloried today. But it will make its come-back as it always has done in the past. When it does, our 'sackcloth' will be turned to 'dancing' (Psalm 30:11).
Again, we wait on God by prayer and intercession in the assurance that all his enemies will eventually appear foolish. This has always been the case in the past. History gives us a list of the names of Zion's enemies: Pharaoh, Haman, Judas, Pilate, Nero, Julian the Apostate, Voltaire — the list is not ended yet. They all played their ignoble part. But every one of them came to ignominy and shame in the end.
One notable biographer of Adolf Hitler ends his monumental study of that tragic man by saying that the very thing Hitler tried to prevent he only succeeded in bringing to pass. He attempted to exterminate the Jews. But a mere three years after Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker, the State of Israel was formed! 1
The wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.Psalm 37:20
Let us then bend every nerve to keep manfully on our course. God is on our side. All the angels and saints above are watching to see how believers respond to the challenge of this hour. Many are giving away truth by the inch or by the yard to accommodate the spirit of the age. Many have all but given up the practice, one fears, of disciplined, regular and prolonged private intercession to God to help us. A sleeping sickness of the soul infests all branches of the church. But evil times are the anvil on which courageous prophets and heroic saints are forged. As we wrestle, preach and pray, the day of Zion's deliverance is drawing ever nearer. The hoped-for revival must assuredly come. The golden hour of blessing will dawn at last as it has always done before in the experience of God's people.