A week ago my wife and I returned from a vacation in beautiful Cape Town. We stayed with our eldest daughter and her family, who fellowship with a simple church group in their suburb. It was refreshing in every way, gathering with our physical family as well as the church family.
The first refreshment… In the weeks before our departure I had been plagued by painful fassiitis (spelling?) in my right foot, making walking most uncomfortable. The doctor’s verdict? – basically a chronic condition, about which one can do very little. Somehow I sensed I should wait for the Cape Town visit, and ask the church family to pray for my healing (Jam. 5:13ff). This the members gladly did – I am now totally mobile and pain-free, for which I give all thanks to God!
The second refreshment… For many years I had been aware of ‘prophetic words’ concerning a spiritual awakening birthed in Africa’s southern point and spreading north, lit. ‘Cape to Cairo.’ In some ways this has been happening over a decade or two. During my stay I met with two leaders (of the organic variety, i.e. non-institutional/non-hierarchical) in Cape Town who spoke of the new impetus God is giving to this vision with a desire for it to happen at grass-roots level, under the banner of ‘the one Church of Jesus Christ in the city of Cape Town.’ No glory was to go to any particular person(s) or church grouping, in order that the Lord himself may be the focus.
The third refreshment… I was privileged to meet with a leader whom God has been using in the large townships of Cape Town, Gugulethu and Khayelitsha. Great was my joy when I heard his story of how God had led him and others into an understanding and practice of organic church, with the determination not to build any denomination or organisation but simply God’s church ‘from house to house’ (Acts 2:42ff) through the proclamation of the kingdom (i.e. rule) of Jesus Christ. It was wonderful to learn of simple trust in God, earnest prayer, the identification of spiritual strongholds in those areas (drug addiction, gangsterism, ancestral veneration, etc), the participation of all believers, the deliverance of the oppressed and the healing of the sick, reaching out to the poor in their need, and so on.
The fourth refreshment… For fifty years or so I have had a yearning in my heart to experience true revival (of the Christ-exalting kind), issuing in mission, both local and global. I have read just about every ‘classic’ on the subject. I understand now that revival, as good as it is, is never to become an end (idol) in itself, but that ultimately everything is about Christ and his divine purpose in the world (Eph. 1; Col. 1). Hence my question to the brothers in Cape Town, ‘What about the Eastern Cape/Port Elizabeth?’ (for God has been doing some pretty amazing things in the Eastern Cape for over twenty years, especially in terms of missions mobilisation). The brother, mentioned in the previous paragraph, told of his upbringing in Uitenhage. In fact he and his family had just returned from Port Elizabeth, having met with groups in Motherwell (our largest township) who expressed interest in his experience and message to the extent that they have invited him back later this year. This leader has kindly agreed to meet with our small network in PE at the end of February and then with the Motherwell groups over Easter. He also related how, years ago, God had visited him during a prayer-time one day, giving him a picture of many little flames combining into a great fire. He encouraged me by relating how, in his recent visit to our Metro, God had given him a sense that spiritual rain was coming to our largely drought-stricken city and its townships.
I share these things with you my readers, for your encouragement as well, no matter where God has placed you. In conclusion I refer back to my caption, taken from Acts 3:19, ‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…’ Some salient points:
- The apostle Peter, in this message addressed to the onlookers of the healed cripple at the temple gate, directs attention away from that miracle to the Christ, the Messiah of God’s people, crucified but vindicated by God’s raising him from the dead. He ascribes many glorious titles to this Christ (v. 13ff): Servant of God, the Holy and Righteous One, Messiah, Prophet, etc. Having exalted Jesus, Peter now challenges his listeners with the necessity and blessings of ‘repentance’ and ‘turning to God.’ If his listeners repented and turned to God, first God would wipe out their sins (v. 19b) (i.e. wipe the slate of their transgressions clean), secondly he would ‘refresh’ them (v. 19c) (i.e. refresh their flagging spirits), thirdly he would send the Christ who had been appointed for them (i.e. to restore ‘all things’ at his final return, v. 20-21).
- ‘This comprehensive testimony to Jesus as rejected by men but vindicated by God, as the fulfilment of all Old Testament prophecy, as demanding repentance and promising blessing, as the author and giver of life, physically to the healed cripple and spiritually to those who believe, aroused the indignation and antagonism of the authorities. The devil cannot endure the exaltation of Jesus Christ. So he stirred up the Sanhedrin to persecute the apostles.’ (John Stott)
Let us, despite opposition from the enemy from many directions (from within the Church and from the unbelieving world), begin to pray for Christ to come in great mercy and to exalt himself in/through us: our personal lives, our family life, the Church universal and our local assemblies, wherever God in his sovereignty and wisdom has placed us. May we repent from our idolatry (self-centredness, false images of God, self-reliant religiosity, etc) and turn to the exalted Lord, so that ‘times of refreshing’ may indeed come to us from his glorious presence and his name be lifted up in all the earth!