Gen. 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
Gen. 13:15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.
Gen. 15:18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
Gen. 17:8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of
, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
Gen. 26:22 And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.
Gen. 28:3 And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people;
Gen. 28:4 And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.
Gen. 28:13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
This is that time of year when in many churches of a Pentecostal persuasion someone stands up and gives what everyone takes to be an encouraging prophecy.
They will often cite one of the scriptures quoted above about inheriting the land, or the Lord making room, and they say: 'This is a year of progress for this church. In a year's time this church will be twice as big as it is now. You will inherit the land. There will not be room in this church for the harvest I am about to bring in.'
And they may add 'Thus saith the Lord,' and the pastor will say, 'Thank you, Lord,' and the people will sit back and think, 'Wow, that will be really good when the Lord brings in all those people.' And usually, he doesn't.
Now, some of our members are Pentecostal and others are Cessationist. I believe it is precisely such unity between believers who do not see everything the same way that is a source of our strength and that it brings a blessing (Psalm 133). And I know that all will agree that in a church, as much as in a family, a nation or an individual life, it is essential constantly to seek the Lord in His word to see how he does things and how we should do them. But I believe any church - not just a Pentecostal one - can take those passages from Genesis and ask the Lord to reveal his guiding principles for growth and blessing.
However, if an encouragement about growth has been given, it is even more important, not less so, to seek the Lord in his word and see how it is done. That is because, whether we believe in prophecies or not, when they fail to come to pass in a church which does believe in them, it might just shake someone's faith to breaking point. In a best case scenario, it just shakes their faith in Pentecostalism, and they find a Baptist or a
instead. But it just might shake their faith in Christianity as a whole.
Of course it is not the fault of the Lord that the church fails to grow as declared. It is solely the fault of the leadership of the church. If we go back to the Genesis passages, we see that although the Lord constantly says 'I will give', the Almighty expects those to whom he has given the promise to do more than simply sit back, close their eyes and dreamily say 'Thank you Lord.'
He expects them to put some basic things in place. A church which seeks the Lord in His word will discover them. These are what I have seen and I hope they are helpful:
FIRSTLY, ABRAHAM HAD FAITH:
Gen 15:6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Hab 2:4 ... but the just shall live by his faith.
Luke 7:50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
We need faith in God. And if we do not have it, let us pray for it, as it is the gift of God. We must trust God when all else is shifting around us. God does not start a work without finishing it. Faith is believing that God is real and that He is true to His word. Faith is also having reliance on Scripture as the eternal word of God. We know God magnifies his word above his name (Psalm 138:2), and that the word of the Lord endureth forever (1 Peter 1:25) but we must be as ready as Abraham was to put total confidence in the total word of God, and that means, for us, from Genesis to Revelation. This is a Creator God who made the earth and the heavens. He is awesome and fearful, but a God of grace who so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 )
We note from Hebrews that we must also have faith that God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. God's word says so, the record of scripture bears it out, but the diligent seeking comes before the reward.
SECONDLY, ABRAHAM FORMED AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD:
Isa 41:8 But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.
Jas 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Abraham became close enough to God to know his voice and even to talk with him. God shared with Abraham what he was about to do to
Gen 18:18 Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
Abraham was the friend of God but he did not take his friendship for granted. He retained a holy fear of God. He acted with the greatest of respect, even when pleading with God for
. He did not trivialise God or make silly jokes about him. How Abraham behaved and walked humbly with God is an example to us. We should be able to do even better. After all, do we not have the complete revelation of Scripture? Are we not able to draw close to God in his word? And are we not able to have a real, enduring relationship with Jesus Christ?
John 15:15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
Will not the same Holy Spirit who moved over the face of the waters now lead us into all truth and bring us also to aspire to be friends of the Lord Jesus Christ?
THIRDLY, ABRAHAM WAS OBEDIENT TO GOD:
Gen 18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
When we read the pages of Genesis, we realise that the law or the 'way' of God, which so many assume to have dropped out of the sky on Mount Sinai, was already well-known to the patriarchs.
was destroyed (Gen 13:13) for rebelling against it. The iniquity of the Amorites was measured against it (Gen 15:16). It was marked by justice and judgment and still is. And following the law of God, doing justice and judgment, and teaching God's ways to his children and household were said by God himself to be the precursor to God giving the promise of inheriting the land to Abraham.
It is not following 'Christianity-lite', or thinking that if we say the name 'Jesus' loud enough and often enough that such an outward show of piety will obviate the plain need to keep the righteous laws of God and to do justice and judgment. God wants to see and to know that we shall be faithful to keep his commandments before pouring out the blessing he has for us.
LASTLY, ABRAHAM HAD TO DO SOMETHING:
Gen. 13:17 Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.
One of the first things Abraham had to do was walk through the land. Isaac had to dig the well and occupy the land around it. Jacob had to wrestle with God. And the nation of
had to take the
, the very land promised to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by force of arms.
None of them sat back and waited for the Lord to do it. Yes, in the spiritual realm it was a done deed, but they had to make it a reality in the physical, to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). These days we have become so conditioned by statements like: 'When we work we work, when we pray, God works,' that we leave all the doing to God. But if we are seriously praying then that involves listening to God as well as giving God his orders. We pray, 'Lord do this, Lord do that.' Should we not rather pray, 'Lord, what shall we do?' And when we pray that prayer, the Lord will show us. Proverbs says:
Pro. 6:6 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
And look what was said to the servant who had been busy about his Lord's business:
Luke 19:17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.
Again, the rewards follow the faithfulness and the diligence. The servant who sat around and waited for the Lord to do it lost everything. The whole of scripture shows that God likes - and uses - men of action.
AN ACTION PLAN
So in our context of church growth, we now have some guiding principles. The leaders must announce that if the church is to grow, they need to put some matters in place. And if they see the same things I have seen, the leaders will begin to lead and teach the people (1) to have faith, (2) to put right all that is keeping them from the face of God, (3) to be obedient to his word, and (4) to seek Him for things to do.
Abraham was told to walk through the land and that isn't a bad start. But let us bear in mind that Abraham's walk was to see the land, not at that stage to occupy it. A walk - even a prayer walk - is in order, but it is to gather intelligence of the area, not to start 'taking the streets'. Striding round banishing demons is no doubt great fun, but it is no substitute for the hard graft of knocking on doors and meeting people.
The leaders should put together an action plan after the initial intelligence gathering, based on what the Lord has shown them. In any neighbourhood the Lord will reveal enough opportunities to keep a whole church busy with evangelism, prayer and practical support, street work, sound preaching, events - and publicising them, making Jesus known and visible in the locality. And getting out and doing things has the benefit of being something the men in the church will want to do, so achieving a healthy balance of the sexes in the process.