I think it’s fair to say that humanly speaking the Christian Church is on its way out in the Western world. Just looking at the UK alone will show falling numbers of church goers, falling numbers of people who fear God and even smaller numbers yet of evangelicals.
I’ve seen this trend first hand in my church, Bellevue Baptist Church (we meet here every Sunday at 11:00 and 6:30pm). About five years ago there were seventy of us in the church, a smallish yet thriving congregation. But over the last few years in ones and twos then people have left. And they’ve left for good reasons, new jobs, getting married, university, death, etc, etc. Just to be clear I’m in no way, shape or form criticising those that left. So now on a good day we get into double digits, our church is now small, smaller than most of us ever thought it would get. Oh yeah, and we run out of money in September. Humanly speaking then my church is dying much like the church in the UK is dying.
And it’s hard. It’s very hard. All the questions you ask yourself: are we doing something wrong? Will things ever improve? Why has God let us get so small? Will we just fade and die? Why isn’t God bringing more people in? What’s the point in this all?
I’ve asked myself all of them at some point or another. Most reveal a lack of faith on my part, most reveal a terrible unbelief, so I thought it would be helpful to answer the question:
What do we do in the day of small things?
But before I answer this question I should probably answer this one:
What is the day of small things?
The day of small things is just another way of talking about the current situation where God isn’t working as powerfully as he has done. Not as many people are coming to Christ as they once were. God isn’t blessing his church as he has. It is based on a verse in Zechariah:
"Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel."
Zechariah 4 v 10
Zerubbabel was the governer of Israel and he was trying to rebuild the temple. But he faced a lot of opposition and progress seemed to be very slow. But then a man of God came to him and spoke verse 10.
Why are there day of small things?
It would be great if it was a Revival all the time. It would be great if at every preaching of the gospel many would come to Christ. But as it says in Proverbs 3
“ "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son”
Proverbs 3 v 11 -12
Just because we are living in a day of small things does mean that we should become discouraged. Indeed, we need to accept the day of small things as discipline for the church. As it says in Hebrews 12 v 7:
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?”
The Church strays so easily from the truth, the Church strays so easily into error, so easily into self confidence, so easily into pride, so easily into sin. The day of small things strengths the Church and disciplines it into being a holier church.
What do we do?
If look to Micah we find our answer. In Chapter 6 Micah talks about the Israelites have to do. And he says:
“With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6 v 6 – 8
What does that mean?
Well, if you notice the way it’s worded it makes it clear in verses 6 – 7 that God doesn’t require us to give him anything. We won’t increase church numbers by giving more to God, although that is no bad thing, we won’t increase numbers by giving to charity or do anything that means we might ‘earn’ a larger church.
So what do we do?
“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
In the day of small things that is what we are called to do. We must
1) Act justly
2) Love mercy
3) Walk humbly with our God
Where have I heard something like that before?
“This is the account of Noah.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God”
Genesis 6 v 9
Here in Genesis we have an account of someone who walked with God. And we can learn important lessons about what walking humbly with God looks like from the life of Noah.
Noah was charged with building an Ark to protect him and his family from the Flood. It is has been worked out (here) that from God’s command to build the Ark to the Flood coming was 98 years (or a bit less).
In many ways these 98 years were Noah’s day of small things. Imagine how sick he would have got at building the Ark. Remember he also preached to his people telling them that a Flood was coming. So imagine the comments other people would make, they must have laughed themselves silly over the foolish man building this huge Ark. I know that if I’d been there I would have.
And can you imagine the doubts going through Noah’s mind: will the Flood come? It’s been 98 years and still no sign. What if it’s never going to come? Can I trust God?
But what did Noah do?
He walked with God.
What does this involve?
“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
Hebrews 11 v 7
Noah had faith in God. He trusted that God would do as he said. He didn’t let anyone dissuade him from being absolutely certain of the truth of God’s warning.
Faith is our main weapon in our struggle with unbelief and the main way in which we walk humbly with God. When we look around us and see a church that humanly speaking is on its way out we need to remember that we don’t deal in human terms. We deal on God’s terms. The smaller the day of small things the greater our faith should be. Biblically speaking it is always darkest before the dawn. If we look at Biblical history we see that God gives his people a promise, puts a death sentence on the promise then grants his promise. Just one example would be the promise to the Israelites of a Promised Land. But then they are enslaved by Pharaoh. But then God miraculously rescues them showing his awesome power and majesty! There are many many more examples that should encourage us.
What didn’t Noah do?
He didn’t give up, he didn’t stop building his Ark and he didn’t suddenly build a summer house instead. He persevered. He walked with God.
What happens when we walk with God?
The Flood comes. In Noah’s time this meant a literal flood that wiped out what could easily have been over a billion human beings. But Noah was saved through his faith in God and the Ark he had built.
What does this mean for us?
The Flood comes. Only it won’t be a Flood of punishment but a Flood of grace - an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this sinful nation. In due time revival comes exactly when God has decided it will come. For our God is a great God and to suggest otherwise is unbelief in his power. (If you want to remind yourself of God's power read Habakkuk 3)
How can you be so sure?
“Come, let us return to the LORD.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the LORD;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Hosea 6 v 1 -3
In this chapter Hosea encourages Israel to turn back to God and gives this promise as a result. This promise still applies today. If we walk humbly with God he will not forget us.
When we see that God isn’t working we don’t change our message, we don’t offer people chocolate for coming to church, we don’t try and become ‘cool’. No. We just have one task to carry out:
“And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
That is what I am called to do. Sure, my church is running out of money, sure, we’re low on numbers but that doesn’t matter. I just need to walk humbly with God. And that’s hard. I have to trust that God will provide. Even though it seems nearly impossible I need to have faith. Because actually, my church isn’t dying at all, it’s just on the verge of growing. I am convinced that in a years time our trouble will not be running out of money but running out of space to hold the crowds of people flocking to hear God’s word.
And now I challenge you just I have been challenged: in the day of small things we all have Arks to build. Will you continue to build yours? Neither giving up, throwing down your tools or building something else? In the day of small things will you walk humbly with God? For God will do all the rest.
A prayer for the day of small things:
“LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.”
Habakkuk 3 v 2