Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reaching those who do not seek God

Looking forward to the time when the Messiah would come and usher in a new age and a worldwide kingdom, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah records the lament of Israel because Jerusalem is a desolation and God seems to be silent and unresponsive to Israel (Isa 64.8-12). Isaiah follows with an interesting response from God that perhaps has some things to say to our situation today as well:

“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me,
I permitted myself to be found by those who did not seek Me.
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’
To a nation which did not call on My name.” (Isa 65.1).

The apostle Paul quotes this verse in Romans 10, applying it to how the Gentiles came to Christ in large numbers while God’s historical people rejected him. Those who historically were furthest away from God (the Gentiles) came to him when they were presented with the message of Christ and the cross, while those who were historically God’s kingdom people (Israel) rejected him.

I wonder if this might have some relevance for us in the church today. For example, surveys and statistics show that churches of Christ (and most or all other churches as well) in America are either declining or simply maintaining, and we are not having a radical impact on the growing masses of unchurched people in our culture (those who “did not seek me”?). Many churches are in maintenance mode, which means that most of their efforts are directed inward toward the body, with at best only a small element of their work focused outwardly. What does that have to do with the prophecy in Isaiah. Maybe nothing. But I wonder if God isn’t about to do a great work among “those who did not seek” him, even as we see the church as we know it become desolate. That’s probably too strong a word, as I am not suggesting we aren’t doing anything at all to reach out to our culture. But if we are going to be used by God so that he might be found by those who did not seek him (the unchurched) we need to do some radically different things. We need to change our methods, and perhaps our model, without changing the message. But perhaps more than anything, we need to change our focus and our priorities. Are willing to make those changes so that we might reach a “nation which did not call on My name”? Only time will tell.