August 2020 – This is a unique season for our nation and for local churches. Many churches are beginning to “reopen” after a difficult time of closure. Often in times of loss and difficulty, we discover the truly important things; we put things into perspective. Maybe God is using this theme of reopening to call His people to a new perspective, a new passion and hunger for him.
Maybe God’s Spirit is reopening the eyes of our hearts. In these difficult days, we can’t afford a pretentious faith or shallow relationship with God. We stand in need of an authentic faith and an ever-deepening walk with God.
This seems to be on the mind of the Apostle Paul as he writes his prayer for a local church in Ephesus: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Ephesians 1:16-18, ESV).
This is insight into Paul’s heart and prayer life for the church. God’s people should pray this for our local churches as well – a fresh reopening of the heart to the presence and power of God, an enlightenment given by the Spirit of God for knowledge of Him!
One of the dominant features in Jesus’s commissioning of the Apostle Paul was that He planned to send him as His servant and witness into the world; and that through his ministry “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).
His ministry would be one of spiritual optometry, giving greater vision, helping people to see, opening the eyes of the heart, and resulting in lives turned to God, forgiveness, and transformation. This reflects our mission in the church as well – to be servants and witnesses of Christ, to proclaim God’s grace in Christ, that others may see and be forever changed.
But notice that these Ephesian Christians, who have turned to God and have been forgiven, are yet in need of their hearts being further enlightened by a definite work of the Holy Spirit. We are always in danger of sleepwalking. Paul prays for the church to be enlightened and enlivened and not to just go through the motions of religion but to have the eyes of the heart enlightened, or reopened!
Doctrinal compromise, spiritual apathy, and social conformity have turned too many churches in America into mere institutions of religion. We stand in need of a fresh opening of our faculties and personalities to the presence of God, our ears to the Word of God, and our hearts to the Son of God.
Addressing a local church, Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
This plea from Jesus is to His own church. The picture is one of Him being locked out of His own church and waiting for a reopening of the door to once again fellowship with His bride. This was the church in Laodicea. They had kind of settled in and put the church on cruise control, becoming lukewarm. Jesus calls on them to open the door and reopen their eyes. An invitation, primarily, not for readers to be converted but to renew themselves in a relationship with Christ.
The invitation is for repentance, renewal, and reopening. “If anyone hears my voice. …” It is an appeal to the individual as well as the local church.
Many people have shared that COVID-19 has been a way in which God has confronted them about their values and has given them a new appreciation for life, for family, friends, and church. Will we live as changed people, or will we go back to the way we used to be?
The coronavirus diagnosis and antidote could be transforming for us. Perhaps we will reopen His church with greater vision.
Rev. Jeff Switzer is Chairman of the Board, AFA and pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, Gulfport, Mississippi