I received this email from HTB's Bible in One Year mailing list this week and found it very inspiring, so I thought I would share!
‘Ten thousand prostitutes plying their trade on the streets of London, widespread heavy drinking, gambling and immorality. London life was licentious and decadent.’ This is how William Hague, former leader of the British Conservative Party and current Foreign Secretary, describes eighteenth-century London in his biography of William Wilberforce. Anglican congregations had declined sharply. Parts of the English church had virtually descended into paganism 250 years ago.
Yet, the nation was changed. The preaching of Wesley and Whitefield began to take effect. Thousands of people responded to their message and gave their lives to Christ. Robert Raikes started his first Sunday school in 1780. The growth from this one idea touched 300,000 unchurched children within five years. By 1910, there were 5,668,760 children in Sunday school. God raised up Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and others. Not only were individual hearts changed – but the nation was also transformed.
As we look at our world today, we see it is changing faster than ever before. In the last twenty-five years there has been massive change – politically, economically and technologically. We have seen the virtual collapse of communism, the rise of global terrorism and a shift of power from West to East. Massive change is taking place in many countries around the world, especially in China and India. Is it possible for the spiritual climate of a nation to be changed? In our passages for today we see that spiritual change is possible. But how?
1. Peaceful PeopleProverbs 14:25-35
The writer of Proverbs says, ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people’ (v.34). (‘God-devotion makes a country strong’, (v.34, MSG).) Sin destroys a nation. Righteousness exalts a nation. Righteousness involves a range of right relationships:
2. Powerful preachingActs 8:4-40
The early church was made up of ordinary people like you and me. Yet it changed the world. The whole known world was transformed following the death and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts tells us how this happened.
Everywhere they went they preached the message about Jesus (v.4, MSG). In this passage we see that they preached to crowds and to individuals, like Simon the sorcerer and the Ethiopian eunuch.
Nations are comprised of cities, towns and villages. They preached the gospel in all three. Philip preached to a city in Samaria (v.5). Peter and John preached the gospel in many Samaritan villages (v.25). Philip preached the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea (v.40).
Their preaching was accompanied and indeed accelerated by three factors:
The early church was characterised by enormous effectiveness: ‘When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed’ (vv.6–7).
They were totally reliant on the Holy Spirit. Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian was not the result of a strategic planning meeting. Rather, ‘the Spirit told Philip …’ (v.29). The result of him following the leading of the Holy Spirit was the remarkable conversion of the Ethiopian, which has affected the whole nation of Ethiopia right down to the present day. The church that was birthed that day has never died out in that nation.
The Holy Spirit is the agent of change. He can bring about change in a nation. That change starts with the change in the lives of people. It is worth noting the factors involved in the change in this Ethiopian.
First, the Spirit of God prepared his heart. The Ethiopian is honest about his ignorance (v.31), searching for answers (v.32) and not too proud to ask for help (v.34). There is no shame in not always understanding what we read in the Bible. It is wise to get help from trusted people or Bible commentaries to help us apply it to our lives.
Second, the Spirit of God is at work through the word of God. It is as the Ethiopian looks at the book of Isaiah that he begins to find answers (vv.32–33). Often, the Holy Spirit uses a human agent to help open up, explain, and apply the Scriptures. This is what happened here, beginning with Isaiah 53 Philip explains ‘the good news about Jesus’ (v.35).
The Holy Spirit changes the heart of the Ethiopian in such a radical and complete way that he believes immediately and asks to be baptised. There is no more powerful an agent of change than the Holy Spirit.
3. Passionate prayer2 Samuel 20:1-21:22
The battles in David’s life never seem to come to an end. In today’s passage we see two further battles.
First, there is ‘a troublemaker named Sheba’ (20:1). The people of Israel seem extremely fickle: ‘All the men of Israel deserted David to follow Sheba’ (v.2). The Lord gave David victory over Sheba but immediately there is another battle around the corner.
There was a famine for three consecutive years (21:1a). As the nation faced disaster, ‘David sought the face of the Lord’ (v.1b). Sometimes it takes a real disaster to get us on our knees. God spoke to him as he prayed.
He held Israel to the promise that was made to the Gibeonites (see Joshua 9). In spite of the promise, Saul had tried to annihilate them, but the oaths that are made to God are very important and cannot be broken lightly. (The most common oaths today are in the marriage service and oaths in court.) Only after David had put things right and honoured the oath made to God did God answer prayer on behalf of the land (2 Samuel 21:14).