Kia ora tatou

It has a great encouragement in these recent days to pray with so many other people from around the nation. I have much appreciated everyone’s heart for God, for prayer, and for Aotearoa.

Like everyone else here tonight I love God, love the scriptures, love the Gospel, and love the church… and care deeply for the spiritual well-being of Aotearoa New Zealand.

I would like us to focus tonight on one of the two overarching themes of these Pray as One prayer gatherings: the spiritual health of New Zealand.

As we have been praying, and as I have been pondering the spiritual state of NZ, I am been asking myself whether the greater problem in our nation is the faithlessness and ungodliness of secular New Zealand society, or the spiritual listlessness of the church.

It is not difficult to identify the spiritual blindness and sins of New Zealand society as a whole…

  • widespread unbelief in God
  • much spiritual confusion
  • much spiritual searching in the wrong places
  • A common assumption that all faiths are equally true or untrue, and the frequent lack of belief in any one true and living God
  • a strong assumption that you can believe or not believe whatever you like, without consequences
  • a general loss of belief in the truth or authority of the Bible
  • no fear of God
  • no understanding of the holiness of God
  • little understanding of the seriousness of sin, before God
  • no understanding of the Gospel
  • a prevailing worldliness of spirit, a constant grasping after this-worldly idols of self-fulfillment, pleasure, money, sport, entertainment, success, beautiful bodies, toys, gadgets, whatever.
  • the loss of respect for the sanctity of marriage, the normalisation of various forms of immorality, including promiscuity and adultery, and a pandemic of porn
  • a vast number of divorces, broken relationships, and unsafe families
  • a host of addictions, from heavy drinking and dope through to P and synthetic drugs, all of them ravaging countless individuals and families
  • the increasing loss of respect for the sanctity of life, at both ends of life, and now being reflected in new legislation
  • prejudice, racism, xenophobia
  • the elevation of secularity, and a common scorn and disdain towards those who take Christian faith seriously

…and much else!

And then there are the blind spots and sins of the Church, the Body of Christ. Let me suggest…

  • Some of the things I have already mentioned!
  • A predominant spiritual listlessness among the Christians and churches of this land, a lukewarmness and lethargy.
  • An apparent lack of full confidence – among many Christians – in the Gospel: that is, a lack of full confidence in the uniqueness of Christ, in the need for salvation, in the reality of judgement, and in the truth that there is no other name by which we might be saved.
  • A low level of discipleship, where Christian faith is fitted in with other parts of life but the costs of following Christ are kept at a manageable, convenient level.
  • Christians who appear too busy with work and play, and who leave too little space for God (and Christians who are too busy with the church and serving, but leave too little space for the Lord himself)
  • Those who compromise with the world
  • A fear of man, rather than a fear of God. Christians who seem more afraid of being out of step with society than out of step with God
  • A pervasive prayerlessness, in which prayer is not prioritised, and is devoted only a fraction of the time we spend on work and chores and social media and entertainment
  • Churches and Christians who appear scripture-lite
  • Christians who doubt the authority of the Word of God, or those who take to heart only those parts of the Bible which comfort them rather than challenge.
  • Christians who prize their own feelings and opinions, and the feelings and opinions of others, above the word of God
  • A catastrophic lack of winsome and fruitful evangelism
  • Christians who major on secondary issues, rather than on Christ and the gospel
  • Christians who don’t seem to demonstrate much compassion or mercy, and are overly judgemental and critical
  • Christians who often give way to anger, or who are spoiling for a fight, or who bring division
  • Christian leaders who betray trust
  • Those churches and pastors who water down – or even deny – the faith
  • Those churches and Pastors who place an excessive emphasis on giving
  • The fragmentation of the church in this land. Pastors who appear to place their own churches – and the success of their own churches – above the unity of the whole body of Christ
  • Those Christians who are self-righteous and spiritually proud

… And all other Christian failings and hypocrisies!

So, as we pray for the spiritual health of Aotearoa, which do you think is a greater problem? The spiritual blindness and sins of society as a whole, or the spiritual blind spots and sins of the body of Christ in the land of Aotearoa?

What is God saying to us about that? How can we pray with deep sorrow about the blindness and sins of Aotearoa? And how should we pray about the blindness and spiritual lethargy of the church in this land?

None of us is guilty of all the things I have mentioned – but neither is any Christian in the world without any shortcoming or sin, and we all absolutely depend on the grace and forgiveness of God.

Before we go to prayer again interceding for our society and churches and their spiritual health, let’s reflect together on the words of Psalm 51, written in very different circumstances, but with important things to say to our society and church at this time…

Psalm 51 NIV

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.