One of the things that impressed me while away was the level of expectancy among believers in South Asia. This is certainly one positive aspect of Pentecostalism that I hope we can learn from in the UK.
Generally speaking there is a simple (again, not naive) faith in God and in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They expect the Lord to answer prayer. They expect Him to intervene (even miraculously) in present circumstances. It is assumed that the gospel will make a difference to our lives – because otherwise it wouldn’t be true, would it?
Sadly I seldom experience such expectancy back home – myself included. It reminds of this story told by C.H. Spurgeon: You may have heard the story of one of our first students, who came to me, and said, “I have been preaching now for some months, and I do not think I have had a single conversion.” I said to him, “And do you expect that the Lord is going to bless you and save souls every time you open your mouth?” “No, sir,” he replied. “Well, then,” I said, “that is why you do not get souls saved. If you had believed, the Lord would have given the blessing.” *
I do not tell that story to lay a guilt trip on preachers who see little or few conversions. If we trust in the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit then faithful preachers may see few conversions. But faithful preachers will still carry on expecting God to save some through the gospel.
When I preached through the book of Malachi I gave the series the overall title of ‘Practical Atheism’. When I first thought of the title Michael Hews disagreed – ‘but atheism is not very practical,’ he said. However, that was not what I had in mind. Malachi addresses practical atheism in the sense that the Israelites claimed to believe in the Lord but were atheists in practice; their lives revealed what they really believed.
I think that could be said of much of western Christianity. We have wearied the Lord by saying that those who do evil are actually good. We excuse sin because we do not expect the gospel really to change lives. We excuse the lack of church growth because we do not expect God’s word to speak to the lost. We excuse our reluctance to pray for healing or to cast our demons because we do not really expect God to work that way, at least, not anymore.
My prayer is that the UK church will get infected by the vibrancy of the church from the global south. I’d love to see the levels of expectancy that I witnessed in Sri Lanka and India occur over here too.
In our church services, in our Bible study groups, in our daily lives – a high level of expectancy for God to work in power.
There are two provisos though:
1. The danger of an over-realised eschatology. That is just the expression theologians use to describe people who think that we are already in heaven now. That is to say, they expect all the blessings promised for paradise now, immediately, in the present. For example, when Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead it was qualitatively different from his own resurrection. Lazarus was resuscitated rather than resurrected – he came to life, only to die again. However, the resurrection bodies that we will have in the new heaven and earth will be like Jesus’ body – they will be immortal. This is important when we think about expectancy in prayer. When I pray for healing, I do so realising that that full healing will only ever happen when Jesus returns. Likewise I wrestle with sin all my life and expect victory, but also know that sinlessness will only happen in heaven. And so on… We do expect God to work but we do not expect all kingdom blessings right here and now. The way of the cross promises suffering on the route to resurrection. It has been said that conservatives ignore the life and ministry of Jesus – they act as if the gospel only involves the death of Jesus. If that stereotype holds at all then the reverse if also true – Pentecostals often act as if the death of Jesus was an embarrassment to be quickly glossed over.
2. South Asian Christians are not perfect either. One of the biggest problems in churches out there is the moral failure of Pastors. They often excuse sin as well, because they don’t really expect the gospel to change lives.
*Spurgeon, C. H. (1895). The Soul Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour (52–53).