Chapter 34 God Provides … Yet Again
The prayer group meeting each week for Bible study and prayer, particularly prayer for our church, coincided with God providing extremely lavishly.
We wrote down in a book the matters we were praying for provision or guidance with and the results and over time we saw in black and white the wonderful way God answered. Often the provision was at the same time the means of guidance.
Let me say again that we Christians often fall into the trap of deciding what we think would be best and then praying for God to do it. WRONG! If Christ is the head of his Church he gets to choose when and what and how. Our task is to ask what he would have us do to fit in with his plans. Sometimes this task is to pray fervently for something, for example revival. Then when we pray because the Holy Spirit is like a fire within us to ask for this with all our might, it is no surprise that mighty miracles follow. On the other hand when, as happens so often, we merely think revival or more usually just having our church grow big (and fat!) would be nice, no matter how much emotion we whip up God does not answer! (Well despite this, God is so abundantly kind and generous that often even our feeble and headstrong prayers get answered – though not necessarily exactly how we had in mind)
My first example of how wonderfully God provided for us as we sought to re-build the parish is this:
Flo. who was the faithful and dedicated organist at Lang Lang I talked about earlier, came to me one day and said that she felt she was now too old to continue, and a few weeks later died peacefully. So our prayer group brought this need for music at Lang Lang before God.
God answered in two ways, and provided guidance at the same time.
First a lady who attended a church about 30Km away contacted me saying she was an organist and had heard we had a very sweet little pipe organ. She came and tried out the organ and was delighted. Listening to her play we quickly saw that she was a very accomplished musician. She volunteered to come and play for one service a month, but after she heard about our Sunday School and the family services we had had, she asked for it to be the family service.
There was one problem. She was very “high church” and wanted the new family service to be a very traditional “Sung Eucharist”. We were more on the opposite end of churchmanship, although as I said earlier except for our “Bayles Fellowship” which had a pentecostal service, we used the current Prayer Book services. So our ideas for the family service were certainly more traditional than was the current vogue in evangelical churches, but what our new organist wanted was very much a move in the opposite direction to where “successful” evangelical churches were heading.
The conventional wisdom among “growing” churches at that time was to downplay the “Anglican” and pretend to be “Community”. Services were more and more informal, the Prayer Book alluded to less and less, traditional hymns definitely replaced with contemporary choruses, and even ministers wearing street clothes. This trend has incidentally continued since then – I recently attended an Anglican service where the was nothing recognisable as liturgy from the Prayer Book, and nothing at all by way of a “Confession” or “Prayers of Intercession”.
However we could not escape the feeling that this lady was both God's provision and his means of directing how the family service should be. So we turned our backs on conventional wisdom and went with God!
God's wisdom is proved right by its fruits. These family services – yes done as a formal sung Eucharist – were a roaring success!
The kids took to it like ducks to water, their parents and grandparents came (yes they came initially to see their child doing their bit in the service, but they came) and forgive me if I sound old fashioned saying “and the blessing of the Lord was upon it” because I think that was the defining factor. We did it how God said to for that time and place, he had pulled together the right people for it, and he blessed it – there was just always the most wonderful atmosphere.
But as they say on TV : “Kiddies don’t try this at home”! I must add: Don’t just rush in and try this formula in your church – ask God what his individual plan is for you and your church!
Looking back I can see some of the human factors in the reason for its success. The kids were believers and they wanted their parents and grandparents to find what they had found in Christ. They had Sunday School most weeks with its format which was tailored to their needs and their own very special music. Family Service was where they were doing something for their extended families. Also church itself was so new to them that they saw no difference between “high” and “low” church or even between “formal” and “informal” styles of service. Their parents on the other had a formed idea of what “church” should be. Many of them had attended Sunday School in their youth. They had all been married in a church. They may not have darkened the doors of one since then, but they had an ingrained “cultural memory” if you like of what church should be like. So for them a traditional Eucharist was “proper church”. Besides with the kids doing many of the roles in the service, a really good organist (and really singable hymns!) and the presence of the Holy Spirit these services had real zing! As St. Paul said “God's 'foolishness' beats human 'wisdom'.”
We had organists for the other weeks in the month over time who were a great help, but I want to jump to one other amazing provision. This time God provided the most amazing couple to play the organ at Lang Lang. He was blind, his wife was his chauffeur much needed since they lived some 50KM away and his “partner in crime”.
He came and tried out our organ. “What kind of service do you do?” he asked, and then added “I can play for any sort: I’ve played for Pentecostals, I’ve played for the Grand Masonic Lodge.” I was amazed. An organist that knew their stuff but was prepared to fit in with whatever was required, Wow!
Again a lesson in God's wisdom. Did you pick the “Masonic Lodge” bit. So did I at the time but it was also obvious to us that God had sent this couple. At the time we simply followed where God was clearly directing, but if anyone has problems with this just think about God's people in past times who had to be spoken to on that account. For instance the Israelites about God's choice of Cyrus the Persian as his agent (Isaiah 54) and Peter about being sent to the foreigner Cornelius (Acts 10).
I asked him how he managed to play being blind. He answered “Most things I know by heart” If I am not sure, I run my fingers over the music I have in Braille to refresh my memory, then I play it by heart.” “What about new tunes” I asked. “Ah well” he replied. “I do need a bit of advance notice. You see my wife plays it one note at a time on my organ at home and I transcribe it into Braille music. Then I play it and learn it by heart.”
They had to come some distance. I knew they would need petrol money, and I feared – rightly as it turned out – that the vestry would not come at that. But he was brilliant. I believed God had sent him. So I just paid his petrol money out of my own pocket.
He was the most incredible organist. Ours was only a baby organ but with a very sweet rank of metal pipes and a very mellow rank of wooden ones, and the usual stops to give combinations of pipes sounding from the one key. He could almost make that organ sit up and beg! He just got the most amazing sounds out of it. He also had exquisite musicality and rhythm. When he played you just had to sing. I remember particularly his arrangement of that stirring Easter hymn “Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son”. It absolutely sent shivers down your spine and you just had sing it out with all your heart.
The church was changing and growing, but in quite a different way to anything we could have planned. God's plans really are so much better!