As Pentecost approaches, I have been doing some thinking about the early church. I wonder what they had that we, the current church, are missing? How could so many people be filled with the Holy Spirit, be motivated to preach the gospel, take care of each other, spread the good news around the known world, and even face death for the sake of the cross?
Of course, church historians will remind us that early Christians had personally known Jesus, or heard stories from people who had witnessed his ministry. And, they might remind us the early church believed Christ’s return was imminent and they would be once again be with Jesus. Nevertheless, how can we capture that “holy fire” of the first Pentecost and put it to use for the Kingdom of God?
We talk about developing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but the real transformation that must first take place is the awakening of the individual human heart. It’s not about structures, or organization, or finances, or programs, or getting younger people in the doors, or the style of music – it’s about a church that can touch each human heart and make it aware of the divine connection with the Holy One…a connection waiting to be discovered again and again.
The awakening of the human heart cannot be gained by the imposition of another’s beliefs, nor is it simply an intellectual argument. It is hard work and must be done by the individual. There are tools to help; but ultimately, each of us has to do the work ourselves. We have to continually reflect on what we read, what we hear, what we see, and how we act to look for the truth, to seek the authentic movement of the Holy Spirit…and, who has time for that kind of work?
How can the organized church facilitate the awakening of the human heart? I think it starts by making the work of the inward journey a priority. Perhaps we need to deemphasize some things and reemphasize transformation…put our money where our hearts need to be, so to speak.
How to we do transformation? I really don’t know, but I know when I have seen glimpses of transformation.
- I’ve seen it happen during some amazing, authentic worship
- I’ve seen it when I pray individually or with other spiritual friends
- I’ve seen it during a service project when we think about someone beside ourselves for a few days
- I have seen it in small, long-term, covenantal groups that affirm and hold each other accountable
I have a hunch that if more of our human hearts were truly awake to the divine and ablaze with holy fire, the work of the church would take care of itself. Volunteers would step forward, giving would be sufficient, social justice would be a priority, inclusion would not be an issue, and the world would be transformed. Maybe transformation of the world starts with an awakening of our hearts.