I live in a culture where all the bells and whistles are available at my finger-tips. The churches I work with and in are blessed with resources unimaginable. We have lights, speakers, computer graphics, bands, productions, programs, and all sorts of gadgets to enhance our ability to worship the one true Lord. We have books, educated teachers, seminaries, webcasts, podcasts, simulcasts, other-casts, and all manner of education to raise our intellectual acumen. We have children’s programing, youth groups, adult bible fellowship, small groups, Sunday Schools, discipleship training, woman’s and men’s groups, and all manner of community development programing. We have afterschool programing, food banks, ESL centers, recovery for addicts, financial helps, and all manner of aid and ministry programs for the outside world. Yet, there is no joy for the Word of the Lord in most American churches. I propose that we have become fat and lazy in our wilderness wandering. I propose that we have lost the vision of where we are going and have exchanged that vision for a false comfort that will not satisfy and will instead, frustrate ardent Christians. I propose that we are suffering the consequence of excess.
In Numbers 11 the Jewish people are wandering in the desert and many have begun to complain about God’s leadership. The chapter opens with the fury of the Lord literally consuming the outside edges of the camp! Take a moment now and go get your Bible and read through the text of Numbers 11. (I’d put it on the screen for you, but there is no adequate substitute for actual pages.) The Hebrew people complained about the magic food they were getting at no cost from the Lord. They complained that the Egyptians were treating them better because they gave them meat! Remember, the Egyptians enslaved, whipped, and mistreated the Jews for 400 years! In this story the Hebrews whine and complain about a lack of meat while they are living it up on magic bread from heaven that evidently tasted amazing! (Exodus 16:31) These people were wandering around with perfect provision and they wanted more. They have God in their midst (literally, in a cloud in the tabernacle) and they complain of His lack of provision. So the Lord hands them over to their excess. They get meat until they cannot stand it and plague comes with it.
It is easy to see the parallels in the western Church. We have all we need, but we are constantly in want of a bigger show. We are experiencing spiritual drought in our country, but we are drowning in aids for spiritual growth. We are immersed in resources, but we cannot seem to sustain the victorious joy of our impoverished brothers overseas. I believe we are suffering the consequence of excess. God has graciously provided us all we need to worship Him and yet we clamor for newer, bigger, better. All this excess comes to not. Our churches have been slain with the disease that accompanies the “craving” (v.4,34).
I believe our only hope for lasting joy will be found in denying our cravings. Fasting from the things we want and clinging to the giver of all things. So fast, pray, practice self-denial, and learn to live in joy. The excess is killing us. It is because of our excess that no one has deep love for the Word. It is because of our excess that we are filling auditoriums but not changing lives. It is because of our excess that the Church is one more thing to do in a week. It is because of our excess…
The call is to simplicity, reduction, and worship. We want to change the church in the west? Let’s throw off our excess and turn our minds to eternity.