Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.
– Psalm 42.11
The text above is our ‘New Year Motto’ text, and as I intend to preach from it on the first Sunday morning in January, I don’t want to get into too much detail here, but I do want to encourage you to get thinking about what it means to ‘hope in God’ as we move forward in applying that new year sermon.
More specifically, what does it mean to us as a church? We have been considering the early church in Acts in Sunday nights, and have begun to see the burning priority of the church as being the proclamation of the gospel, and fervent prayer. When we look at what we do as a fellowship, and ask ‘what can we do next?’ we do well to remember that God never calls us to change the message we proclaim – but that we should always be looking for new opportunities to reach others with the gospel.
This is a time for straight talking – if we can’t be honest at the time of ‘New Year Resolutions’, when can we? We live in an age of great ignorance and apathy, which brings its own challenges and opportunities. But we find ourselves, as a church, largely unable to respond to them. We hope to reach the people of Thornbury, yet we meet in a well-hidden location, out of the town. This has a knock-on-effect on our ability to have an effective young peoples’ work, for example. We are also widely scattered. Whilst some live in Thornbury, many in the church who play vital roles live a long way from the town. How can we be a local church when many of us (including me) are not local at all? Many of us are growing older, and we cannot do the things we used to. The Lord has provided for us financially, but we still have limited resources. We do not have a Manse.
We have much to be thankful for, of course. There is unity in our membership, there is a kind and caring spirit in our fellowship. The Lord has sent in new faces amongst us, and while some times have been trying, we can truly say that we have been encouraged.
But what next? What next, dear friends? Can we be content just to maintain what we are doing, which in itself is good, and right? Or do you, like me, have a longing to see the gospel making an unquestionable impact in our community? Do you, like me, find yourself wondering exactly what the Lord would have us do? Wondering how we may see conversions? Well, remembering that ‘Salvation belongs to the Lord’ (Psalm 3:8) is a good starting-point. He is in control.
We might be cast down, but why should we be? We proclaim the same gospel that the Apostles did, and it has the same ‘ancient power’ it ever has had!
We are not called to be passive, but active. ‘Hope in God’ is not a vague, comforting expression, but a positive command. We should not be in the business of seeking to maintain things as they are, of holding on to traditions for their own sake. Our business is to be serious about what God’s Word says a local church should be, and how we ought to conduct our whole lives, and our worship, and begin from there. We trust in Him, that He will bless us as we seek to obey Him.
So, we are going to carry on calling our morning service an ‘Evangelistic Service’, so that we can invite others to come and hear the gospel, not an exposition of tithing or something else that is irrelevant to the life of an unbeliever. We are going to carry on expounding the Word of God verse-by-verse on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, so that we may be instructed by the ‘whole counsel of God’. We are going to carry on singing ‘Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs’ that edify our souls and befit the majesty and glory of a Sovereign God.
Over the past two years, we have distributed an invitation to every home in Thornbury. We’ve a new campaign planned to bring the gospel directly to people in the New Year. We’re going to carry on being on Thornbury Market on Saturdays if we can. Yet, we want to do more.
How can we? ‘Hope in God’ is the answer! Where are you when the Church meets for prayer on a Wednesday night or Sunday afternoon? Age dictates that not all of us can support these meetings. But many more of us could. If we would be in the business of asking the Lord, then I am confident that He is in the business of answering! If we really have hope, then we must express it! It doesn’t matter how bad we think things are, or how difficult the task appears to be, when we genuinely ‘Hope in God’!
May I say something to you if you read all of this, and roll your eyes, and think, ‘Well, he’s the Pastor, he’s just over-enthusiastic. I’m just content to live my life and attend chapel when it suits me’. What I have to say to you, with concern, is this:
A tree is known by its fruit — says the Lord Jesus in Matthew 12. ‘Hope in God’ is the most wonderful encouragement to a true child of God, but it does not just support us, it propels us forward. To be saved by the grace of God is such an experience that if you have no desire to share your faith, or to see others saved, the only conclusion must be that you are not saved in the first place. I urge you to seek conversion as your first priority in this New Year — no other ‘resolution’ matters compared to your need to be reconciled to God.
Now, may the Lord grant us grace, may He grant us faith, and may He grant us, above all, hope for this New Year. Jesus Christ, the Captain of our Salvation, leads us on — let us follow Him, wherever He leads us!