This week Trevor Lloyd speaks to us about what it means to contend together.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…
Paul here talks about striving together as one for the gospel. Other translations talk about contending together. If we are followers, then we are fighters. Not fighting one another. But fighting together – against a common enemy. When you are fighting in an army, you want to know that your fellow soldiers are there with you, shoulder to shoulder. This is how The Message puts it:
Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God.(The Message)
The church needs to transition from being consumers to contenders – fighting for the gospel, for the faith, for renewal, and for revival. As we contend for this, where does our hope for victory lie? Not in superhero saints, charismatic fads, or organisational efficiency. It lies with a remnant who takes root (see Isaiah 37:31-32) – a core of committed contenders, resilient disciples, faithful followers, who contend together.
In our age of opinion, social media venting, virtue signaling, and image management, remnants choose a different path, to pursue, with others, in the hidden places, the eternal perspective, to cry and contend, to step into the gap. Choosing not punditry but … prayer. Central to renewal … and remnants in every move of God is the practice of contending prayer.(Mark Sayers)
So, contending together in prayer will be one of the main occupations of this rooted remnant. But what are some of the characteristics of this remnant? I suggest three:
They will have a deep desire for the presence of God, and not just individually. Their one desire is for the house of God (Ps.27:4) and that is the church – God’s people filled with God’s presence. It was zeal for this house that consumed Jesus (John 2:17). What do you desire and seek after? Are you one of those who still haven’t found what you’re looking for? My advice – stop looking, get rooted with some remnants somewhere, and start building what He is looking for. Don’t let seeking become wandering, or hunger become restlessness. And don’t allow your strongest desire to overwhelm your deepest desire – which is to help build a house for his presence.
Isaiah experienced God’s presence in God’s house and was immediately convicted of his own uncleanness and that of the people around him (Isaiah 6:1-5). The challenge for the church in our age is not legalism but license. Religious rule keeping may have been the thing to challenge in an earlier age, but the issue we face now in the church is compromising with the culture. We need to see again the power of purity and the beauty of holiness.
Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”(1 Peter 1: 13-16, The Message)
God seems to have a habit of bringing down the proud and raising up the humble (see for example what Mary sang about in Luke 1:46-55). We don’t want to become cynical and think all leaders are out for themselves, because there are many who are serving humbly and faithfully in hidden places. But it feels like God has had enough with those who are more interested in being celebrities than servants. And we should be ready to be surprised by who God uses. He is not impressed by what we are impressed by. Remember how he overlooked all the likely lads for the throne and chose David, a young shepherd boy, because he looked at the heart and not the appearance (1 Sam 16:1-13). We are in days when God will shock us by who he uses. Those who have been little honoured will be specially honoured by being used by God (1 Cor.12:22-23). But ultimately humility will be shown not by our modesty but by our obedience (Phil.2:8).
God has spoken to us about being heralds of hope. That sounds quite spectacular. But hope lies with the hidden – not with those who are trying to make a name for themselves, to be seen and honoured. It lies with that remnant whose sole concern is to be deeply rooted in their relationship with Jesus. These are those who will contend together to see renewal and awakening.