The Church in Sardis
The message that John shares to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6 is one of peril. The church there is in great danger of dying. Even now, it seems that the church has a reputation that it is not living up to. Where once there was life, there was a great display of love for God, now there is remaining a shell only. And the message to this church is simple: Wake up!
So, today, my reflection is on this question of how do we wake up? When we find ourselves feeling spiritually dead, how is it that we become alive again?
The two most obvious answers come directly from this message in Revelation 3:3: Obedience and Repentance.
We talk a good bit about obedience (even if we don’t always use the word obedience) to the teachings of Jesus and Scripture. We often use discipleship language when it comes to this. We follow Jesus’ teachings, but essentially this means that we are trying to be obedient. And so, when we discover that we are in a place of spiritual deadness, a good first step is to look back at what Jesus said and begin to do those things.
A few examples might be:
– Love your neighbor
– Give to the poor (in secret without making it known what you are doing)
– Fast (again, in secret without drawing attention to yourself)
– Pray continually
– Care for the sick
– Visit and encourage the imprisoned
Of course, there is much more, and we can also widen the scope to other passages of Scripture too to look for ways to become obedient to God.
And second, John writes that the church should repent. While obedience may be something we are somewhat comfortable in speaking about, repentance is often not. There are several reasons for this, but most prominent, I think, is that we believe that we are forgiven once for all. We know that our sinfulness continues even after our baptism and commitment to follow Jesus, and yet our baptism means that we have received grace. We are washed clean. We are already made new. And so, we quickly move to grace, believing in the salvation that God has given to us.
But, there is power and deep relevance in the act of repentance when it comes to the spiritual life. Repentance reminds us of our need for God’s grace. It helps us to remain alive–to not become numb to the realities of life, but to be reminded of all that God does for us continually. Additionally, when our spiritual deadness infects or affects others, repentance is the path to healing and reconciliation. When we lose our liveliness in faith, we often can harm others. And these actions must be repented of in order to seek to repair the damage we have inflicted on someone else. It is only through repentance that we have a chance to exorcise the deadness within us and seek the life that God has offered to us.
Obedience and repentance come directly from Revelation 3, but allow me to offer a 3rd option that I believe should be undertaken alongside both of these. Prayer. While prayer can fall into the category of obedience, I offer it here as a third item needed to move from spiritual death to life. It is in the constant attention to prayer, the consistent devotion to giving time and energy to listening to God that we might just wake up from our deadness. If we are willing to give God our time in prayer, listening regularly and intentionally for God, we may just find that we begin to wake up again.
A friend of mine often describes his prayer time as “wasting time with God.” Perhaps you have heard someone say that yourself. The idea is that we have no agenda and simply allow ourselves to be with God. And the purpose of this is not to waste time–in fact, I think my friend would tell you that this time is anything but wasted. But, as we spend time with God in prayer, we begin to find that there is much that we gain, even when we simply sit in silence together.
And so, I offer to you in addition to obedience and repentance the task of prayer. I believe that if we take these on seriously, we will find that we begin to move toward life once more.