At the end of last year, the New York Times carried this headline: “Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds to Churches.” The story said that “bad times” were “good” for churches because when people are “shaken to the core,” they become more open to the message of the Bible. The newspaper reported that the revivals that swept the United States in the nineteenth century were often triggered or touched off by economic panics. The great Fulton Street Revival (also known as the Businessman’s Revival) broke out in New York City during the financial panic of 1857. And research has shown that during each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent.
So, should we pray for bad news? Pray or not, bad news will come. Thank God for the good times! Never forget though, the Lord often works wonders in troublesome times. He did in Bible times, He still does today.
A prime example of God working wonders in troublesome times is the town of Morehouse. That devastating flood last spring could have been enough for people to move away and move on. Some did, most didn’t. The flood could have been enough for the already struggling First Baptist Church to close its doors and cease their existence. They didn’t. Instead of giving up, FBC decided to go up! They became a center to house, feed, care for and counsel the town. Area Baptist churches as well as Baptists across the State provided resources that included money, practical needs and even on-site manpower to serve the devastated town.
Thankfully, First Morehouse didn’t stop with physical and social ministry. Last fall they conducted a block party over a weekend, presented the gospel and witnessed people praying to receive Christ. In January, they sponsored a wild game dinner which attracted many without a church relationship. Again, the gospel was shared and again God moved in hearts to bring people to Jesus. While it would have been easy to stop there, they prayed, planned and conducted a church revival in March. Amazingly, several dozen prayed to receive Christ during that week! God is still mightily at work in and around Morehouse!
Morehouse Baptists’ unwillingness to let adversity stop them (much less slow them down) reminds of a a very difficult year when I was pastor at Tower Grove Baptist, South St. Louis. We were having a roof put on the four-story worship/Sunday School facility. The roofer failed to cover part of it over a weekend that brought a four-inch rain to St. Louis. As a result, asbestos was exposed that had to be removed before the facility could be renovated. It took a year, cost $2.1 million and our attendance dropped 25 percent! We had a revival scheduled for that year, and our first impulse was to cancel it. After prayer, we felt led to go on with the revival and have the services in the gym. Guess what!? God showed up that week. We saw more than 150 profess faith in Christ! Crowds came and filled the gym night after night! We borrowed a “used” baptistry from a church which had upgraded theirs, ran a water hose to fill it and baptized scores of converts.Of my four decades of pastoral ministry, that experience stands at the top of my list as most memorable! Many times I have wondered, “What if we had let our circumstances determine our ministry?”
This story has been lived out more times than it has been told. Let’s imagine that we are driving through a rural area and we stop at a farmhouse. Sitting on the front porch, rocking slowly back and forth in an ancient recliner, is the farmer. “What are you doing?” we ask. “Farming,” he says. “What are you growing?” “Wheat.” But, as we look out over his fields we see nothing but unplowed and unplanted ground. “Excuse us, sir,” we say, “but you haven’t plowed your fields. And it doesn’t look like you have planted any wheat.” “Yes, that’s right.” “We don’t understand?” “Last year we had a drought. The year before bugs ruined my crop. Three years ago, it was the flood. So, I have decided to play it safe this year, not plant anything and see what comes up.”
What farmer has not experienced adversity? What church has not experience adversity? We are not here to merely survive, but to thrive! Remember, “Life’s setbacks are God’s setups for great comebacks!”