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The Midnight Cry:
A Prophetic Witness to the Church Today

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14
WAKE UP! O Sleeper!

Ritualism, formalism, traditionalism. These are all linked by a common thread. They are the outcome of quenching the Spirit. It is not hard to see that most Christians in  mainstream denominations are doing this, but it may surprise you to know that even the Spirit-led sector of the Church is not exempt from God's condemnation in this respect. Read on and find out why.


When I awake in the morning I don't usually have anything on my mind, unless I have received a dream. However, one morning I awoke thinking about ritualism.

It was a strange way to wake up. But I believe the Spirit of God was planting specific thoughts in my mind. I was thinking about how it is that many people find ritualism attractive. They like it. They like the predictable nature of their 'worship'. (It's not true worship. Jesus said that true worshippers worship in the spirit Jn 4:23.) Ritualists feel comfortable following their ritualistic lifestyle. They 'enjoy' it.

Sadly, however, their perfunctoriness is symptomatic that they have fallen asleep spiritually. While they think they are worshipping God and pleasing Him, their lives are spiritually lacking. They are devoid of the power of God, like some of whom Paul wrote (2 Tim 3:5).

Why?

The answer is simple. Their lives are not motivated by the love of God. If you keep the flames of love burning in your spirit, you won't be an ineffective Christian (2 Pet 1:5-8).


Ignoring Intrusions

Of course, if you are trapped by such formality, you won't know it. True to the parable of the virgins (Matt 25), you will be asleep and won't realise it. Sleeping people don't know they are asleep... until they wake up. Then they know they have been unconscious.

Spiritual slumber is no different from its physical counterpart in several respects.

If you are like me, you won't like being awoken until you are fully rested. To have someone wake you in the middle of the night is a gross intrusion!

In the first flat (apartment) I rented before I was married, I remember once being woken up at some unearthly hour of the morning by the telephone. I picked up the receiver, but I was in no fit mental state to help anyone. On the other end of the line a man was trying to locate a midwife who had lived in the same flat previously. His wife was giving birth and they needed to locate this midwife urgently. At three in the morning, I was so non compos mentis, that I was unaware I had this lady's contact number. I said "Good-bye" before I realised I could have helped him.

Fortunately, he was able to obtain her phone number from another source without much delay, so he found the help he needed.

Spiritually, we are all like I was that night. We don't like it when another 'calls', disturbing our slumber. We prefer to tune it out.

That is easier to do spiritually, than physically. When the phone rings, it is not easy to ignore it. (Humanly, I wished I could have done so!) But when someone knocks on your door, or rings you up in the middle of the night spiritually speaking you can conveniently shut out the interference. You can ignore the intrusion.

And people do! People sleep!

Jesus prophesied that the whole Church prior to the end would be in this state asleep spiritually (Matt 25:5).

That is shocking! What did He mean by this?

  • Did He mean that the various sectors of the Church (represented by the ten virgins in the parable) would be unaware of the fact that they are ignoring something important? Yes. I think so.
  • Did He mean that there are some spiritual things of which they should be aware? Yes. I think so.
  • Did He mean that they would be shutting their eyes to these things, when others try to bring them to their attention? Yes. I think so. (I will explain my reasons for these conclusions later.)

I don't believe the parable was just meant to convey that immediately prior to Jesus' physical return people would be unaware of how close His coming is. More significant is His spiritual coming in our lives. Hence the use of the metaphors of the lamps and the oil, symbolic of how we act on the Word of God (Ps 119:105) and how we use His Holy Spirit.

Christians the world over have been deceived by the deceiver. He has deluded them in some spiritual way. The main purpose of his delusions is to prevent you having a close relationship with Jesus in the spirit. That's what Satan wants to prevent most of all. He wants to cause you to become unaware of God. To the extent you are oblivious to His closeness is the extent to which the devil has managed to deceive you.

Ritualists are among the most deceived.

Ritualism is one of the devil's most successful traps. Like the parable conveys, the foolish virgins go along through life without drawing on the power of God's Spirit (the oil). They have the Word (the lamp), but its value to them is diminished because they are not listening to the Spirit and so are not heeding all God wants them to heed.

A couple of years ago, God instructed us via a word of knowledge to attend a meeting of Seventh Day Adventists nearby. I had never been to one of their meetings before and I have not attended since.

The meeting was all orderly and predictable, but that was the problem. It was too predictable. The people were asleep. They were not expecting God to show up. It was their service, their preaching, their teaching. There was no anticipation of the moving of the Holy Spirit. They have not accepted that God is that alive or that real!

They were nice people. I felt an affinity with them up to a point. I wanted to find a meeting of minds with them. I desired to accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ. But, the friendship was merely superficial, perfunctory. Why? Because their worship was ritual. It was empty. There was no awareness of the presence of the Spirit of God.

That night, my wife had a vision. She saw a vase full of nice flowers, but they were all dead! It didn't take much to realise what God was saying.

In our experience, we have perceived that many in the body ignore the lead of the Spirit in various ways. As a prophetic ministry, we have been called upon at various times to take certain 'messages' to other Christians elsewhere. We have found that 99% of the time, those to whom we go, do not receive 'our' witness. They prefer not to have their eyes opened! They ignore the words we are given for them. They choose to sleep.

In the 'legalistic sector' of the Church, people resent the suggestion that they need to open up to the Spirit. In the so-called 'Spirit-led' sector of the Church, there is an equal resistance to receiving new understanding. On both 'sides', there is somnolence!

And in the individual lives of Christians there is a curious ambivalence to the things of God. Christians want God, but too often they want Him at arms' length. They don't want Him to rock their boat, or disturb their routine. Ritualism or formalism is more comfortable.

You certainly don't want Him to wake you when you are comfortably asleep!


Analysing the Problem

What can God do in such a situation? The parable of the ten virgins reveals.

At a most unexpected time, He sends out a 'crier' to cry out (Matt 25:6) a prophet. God has customarily used prophets to speak out at times when His people have been 'missing it' (Is 58:1). He reveals to His prophets what He is going to do (Amos 3:7). If you reject the prophet, you reject words God wants you to heed (Matt 10:40,41).

The Midnight Cry mentioned in the parable of the ten virgins is an unwelcome call to awake. If you disagree with that, tell me a time when you have relished being woken up when you did not ask to be awoken. So it is when a prophet is moved to invade your comfort zone and upset your convenient little dream world.

For three reasons, people find a prophet's words undesirable. Firstly, human nature resents inconvenient intrusions. Secondly, we don't want another telling us where we are wrong. Thirdly, we prefer the comfortable path of ritualism or traditionalism.

Ritual is not just limited to High Church liturgy. Formality has its Spirit-led 'homes' too. I have been in ostensibly Spirit-led groups to discover their worship has become equally dry. They have reverted to form, habit, routine. And, even where this has not occurred, they have continued to observe the same perverse traditions in Church observance that God condemns in His Word as of Babylon. [These will be explained in more depth in further articles on this web page.]

Whenever we get used to a form of worship, and do it out of habit, it soon becomes stale and lifeless. We can do a lot that way, unconsciously, without thinking.

When I picked up the telephone receiver that night, even in my stupor I was still able to talk to the man who telephoned. But my brain was not in gear. I was not really thinking about what I was saying. I was 'going through the motions'. You can do quite a lot, even while asleep! Some people even sleep-walk. They get up in their sleep and do various things without even realising it.

The same is true spiritually. Your behaviour can be the result of habit. You can do many things without spiritual awareness. They have become natural to you. Good habits are not wrong, but when your response to God lacks spiritual awareness, they become empty ritual.

Just as you may operate while asleep, unaware, so too you can operate without thinking spiritually. Who is the Head of the body who does the thinking for the Church? Jesus. Is His Spirit living in you? Are you thinking what He is thinking? Or are you living alone?

Herein lies the chief problem in the Church. In various ways, depending upon their background, children of God are excluding the Spirit. The messages to the seven churches in Revelation reveal more if we have the ears to hear. Jesus forewarns us:

1. We must not forsake the first love for Truth. We must love Jesus more than everything else in our lives. Spiritual things must take absolute precedence (2:4).

2. We must be prepared to accept rejection and persecution by society and friends for the sake of acceptance of uncompromised Truth (2:9,10).

3. We must not entertain false teachings (2:14), nor false teachers who bring people into bondage (2:15).

4. We must not compromise and accommodate heresy for the sake of expedience (2:20).

5. We must wake up and be strengthened by acting on the Word (3:2). Hearers are not justified. Doers are (Rom 2:13).

6. We must keep all His Word and not deny His Spirit living in us (3:8), enduring patiently (3:10).

7. We must be zealous, spiritually hot. Apathy must not take root (3:16-20).

Sadly, apathy is the number one problem in the Church today. Most have got all they want. They don't want you or anyone else showing them where they may be wrong. They don't want anyone challenging them to move on. They choose to slumber.

If God offers you something and you turn Him away you are closing the door on Him (Rev 3:20). You are not listening to His voice. That hurts Him deeply. It grieves Him when you quench His Spirit.

I know many in the body who have shut the door on Him. They refuse His spiritual gifts. They spurn His prophets. They deny His Truth. They take what they want, but reject what He wants for them. It is very sad.

I know others who impugn pure doctrine the faith once delivered (Jude 3). They reject the purity of His Word for a vile anti-Semitic counterfeit that relegates keeping God's commandments and festivals to the level of antiquated legalism. They label them derisively as Moses' laws.

Moses was merely the mediator whom Israel had accepted. God not Moses gave His laws to Israel. They are God's gift to His people (Mal 4:4), and are binding upon the Church until heaven and earth are dissolved (Matt 5:17-20). If you want to be part of God's spiritual nation (spiritual Israel today is the Church), you should accept all that He has given you, not just the parts it is convenient for you to accept. It is for your good. Jesus was sent to be Israel's Deliverer your Deliverer.

You accept Jesus as your Christ.

  • Do you accept His law?
  • Do you accept His Spirit?
  • Do you accept His gifts?
  • Do you accept His prophets?

Or are you shutting the door on Him in one of these ways?


Waking Up

What motivates you each day? What is foremost on your mind? If it is not God and the things of God, then you are allowing something to hinder your spiritual development. You will be asleep in some way. You are not allowing the Spirit of God to govern your thinking.

Israel's king David wanted God's Spirit to dominate his mind. Spiritually, he learned to be 'hot'. David's heart was attuned to God's. Spiritual things were paramount in his mind. He wrote:

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you (Ps 138:17,18).

The first thing on David's mind when he awoke in the morning was God! He was a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). No wonder he dared to pray:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me... (Ps 138:23,24).

He wanted to learn, to move on. He willingly accepted correction.

When God sent Nathan to David in his time of apathy to wake him up, David did not reject the stern correction he received. He had the power to put Nathan to death for 'daring' to correct the king. Instead, David humbled himself, zealously repented, and sought God (2 Sam 12; Ps 51).

David was willing to admit his own guilt. Too many Christians and church leaders today are not! It is too painful, too humiliating, or too inconvenient!

Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near (Is 55:6).

David sought God while He was near. When the prophet was conveying God's will, it was as if God was standing before David. That was the time to seek Him. Deferring the prompting of God is dangerous. God may be patient, but when He calls we must respond.

You must seek Him while He is near. If you reject His correction (invariably through the voice or writing of a prophet) when it is given, don't expect to find God near. He will leave you to let you sleep.

If you had responded to My rebuke, I would have poured out My heart to you and made My thoughts known to you. But since you rejected Me when I called and no-one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all My advice and would not accept My rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you... when distress and troubles overwhelm you. Then they will call to Me but I will not answer... since they hated knowledge and would not choose to fear the Lord..." (Prov 1:23-29).

Do you think God finds it offensive when we dismiss the words of His prophets? Do you think it grieves Him when we want to sleep? Do you think He is hurt when we exclude His Spirit from our lives, spurning His gifts, rejecting His prophets, or criticising His law, to justify our customary habits or traditions?

David asked God to remove any offensive way in him (Ps 138:24). Are you prepared to do likewise?

People have all sorts of hang-ups and difficulties Christians, I mean. I am not condemning any because of their difficulties. We all have them. They are part and parcel of our development.

But there is only one solution to those problems accept the full light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you (Eph 5:14).

Pathetically, too many prefer their own darkness. They don't really want the penetrating light of Christ shining on them. Do you? Are you as open as David? Or do you hide from the voice of God, fearful of what He might say?

We must let His light shine on us, not pull the bedcovers over our heads.

Malcolm B. Heap, August 1996
(This article first appeared in Awake! Awake! of Sept/Oct 1996.)

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