Pentecost must have been an amazing sight to behold. Men were quite literally on fire for the Lord, as the Holy Spirit descended upon them in tongues of fire. The apostles began to speak in languages they did not know, so that everyone there could hear the Gospel in his own language. Some mocked the apostles, claiming they were drunk. But many did believe, and after Peter’s sermon, Acts 2:41 tells us that “those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Whoa. Three thousand people? And a short while later, after Peter and John healed a lame beggar, John preached again about Jesus, and that day five thousand men believed! That’s astounding. Suddenly the growth of the Church in our own day can seem very meek in comparison.
While the apostles at Pentecost were on fire for God, sometimes it feels like we struggle to keep a spark lit. Especially now, when many Christians still aren’t able to gather together for worship, it may feel like the Church is just limping along. When was the last time your church received new members? Many churches today struggle with declining church membership as faithful members age and enter their eternal rest, while new families joining becomes increasingly more rare. For some churches, baptism is the only way they receive new members. It’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to think we’ve lost that passion, that fire for God. It’s easy to think that we aren’t trying hard enough or doing enough or being relevant enough to the community around us.
That line of thinking is the problem.
Once we start focusing on our efforts, our zeal, our contributions, we somehow imagine that the Church’s survival is up to us. We take the focus off our Savior and put it on our own efforts. We forget that the Church is Christ’s Church. He will not forsake it, and He will continue to cause it to grow even when we can’t perceive it.
The early Church was a time of amazing growth, true. That’s how it is in infancy. Anyone who’s ever observed a baby growing knows that they grow at an incredible rate of speed. Every few months babies need a new size of clothes. They more than double their size over the course of that first year. It’s an exciting time to watch babies grow and develop, and although the growth curve flattens, they continue to grow and mature throughout childhood and the teenage years. During the first two decades of life, an individual grows from a tiny infant into a full-grown adult. That’s something like a 1500% increase in growth over 20% (or less) of a person’s lifetime. From there on out, growth is different—less perceptible, and more mental than physical.
So while the Church grew exponentially over the first few decades after Christ’s ascension, that growth curve has flattened. We generally don’t see 5,000 people added to the Church on any given Sunday. But make no mistake, the Holy Spirit is still very much at work. Every baby (or adult) who is baptized receives the gift of the Holy Spirit in no less miraculous a way than the apostles on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit creates faith out of nothing and continues to fan that flame as children grow and are nurtured in the faith. Each child who is baptized and raised in a Christian home has the potential to have children of his or her own someday, and the Christian faith is passed along for another generation. The growth is slower—over generations rather than days—but it is still there.
Take my parents, for example. They passed along their faith to three children, who in turn grew up, got married, and had kids of their own, all of whom are being raised in the faith as well. So from two people, there are now nineteen believers in the span of two generations. Add one more generation, and that number will likely at least triple. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty impressive growth chart after all.
Dear Christian, don’t be tempted to think that the Holy Spirit has somehow stopped working. Don’t look at the numbers in your congregation and get discouraged. Don’t look to yourself to gauge how “on fire” you are for the Lord. Even if you feel like your faith is weak, remember the promise of Isaiah 42:3, that “a faintly burning wick He will not quench.” He will keep you in your faith. He will continue to cause the Church to grow. There’s no stopping this fire.