“Do not remember the former things, or consider things of old. I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
As long as I can remember, I have had spiritual FOMO (fear of missing out). As a young person, I was often the last to leave the altar. I didn’t go to church or youth group to spectate. I either wanted to be there and be fully present and receptive to what God was doing, or I didn’t want to be there at all. When I was old enough to be “too cool to want to go to evening services,” mom would always come home and say, “Jeremy, you wouldn’t believe the service you missed tonight.” It worked. If God was really God, I didn’t want to miss anything that He was doing.
I still don’t want to miss it. At 41, I’m more convinced than ever that the God of my youth is, in fact, God. And because I’m more convinced, I am even more aware of the tragedy that I often miss what he is up to. In the birth narrative in the gospels, we quickly pick up on the fact that Israel was not well prepared for the coming of the Messiah: “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:1-3).
How is it that these non-Israelites (perhaps astrologers) were able to perceive what God was doing in the world and ready to join in with it, while all Jerusalem was “disturbed?” They had the scriptures, the prophets, and the covenant! I don’t know about you, but this passage challenges me to examine myself. I am blessed to have a physical copy of the scriptures, the Holy Spirit living in and through me, and a huge church family and community to discern with.
Even more than that, I have the weight and privilege of this role I am in, where I get to see a little more broadly what is happening in the PAONL in our province. I want to share with you humbly, with an awareness of my limited perspective, what I am noticing and have noticed over the past year as MDSI Director.
Mainly, I have noticed great spiritual hunger, both among those who are seeking, and those who are actively involved in the mission. It wasn’t a huge step of faith for us to relaunch our camps and events this year (Youth Breakaways, Kids Rock Camp, Young Adults Regional Events, Prime Time, Men’s Regional Events, Pastor/Spouse, Women’s Conference, Imagine), but we had no idea how people would attend and respond. At Imagine Youth on the Road this Spring, we did three regional youth events, where we saw entire rooms full of youth empty out of the seats towards the altar for the response. We don’t know all that God did in hearts, but it wasn’t difficult to discern that youth were hungry to take a step in their faith and towards God.
At all events, we were consistently moved by the levels of attendance and participation. It feels like those in our churches who are actively involved and participating, are participating with a higher level of attentiveness and energy. Perhaps some of this is a result of the greater sacrifice it takes right now to be a participant rather than a spectator, a contributor rather than a consumer. Pastor Mark Sayers writes that, “revivals and renewals always come at low ebbs of church and culture.” For many of us, the pandemic provided an opportunity to re-evaluate the reasons that we are part of our local churches in the first place. For those of us who were actively discerning, we were also acutely aware of the distractions that fell away. The low ebb of both church and culture has been exposed. The whole world, including churchgoers, is longing for more.
Advent is not just an extended Christmas season for churches. It is an opportunity to hopefully, with repentance, reflect. Our busy, individualist, often consumeristic lives are not the focal point of God’s plan. The kingdom of God is. Christ has come and is here and is coming. What is God doing now, in our neighbourhoods, families, schools, communities, places of employment, churches? Let every heart prepare Him room.
 Sayers, Mark. “Reappearing Church.” Chicago: Moody. 2019. Print.