Singing in the midst of suffering – the reality for urban churches

On Sunday, we looked at Revelation 15-16 and we saw that God’s people are seen here singing, even though they have been suffering terrible persecution and living in a world under judgement. Our main application was that we could “sing even when suffering.”  By this we did not merely mean the ability to join in on a Sunday but singing as representing an expression of joy, trust and hope in the Lord throughout the work demonstrated by how we act and what we say, particularly about the gospel.

We noted two challenges to this:

1.       It may seem easier for those who have already come through the other side to “sing” than for those of us still in the midst of life’s troubles

2.       It is hard to have that sense of joy and hope when what we want to do is seek vengeance for what others have done.

Now, let’s be blunt, the second item is not trivial or light. I realise that when I preach a message of this kind there are people who will have experienced deep and painful suffering and abuse. A congregation may include:

          Those who have been ripped off by a con-merchant or loan shark putting them into debt

          Those who have been physically beaten or sexually abused.

          Those who have been manipulated and spiritually abused, drawn into cults where they’ve been lied to and controlled

          Those who have been hooked on alcohol and cigarettes by peer pressure or hard drugs by pushers

          Those who have been deserted by feckless partners and parents.

And that’s just a sample list.  Furthermore, there will be those who have been facing opposition specifically and overtly because of their love of Jesus. In an urban, UK congregation this may include

          Those who are here seeking asylum because the country they have fled outlaws and persecutes Christians, driving them to the margins of society, imprisoning and torturing them, burning down their church buildings, killing converts.

          Those who are here seeking asylum because their Christian faith meant that they refused to conform to corrupt and wicked practices in their homeland and found no protection under the justice system there.

          Those who are being deserted and excluded from their families here because of their faith

          Those who are being mocked, bullied and subject to harassment at school, work or by their neighbours because they have taken a stand for Christ.

          Those who are being passed over for jobs and/or promotion because they are Christians.

I wanted to list those examples because we can assume that

1.       A trip into a book like Revelation is going to be somewhere between the esoteric and the intellectual and therefore not that relevant to a Sunday morning congregation.

2.       That in those cases we should simply pick and choose topical sermons because these will be more relevant and practical.

Additionally, I want to name them because I want us to really get what it means when we talk about urban ministry in Britain today.  If we don’t understand the challenges that real people in real congregations are facing, then our preaching, Bible studies, Christian books & websites and our theological training is going to be shallow and ineffectual.

Are we ready on a Sunday morning to stand up and preach to people whose lives reflect the situations I’ve just described.

I think that this is why we’ve found travelling through Revelation so wonderfully helpful.  We’ve found that it isn’t an esoteric book, even if the images at times are mind blowing. It’s not jus tthere for intellectual discussions about eschatological models. It certainly isn’t just a book describing far off events and situations -either back around AD70-90 in ancient Rome or forward into a post-rapture dystopia.

Revelation brings God’s perspective to bear on our lives today.

So we have people who have stood up to the Beast (representing humans and worldly systems in opposition to God, His people and the Gospel). They have done this at great cost. Yet they are described as those who have overcome or been “victorious” (Revelation 15:2). This means that there are three incredible promises to them

1.       That God will bring them safely through

2.       That he will wipe away every tear

3.       That he will judge evil and bring them into a safe eternity.

That, by the way is why Revelation 21:8 is not judgemental or exclusive but a great promise of hope, justice and protection:

“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.”