The Church Captive (14)
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved! Psalm 80.19
“…the thrust of the church’s development in Acts seems to prove that the Christian movement cannot go on to achieve its full maturity unless its mind is fully articulated by theologians like Paul (Acts 9-28) and its cultural limitations transcended by a clear separation of the absolute Christian message from its relative cultural incarnations (Acts 10-15).”
- Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life
We have seen that falling captive to elements of unbelieving worldviews and culture is a condition to which churches yield from time to time. Captivity to worldly views and ways doesn’t always announce itself; most often, churches and their leaders descend into captivity by degrees – like the proverbial frog in the water – without recognizing their plight.
But let’s suppose we dorecognize that we and our church have become captive, that the “clear separation of the absolute Christian message from its relative cultural incarnations” has been compromised, and accommodation with the surrounding culture has become the new order. Let’s suppose we recognize several of the indicators of captivity as present in the life and ministries of our congregation – superficial worship, a gospel other than the Gospel of the Kingdom, loss of focus on Christ and His Kingdom, emphasis on being served rather than serving, lack of love, or any of the others. At such a time, what should we do?
The place to begin breaking the bands of cultural accommodation and captivity is in prayer. Since we don’t know how to pray as we should (Rom. 8.26), and since we are looking for deliverance from beyond our present circumstances and purview, we should turn to the Psalms for guidance in how to seek the Lord for revival and renewal.
In the Psalms, our Father has graciously provided prayers to guide us, both in acknowledging our captive condition, and in seeking deliverance from it. Psalms such as Psalm 80.
Asaph our example
Psalm 80 is a psalm of Asaph. Appointed director of music and choirs by David, we may assume that Asaph continued his ministry after the temple was constructed under Solomon. His twelve psalms – 50 and 73-83 – would have been composed at the height of Israel’s glory and prosperity.
Yet these psalms reveal a growing darkness in the soul of the nation, beginning in Asaph’s own tendency to allow his heart to go after the things of the world (Ps. 73). In the psalms of Asaph we discover a prophet who has perceived the growing accommodation of the Solomonic court with the ways of the unbelieving world (1 Kgs. 11). Although outwardly, everything was going great guns – all the numbers were good and everyone seemed to be happy – inwardly, Asaph perceived that the soul of the nation was becoming captive to the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life. He wrote his psalms to jar the people of Israel to their senses, and to lead them to repentance before disaster and complete capitulation overtook them.
So clear and necessary is the message of Asaph’s psalms that, many years later, when King Hezekiah recognized a need for revival, and resolved to lead the people out of their captivity to pagan ways, he gave specific instructions that the psalms of David and Asaph should be used to lead the people in worship (2 Chron. 29.30).
Since these psalms were effective for King Hezekiah, in seeking the Lord for deliverance from captivity to pagan ways, we should expect them to be useful for us as well.
Psalm 80 contains everything a captive church needs to begin throwing off the cultural limitations that are keeping it from realizing its full potential as the Body of Christ and temple of the Lord. The psalm builds in intensity, as we see by comparing the growing plea for restoration in verses 3, 7, and 19. The psalmist knows that only God can deliver His captive people, by causing His face to shine on them once again – an appeal for a return of God’s favor, strength, and unfailing Word and Spirit.
The psalm recalls the great work of God in the past in establishing His people as a fruitful vine. And it laments the broken down hedges of the Lord’s garden, which have allowed the wild beasts of pagan ways to run roughshod over the vineyard of the Lord (vv. 8-11). Asaph leads the people to long once again for the fruitful days, when the hand of God was upon His people, and they followed His leading in all things (v. 17). He understood that God had allowed the souls of His people to fall captive to their lusts (v. 12), and to render the vineyard of the Lord unfruitful and waste (vv. 14-16).
Asaph knew that only the Lord could return His people from captivity, and he was encouraged, by providing the nation with this prayer, that their using it might be just the primer necessary for the waters of revival to gush and flow once again (v. 18). Praying this psalm might help the captive churches of our day realize the focus, strength, vigor, and fruit of the Lord once again.
Read and meditate on Psalm 80. Pray it daily. Lead your congregation, family, Bible study group, and friends in praying this psalm. Let that recurring phrase, especially in its final version in verse 19, be a “breathing prayer” for you throughout the day. If your church is in any way, or to any degree, captive to winds of doctrine and ways of working that are more of the world than of God’s Word, praying Psalm 80 can be a place to begin helping your church find its way to the freedom of Christ.
This is a sorrowful prayer, in which the faithful beseech God that he would be graciously pleased to succor his afflicted Church. To excite him the more readily to grant them relief in their distressing circumstances, they compare these circumstances with the condition of the Church in her beginnings, when the Divine favor was conspicuously manifested towards her.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 80
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).
Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979), p. 79.