Bishop Trevor Edwards looks at Australia’s 2016 religion census
In the last month the 2016 Census figures have been released and it is no surprise that those figures reveal that Australians are less religious. As predicted in the previous edition of Anglican News, almost one in three people now declare no religion on their census form and a large number of those who say they belong only have a nominal attachment to the religion of their choice. While we should not be surprised, what should we do in this situation of decline?
Instead of just throwing up our hands in despair or shaking our heads sadly about what we believe are poor, short-sighted choices by many of our contemporaries, we need to ask God, through His Spirit, to make us more like Jesus in having compassion on those who have, for whatever reason, excluded God from their lives. When Jesus saw the crowds of his day ‘he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36). He was deeply moved with pity because of the absolute lostness of many of his fellow countrymen, who were leaderless, harassed, bullied, bruised and helpless. He likened them to a flock of sheep, adrift and moving as a group but rarely knowing why or where. Their problem was that their leaders had no vision, and had carelessly led them astray by posing questions without answers and by adding burdens which had only increased their sense of sin and failure rather than bringing release. Today our ‘crowds’ are equally leaderless, foolishly putting their faith in fallible politicians or educators who can never provide ultimate answers, or even worse, in alternative religious ideologies which focus so much on what humans must do to earn God’s favour rather than on what God has already done in Christ. If compassion was the instinctive response of Jesus then it should also be ours.
Of course the compassion of Jesus had already compelled him to leave behind his heavenly glory to identify completely with our humanity, yet without our sin, and in a few short years it would also lead the Good Shepherd to sacrifice his life for his sheep to bring us life to the full. But on this occasion it leads him to give two instructions to his followers which we must also heed in a different cultural setting. His first command to his followers is to pray whenever we see people in need. In particular he wants us pray for the labourers to be sent who will help people see he has the answers to every human dilemma and who will call them to trust him as the only ruler who can transform everything in this broken world. Prayer for God to act must be our first priority. It was the American theologian Jonathan Edwards who said ‘every significant spiritual awakening has been preceded by a concert of unusual, united and persistent prayer’. In fact the nearest white Australia ever came to spiritual revival occurred in the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade. That mission was preceded by extraordinary prayer, with all night prayer meetings where if you wanted to pray you had to begin as soon as someone else finished! I am an answer to their prayers. Even though I never went to any crusade meeting, my local Anglican church was heavily involved and as a 9-year-old from a “church sending” but not attending family, I made my first profession of faith in Jesus at Sunday school in the front pew of my local parish church. His second command to his praying followers was for them to go into their neighbourhoods (and eventually to the whole world) to show and tell the good news of his kingdom, that because of his death and resurrection the past can be forgiven, the present can be transformed and a new future can be guaranteed.
Do we want to see the spiritual decline in our nation arrested? It will begin by asking God to give us the compassion of Jesus for our neighbours, relatives and friends who are lost and leaderless without him. This compassion will drive us to pray earnestly and regularly to God the evangelist to do what he only can do, namely bring those who are not yet Christian to faith in Jesus. Such compassionate praying will then motivate us to be agents of his gospel in our unique networks where we will lovingly show and tell how Jesus has changed our lives and can transform theirs too for their ultimate good.
Reprinted from Anglicannews.