Whenever we’re looking to the future and dreaming about what is to come, I find it helpful to look back and remember where we’ve come from. It’s good to recall the answers to prayer, even the ones that are still in progress. It’s a privilege to glance backward and see God’s shaping hand. As I look over the past few decades, I have to admit: God has done “more than we could ask or imagine” in making us a people of passionate worship.
Thirty years ago, I came to this church hoping God would use me to stir a heart of worship in this place. I knew God was glorified when his children poured out their love for him in passionate worship. I knew that we, as a church, rarely showed that kind of passion. But I also knew that there were people who did.
I’ll never forget my first trip to the Brooklyn Tabernacle. I came home with a profound sense that they worshipped with reckless abandon. Theirs was truly a “whom have I in heaven but you, and earth has nothing I desire besides you” kind of worship. I longed for the day when God would do something like that at the Summit. And today, it’s happening: I see God steadily drawing our hearts toward him and stirring his people to throw off all restraint and run to him in worship.
This isn’t an easy road to follow. It has taken some hard times, where everything else seemed to be stripped away. But despite the difficulties, we keep pressing on down that road. And now, as I look at this road, I can see three distinct landmarks that are lighting our way.
The first landmark was diversity. I’m not sure when it happened or even what woke me up to the reality. But one day I realized that, as a church, we didn’t look like our community. Durham wasn’t just middle-class-white. It was very diverse—but we weren’t. It shook me, because that meant we weren’t reaching all of our community—only the parts that looked like us. I knew that wasn’t right. It’s been more than 20 years, but I remember calling this out in choir practice one night. We began to pray that God would help us reach the parts of our community that were different from us. God answered. Those first few brave souls taking the risk to step into our “whiteness” was just the beginning. Today, I’m hopeful that God’s work of reconciling us to one another, for the sake of the advance of the gospel, is something he intends to carry on.
The second landmark was mission. Throughout our church’s history, there were seasons where we had lost our way and forgotten our purpose. Without steadily lifting our eyes to look at the harvest, we had turned inward and abandoned the call to pray and send and go. When we became The Summit Church, missions was a memory, not a reality; we had only sent one short-term international team in 10 years. I remember sitting with two other staff members and grieving the loss of that direction. We had given less than $5,000 to missions that year. But even as we repented, God was already at work. What has happened since is nothing short of miraculous. We’ve given more than $17 million to missions and sent 387 people to live as missionaries overseas. What was once a source of grief and shame is now a source of great joy.
The third landmark is one that I believe still lies before us: prayer. If God has consistently stirred one longing in my heart for his people here, it has been the yearning to see us be a people of prayer. The more we grow, the more likely we are to let our success keep us from prayer.
God will not let me get away from this longing. He sent Jesus to restore us to relationship, which is the heart and soul of prayer. Our prayers are not primarily a way of getting anything from God or informing God of our needs; they are our lifeline to a renewed relationship with the Father, a sweet way of enjoying his beautiful presence. God longs for us to desire to be in his presence, to relish the chance to talk with him. He wants to hear adoration and gratitude pouring out of our mouths. He is jealous for our affections. He is waiting for our return and repentance with arms open wide. And he is always ready to hear and respond to our cries for help. As the Apostle Paul said, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 ESV)
God has done some tremendous things in our church. But I’m still asking for more than we could imagine. I’m hoping for the day when our prayer gatherings can’t come soon enough, when our prayer rooms aren’t big enough, when our prayer times aren’t long enough. I can’t think of anything better for God’s people than for us to desire to be with him, enjoy him, and commune with him more than we long for any other thing.
by Chris Gaynor