There is a saying that is attributed to a rabbi. It goes something like this:
“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. As I grew older I realised I could not change the world. So I decided to change my nation. I soon realised I could not change my nation. So I decided to change my town. I soon realised I could not change my town. So I decided to change my family. As I grew older I realised I could not change my family. As an old man, I finally discovered that I could only change myself. I also realised that if as a young man I had decided to change myself, I might have changed my family. And if I had changed my family, I might have changed my town. And if I had changed my town, I might have changed the nation. And if I had changed the nation, I might have changed the world.”
Perhaps the said rabbi’s connection between changing himself and changing the world is not quite as assured as the quote makes it out to be. Nevertheless, it is true that change on a grander scale is the result of changes in the thoughts and behaviour of people at a personal level. And of course there are many examples in history – good and bad of people who have developed convictions which have impacted cities and nations and sometimes even the world.
In Revelation chapter three Jesus delivers the sternest of His seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor to the church at Laodicea. What He says has sometimes been seriously misinterpreted and the idea that Laodicea refers to the church of the last days has no scriptural foundation. His words about hot, cold and lukewarm are not a call to either be on fire for God or leave the faith altogether. They allude to the cool waters of Colosse, a city just a few miles from Laodicea and the hot springs of Hierapolis, a city a few miles in the other direction. Because Laodicea had no natural water supply, its piped in water was lukewarm. The Laodicean church’s activities, like the city’s water, provided neither refreshing nor healing.
The only way for a turn around in the Laodicean church was for a re-evaluation of their condition and their values, combined with repentance and a rediscovery of what was of true spiritual worth.
However, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that if anyone opens the door of their heart to Him, He’ll come and have fellowship with that person (Revelation 3.20). He starts with His concern for the whole church and ends up by appealing to individuals.
Jesus will start with one. One person who realised his or her need and opened their heart to Jesus could become the change agent for the whole of the church in Laodicea. One person could begin a revival.
Whatever else the letter to the Laodiceans teaches us, it is a reminder that we all have to make a personal response to Jesus. Not just in the sense of being born again, but also when it comes to our ongoing relationship with Him. And it is also a reminder that revival can begin in our hearts before it begins anywhere else – indeed it might be that revival has to begin in our hearts before we see its impact anywhere else.
One rabbi says “Change yourself and you can change the world”. The greatest Rabbi of all simply says “Open the door of your heart”.