Jim Ratcliffe – Fellowship Meetings - Pretoria, Gauteng Province, South Africa Convention - 1993

Like others, I am very thankful to be counted in with this gathering and feel so thankful to be numbered with you all. We are in a wonderful Family, and we are glad to be part of it. When I saw my name on the list for Sunday Morning, I began to wonder what would be beneficial to speak about in this Meeting. There are certain subjects I like to speak about on a Sunday Morning and the one I have chosen today is the subject of the little Fellowship Meetings. There are three channels through which the Lord seeks to help us. One is the channel of prayer, and we need to keep that channel open. There are many many things that can block that channel. Many of you know a lot of them but no time to speak of them. Then there is the channel of God's Word. Reading and meditating on the Word of God. We need to keep that channel open also, for there are many things that can hinder that channel from being open and the biggest one is neglecting to read and meditate and that can block that channel badly. There are other things too but today I would like to speak about the channel of the fellowship of God's People and the Fellowship in the Meeting place. I Corinthians 14, I call the Meeting chapter. The 15th chapter I call the resurrection chapter, and the 13th chapter I call the love chapter. The 12th chapter speaks of the body of God's People as He tries to keep them together.

 

When I made my choice, the Brother Workers who brought us the Gospel asked me to go to a home on Sunday mornings for the Meeting and when I went, it was different to any place of worship that I had been to before. They gave out a Hymn and we sang the Hymn. Then the meeting was open for prayer and anyone could pray; many took part in prayer, then another Hymn was sung and then the Meeting was open for testimonies. It was different from anything I had seen before, but I had the fullest confidence in those two men who brought the Gospel. I was confident they were sent of God and their teaching was the will of God, and I accepted it as this is what God wishes, but it was sometime later- a year or more later when I read this 14th chapter of Corinthian, and I found in that chapter practically all things we were asked to do. In the 3rd verse we read, "He that prophesieth, speaketh unto men to edification and exhortation and comfort." Now at one time, I thought that this word prophesy only meant to foretell but it also means to tell forth. I did not understand when I first read it, but it means to tell forth because he speaks to men to edification, exhortation and comfort. These are three things when we take part in the Meeting that can be helpful.

Maybe I should mention that I was asked to go to a home, and it was so strange and different to what I was used to, but when I read my Bible, I found that was how Jesus and the Disciples gathered on the first day of the week to break Bread. As I said it was all so different, but that was exactly what the Workers had told us to do, to gather in a home on the first day of the week to break Bread. I had not been to a home to worship before but to a building. I like this thought that God has arranged for us to meet in a home. We are a family and not an organisation. They have rules in an organisation but this is an organism; a body which is self contained and the Lord's People are as a organism; We have no rules and regulations and we gather together like a family. Another thing I like is that we gather on the first day of the week. It comes to my mind that when I promised God, when I made my choice, that I would give Him my first and my best; I would give Him first place in my life.

 

We gather on the first day; we start the week with God. He is worthy of the first and best, like Abel gave the first and the best. Now we go to the Meeting, what do we do the rest of the day? Go to the beach! I certainly hope not! I like to think of this first day that it is not only for the morning Meeting and this day is God's day and we do something after the Meeting that will help this Kingdom of God in some way or another.. I like to think of some of our Friends they go and visit some of the sick on a Sunday afternoon. Some of them go to visit the lonely ones, and they find means of doing something that will extend the Kingdom of God. They try to be a help. Some sit down and write letters. I have received letters from some who sat down on a Sunday afternoon to write letters; trying to be a help. There are ways we can spend the first day of the week. Going back to our little Meeting. I would like to call your attention to verse 23 and you only need to read the first line..."If therefore the whole church be come together in one place..." This assures us that he is talking about the time that they gather together and it is for the whole church. You notice it is not the church, but the WHOLE CHURCH. The Lord likes to see everyone in their place on Sunday Morning or when the Meeting is held. One of our Brothers said, "There should be nothing less than a broken leg that should keep people from the Meeting." I was touched when I was up in Zimbabwe and for the Union Meeting some people had walked 10 kilometres to the Meeting; men, women and children. They did not even let all the kilometres hinder them from being in that Meeting. Even in West Africa, we had flood waters at one time, and it came in a certain section of the city and a number of Friends were living there, and the waters were all over. The Saturday evening, I saw the man in whose home the church was held in that area, and I said, "I hope to come to your home for the Meeting in the morning." He said, "Oh no, don't come, there is too much water." I said, "You go out every day, and why can't I come?" He said, "It is alright for us but not for you." I went and I walked and there was at least a kilometre of water, in some places over my knees; some places were only ankle deep, but I reached that home and there were the church gathered. They all came through water. They were not letting water hinder them from coming to the Meeting! I must tell you something more extensive than that. At one of the homes the water came into the home. I told them we could have the meeting in another home. They said, "No, just leave it; we have to walk to get there. Don't change it for in a few weeks it will be gone." The man of the home put a brick in front of the feet where people were sitting, so that they could sit with their feet above the water. Then the water came over the brick so he put out another brick! The last time I was in that Meeting the water was up to my knees. We sang and prayed; don't misunderstand me; we did not kneel to pray but sat and prayed; but the very effort and sacrifice of those people, made it a good meeting.

 

Let us take a look now at Verses 15 and 16. We read about them praying in the Meeting. That is what the Workers taught us when I first went to a Meeting and here I find it just like they told us. Paul talking to these People about Praying and singing and the way they should pray and sing. Praying in the spirit with understanding and singing in the spirit with understanding  also! They were not to pray in an unknown tongue or language because nobody would understand that prayer and it is unprofitable. I want to tell you something else. I have been in Meetings where maybe one or sometimes two in the Meeting talk so low when they pray, and I could not hear. Well, I am a little hard of hearing, but I asked the elder one time when I was in that Meeting. This person prayed and took part and I did not hear anything: It was so faint. I said to the elder after the Meeting..."Did you hear what that sister said and prayed?'' He said, "No, I did not hear a thing." I thought it was my hearing but it was not. When you pray and nobody hears, it is just as bad as if you are speaking in a language nobody understands. Prayers should be for people to hear. Paul says. "How shall you say Amen at the end if you did not understand?" (Verse 16) You cannot say Amen to that prayer. So he was teaching them to pray in the spirit, as that Hymn says, "That our prayers would rise as one with zeal." Then it is speaking of the singing. They will sing with understanding. Maybe before I would go on to the singing, I would like to say a little more about praying. Sometimes we notice it gets into a habit and then some praying long in the Meeting. That should not be! Long prayers are for the secret place and short prayers in the Meeting. I wonder if you children ever play Meeting as over there in Canada, the children often play Meetings and they sing and pray and talk. Anyway, this little girl and boy in the home. The little girl said to the boy, "Let us play meeting." He said, "Alright, but let us not pray." Why did he say that? It was a very small church: I don't know whether 4 or possibly sometimes 5 were present and they prayed so long - each one prayed long, and I can understand the little boy kneeling down and listening and having to listen to long prayers and he was so discouraged. Don't discourage your children that way. No, we want to have short prayers in the Meeting. We can get into a form of even praying. Sometimes I have been in some Meetings and I almost know what some people are going to pray; so often it is just the same thing! We need to avoid that when we go to Meetings.

 

If there is some special thing for which we feel thankful for in the week, just say this to God in the Meeting, and if there is some special thing we need help for, just make our petitions to God to help us. These simple sincere Prayers can be as short as they can be and they are very helpful. Sometimes the only thing that I remember of the prayers is that it was a long prayer.

 

Then the singing in the Meetings; to sing in the spirit and with understanding. I have found it difficult to sing a whole hymn through and every phrase. To sing it from the heart. So many things that come; little distractions. I have been in the home for the first time, and while singing I see a picture on the wall and I wonder what age could he have been when they took that picture, and I am off and not singing in the spirit. I have been in Meetings and while singing I look at the furniture and think about it. We should sing in the spirit and with understanding. I spoke or this one time at a Convention and a lady came to me and said, "I have got the victory there, in the spirit! Try it and you will be surprised!''

 

Another thing I was thinking about and that is when Jesus had that supper with His Disciples, when the Bread was first broken in the Meeting. When the hour had come, He sat down with His Disciples. The time was set and He sat down with them. We have a time set for Meetings.. Even here I have noticed people coming in at the very last minute into the Meeting. That should not be! If we appreciate the Meetings we should be in the Meeting at least five minutes before it starts. We should not be coming in late! In a certain district we were in, we had the morning Meeting, and one family, man, wife and two children, always five minutes late. The next Sunday, the same thing happened, five minutes late. Just a habit and they disturb the Meeting. We were having Gospel Meeting the third Sunday, in the afternoon and so we arranged that the Sunday Morning Meeting would be half an hour earlier. They came, the half hour but five minutes late! There is an old lady with two daughters in the Field I was in last year, and they used to come just one minute before Meeting time. You cannot do that without missing something. You are trying to sing a hymn and you hear the door open and you wonder what kept them late this morning? It took me off my singing in the spirit. They come in and try and find a place to sit down and look over to see what Hymn is being sung. That should not be! Be in time for the Meeting! Let me tell you of one of our African Friends with 6 or 7 children. I had reason to go that Sunday Morning Meeting earlier because I wanted to speak to the elder about something. I got there 20 minutes before the Meeting time, and there was the elder and his wife and the professing children sitting quietly with their Hymn books and Bibles, and the children not professing sitting quietly too with their Hymn books. I had reason to thank God for them. They were sitting waiting when the others would come in. Some of these things do not mean very much to us but it means a lot to God. We appreciate our privilege to be on time. Can I take you over now to the 26th verse where it tells us that everyone that came had a part. Maybe a Psalm. or a Hymn or some little revelation. That is what we find that everyone should have a part.

 

Sometimes we notice that people come to Meetings and don't always take part; only sometimes. Even here in Pretoria, an elder was telling me that some in his church only take part sometimes. The Lord wants us all to speak. In a family, you like to hear all the voices. The little children, the older children and mother and father and everybody having a part and speaking. When a baby is born you are waiting for the time when you hear the first words of that little boy or girl. We should have a song after we have made our choice: we should have something to nay! You notice it says, "Let all things be done unto edifying." The words edifying or edification are used seven different times in this chapter, and that is what the Meeting is for. Paul also used the expression, "I would rather speak five words with my understanding that by any voice I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." So we get teaching in the Meeting, like we also read in the 3rd verse, "edification, exhortation and comfort." This is what it is all about! Each one taking part and it is helpful for the whole church. Sometimes I tell about children playing Meeting and the oldest boy amongst them is supposed to be leading the Meeting, and he said to one. "Today you will be Mrs. So and So, and to the other. "You will be Mr. So and So," to another boy, "You will be Percy today." "Oh no, I don't want to be Percy. He does not take part in the Meetings." The little fellow did not want to sit there and not take part. The Lord wants us all to have a part so as to be helpful.


Then we go a little further and we find verse 34, "Let your women keep silent in the church, etc. If they would learn anything let them ask their husbands at home." These woman evidently were asking their husbands questions in the Meeting. In West Africa, the very thing happened. Some women were illiterate and this lady did not understand and we had to interpret for her and in one of the first Meetings, she was whispering to her husband and asking questions. The very thing Paul is talking about here! You may not have that trouble here but if Paul was here he would say. "Let your children be quiet in the Meeting." I am sure your Workers all try to tell you that the Meetings should be a quiet place. The Spirit of God cannot come where there is tumult and noise. I was disappointed not so many weeks ago, I was in a home where the church was held. The elder said, "I am sorry but we have a couple with two children and they disturb most every Meeting," That is a disgrace! Let me tell you over in West Africa. Well, all West Africans are not little angels. This father had twin boys and after he made his choice we had a little Meeting and these two boys, not very old, sat one on each side of him and no toys to play with. He taught them to sit quietly and he taught them reverence for the Meeting. Sometimes people bring toys and it makes a noise. One time, there was a little girl and the couple brought n basket full of toys, and she wanted one thing after another and sorting it out and making a noise. The twin boys and all the other boys in the family are professing now and one going into the Work this year. I was in a Meeting one time at a Convention and right here in the front row sat father, mothe,r and the baby in mother's arms. Beside the father, a little boy about 2 years of age and the little girl possibly 4 and the others at School. There they all sat and nothing to play with: all quiet. Dad sometimes puts the little boy on his knee and he looks at Dad with a smile on his face as much as to say, "Am I doing alright?" Yes, he was doing alright! I felt I owed it to that couple to show my appreciation for the way they brought up their children in the Meeting, and I said to them, "We appreciate the way you have trained your children to be quiet. I know they don't come that way!" They said, "They surely don't, they have to be taught." These are some of the necessary things so that the Meetings may helpful.

 

Then one or two more things. Merlin told us so nicely about what spirit we bring to the Meeting. The most helpful thing to bring to the Meeting is to bring the right spirit. Bring an much as you can of the Spirit of God that will help the Meeting. We heard already mentioned about the Emblems and the home in which the Meetings are, and I thought maybe there was a need along this line because it came from three different brothers. The Sunday Morning Meeting should be profitable and helpful in the way the Lord would like it to be. It tells us in the last verse, "Let all things be done decently and in order." That is what we like to see. I was thinking about an elder and it is a very important thing that the elder be an example to the flock. It would do every elder good to read once in a while what Paul wrote to Timothy in the 3rd chapter and also what Peter wrote in Chapter 5 of his first epistle. Now if you like to read Acts 20:28, "Take heed to yourselves." That is the first thing and then, "To the flock over which the Lord has made you overseers." It is not the calling of man. We know the Workers have to make the choice of the overseers but we are very very careful when we make such choices that we should be prompted by the Spirit of God. We know the Lord can make them overseers if they are faithful, it says, "To feed the Church of God which He has purchased with His own Blood." Remember that everyone was purchased through the Blood of Jesus and would it not help you to love them, to think that Jesus has died for everyone of them and His Blood shed for them. It should help us to appreciate our Brethren for they are Blood bought ones. We had an elder in a Field I laboured in before I went to West Africa, he became very ill and had cancer and knew he did not have very long to live. He called the church and asked them one by one into his room and had a little message for each one of them. The last one to come was the brother that took the Meetings when the elder was not present, and he just said to this Brother, "John, feed the flock." That was his last message to that Brother and he never forgot it. We thank God for elders and their wives. At one convention when on a home visit, they asked me to speak first and when the time of prayer came, the four first to pray, were the four elders, and the first women to pray were three of the elders wives.. They were examples to the flock. May the Lord help us to appreciate whatever place He has given us. Whether elders or their wives; they are the ones responsible for the flock.