By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
The Story of the Two Trampolines:
A passage that is frequently referred to during times of great revival is Isaiah 64:1-3:
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence…”
Feel the depth of emotion and longing behind the simple word ‘oh’. A cry of intensity that God would rend the heavens and come down, but the cry is stirred by a remembering of what God had done before. Meditation upon God’s past action provokes a passionate outburst, crying out in desperate longing for God to do again as he had done before.
We noted in the previous chapter the value of church history108. George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”109 However, as Christians the opposite may be true. If we are not familiar with what God has done in the past, we may have a lower sense of expectancy about what he might do in the present or future.
We used to live in a vicarage in which the study overlooked the back garden. We already had one trampoline, when a kind(!) friend donated us a second and so we put them close to each other in the back garden. One day whilst working on a sermon I looked up to see our middle son Jake (then aged about 14) jumping up and down vigorously on one trampoline and then jumping head over heels through the air and landing on the second trampoline. It was one of those situations when you both could not bear to watch, but also could not tear your eyes away. I kept thinking to myself, “One slip, one mistimed jump and…..” The consequences were unthinkable.
However, that was not my greatest concern. My greater concern was that his younger brother Reuben (then aged about 8) was watching. I knew exactly what was going through his head, “Wow….I wonder if I could do that?” Sure enough minutes later, Reuben was jumping up and down on the trampoline inching nearer and nearer to the edge, trying to summon up the courage to leap head over heels into the unknown. He did manage to summon up the courage and as I watched with bated breath, he too sailed through the air, head over heels landing safely on the other trampoline. The sermon prep did not go too well that day, but out of it came an illustration which I continue to use. The point of the ‘two trampoline story’ is simply that if Jake had not jumped head over heels across the gap between the two, it would not have entered Reuben’s head to have done the same. His vision for what was possible was enlarged and his desire for what was possible was inflamed by seeing what someone else had done. When we see what God has done in the past it can serve to enlarge our vision of what God can and has done, and inflame our desire that He might do it again. This is especially true if we live and minister in a context in which the Church seems to be making little headway or even losing ground, or if discouraged and disheartened by the current state of things within a denomination we are tempted to jump ship.
The opening chapters of 1 Samuel depict a time when the spiritual health of the nation of Israel was desperately low. The priesthood was appallingly corrupt (1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22). Furthermore, this corruption was well known (1 Samuel 2:22). We are told at the beginning of chapter 3 “and the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”
(v1). Then the writer draws our attention to a detail that is laden with a deeper meaning and significance. “The lamp of God had not yet gone out…” (1 Samuel 3:3). We could also note the preceding verse about Eli, the priest ‘whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see’.
A time of spiritual darkness and corruption, the Word of God had all but been silenced BUT the lamp of God had not yet gone out. It is a hint to us from the writer that all is not lost; God is at work but He is at work behind the scenes, quietly and unnoticed. The corrupt priesthood will soon fall under his judgment. Not only that, but God is raising up Samuel. The ordinary Israelite would know nothing of this at this point – at the beginning of chapter 3, all he or she would observe was the scandalous corruption, abuse and immorality of the sons of Eli. However, by the end of the chapter, which covers a number of years:
“Samuel grew and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as prophet of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:19 -20)
A dark and dire situation was transformed. God’s Word came to God’s people again. Immorality, apostasy and corruption could not snuff out the lamp of God; the Sovereign God kindled it and set it ablaze once again. As we reflect upon church history, we see how this is borne out time and again – so often when others have abandoned a denomination because of its drift away from biblical faithfulness, God has revived it from within.
This is not to deny that there are times when a Church has become apostate, or that when Jesus threatens to remove his lampstand, he means what he says, it is no idle threat (Rev 2:5). The Church of England may indeed be heading in that dangerous direction, but the whole purpose of this book is that we might pray earnestly and work with renewed vigour for God to so reform and revive the Church that that might not happen.
Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism, pages 121-122; Pickles, 2017.