Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Picture Of Revival: Love In Action, Part 2

Last week we looked at the first four of eight duties Isaiah sat before us in Isaiah 58:6-7, if we are to practice a whole-life and vibrant worship of God—in other words, if we are to display a significant work of God in our midst. These formed a helpful picture of what it would look like if God poured out his Spirit upon us and we experienced revival.

This week we move on to Isaiah 58:7d, 9d, 10a, 13 to discover the remaining four duties. A very helpful way to set these forth is simply to put them in the form of a prayer. After all, these blogs out of Isaiah 58 are designed to move us to ask God for revival. So, I encourage you to take the following and allow it to guide you in how to pray for a great awakening from God.

Our rich Lord and Savior, you who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but instead humbled yourself and became poor that we might become rich: Work among us that we would follow your example and follow the words of Isaiah 58:7d: “and not to hide yourself from your own flesh.” May we be filled with your compassion for family, members of our church, neighbors, anyone who is flesh like we are and who experiences just like we would the pain of lostness, homelessness, poverty, hunger, or injustice. May your Spirit turn his eye and power toward us that we would not turn our eye away from a lost, dying, and hurting world—one that begins in our own home and with our own neighbors.

You have every right to condemn us, Sovereign God, yet you assure us that there is now no more condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. May we follow your example and not turn with condemnation toward others, those whose ethics or place in life does not match our own. May we “take away the…pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness” (Is. 58:9d) toward others. Please keep us from looking down upon or putting down others, but instead, help us lift others up by Christ and his Gospel. Make us into master builders, not demolition experts!

Great giver and provider, guard us from merely parting with a little, our excess, what is easy to release for the welfare of others just to appease our conscience. Instead, may we “pour out [our] soul for the hungry and satisfy the soul of the afflicted” (Is. 58:10a). So fill us Holy Spirit that we long to fill others with us, with whatever we need to give to love.

Our glorious God, we know that if we see this love in action toward others arising within us, it will be a sign of your revival. Yet, we also know there will be love in action toward you. Work in us what you deserve, that we would put you first, above all things and people. May we give you of our best time, our best talents, our best resources, our sole worship above and beyond all else. May we carry out the words of Isaiah 58:13: “…turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable;honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly….”

Lord Jesus, it was you who told us that life and God’s will are summarized in loving God with all we have and others as self (Matthew 22:37-40). So work in us this love in action that the world will find us and the gospel of Jesus Christ irresistible, to the honor of your name alone!

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Picture Of Revival: Love In Action

It is easy to become so consumed in self and family that we lose sight of the needs of other people. This happens among all kinds of Christians all over the world, with one exception: Those among whom God is reviving his work. When God’s Spirit is poured out upon an individual, a family, a congregation, a town, or a region, there will be a considerable increase in love shown to other people. That is the theme that runs through the first four of eight duties to which God calls his true people in Isaiah 58:6-14.[1] Let’s look these requirements so they can direct us in how we pray for revival.

Pray That We Will Set People Free
In Isaiah 58:6 we read: Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?” Then, in verse 9 it is repeated: “If you take away the yoke from your midst….”

When our lives are taken captive by God, a great desire of our heart becomes that of setting other people free. Consider how Paul envisions the Christian life in Romans 6:16-18: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

The greatest chains we face are the ones that come from our sin (see Isaiah 59:2). As a result, the greatest freedom we can bring people is the freedom from the penalty and power of sin—a freedom that one day will include freedom from the presence of sin. In other words, we preach the glorious good news of Jesus Christ so he can set others free (Galatians 5:1). This is especially true under the New Covenant. Now that we have the more permanent and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in us, one of the great effects of that is that we proclaim the gospel to others (Acts 1:8; 2:4; 4:8, 31; 13:9).  This is also one of the marks of a special movement of God throughout history. Wherever God has revived his church, there has been an awakening of evangelistic and missions zeal. Pray that God would move among us to proclaim his Word to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all peoples.

Consider the need around the world and in our own country. The population of the world is 6.8 billion. The number of people who live as part of an unreached people (less than 2% evangelical Christian) is 2.75 billion. We also see that 1 out of 3 adults in the United States is unchurched—i.e. they have not attended church in the last year. Certainly, a far larger percentage is lost. We all know that around us in our school, our community, our family, or on the job we are surrounded by people who have never received and rested upon Jesus Christ for salvation. The chains are everywhere.

Yet, there are also physical and political chains to loose. Lest we lose track of the physical needs people have, consider the following: Every year more than 3 million child abuse reports are made in the United States, involving 6 million children. A report of child abuse in the U.S. is made every ten seconds. Five children die daily as a result of child abuse in our own country. Additionally, 2.5 million people at any given time are in forced labor as a result of human trafficking through the world. That includes 1.2 million children annually. None of us can address all the need throughout the world or even in our own community. Yet, every one of us can address some of the need. Pray that in your own life, as well as that of your church, that God will deepen our love for others, will embolden our actions, and move us to get involved in some way.

This leads to our next three duties to which God calls us, all of which can be summarized under one heading.

Pray That We Will Meet Basic Needs Of Others
In Isaiah 58:7 we discover the next three requirements for godliness that God blesses: “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” We feed the hungry, house the homeless, and cloth the naked/underclothed. As followers of Jesus Christ, we do not conclude that physical needs are unimportant just because the Bible prioritizes our need to be right with God over these (Mt. 16:25-26). The Bible also makes it clear that addressing the physical needs of others is a sign we have been truly converted and are followers of Jesus Christ (Mt. 25:31-46; James 1:27; 2:14-26; 1 John 3:16-18). Such is a foretaste of the physical restoration, health, and provision we will experience in the age to come because of salvation in Jesus Christ (cf. Mt. 8:17; Rev. 21:4; 22:1-5), as well as the perfect love we will express and experience in heaven (Heb. 12:23; Rev. 21:7-8, 27).

Every great awakening throughout history has been marked by a resultant expression of mercy shown to others by the church. This began with the early church. Notice how Luke said the church grew powerfully in Acts 4:32-35: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”  

Let’s join together in prayer that God will so move among his church that he will revive among us a love for others that is expressed in chains-breaking, needs-meetings, gospel-proclaiming words and deeds!

[1] I am indebted to John Piper, A Hunger For God, for the overall direction of this passage.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Picture Of Revival: Whole-Life Worship

If God brought revival to a church, a city, a region, or a nation, what might happen? Isaiah chapters 58-59 give to us a helpful picture. Writing at the end of the eight century, B.C., the prophet calls Judah to task because though they desire God’s blessing in response to their merely religious actions (58:1-3a), they are steeped in sin, care little about truly following God’s will, and so are separated from God (59:1-15a).

What is the answer? God calls his people to a worship of him (showing forth of his “worth-ship”) that encompasses all of life, that seeks to trust him in such a way we obey him, and that cares for others in word and deed. Consider what God says through the prophet in Isaiah 58:1-14:
“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God. 3‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
 Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
 you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday. 11And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in. 13“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

We see from this challenge that God wants our entire life. Notice that the chapter begins and ends by calling God’s people under the Old Covenant to practice a form of fasting (religious action) that cares for others and truly to observe the Sabbath (religious action), which displays a real dependence upon God. On other words our worship should shape all we do, not just a narrow set of religious actions.

This is one of those places in the Bible where we find a helpful, but powerful summary of what it looks like to follow God. Jesus gave us one of those summaries in Matthew 22:37-40, when he taught us we are to love God with all we have and others as self. In many ways he summarizes Isaiah 58 with that simple summary.

Yet, more specifically what does this God-and-people-loving involve? Isaiah gives us eight different duties that help put some meat on the bones of that love, which also bring about eight different blessings. If revival is a work of the Spirit whereby we are infused with a renewal of godliness, then we have come to the right place to determine how we can recognize and pray for such a work. We will unfold these duties and blessings in the next few posts.

For now, let’s begin to pray and to look for a work of God’s spirit that moves us to take our worship of him out of merely a Sunday morning setting so that it shapes all we do Sunday through Monday. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Revival: My Greatest Prayer For 2014 And Beyond

At the very end of the 7th century and beginning of the 6th century B.C. a prophet by the name of Habakkuk served in Judah. Lamenting the wicked state of the nation he served, the people who were supposed to be a source of blessing to the nations (Habakkuk 1:2-4), the man of God received an answer that shook him to the very core: God would send the Babylonians upon Judah to reprove this stubborn people (Hab. 1:5-11). “How could the holy LORD use this wicked nation to judge Judah?” Habakkuk complained (Hab. 1:2-17). Things were not getting better, they were getting worse! God’s response this time was that he would do what is right—to judge the wicked and reward the righteous. In fact there will even come a day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea,” so what anyone must do is simple: Acknowledge and trust in the true God, not false gods (Hab. 2:1-20).

God’s reminder to his spokesman brought great comfort and a renewed perspective. Not only did Habakkuk affirm that no matter how difficult things are he will trust in and find joy in God (3:17-19), but he also was moved to pray for revival. Consider how he words this prayer (3:2): “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”

I can identify with the prophet. I have read about God’s great movements through the history of the church whereby he has brought renewed life, holiness, and strength to his people, but also wherein he has worked through Christians to bring scores of people to salvation in Jesus Christ. Such intense times of the outpouring of God’s blessing have been known throughout the world and in every generation somewhere. Yet, most of us living in the United States in 2014 have not experienced such an enlarged and powerful divine work. But we need it!

That is why I am echoing the prayer of Habakkuk for this year: “God I have read reports of your amazing life-changing, eternity-impacting glorious movements. In the midst of the turning of the calendar, the passing days, another year coming on, make yourself known in Minden, Nebraska and throughout the United States, to an extent that we have yet to see!

In my next blog post I want to begin to discuss what such a revival might look like. Yet, as I close out this one I want to do just one thing: Call us to pray for revival as did Habakkuk. I don’t think the prophet’s prayer was answered fully until six centuries later. Ten days after the resurrected Jesus ascended back to heaven and fifty days after he went to the cross, a group of about 120 believers was praying in an upper room in Jerusalem, pleading with and waiting upon God for the very thing he had promised would happen, namely that he would pour out the Holy Spirit upon them (see Acts 1:3-5, 8, 12-14; 2:1-13). The result was what we often see in Acts when the Spirit fills and empowers: The Word was mightily preached and lives were changed—in this instance about 3,000 people were saved!

What we see exemplified in the life of Habakkuk and the early New Testament Church is that God brings revival in response to prayer. Prayer does not guarantee it, but revival does not come apart from times of extended personal and corporate prayer. The late Bible teacher and author, Roger Nicole, explained:
 It is in keeping with Reformed thought that revival should be grounded in prayer, because in prayer we acknowledge God’s sovereignty…. In Scripture, prayer is presented as a prerequisite for revival.  It is a prelude.  If you study the history of revivals, you will find that they are best documented not only in their effects but also in their preparatory prayer periods…. It must be believing prayer…; it must be submissive prayer…; it must be persistent prayer…; it must be consistent prayer.[1]

Though we cannot guarantee revival, we can be ready for it, expecting it, and asking the Lord to send it. That is my greatest prayer for 2014 and beyond—either until God pours out the floodwaters of his Spirit upon us or until he takes me home to be with Jesus Christ. I invite you to join me in that prayer. May we “seek the LORD and his strength, seek his presence continually” (Psalm 105:4).

Next week I will begin to outline the kinds of things asked for in prayer for revival.

[1] “Prayer: The Prelude To Revival,” in Reformation And Revival, 1, 3 (Summer 1992): 25-36.