Posts Tagged 'spiritual renewal'

Revival: Will It Ever Happen?

Tillman_REVIVAL_2_title_page

WILL REVIVAL EVER HAPPEN?

Many Christians across America are disgusted with the cultural rot and decay that is taking place at an alarming rate. Abortions, Christian persecution, widespread spiritual indifference, political corruption, violence, and a seemingly impotent Church have made many of us see the desperate need for a spiritual revival. And soon!

In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that Christians all over the world are praying for the same thing. Sin and wickedness seem to be running rampant all over the world; God is seen mankind’s best hope.

It’s proper for Christians to pray for revival. But what exactly are we praying for? What is a spiritual revival? Would any of us even recognize it if it were to happen? More to the point, given the state of the modern Church across the world, is revival even possible?

The first thing we must note is that revivals are not man’s idea, but God’s. They are not caused by man, they are wholly a work of God. Technology, the media, education, and church programs do not bring about a revival. Nothing a man does can generate or guarantee a revival. All genuine spiritual revivals are the result of our Sovereign God’s work among dedicated and consecrated people.

In 1867, a young man heard these words preached by a traveling evangelist:

The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man or woman who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.

That young man, Dwight L. Moody, took those words to heart; they became a personal challenge to him, and he went on to preach the Gospel to an estimated 100 million people. He founded and built a Bible Institute that is still a force for God to this day. In the wake of his powerful preaching, great spiritual renewals broke out in two nations. Moody proved what God can do with, for, and through one man who is wholly consecrated to Him.  The revival was in HIM, and it motivated young moody to simply dedicate his life to the Lord.

So, do you think modern Christians have what it takes for God to use them as He used D.L. Moody? Do you think modern Christians are capable of that kind of intense and whole-hearted consecration these days? There are so many worldly, lackadaisical, fence-sitting Christians, we wonder if God can find even a single dedicated one to spark revival.

Let’s take a closer look at what God is looking for, not necessarily what we think He is looking for.

The Biblical Conditions for True Revival

2 Chronicles 7:14 is surely the most famous verse in all the historical books of the Old Testament. It’s almost always misused and misunderstood, but when we understand it in context, we’ll discover, without any doubt, what revival is and what conditions are necessary for revival to take place.

…then if my people will humble themselves and pray, and search for me, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 TLB)

We are not allowed to wrench this verse out of its historical context; to make it says things it’s not saying. We need to understand who “my people” are, what their “wicked ways” were, and why their land needed to be “healed.” In sum, this verse has nothing to do with Americans, America, or any of our societal problems, diseases or hurricanes.

Let’s look at the historical context of 2 Chronicles 7.

The Setting

In 2 Chronicles 6, we read about the dedication of Solomon’s temple.

“And now the Lord has done what he promised, for I have become king in my father’s place, and I have built the Temple for the name of the Lord God of Israel and placed the Ark there. And in the Ark is the Covenant between the Lord and his people Israel.” (2 Chronicles 6:10, 11 TLB)

The Lord’s temple in Jerusalem was a long time in coming. God would not permit King David to build it; that privilege was left to his son, Solomon. Verses 10 and 11 are his words during the great dedication service. It was a tremendous day; a day long remembered in the history of Jews. God finally had a home among His people.

As Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the sacrifices! And the glory of the Lord filled the Temple, so that the priests couldn’t enter! (2 Chronicles 7:1, 2 TLB)

Notice that the “glory of the Lord” filled Solomon’s temple, not because it was so beautiful, although it certainly was that. God’s glory fell only after the fire from heaven consumed the sacrifices. In other words, God’s presence came to His people after He judged their sin. Those sacrificial offerings were the basis of God’s abiding presence among His people. Of course, those sacrifices parallel and foreshadow the work of Christ on the Cross. He was judged in the sinner’s stead. The work of Jesus allowed God to live among His people, in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

All the people had been watching, and now they fell flat on the pavement and worshiped and thanked the Lord. “How good he is!” they exclaimed. “He is always so loving and kind.” (2 Chronicles 7:3 TLB)

In response to the radiant glory of the Lord—the Shekinah—the people rejoiced and fell before Him in praise and adoration. The sacrifices of burnt offerings and peace offerings that followed were so great that the the brazen altar couldn’t contain them. The great dedication feast lasted a total of seven days and concluded with a solemn assembly on the eighth day.

Then on October 7 he sent the people home, joyful and happy because the Lord had been so good to David and Solomon and to his people Israel. (2 Chronicles 7:10 TLB)

After the great ceremony was over, all the people went home and Solomon finished his work of building the rest of the Temple, as well as his own home.

God’s second appearance to Solomon

We don’t know how long the interval was between the Temple dedication ceremony and Lord’s second appearance to King Solomon, but apparently some time did elapse.

One night the Lord appeared to Solomon and told him, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place where I want you to sacrifice to me. If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust swarms to eat up all of your crops, or if I send an epidemic among you… (2 Chronicles 7:12, 13 TLB)

A word about God’s word to man: sometimes it’s good, other times…not so much. Here, much of God’s word to Solomon falls into the “no so much” category. All those “if’s” turned out to promises, or more accurately, prophecy. In fact, in the decades that followed this “golden age” in Israel, God did indeed cause droughts, locust infestations, and disease to fall on His people. Because of their penchant for sin and disobedience, God’s judgment came upon Israel time and time again, just as He told Solomon in these two verses.

The terrible thing about sin is how it effects, not only the one who commits the act of sin, but the whole Body of Christ. The sins of the people, if you notice, resulted in some profound problems for the whole nation: weather problems, insect problems, and even health problems!

God’s Cure

God didn’t leave Solomon hanging. First the bad news, then the good. There would be a remedy for the coming judgments:

…then if my people will humble themselves and pray, and search for me, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 TLB)

This is the verse so often associated with national revival. As we have seen, the context of Israel’s national revival was a realization of their sin and of a mass turning to God. Let’s look at the conditions God laid out for this national revival.

1. If my people…

Who exactly are “my people?” Clearly the context dictates that “my people” refers to the people Israel. God is talking to King Solomon about his subjects, the Israelites.

Now, we may certainly make a reasonable application of this verse to all of God’s people. Israel was indeed called out and set apart by God, but then so has the church. These two groups of people, Israel and the Church, are separate and distinct and they are dealt with differently throughout Scripture. It’s not for us, members of “the church,” to hijack promises made specifically to the Israel. But God has set the precedent here. His people belong to Him. Redeemed Israel belongs to Him, as do all redeemed sinners, Galatians 3:28. It is therefore reasonable to apply what follows to church. It may not have been spoken to the church directly, but it does apply to the church.

2. Humble themselves and pray…

Israel had forever had a problem with pride; specifically spiritual pride. This pride often blinded them to the sin in their nation. In order to experience healing on a personal and national scale, the people had to humble themselves; to admit their awful sinfulness and rebellion.

To apply this condition to all believers seems odd. We would normally think that the most important thing to do is to pray. But here, God’s word to Israel was to be humble. Do Christians today have a problem with pride? Of course we do! Now, we may not have the same kind of issues Israel did, but we most certainly struggle with pride, and that pride often keeps us from seeing not only the wrong in our lives but also the lack. There is not a Christian who doesn’t desperately need more of God, yet in our pride, we sometimes foolishly think “we’re ok,” that “we have it under control.” In fact, none of us is “ok” and none of us has anything “under control!”

The thing about humility is this: Nobody can make us humble. Other people may humiliate us, but only we can humble ourselves. In other words, if we are not humble, it’s not because we cannot be; it’s because we don’t want to be. The thing that keeps us from being humble before God is pride; the notion that we don’t really need help; that we can make it on our own.

The very first step, before even prayer, is humility. Anybody who thinks they “aren’t that bad” or “don’t need God’s help,” will never experience any kind of “spiritual revival.”

3. Search for me and turn from their wicked ways…

The requirement for Israel’s revival just got ratcheted up! The people needed to see themselves with clarity—they were sick, both physically and spiritually—before they could come to God in honest prayer. But they had to do more. They had to actively search for God. What does that mean? Israel was guilty of looking for a god; they were obsessed with idolatry. God told them they must look for HIM, the only true God, and in the process, they would be turning from their wicked ways.

The same thing holds true today for the Body of Christ. We are guilty of being just like the Israelites to one degree or another. We may not race after idols and statues, but we certainly put a premium on career and comfort, on money and fame, on friends and family. Anything that takes God’s place on the throne of our hearts leads us away from God and into “wicked ways.”

If we want to experience spiritual revival, we must first get back to looking for God where He may be found. We must get back to the Word; to obedience to that Word and a commitment to the church of Jesus Christ. God will not be mocked! He is not impressed with our songs of praise if our hearts are far from Him. He doesn’t like it when appear to be Godly on the outside but on the inside we’re full of sin and corruption. And He especially hates the hypocrisy of believers who talk constantly about their blessings while they live in reckless disobedience to His will.

God’s promise

Now, if Israel met those conditions, God would act on their behalf and restore the nation. And He did, on more than one occasion. Specifically, if God’s people (Israel and, by application, the church) fulfilled their part, God would fulfill His:

1. I will hear them from heaven…

The implication here is that God doesn’t hear the prayers of the disobedient. Only those whose hearts are right and “in tune” with His Word, does God pay any attention to. This was true of Israel; it is certainly true of Christians today. We’re good at playing games with God, but God takes things like prayer seriously. If your heart is full of sin and rebellion and you make no attempt to make your relationship with Him right, then how could you expect God to hear one of our prayers? 1 John 3:21, 22 has more to say on this subject:

But, dearly loved friends, if our consciences are clear, we can come to the Lord with perfect assurance and trust, and get whatever we ask for because we are obeying him and doing the things that please him. (TLB)

2. Forgive their sins…

This act of God was purely conditional as far as Israel was concerned. He would do nothing for them until they did what He required of them. Many of God’s promises are like that.

Forgiveness follows repentance. It always does. Even for the born again Christian, we still need forgiveness, and God’s forgiveness always follows repentance. Sin is what disrupts our intimate relationship with God and that can only be restored when we repent and are forgiven.

3. And heal their land.

Here is the only part of 2 Chronicles 7:14 that doesn’t really apply to us today. The land of Israel needed to be healed because God had cursed the land in judgment. He has not done that to America today. There is no such promise made anywhere in the New Testament. In fact, in the New Testament, God has not promised to bless any believer in any way except spiritually.

How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every blessing in heaven because we belong to Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 TLB)

The fact is, as Christians, we are only living on this earth temporarily. Our home, and our citizenship, is in heaven! Once we were God’s enemies. Once we were destined for eternal deamnation. But thanks to the work of Christ, we have been forgiven and redeemed and adopted into God’s family. These are our blessings.

True revival comes when we begin to take our faith seriously:

So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all these things and are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them, and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to. (Matthew 6:31—33 TLB)

True revival results when a believer does just that: he gives God first place in hhis life. Are you willing to do that?  Before you answer, understand what that means:  The Lord must come before your job, your spouse, your children, or anything and anybody else. And this is why “revival” seems so elusive. Most Christians aren’t really interested in putting God first. They want God, along with everything else.

HEZEKIAH: Revival and Renewal

2 Chronicles 28—30

Just what is a “revival?” Where I live, in the southern United States, churches often have “revivals.” That’s what they call special evangelistic meetings. In the strange Christian-American sub- culture, a “revival” is something you have at a set time (like, 7 PM Monday evening). But, is a “revival” something you “have” or is it something that “happens to you?” Biblically speaking, a “revival” is really a spiritual awakening, sent by God in response to the prayers and passion of a local church. The New Testament clearly indicates that it is through the local church God works to reveal Himself to a sinful world:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10, 11).

This is why the local church is so important in the life of a Christian. How is the “manifold wisdom of God” made known? It is made known first through the mission of Christ:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word. (Ephesians 5:25, 26)

It is through the exposition of the Word of God that the church (its members) are cleansed and made holy. Paul noted elsewhere that the preaching of the Word is the primary reason for the church’s existence:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11—13).

So then, a “revival” is a spiritual awakening that occurs within the local church as it fulfils its mandate; as the members are “built up” and as their faith grows into maturity. All this happens through the ministry of the Word of God. It is not a song or hymn that changes a life, it is the Word of God. Pot luck dinners and benevolent exercises may be worthy endeavours, evangelistic services may attract a crowd, but renewal or revival can only happen in the context of the ministry of the Word.

In the Old Testament, we have two excellent examples of national spiritual renewals; one under the reign of Josiah and the other under Hezekiah’s reign. Josiah’s revival is extraordinary. Judah had fallen far by the time he assumed the throne. The people had almost completely left the worship of God to chase after idols. Judah had literally become a nation of idolaters. When Josiah stumbled upon a copy of the Pentateuch in the Temple ruins, he called the people to the Covenant, read it to them, and a revival was sparked that changed the face of the nation.

Seventy years before this, however, King Hezekiah had a similar experience; one that Josiah must have been aware of. It is Hezekiah’s revival that we will study now, and we will study Josiah next time.

1. A call for sanctification, 2 Chronicles 28:1—4, 22—27; 29:1—11

One of the most important lessons to learn from studying the kings is that heredity and environment are not the only bases for success or failure. The all-important issue of personal choice cannot be ignored. Good and godly kings sometimes produced evil sons and vice versa.

The relatively good king Uzziah was succeeded by his son, Jotham, who is considered to have been another good king. Of Jotham, the chronicler wrote an interesting thing:

He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Uzziah had done, but unlike him he did not enter the temple of the LORD. The people, however, continued their corrupt practices. (2 Chronicles 27:1, 2)

Even though he “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” that wasn’t enough to change the people’s collective heart; they remained fascinated with idols and idol worship. Perhaps one reason why the people remained spiritually stubborn was they bad example they had in Jotham: he did not enter the Temple. He was a good man, but he stayed away from the house of God. Like a great many Christians.

What kept Jotham away from the Temple? Remember his father’s bad experience in that same Temple; he barged in one day tried to play the role of a priest. In doing so, the Lord punished him with leprosy, which he suffered with until the day he died. No wonder little Jotham stayed away! He had a bad example in his father, and Judah had a bad example in Jotham. Jotham had a great opportunity to lead his people back to God, yet because of his bad example, and maybe because of either fear or bitterness, he refused to worship in the Temple.

Still, he was a good king and he died at the relatively young age of 41. His apostate son, Ahaz, took over the throne and he is known as one the weakest and most corrupt of all the 21 kings of Judah. Despite coming from good stock, Ahaz was as wicked as a king could get. He ruled for 16 years and died young, at only 36. He made idols to Baal and was a vile as the worst kings of Israel.

He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his children in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. (28:3)

Because of Ahaz’s sin, God literally removed His protection from Judah. When He did this, it was like the floodgates of hell being opened. For the first time, Judah faced invasions from Syria, Edom, and Philistia. Not only that, Israel waged war against Jerusalem; wars are always the results of sin, as James noted in his letter:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. (James 4:1, 2)

As if adding insult to injury, instead of turning to God for help and deliverance, Ahaz turned to the Assyrians. He gave the king of Assyria treasures from the Lord’s Temple and the king’s palace as a kind of payment, but the king of Assyria offered no help at all. Ahaz, as the king of Judah, was national disgrace and a joke among the nations. Mercifully, when he died, his son Hezekiah, ascended to the throne. He was nothing like his father.

Hezekiah was the greatest of Judah’s “revivalist-reformer kings,” greater than Jehoshaphat and perhaps second only to Josiah. Judah, the southern kingdom, last almost 150 years longer than it’s northern counterpart largely because of what Hezekiah did. At the age of 25, Hezekiah began his 29 year reign, which included 15 years of “borrowed time,” given to him by God. Hezekiah not only “did what was right,” he also had an unfailing trust in the Lord:

Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. (2 Kings 18:5)

The very first thing he did was significant, for it brought about a time of national sanctification:

In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the LORD and repaired them. (2 Chronicles 1:3)

Those Temple doors, shut and locked since the days of his father, were opened up, repaired, and over-layed with gold. Then the king set about putting the Temple in order, concentrating on four things:

  1. Hezekiah had all the Levitical priests reconsecrate themselves to God. For many years, the priesthood had been allowed to degenerate and the priests engaged in acts of idolatry which led the people astray.
  2. The Temple and Temple grounds were purified, cleansed and cleaned up; restored, refurbished; and renewed.
  3. He rededicated the altar and the sanctuary, making the ready for the re-institution of the Mosaic sacrifices.
  4. He encouraged a national revival by re-instituting the sacrificial system long abandoned.

The importance of the Temple cannot be overstated. One might observe that there were many Jews at this time who were still faithful to Jehovah, and that was probably the case. But the Temple and the concept of corporate worship was absolutely essential in the Jewish faith, just as the local church and corporate worship is today in the Christian faith. It was then, as it is now, God’s intention for His people to gather together and worship Him corprately. That’s why the the repair and refurbishing of the Temple was top priority for Hezekiah.

Hezekiah did something else that no other king in Judah was able to do:

He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) (2 Kings 18:4)

With the Temple up and running, the king took away the alternative: he rid his nation of all signs of idolatry. He not only got rid of all the shrines, high places, and Asherah poles, he also did a very controversial thing: he destroyed a precious object inside the Temple itself; the bronze snake Moses, originally made at God’s behest. Why did he do that? Obviously, many of the people had fallen so far from God, that instead of worshiping God, they began to worship the “things” of God.

Many, many Christians today get caught up in that kind of worship. Walk into many churches and you will find, not idols, but icons all over the place. Whatever gives the worshiper a sense of peace or a feeling of spiritual well-being is Nehushtan! Nehushtan takes many forms in the 21st century. Nehushtan can be the cross that hangs on the wall of your church. There is no merit in that cross; there is merit in what Christ did on His Cross! Nehushtan can be hymn or a worship chorus if it makes you feel good or moves you. Nehushtan can also be your church, if it gives you something that should only come from God Himself. Whatever does for you what God Himself ought to do for you is Nehushtan—it’s an idol.

2. Passover restored, chapter 30

With the house of worship in order, the priests performing their duties according to the Word of God, and the people made ready for worship, it was time to celebrate Passover, the greatest of all Jewish feasts. Chapter 30 details Hezekiah’s awesome Passover, this was truly an event; it had not been celebrated properly since the days of the united kingdom. With that in mind, Hezekiah did a most unusual thing:

They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel. It had not been celebrated in large numbers according to what was written. (2 Chronicles 30:5)

What was so unusual about inviting the 10 tribes to the north to come to the Temple in the south to worship like the old days? It was unusual because by this time there were no ten tribes to the north any more! Almost all of the population of Israel—the northern kingdom—had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. This grand invitation was sent out some four years after the fall of Israel. Of course, the Assyrians didn’t get all the Israelites. You can imagine many of them hiding in caves and forests when the Assyrian hordes came calling.

The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but people scorned and ridiculed them. (verse 10)

Some who survived the Assyrian invasion had no interest in returning to God. But there were some who jumped at the chance to worship with their brothers and sisters:

Nevertheless, some from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem. (verse 11)

Verse 12 tells us that Hezekiah was doing exactly what God wanted:

Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD. (verse 12)

Not since the days of Solomon had there been such a crowd of worshipers in Jerusalem! Amazingly, not only had the Temple grounds been fixed up, but Jerusalem the city was cleansed! This must have been one incredible party, and God was extremely pleased.

One final example of the kind of King Hezekiah was. We read this:

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (30:18—20)

What a beautiful picture! Almost all of the people specifically invited to Passover from Israel were ceremonially unclean, which means the shouldn’t have participated in it. But Hezekiah, whose heart was right, understood the difference between the letter of the Law and the spirit of the Law. He interceded on behalf of those who were deemed “unclean,” and God took care of them! He healed the unclean because of the prayer of the king.

Hezekiah also understood that the condition of the heart was more important than any form or ritual could ever be. We may sneer at people that visit our churches who don’t know the hymns or the Lord’s Prayer, or the Apostle’s Creed by heart, but does God? Of course not! God is not impressed with our rituals. The Creeds that we work so hard to memorize mean nothing to God. God wants worshipers who will drop all their pretences and come humbly to Him in spirit and truth.

This is what revival and renewal is all about. It is about God—His Person—and our response to Him. Our responses, not to a hymn or sermon, but to the living Word of God are the ones that are genuine.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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