The Presence: How Do We Prepare for It?
The Presence—How Do We Prepare for It?
July 10, 2011
VIDEO: Session #6 from The Presence video by Alec Rowlands of ChurchAwakening.com. This 17 minute video segment covers the following main points about revival:
1.) We are after God, not an experience
2.) God’s sovereignty and human response need to be kept in balance. God’s sovereign initiation of action must be met by our free human response.
3.) Learn to celebrate all the evidences of God’s presence right now.
4.) Prayer always precedes and undergirds a reviving work of God.
5.) Don’t expect the fruits of revival before revival (like repentance, conviction, etc.)
6.) Your experience of revival will be unique.
7.) Genuine revival allows for genuine theological differences.
8.) God longs to be close to us.
[PRAYER TIME responding to these points.]
INTRO: Getting hepatitis in 1981—twice went to the hospital in Hong Kong and they missed the symptoms both times. Wouldn’t have changed the outcome…but would have made the journey probably a little easier.
It’s possible to be in the midst of God’s reviving work and miss the symptoms. Just what are the symptoms or characteristics that may precede and/or accompany the reviving presence of God?
WHY these are important:
1.) To give us hope that God can and will do something surprising, deep and great in our day.
2.) To prepare our hearts for a deeper, more transformational work of God.
3.) To help us understand what is going on when God pours out his presence on us so that we are not alarmed, frightened or restrictive of His desired work. (Like the doctor who comes in to explain what the surgical procedure is going to be like, etc.)
Here are 5 things/symptoms/characteristics of God’s reviving presence that the Bible tells were often a part of biblical revivals of God’s people.
1. Many revivals in the Bible were preceded by a time of deep spiritual decline. Take a couple of examples, for instance.
- The revelation of God’s presence during and after the Exodus from Egypt came after nearly 400 years of spiritual and physical bondage in Egypt.
- King Hezekiah follows decades of half-hearted worship of God in Judah. The Temple rituals were still observed and several kings before him even sought the Lord. But repeatedly it is stated that many of these kings did not pursue God from the heart. In addition, they and the people kept the pagan altars all over Judah on which they continue to burn incense to pagan gods. I guess you could say they figured they would “cover all the bases” by giving a little worship to every possible god but not whole-hearted worship to any one god.
King Ahaz reigned just before Hezekiah. You’ll find a brief description of his spiritual failure in 2 Chronicles 28. Listen to just a bit of them.
2 Chron. 28:1-4--“Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. 2 He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. 3 He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. 4 He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.”
Offering children as burnt offerings on the altar of Molech is a pretty low spiritual state, isn’t it?
How different in our nation? We’ve offered more than 52 million babies on the altar of “choice”, “convenience,” and “a women’s right to choose.” How many families and marriages have sacrificed children on the altar of materialism or divorce or personal ambition and self-actualization? How many of us are burning incense to the gods of our day, to false gods like “financial security” or “lifestyle choices”, “sexual fantasies” or “entertainment”?
Would you say that our nation and the church is on a positive, more godly rise or on a downward, less godly, more needy trend?
We’re definitely candidates for a renewed revelation of the presence of God!
2. Every new visitation of the manifest presence of God to a larger group of people is usually preceded with the work of God in the heart of one or more of God’s servant. In other words, God usually starts stirring in some individual’s heart about the need for renewal before He brings that revival among a larger audience.
Think of the list of revival leaders throughout the Old & New Testaments plus the Church Age:
- Prophets like…Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Haggai, Zechariah….
- Kings like…Rehoboam, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah…
- Leaders like…Nehemiah, Ezra and Zerubbabel….
- A deacon like Philip
- A solitary man like John the Baptist
- Church leaders like Peter and Paul, Silas and Timothy, Priscilla and Phoebe….
- Historical figures like St. Augustine of Hippo, Count Zinzendorf of the Moravians, Martin Luther of the Reformers, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, businessman Jeremiah Lamphiers of New York, Dwight L. Moody of Chicago….
It was not the personal charisma or oratory skills of any of these men or some managerial gifts that brought the manifest presence of God. But in each case, God began working in their hearts to set them ablaze for God in such a way as to eventually use that fire to ignite others.
APP: One of the surprising and encouraging things in Spokane and Washington State is that we have had, for many years, a number of people, men and women, who have stewarded a passion from God for revival and the presence of God. No other state of the union has such a concerted effort as Church Renewal is giving to get pastors and congregations to become people of prayer, seeking God’s presence and his blessing of spiritual awakening and renewal.
3. Every revival in both the Old and New Testaments as well as the Church Age rested solidly on a fresh and powerful proclamation of the Word of God.
Take King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23), for example, whose high priest, Hilkiah, found the book of the law in the abandoned Temple and read it to the king. Josiah was so convicted that, at age 26, he “tore his clothes” in grief and called all Judah back to true worship of Yahweh.
Or the revival under King Jehoshaphat when the Levites “taught through t Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord” (2 Chron. 17:9).
The Word of God was central to revivals under both Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra read from it from daybreak until noon (Neh. 8:3) for seven days (Neh. 8:18), “making it clear and giving the meaning (Neh. 8:8).
The restoration of the Word of God to its rightful place of preeminence has always been a part of any deep and sustained revival. Wilber Smith, a famous student of revivals, warns,
“A revival which does not rest solidly upon the Word of God will ultimately either fade out, because there is no fountain of divine truth continually refreshing it, or it will run into dangerous sensational emotionalism, which, after it has passed, will make those who have been the subjects of such an experience dry and indifferent to the things of God, at times more easily accessible than ever to the inroads of Satan himself….Nothing less [than God’s word] will ever arouse a nation sunk in selfishness, self-satisfaction, and godlessness.” [Quoted by Walter Kaiser, Jr. in Revive Us Again, p. 12.]
Just this week I was reading a book by J. Edwin Orr, a contemporary scholar on historical revivals in America. The book looked simply at moves of God on Christian college campuses. Orr concluded that one of the reasons campuses were often the scene of such revivals repeatedly was that these Christian colleges were places where the Word of God was taught and the level of biblical literacy was fairly high. What was needed on most of the campuses where a move of God rocked the student body was responses of obedience that matched their level of biblical knowledge.
4. A fourth characteristic of this kind of spiritual renewal is that such encounters with the presence of God are marked by a return to genuine WORSHIP of God.
For Jacob, that meant smashing the idols of his family. For Elijah it was exposing the impotency of Baal in contrast to the fiery presence of God as Elijah offered his burnt offering of worship.
I find the story of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20 remarkable in this regard. Several nations such as Moab and Ammon came together to wage war on the Southern Kingdom of Judah during his reign. So Jehoshaphat sought the Lord personally and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah (2 Chron. 20:3). He gathered the nation together at the Temple and lead them in prayer—old men and women, little children and young couples. Everyone “stood before the Lord” there in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 20:13). Then the Spirit of the Lord came on various people who prophesied that they would not have to fight this battle. In response “Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshipping the Lord” (vs. 18).
The next morning, the day of battle, Jehoshaphat turned his army into a praise and worship team.
“Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” 21 After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
“Give thanks to the LORD,
for his love endures forever.”
Sounds like what God told Alec Rowland’s father to do at the end of that dead and lifeless prayer meeting that Friday night, right? Don’t underestimate the power of true, passionate, heart-felt worship.
This is why worship in its various forms, whether it be giving or service or praise in song or adoration in prayer or celebration of the Lord’s Supper—it is all so very important. If we’re going to have “worship wars,” let’s fight about who can be most exuberant, most passionate, most genuine and heart-felt about proclaiming the greatness of our God. Let’s see who can worship the loudest, the longest, the deepest and the highest.
I don’t care what tune you use or if you don’t use a tune. I don’t care what crisis moves you to worship or if it’s out of simple gratitude. Worship is powerful because Satan can’t stand being around people who worship his arch-enemy. He will flee while the presence of God will draw near.
Don’t be critical of another’s worship; be critical of your own lack of or weakness in it—lack of frequency, lack of fervency, poverty of spirit, lack of extravagance and sacrificial worship. When genuine worship of God is our delight, his presence will be his delight to share.
The 5th and last characteristic for today of renewed experiences of the presence of God is that they are always accompanied by a deep sense of conviction about sin. It may be personal sin or national sin. Either way, it is the heartfelt conviction that moves God’s people to destroy the idols in their experience and separate themselves afresh from sin and its sponsoring causes.
ILL: I’ve been reading through Daniel recently in my personal Bible reading. In Daniel 9, Daniel prays one of the most heartfelt, amazing prayers of repentance. Here is one of the few biblical characters whose life seems to have been stellar in every way yet he is praying this prayer with obvious conviction and contrition. Turn to Daniel 9:3 and let’s read it together.
3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:
“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
15 “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
In my way of thinking, Daniel would have been the last man on the planet that needed to repent. He’d been faithful to the point of death in serving God in the middle of a pagan governmental position. He prayed publicly 3 times a day even when it was illegal. Yet he so identified with God’s people that he truly felt the shame of their national sins.
Makes me wonder if I’m willing to let God cause me to feel our nation’s sins as if they were my own. Makes me wonder if I’m willing to let God convict me deeply about my own sins that I’m so prone to discount or diminish in my own thinking.
When God’s presence is manifested among his people, the failures of the past, even those that have been forgotten, suddenly become so real and so painfully present that no amount of comfort or personal rationalization will assuage the sense of individual conviction and heartbreak over them. When God comes near like this, there is no need to plead with people to repent or own their need of Christ; they feel it deeply and spontaneously come running to God for mercy.
ILL: Isle of Lewis revival: young people came rushing out of the local dance hall just as the church prayer service was ending, ran to the nearby church, past the surprised church members and threw themselves at the altar audibly pleading with God for mercy. One account tells of a young girl who was face down on the ground crying out to God, “Is there mercy for me? Is there mercy for me?”
ILL: In that now-famous church meeting in which Jonathan Edwards preached the sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741(270 years ago almost to today!). Edwards spared no one the gruesome details of God’s judgment against unrepentant sinners, so much so that people were said to have dug their fingernails into the pews in front of them, cried out for mercy and for him to stop the preaching as some rolled in the isles under the conviction of their own sinfulness. It would certainly not have qualified as a “proper meeting” by today’s standards!
Sin and idols in our lives block the rightful place God alone deserves. Whenever we allow any concept, program, committee, goal, commitment, person or pleasure to take a place equal to or greater than that which rightfully should be occupied by the Lord alone, we are into idolatry just as surely as the worshipers of images or idols of old.
So where are we in all this? Are we people who will not only allow God to prepare us for his presence but are longing for Him to do so? Let’s talk to God about these 5 characteristics of divine encounters with God’s presence and where we are individually in relation to each.
- Are we truly convinced that we are living in a time of desperate and deadening spiritual decline? Do we feel an urgency about that or is it just one more bit of bad cultural news among hundreds of others?
- Do we feel God at work in our hearts giving us a growing longing for deeper works of God among us? If not, are we will to pray for that? If so, are we willing to allow God to burden us more about it, even to the point of breaking us?
- Are we hungry for the proclamation of God’s word? And are we willing to be the proclaimers of it…even if it is unpopular?
- How important is worship to us? Something we long for or something that is just another option or elective?
- Have we given God permission to bring deep conviction of sin to us? Are we willing to identify with the sins of God’s people today and our nation today to the point where we cry out to God as if they were our own sins?
PRAY…and invite to worship and prayer this morning.
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