Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How can I know God’s will for my life?

I am so glad you asked! Many Christians go through their whole lives without ever wondering what God might want out of their lives. It seems that they come to God for what they want—usually assurance of eternal life—and then go their own way as if that were all there was to knowing God. It is astounding to me that this happens so often! Having begun a relationship with the Almighty God ought to at least make us a little curious about who he is.

Here God, I believe, has left us with a wonderful example. Enoch, the scripture says, walked with God, and was not, for God took him. Think of it for a bit. Someone long ago named Enoch decided he really wanted to know God, to have a relationship with him. So he took time out of his day to muse upon God, to seek God, to even, the Bible declares, walk with God. He got so close in his relationship with God that God took him. Where is Enoch now? With God, the God who wanted his fellowship, who liked him enough to take him and create a “forever relationship”.

There is yet another example found in the prophet Elijah. Elijah lived his whole life musing on the things of God, dedicating and risking his life for God, and being wonderfully gifted as a mighty prophet of God. At the end of his life, the Bible says, the chariots of God separated his servant from him, and a whirlwind carried him up to heaven. For another eternal relationship. The next time we see Elijah, he is on the Mount with Moses, talking to Jesus. And we hear the voice of the Father crying, “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” Both he and Moses went back up to the heaven that they had come from to continue their eternal relationship with God.

So the question is, for the new believer, how can I get to know God? Fortunately, God has equipped us with his own Holy Spirit. At the moment of conversion, dozens of important things happen. Your name is found in the Book of Life. The angels in heaven are rejoicing over your conversion. And God has given you a new beginning, one that is filled with all sorts of hidden treasures. It becomes your task, as a new Christian, to find those many treasures, but in order to find them, you are going to have to build a relationship with your God. Like Elijah. Like Enoch.

The first step is in opening up your Bible. You might tell me that you have read the Bible before, and found it incredibly boring. But you have never read the Bible before with the aid of God himself, the Holy Spirit. I do not ask that you start at Genesis and read, though soon in your life it would be a good idea to start an annual Bible reading plan. But not to start with. For even if you received Christ late in life, yet the Bible calls you a baby, and a baby needs the proper beginning teachings to grow in Christ. Most of the time, for new believers, the gospel of John is a great book with which to begin. Why John, you ask? Well, John is the gospel that emphasizes the place of Jesus, and teaches us that God’s son was from eternity past, and that he is the Savior of the world. And getting to know your Savior is a good place to start.

Thus I would highly recommend John. Take one chapter a day, and read it through several times thoughtfully. Make a list of the things that are taught in the chapter, the things that you have learned. In a surprising short while, you will become much more familiar with who your God is, and what he might want from your life. And the Holy Spirit’s part? I am so glad you are thinking about that. John itself teaches us lots about how Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit, what the Spirit does, and what we might expect in our new relationship. Let’s look at a few of those things.

First, Jesus tells us an important job of the Holy Spirit is to teach us all things, and remind us of the things that Jesus taught (John 14:26). So, you get your own private tutor to teach you about God’s will. It can’t get more personal—or better than that! Second, Jesus tells us that same Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth, and will take the very things of God and teach them to us (John 16:14 & 15). So we can come to know God, and his will for our life. Isn’t that idea exciting? A Spirit who lives in us, and is never wrong—always leading us properly and truthfully.

Finally, Jesus himself tells us that he has to go away, but that when he goes he will prepare a place for us, that where he is going, we may also go (John 14:2). Jesus is making a place for us, that where he is we may be also. Like Elijah. Like Enoch. Into an eternal relationship with the God who made the universe and all that is in it.

And that brings us to the second step of building a relationship with God. Your Bible is filled with hidden treasures, promises of God that apply to your life. I just discovered two in my Bible reading today, two that I had not noticed before. You will need to know those verses, but reading them one at a time in your annual Bible reading program is not the best way to get to know them. I would recommend highly a good Bible memory program. There are several hundred verses that direct your behavior, and include sweet promises from God as you go through your life, both in green pastures, and in suffering trials. They are good to memorize, that the Holy Spirit (your personal teacher) might bring them to mind just when you need a reminder. The Navigators have an excellent program called the Topical Memory System. That would be an excellent place to start.

By now, you have probably observed that the picture of Jesus drawn by John is pretty big. Very probably, your idea of who God is has already changed, and you find that God is bigger than you ever thought before. Get used to it. I have been a Christian for 4 decades, and the more I find out about God, the more amazed I am. I remember discovering John’s gospel early in my new life, and liked it so well that I decided to memorize it. Early in my life, after much arduous work, I managed to memorize the first eleven chapters. During the years which I faced trials, I memorized many Psalms. In every case where I memorized scripture, I found them to be the richest sort of treasure—treasure that told me about my God and his love for me.

And that is what this question is all about. Knowing God loves you. Usually a new believer knows that God loves him, and for a short while he might feel valued, but as the memory of coming to God fades, as it will, often new believers forget the precious love of God. God wanted so badly to start a personal relationship with you that he gave his own Son. And he authored the Bible through over 40 different men over a period of nearly two thousand years, just so he could give personal directions to you on how to live for God. And let’s not forget the personal tutor—the very Spirit of God himself. The problem is not in knowing God’s will, for he has left open clues all about you to find, if you will but begin the lifelong journey of getting to know God. How it must wound his heart to have given so much for us who appreciate it so little!

But you protest! I can hear it now. You say I want to know God’s will for my life. Does he have a specific plan for my life? Our next question will be focused on that aspect, the aspect which you probably thought I meant when I first presented the question. But do you see that this answer comes first? How can you possibly expect God to have any plan for your life if you have not even bothered to learn who he is?

And he is so much bigger than we first know. Packer gives us a clue in his excellent book, Knowing God, “How may we form a right idea of God’s greatness? The Bible teaches us two steps that we must take . The first is to remove from our thoughts of God limits that would make him small. The second is to compare him with powers and forces which we regard as great.”1 We can only get to begin to appreciate how big God is when begin to begin to study his nature. I was teaching my grandson out of John 1, which he had to read to me this morning. I pointed out the scripture that tells us Christ was in the beginning, and was with God and was God. Such great truths in that chapter! But he thought about it awhile and then asked when did God get started? It was quite a marvel for him to think about a being that has no beginning, and once it soaked through, it was wonderful to see the light of understanding begin to spread across his face.

No matter the box we build for God, yet he proves to us that there is that which we have not considered, and that he is much bigger than we thought. He is a puzzle—an enigma, if you will. You can spend all of your life getting to know him, and if the Bible is right, we will spend all of eternity getting to know him. What a shame it is that some of us wait to know him—there is so much that he has to teach us about himself, and there is so much love that he desires to spread abroad in your heart and life as you get acquainted with the Master of the universe.

1. Packer, J. I. (2011-09-26). Knowing God (p. 94). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Will God answer all our questions when we get to heaven?

As a young believer, back in the seventies, I used to think of all the questions that I would have to ask of God. I thought about keeping a list, though I did not, and sort of pictured to myself of having an ever increasing list as my life in Christ grew. Presenting my list to the Lord at the end of my life on earth, but beginning my life with him, was, I thought, going to give me all the answers.

Right at the top of the list, I would have asked God about Calvinism, and if all five points were really correct. I would have loved him to explain to me how man is responsible for his choice, and yet God is sovereign. I throw out this question, because I consider it unanswerable from the scripture, and though I have both heard and read many opinions in my four decades of being a Christian, I have never heard one that “covers all the corners”, as I might say. Wouldn’t it be nice to at last figure out what the correct view is? And then to compare it to scripture, and marvel at myself that I did not see it before? I would love that, and take deep joy in at last knowing.

And, in a sense, I believe God may do something like that. Not that I picture heaven as a place where we all submit our lists of questions, and get the answers. Rather heaven seems to be a place where some revelation is going to change us forever, because as the scripture says, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. And again, it says that now we know in part, and then we shall know even as we also are known. I think it is that last verse from the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 that I was misinterpreting.

My mistake was in thinking that I would know, even as God knows. But that is not a necessary interpretation of that verse. In fact, saying it now seems absurd, when it is printed out. It is hardly likely the apostle was trying to tell us that we would know everything, just as God himself does. Rather, it could be pictured better as saying that we will know “Him” just as even now he knows us. We shall become like him in that manner, but hardly in the manner of the all-knowing and all-seeing Creator God.

Even that will, of course, answer many of our questions. For instance, we will at last know what God is like, for we shall see him as he is. Many of our questions will be answered as we find ourselves in the heaven we have so longed for, and we are at the feet of Christ forevermore. We will not have to ask what heaven is like, for we shall be in it. Neither shall we wonder any longer who has received the gospel, for we shall see our brothers and sisters. But in the larger sense, our new natures will have no questions, for in seeing him, I do believe our questions will disappear. For the first time, we will see the most important thing just as He is, and that will hold all of our attention.

A bumper sticker that I remember from long ago said “Jesus is the Answer”. In a sense, that is what I am trying to say. We won’t be concerned so much about whether Luther was right, or whether Calvin interpreted scripture correctly, or whether Wesley understood his God more clearly. Instead we will focus like a laser beam on our Lord, and I am not sure other stuff will really matter.

Of course, I am not pretending that I know at all what life will be like in the presence of Christ—but it does seem to me that we will have drastically changed priorities, and that is as it should be. Theology is all important to us now, for from theology we can develop a coherent picture of God’s will for our life. But then, with Christ, will not all theology diminish sharply? Being a good theologian in this time is a coherent and rational response to the tatters that we find our church in, but it does not make us to be better at showing Christ to a lost world, to feeding the hungry, or to sharing the gospel. I know many good Christians who do not have a great theology—instead they have a great faith and love for their Savior, and I wonder if they are not showing the correct priorities. It is our love for each other that shows a lost world that we are indeed his disciples. Jesus told us to remain in his love, and of course part of that love is remaining grounded in his words, or in theology, if you will. But only a part, and I think that is why sometimes I am put to shame by a Christian practicing that love towards me, and they may not have much theology.

Perhaps it is best if we think of love being the umbrella that holds our theology, along with all the other parts of our Christianity. I can think of several great evangelists who were poor theologians, but it is much more difficult to see great theologians who were also great evangelists. Jonathan Edwards would be an exception. Maybe that is because we let our rules for life interfere with our love for each other. Certainly when we examine Mr. Edward’s life, we see love for his God, and love for his brothers governing much of his actions. All I am saying is that all we do and say to each other ought to be under the umbrella of love. Listen to the prayer of Jesus, perhaps his last recorded prayer before the crucifixion, as he prays to the Father for us. “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me, and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23, NIV).

Before I finish, I am thinking of a song by the Bellamy Brothers, called, “New Man in the Suit”. They sing the refrain, “God don’t put a new suit on a man—He puts a new man in a suit”. It is our new life that we will be rejoicing over, and I hardly think we will have time, or the nature for that matter, to be contentious over getting theological disputes and questions answered. Of course, that is only my opinion, and I am mindful that it certainly does not “yet appear what we shall be like”. Rather than answering all our questions, I would look for the questions which matter to be already answered, and perhaps the others will not matter at all.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Understanding Revival

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chron. 7:14

This promise, I do believe, is the greatest promise of the steadfastness and mercy of God, perhaps in the whole of the Bible. It was given to Israel, during the reign of Solomon, and has echoes in it of the famous passages of Deuteronomy in which Moses warned the people that they would inevitably stray, and that when they did, they could repent and again find the mercy of our Lord and Savior. Time has already tested this great promise, and it proved true again and again. We are going to look at a time in history over 300 years after God made this promise, when God did hear the repentance and prayer of his people, and he did once more show forth his great mercy.

Manasseh was an evil king who reigned for 55 years over Israel. It is a wonder that there was even a remnant of faithful, for Manasseh is said to have filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. He constructed an idol, he caused his sons to pass through the fire, he used enchantments and wizardry. He was so wicked and evil that God allowed Assyria to come and bind him and carry him away as their prisoner, until marked by deep repentance, Manasseh prayed to his God, and his God heard him, bringing him back to Jerusalem, where he died and was buried.

Amon, his son, reigned after Manasseh. We are told little of Amon, who was so wicked that his own servants conspired against him, and killed him after he had been king but two years. Assyria had already taken Israel into captivity, and their sword was hanging over Jerusalem, and Judah waited for the coming tide of inevitable evil.

Josiah, an unlikely prospect being but eight years old, was the son of Amon, and began his reign. He did “what was right in the sight of the Lord”. He had reigned already eighteen years, when a priest, Hilkiah found the book of the law, probably a copy of at least the Pentateuch. Reading it, the priest must have been amazed, for it tells us in the 22nd chapter of 2 Kings that he took it to a scribe, and the scribe read it. Having access to King Josiah, the scribe brought it to the king and read it before the king. The king, upon hearing the word of the Lord read, tore his clothes, for he must have realized their great departure from following God. And here we have the beginnings of revival.

Allow me to depart from our text here briefly. I will come back, and will show you perhaps the greatest of revivals, at least in the history of Israel. I want to go briefly to the first revival of America called the First Great Awakening, a revival like that of King Josiah in that it was nearly 300 years ago. In the first Great Awakening, as I believe in all the revivals I am presenting in this piece, God worked first in the hearts of men and women to pray. The Puritans developed a strong inclination toward prayers, moved by God, and nowhere is prayer more committed to than in Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards had much to do with this revival, and we owe much of its collected history to the efforts of Edwards. In the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards had to spend a large portion of his ministry defending the “raw emotionalism” that marked his revivals. He spent a great deal of time—writing the equivalent of several books, expressly to defend these revivals, and from these books are gleaned nuggets of precious information that we might otherwise lack. A more staid and established pastor you could not imagine—but Edwards defended the right of people to wait upon God, and often would have those people who came forward for prayer wait until God answered. Sometimes he waited with those making decisions for hours, or even all night, until the Spirit of God brought a wonderful liberating answer. He describes the Spirit’s filling of his own wife in the most beatific terms, and he has written whole books for us to read defending the five distinct movements of revival that Edwards discerned during his ministry. People would weep for hours, or be so magnificently uplifted by the Spirit of God that joy and peace would flood their souls, and they had the utmost difficulty in stopping the praise leaping out from their lips.

Edwards tells the most gripping story of a poor woman, Abigail Hutchinson, dying from what appears to me to be a growing tumor in her throat—filled gloriously with the peace of the Spirit, even as she slowly starved to death. I read the story with wet eyes. Marking many of the souls so deeply affected by the visitation of the Spirit of God was a deep passion for the lost, and many went out proclaiming Christ to their neighbors. Young people, sometimes as young as nine or ten, gave themselves wholly to the Lord, and along with the young people, were the old and the middle aged. God seemed to bring a strong breath of restoration to the whole community.

Edwards knew his people well, and admitted to some who were probably prone to emotional excess, or of uttering things that proved not to be of God. But for all of that, Ed wards told of a singular light filling hundreds and thousands of people, changing their lives forever as they were touched by the Master’s grace. He urged critics to measure the revival by the standards of God, and that if they did that, they would see the wonderful glory of God being lifted up in hearts that had been cold.

All across New England lives were changed, and the nation seemed to awake to a new sense of purpose. It was to last almost a generation, and I would not be surprised at all to find that many of us may have a spiritual father or mother from this time, and owe our very salvation to some American who was saved during this revival.
Let’s switch back to Josiah for a time. Josiah, a young boy of but eight years of age, must have had some training towards righteousness that comes by faith, but we are not really told what that training was. It was not from a godly father, for Amon was declared to be a wicked king, killed by his own servants. Instead we are told that in the eighth year of Josiah, while he was yet young, he began to seek after God. This led him to purge Judah of its sinful high places and to destroy the idols rampant throughout the land.

But what situation was facing Josiah and his nation? Israel had already been taken captive by Assyria in about 720 B.C. Their disobedience had brought the curses of Deuteronomy upon them, and the nation was forever scattered through the world. There are many myths of the ten tribes and their descendants, but they all start from this period. Though the Assyrian kingdom was waning, Judah was a small nation, caught between Assyria and the newly growing Egypt. For Judah, it must have been like being placed between the anvil of a blacksmith and his hammer. It’s future was very uncertain, and seemingly it was going to go the direction of the Northern Kingdom.

It’s future was uncertain, her people were in disarray, not subject to either the Law, or God. History seems to indicate that many of the ten tribes did not get deported; instead they fled to Jerusalem, for it had a fivefold increase in population about this time. I cannot help speculating that the godless refugees from the Northern Kingdom added to the apostasy of Judah, and make no mistake about it, Judah was so far from God that Josiah found himself with a huge undertaking.

I notice some striking parallels with our own country today. We have apostasized so far from God that I lose track of where we are. We have moved from modern to postmodern to I do not know what. I do think we are, as a nation, frighteningly far from God, about as far away as we ever have been. We, are not like Israel in the sense that our nation has a covenant with God. Our covenant is based on grace, and is available to all who have faith, but it is not given to nations.

Nevertheless, we have, like the people in Josiah’s time, forgotten the Word of God. Recently, this was brought to the headlines, right here in Sacramento, where a group from a church, from the pictures mostly older people, had started reading the Bible through. From the headline comments, many of the people were reading it through for the first time in their lives, and they professed shock and dismay at all the violence of the Old Testament. How is it that they are so old, and yet do not know the basic Word of God? I know that the Bible remains the number one bestseller in this country, but I cannot help wonder if it is not the number one unread book, at least in many households.
Recently I was counseling with an addict trying to move away from his addiction. I knew that he had made a decision for Christ as a youth, but had never grown. “Why don’t you try reading just a chapter a day from the gospel of John,” I suggested to him. From the look on his face, it was like I was asking him to dance on hot needles. “No, I don’t think I could do that,” he replied. I hardly need comment on his success in moving away from addiction. It is the Word of God that aids us in growing, as the Holy Spirit himself is able to convict us, both of righteous and unrighteous behavior. How can a man grow close to his Creator except he knows and understands who his Creator is? I fear we have become a nation like this man, making God into whatever image we want, rather than turning to the Word, and finding out what God says about himself.

Have we not become a nation that has forgotten who gave us this great nation? Have we not forgotten the God who created us, and has given us so many revivals that have sustained us? Have we not forgotten the God who made us the city on a hill, a testimony unto the whole world? And nowhere did God make us the proverbial city on a hill more than in The Second Great Awakening. What of the Second Great Awakening?

Charles Finney is the name that comes to the forefront when we are speaking of the Second Great Awakening. Finney, a lawyer, was converted one day in the woods outside of town. Visibly filled with the Spirit, he came back to his village, resigned as a lawyer, and dedicated himself to spreading the Word of God. While some studying Finney declare Finney to be an Arminian, Finney himself had Jonathan Edwards as his mentor, and would scoff at the idea of Arminianism. He did flatly reject Calvinism, but agreed with his mentor, Edwards, on many other things. Calvinism, in the day of Finney, had morphed into something that probably would not be recognizable to the modern day Calvinist.
All throughout New England during this time, there was a pervasive spirit that seemed to be holding people back from being saved. It may have been an improper mixture of Deism and Calvinism, but Finney found that the churches of New England were filled with anxious men and women who were taught not to seek God, but rather to wait for His Spirit. If and when God revealed himself, he would show people that they were one of the elect. Members who sought to pray to God for relief were often discouraged by their pastors from so doing, and we find a great many pastors themselves were not saved. In many cases, parishioners who stated to their pastors that they wanted to pray for their salvation were discouraged from doing so, with their pastors insisting that prayer would just drive the parishioners crazy.

So much of New England became a stark setting of people sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping that God would elect them by calling them. They were not allowed to do anything other than wait endlessly on God, hoping that somehow they might prove to be one of the elect. Finney correctly saw this situation as absolutely wrong. Finney felt that there were rules set up by God, that if followed would bring both salvation and revival. When he began preaching this very different message, whole churches responded, and not infrequently the pastors themselves were converted.
There are stories of Finney walking around town, or through factories, only to see all the work of the factory stop, and people fall to their knees, confessing their need. Thousands of lives were dramatically converted, and perhaps the biggest measurable change ever happened to the character of the United States. Secular historians sometimes try to skip over this interesting segment of our history, hoping to sell you on the idea that other things happened to change our character. Make no mistake; this revival was the biggest change ever to happen to America, and its influence profoundly impacts us yet today.

Finney taught that those who converted should be put to work instantly; they were to become workers in the harvest fields, and there was no middle ground. Either you were with the program, or you were really not part of the church. Finney certainly would have agreed with James that faith without works is dead. During these years great associations were started: 1) The American Bible Society, 2) The American Sunday School Union, 3) The Americans Home Missionary Society, and 4) The American Temperance Society. Some of these agencies were to last 100 years and more.
Finney was strictly against “emotionalism” and would excise any who expressed themselves intemperately. Like his mentor, Jonathan Edwards, Finney believed that people would emotionally react to the movement of the Spirit—Finney correctly saw that temperance of spirit was commendable in services. Perhaps that fact is what led to this awakening lasting the many decades that it did.

Josiah’s reign started in 640, and Josiah was a contemporary of Jeremiah. I would ask: just what was it that made Josiah stand out? First, I notice that Josiah probably had someone helping him to grow correctly. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father. His reign, in the beginning, was that of a child-king. Caretakers undoubtedly were over him, insuring that he was nurtured in every admonition of the Lord. We are not told whether it was the godly influence of his mother, or priests, or some combination of both. Still, at age 16, or thereabouts, Josiah began to purge the wickedness from Israel, destroying both the high places and the idols of the country.

By the time he was ruler for eighteen years, Josiah decided to repair the house of the Lord. Sending in priests and workmen, a great repair work was done, possibly attempting to restore a building about three centuries old. In this work, the Law of the Lord was discovered, and ultimately brought to the attention of the King. We are not told which scrolls of Scripture they read, but I am sure that the King paid special attention to the promises of Moses in Deuteronomy 29 and 30. For it is in those great chapters that Moses tells the people of Israel that they will fail in their covenant with God. When that failure comes, Moses promises that God will scatter them abroad throughout the world, that the world may look upon them and see those whom God has cursed, and perhaps will learn that indeed the Lord is God.

Looking at the threats from Egypt and Assyria, Josiah must have felt that their perishing was imminent. Surely they were lost if the hand of God was against them. I can quite imagine the desolation that they felt. Remember that they had watched the ten tribes of Israel being carted off, and now they realize for the first time what had happened. They had lost the very God that they thought would deliver them. And that is the first step in revival: realizing that the power of God was absent.

What was it that made them realize that they had lost God? The reading of the scripture. Panic must have struck hard in both the hearts of the King and that of the priests. Perhaps, again we are not told specifically, they received more scrolls. Perhaps they read the famous promise which is given specifically to the nation of Israel. It applies to us in the church, but it’s primary purpose was to give Israel assurance of the faithfulness of God: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

Which brings us to the Third Great Awakening. Unlike the Second Great Awakening, which lasted decades, this awakening lasted but two years, from 1857 to 1859. It was a strange revival; people everywhere seemed to be moved at the same time to prayer. Part of the revival is seen in the stock market crash; many souls found spiritual sustenance when great wealth and possessions disappeared almost overnight. At its height, in New York alone, over ten thousand souls met daily for prayer, some of them even leaving work to pray.

It all started with a Canadian pastor, Dr. Palmer, who had been holding camp meetings in Canada, and was on his way through Hamilton, Ontario to New York City, when both he and his wife were caught by the Wesleyan pastor, Samuel Rice, and invited to speak at his church. Palmer was so well received that he was invited back the next night, where 21 people received Christ. Due to the response, Dr. Palmer and his wife stayed over for several weeks, and over 600 people made professions! The Third Great Awakening was born!
During its height, we are told that there were over 50,000 professions a week! The Civil War, which might be the reason the awakening was so short, had camp meetings on both sides, and those brave soldiers, both from the North and the South, had ample opportunity to receive Christ, and many many soldiers did make a profession of faith. I find that comforting, for before the war was over many thousands of soldiers were to be killed.

The YMCA played a significant role in the Third Great Awakening, and D. L. Moody was to find his first significant ministry there. Many thousands, supported by local pastors, met for prayer, and that may be why the chief characteristic of the awakening is prayer.

Prayer was a chief characteristic for Josiah also. The Scripture says, “ Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13).

We of course go directly to the Lord, but in Josiah’s day one inquired of the Lord through a prophet. Jeremiah would have been available, but for some reason Josiah passed him by, and instead consulted a prophetess, Huldah, said to be a relative of Jeremiah. Destruction was coming upon their nation and was the message Huldah delivered, but the Lord graciously noted the repentance of Josiah. Thus says the Lord, “Because thy heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself.” The Lord assured Josiah that he indeed heard their prayer, and was willing to answer them.

Josiah went from his answer to prayer, and this is what he did. He gathered all his people from all over the land, another mark of revival. Revival knows nothing about denominational lines; rather the movement of the Spirit takes ahold of people, and that is what we see with all of Jerusalem. He read to them all the words of God that they had—it may have been the whole of Deuteronomy that he read. When he finished and the people were humbled, then he made a covenant with God, and the people entered into that covenant freely. The nation was transformed!

Now let me tie all these awakenings together. We get people waiting on the Spirit in prayer from the First Great Awakening, where Jonathan Edwards figured so prominently. From that awakening our take away ought to be that God answers prayer, and wants us to act like we expect an answer too. The Second Great Awakening gives us great hope, for perhaps its greatest message is that the gospel is open and available to all who will come. But the Second Great Awakening was so long, I am convinced, because the people worked as if there was no tomorrow. Part of their success is owed deeply to the false doctrine that we are going to build the kingdom of God, and give the reins of an obedient church to Christ when he returns. Many Christians devoutly believed that, and the result was an outstanding work that changed thousands of lives, as they worked diligently to bring about the kingdom of God. What changes might we bring to our world, if we indeed believed with our hands, instead of just with our hearts.

The Third Great Awakening? In some ways I find this awakening to be the most intriguing. Prayer is one of its chief characteristics, as men and women abase themselves before God. And what an outpouring of his Spirit resulted, with the crowds of people coming to Christ. The take away for me in the third awakening is that God wants us to unite in prayer.
Isn’t the same message with Josiah? Repentance and prayer can go a long ways toward bringing about revival. In all four revivals, there is a common denominator: they give themselves to prayer for revival. Then the veil is lifted from the hearts of the saints in the church; and at the last, the veil is lifted from the hearts of the unsaved, which can result in thousands or tens of thousands saved.

Revivals always seem to start almost spontaneously; but careful study reveals that God is the initiator, that he initiates through the preparation of a few, and that he crosses denominational lines with the fires of his Spirit. It isn’t that people realize that their denominational differences are not right; rather it is that those differences seem to become eclipsed when men are faced with the Glory of God.

Most probably, you, if you are still with me after these many pages, think that you are one of those for whom the veil is lifted. I would assure you that is probably not true, at least in the sense that seems to happen in revivals. I think there are many Christians who think they understand that they are sinners in need of grace, and I profoundly thank our Reformation fathers for schooling us in this profound doctrine.

But I speak of more than that sin consciousness in the lifting of the veil. What seems to happen in a revival is that people seem to be able to see themselves as God sees them, for the first time in their lives. Dirty and unclean sinners, without foundation or hope, needy and naked, ashamed before the Lord. And, at the same time, they seem to be able to see the complete and wonderful grace of God. God has taken us and cleaned us, and dressed us in white robes, declaring us to have his own righteousness. Understanding the depth of grace for the first time, revival saints seem to be overwhelmed on two fronts. First, they truly recognize their sin and need for God. Second, they understand the price at which God redeemed them, the offering of his own Son in our behalf.

Maybe, just maybe, it is time for us to draw together and pray for revival—and hope that God will yet again pour out his Spirit on his sons and daughters. Maybe we shall live to see the dead bones of many in our society come alive.
My wife and I have covenanted to pray daily for this year, the year of 2014, to be a year of revival. My prayer group is given to pray steadfastly for revival. I know of many others who are looking and hoping for revival this year. What if we took on the role of Josiah and all the people of Jerusalem? What if we were to read the Scriptures, repent and seek the Spirit’s filling? Is there yet room in America for one more revival?

Let’s take one more look at that verse, 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” I need to put that in Christian terms, sort of move it from the Old Testament to the New Testament, moving it from the nation of Israel to the people of Christ. Let me rephrase that, or put it in terms that may be more meaningful to us.

If my people. . .
God’s people, chosen of him, given the promise of new life, forever with his Son.
. . . which are called by my name
Called Christians, because we are called to take up our cross and follow Him
. . . shall humble themselves
Shall throw our faces on the floor in contrition for not living the life, the new life He has called us to live, to confess before him that we are utterly and completely unable to do so
. . . and pray
Talk to the Almighty God as if he were really there, listening, and caring for us, not praying for things as much as for him to begin using us for his purposes.
. . . and seek my face
Reading and memorizing and treasuring the word of God as the personal message that God has given us.
. . . and turn from their wicked ways,
Not by our power is this possible, but by the wonderful power of his Spirit, which is the only way we can turn from our wickedness.
. . . then I will hear from heaven
Our prayers are a sweet smelling savor to our God, treasured and kept, listened to and answered, in the mysteries of God, even before we ask them.
. . . and will forgive their sin,
This part is different for the Christian, for we have been already forgiven of all of our sins when we met Jesus at the cross, and that is the wonderful grace of God, which we need to remember as we step into our new life.
. . . and will heal their land.
The promised land, by application, is that which we look forward to, for God has made no promises for our land to be healed.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
Another awakening? I know that we may have ten minutes, or ten months, or ten years until he should return. I do not know how long it will be, but dare we not ask? Dare we not come together and seek the Lord, that he may yet send another revival? The will of God is clear here—he desires to pour out his Spirit upon mankind and draw men unto him. I know not your choice, but as for me and my house, we will seek the Lord concerning the promise of Chronicles.

1. I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful resource I found in Christianity Today, , under the heading of “The American Experience”.