I have not yet personally seen a nation in revival. Massive numbers of people turning to Jesus and mushrooming churches seem to exist side by side with political corruption, sexual immorality and the health-wealth “gospel”. This is a source of great distress and while in Africa I sought the Lord about this terrible mixture of good and evil. On the final day of our conference he directed me to a scripture that that speaks to the very root of the spiritual issues involved in producing the mature fruit of genuine social transformation.
A repeated catchphrase in the Old Testament goes like this; “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities.” (Lamentations 5:7 ESV cf. Jer 31:29; Ezek 18:2). The sins of forefathers seem inescapably visited on their descendants. To this fatalistic cry the LORD replies, ““I will make a new covenant…no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.””(Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV). God will sovereignly abolish the expectation “like father like son” and break the succession of evil down the generations. The Spirit than shocked me with what I sensed next.
God’s purpose from the beginning was that humanity “multiply” the “image of God” across the earth (Gen 1:26-28). Both natural and spiritual parents still dynamically reproduce their image, but this image is now corrupted by sin (Gen 5:3; Eph 2:3). But the drive to pass on the image is not only in parents. Seeking the Lord about these things in Africa I could powerfully sense how all human beings long to imitate father/mother figures in order to please them, be accepted and gain a sense of personal identity. To blindly want to be like a father/mother figure you respect is the force behind the intergenerational brokenness in families, the growth of sects and the evil influence of dictators. As I directly asked the Lord what was the root problem in Uganda holding back the healing of the nation the words “Ancestor Worship” came strikingly to mind. There are many shrines to the worship of the dead in villages, but the Spirit was speaking about something far more foundational that challenges us all, African or Australian. It has to do with an issue that has run through this series of articles- fatherhood.
Leave the Fathers of Old
John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah, turning the hearts of fathers to children and children to fathers to turn away the wrath of God (Mal 4:5-6; Matt 11:13-14). John prophetically proclaimed to the Pharisees, ““Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”” (Luke 3:8-9 ESV). Abraham as a man of faith, but his faith was solely in the promises of God, not in any human person before him (Rom 4:16-22). Every pioneer of faith I can think of – Martin Luther who fathered the Protestant Reformation, John Wesley and the great 18th century Evangelical revival, William Carey, “the father of modern missions”, William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army etc. had to cut their ties with well motivated men and women who sought to “father” them in ways counter to the call of God.
In speaking of the cost of discipleship Christ’s first word was, ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father ….Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matthew 10:34-37 ESV). When the leaders of the Jews claimed, ““Abraham is our father.””, Jesus bluntly replied, ““You are of your father the devil…” (John 8:39, 44). The Pharisees studied the scriptures, supported missions, abstained from sexual immorality and tithed generously, but they placed the traditions of their spiritual forefathers before Christ. It is not easy to break away from the influence of men and women whom we spiritually respect.
The One True Root
A local speaker at our conference (Dickson Ogwang) raised the failure of the famous East African revival to produce social transformation; his analysis was that that generation did not go deep enough into the gospel. Then he appealed to an incident in Acts about the need for other more experienced brethren to come alongside to help us.
“Philip ran to him (the Ethiopian eunuch) and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this [Isa 53:7-8]: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”” (Acts 8:30-33 ESV). This is a text about the cross, and it provoked my spirit greatly.
In the midst of the meeting I could see two roots. One root is “the spirit of the strong man” who rules through fear, reproduces orphans and breeds intergenerational corruption. Another root is found in the passage which the Ethiopian was reading, this root is Jesus. “For he grew up before him [God] like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2 ESV). Though Jesus looked totally unimpressive and undesirable on the cross this was the place where “the arm of the LORD” was fully and finally revealed for our salvation (Isa 53:1). At the cross it seemed to all natural observation like Jesus had no-Father to follow at all. By faith we understand that when Christ cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) the heart of a Father who never abandons his children was revealed.
In the conference meeting I could see the Lord cutting down the first root, a root of ancestor worship, the root of failed revivals, and replacing it with the root which is Jesus. The fruit of this root ripens across the whole world and endures until the end because it abides in Christ (John 15:16; Col 1:6). No rejection or suffering can cause this root to wither. But the cost of being attached to this root is very great.
Around this time in Africa I had one of most disturbing dreams I have ever experienced, it left me feeling overwhelmed with a sense of the severity of life. It was so strong and out of character I knew for sure that it was demonically inspired. In the dream I was in a conversation with a close Australian friend whom I mentor and whose sacrificial ministry I deeply admire. He had cut off all cooperation with me without any prior consultation; in real life he would never do this to anyone. This was a clue for me to interpret the dream as a sign and a warning, not from God but from Satan. If you choose to follow the one true Father even those whom you have considered faithful brothers may desert you. The fear of being left alone in life and ministry is a very real one, and it is behind the many compromises in the Church today. Thankfully the Lord kept on speaking to me after this horrid experience.
A Prophetic Vision
Jesus described the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist like this, ““Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.”(Matthew 17:11-13 ESV). The process of “restoring all things” involves what we might call mature revival; John began this as a man who “would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Luke 1:17). This is the spiritual foundation that breaks the ancient curse of false fathering that chokes the root of sustainable revival (Mal 4:5-6). John was the voice pointing to Jesus as the sole way the Father. He did not point to spiritual giants like Abraham, Moses or David, each of whom was faithful “in his own generation” (Acts 13:36) –. In steering fathers and sons to Christ ALONE John brought a spiritual unity to family life that could not be broken. But unless we have a revelation of the uniqueness of Jesus like John did the “orphan spirit” which submits to “strong men” will never be broken.
Jesus’ first words after he rose from the dead were, ““go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17). We are the brothers of the resurrected Lord and his Father is now our Father!! We no longer need fear men and their displeasure, what can they do to us? (Heb 13:6). When Christ said, ““I am ascending…to my God and your God.’” he was surely remembering his cry from the cross, ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34), but he was remembering his cry as the Son from whom the curse of fatherlessness had forever been removed (Gal 3:13). All rejection, loneliness and orphaning has been taken away in the cross – the Father of the ascended Son is now our Father. We have nothing lasting to fear.
The Root of Revival is not found on earth but grows from heaven. Only the promise of bearing the “the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:49) has the power to deliver us from “Ancestor Worship”. Only the witness of the heavenly Lord can break our idolatrous attractions to imitate, not the worst of fathers/mothers, but the best! The only person we are permitted to follow unquestioningly is Christ.
The voice of John the Baptist must be heard again today, in preparing the way of the Lord (Matt 3:3). This voice calls men and women to follow the one way to the Father, to follow the Lamb of God who take away the sin of the world, whatever the cost (John 1:29). The root of revival is uncompromising discipleship following the “root out of dry ground” (Isa 53:2), we must follow Jesus, even when it seems like we are following someone who seems to have no Father! It is this sort of unconditional obedience that keeps us safe from false fathers and which the Lord will honour with enduring revival.