In certain sections of the church there is constant talk about revival, but it never seems to come. I distinctly remember however an Argentine friend of mine, who had seen revival break out in his own country, speak once of “the sound of revival”. In this article I want to try to bring together certain things that I believe God is raising with the church in Perth in the hope of stimulating us to move in the direction of genuine biblical renewal.
It was said of John Knox, the bringer of the Protestant Reformation to sixteenth century Scotland, that he prayed, “Give me Scotland or I die!” Two hundred years later, Jonathan Edwards, in nights and days of prayer said to God, “Give me New England or I die!” The result was the First Great Awakening on the North American continent.
Our problem in hearing these stories is that they seem to us either like some extravagant religious drama (if we are on the liberal side of the church), or a glorious model we tend to sentimentalise (if we are on the evangelical –charismatic side of the church). Neither of these positions does justice to the actual state of affairs in the lives of these men.
As men of their age who were not given to shallow displays of emotion, we must take their cries literally. Both Knox and Edwards actually felt like they were going to die if God did not answer their prayers. The American revivalist of the last century, Ed Miller, has said that a new move of God is always preceded by a cry. But what sort of cry?
A local pastor was recently sharing with a small group about the impact on his fellowship of a small group of African refugees. Their prayer leadership was transforming the prayer life of his people because they “know how to cry out to God”. The Congolese pastor now resident in Perth told his local compatriot they had learned to pray because they found that when they prayed they did not notice their hunger so much. This surely amounts to a level of desperation that for us complacent and comfortable Westerners is embarrassing. (It is for me anyway.)
Yet there is a danger at this point. It is important that we do not try to imitate or emulate the saints of old or our third world brothers and sisters – experience teaches me that this will not work. Our foundation must be in scripture, and particularly in the life of Jesus.
The Biblical Basis
There is a very clear biblical pattern of God’s people crying out to him prior to a great deliverance. The most important illustration of this is of how the cry of the Hebrews rose up to God with such force that “knowing their sorrows” he was moved to deliver them by the exodus from Egypt (Ex 2:23 – 25; 3:7 -8). The pattern of an oppressed people crying out for mercy and receiving a saviour is the backbone of the book of Judges (3:9,15; 4:3; 6:6 – 7; 10:10,12; 15:18 cf. 1 Sam 9:16; Neh 9:27 -28). At one point it is said of God “he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (Judges 10:16).
The theme of crying out to God for help is continued in the Psalms (10:17; 22:2,5,24; 34:15,17; 145:19)and the prophets, “19 Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you.” (Isa 30:19).
The greatest cries of all however come from Jesus. “7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Hebrews 5:7). This relates to Jesus experience in the Garden of Gethsemane:
“33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”” (Mark 14:33 – 35).
The testimony of Jesus, who after all is the truth (John 14:6) is that he feels about to die if God does not answer his prayer. This is what makes the cries of Knox, Edwards and countless other intercessors important, they are a share in the cry of Jesus. The greatest cry of all is yet to come. This is the cry from the cross, “34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34)
Paradoxically, the cry of the perfectly righteous man is uttered out of his identification with the desolate cries of the godless, rebellious, idolatrous, heartless and barren – those whom God does not hear (Job 35:12 -13; Isa 46:7; Jer 11:11). This is the ground of our hope that we will be heard.
“28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”” (John 19:28). Here we see Jesus in the dry and thirsty land where there is no water (Ps 63:1- 2). All his spiritual wells have run dry and he has entered into the experience of the second death.
Prophetically, the Old Testament pointed forward to God hearing the cry of Messiah, “24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” (Ps 22:24). The result of God’s hearing is the resurrection of Jesus in the power of the Spirit (Rom 1:4;8:11; 1 Pet 3:18). It is the revival of Jesus from death to life that is the basis for all subsequent spiritual revivals in the life of the church.
The Cry of the Kingdom
Why then are we not seeing revival in the western countries in our day? I believe it is because we do not know the difference between crying out for our own needs to be met and the “cry of the kingdom”. The saints of the old covenant, the heroes of the faith and Jesus himself were not crying out to God for a better experience of life but imploring that his kingdom come with power and his glory be revealed on the earth. They thought that they would die if this did not happen – because the centre of their lives was no longer in themselves but in the purposes of their Father.
The following text has been much abused, “14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Rom 8:14 -15).
Importantly, the word for “cry” here is the same as that used for Jesus in his cry of dereliction from the cross (Mark 15:34). It is no shallow sentimental cry to a “Daddy” figure but a desperate and deep plea for life transformation at all costs. This cry of the kingdom is the prayer to which God must respond (1 John 5:14).
It is Jesus who is hungry and thirsty for souls. When his cry is living in us we will see our Father respond with reviving power (Matt 6:6:9- 10).
A Word for Today
This is a scripture that I believe God gave me recently:
“10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jer 29:10- 14).
In the dispensation of God, times and seasons must run their course. For example, the LORD told Abram that his descendants would be in exile in a foreign land “until the time of the iniquity of the Amorites was complete” (Gen 15:16). Likewise,Israel had to remain in Babylon until the seventy years set for its punishment was over. Symbolically, the depressed state of the church in its present problems and corruptions is a “Babylonian captivity”. In drawing my attention to this text in Jeremiah I believe God was telling me that there is a time set that we must pass through before he will release deep spiritual renewal and reformation. This time is known only to him. However, just as the knowledge of Israel’s seventy years in captivity moved the prophet Daniel to earnest prayer (Dan 9:1 -4), we too should be moved to cry out to him.
In this matter however we should not be deceived. Israel in the wilderness repeatedly wanted to return to Egypt (Num 11; 14) and only a minority left Babylon to return to the land of promise. The reason why only a remnant was faithful is that the majority were seduced by visions of prosperity. The same is true of our day.
Most believers today seem satisfied with the occasional downpour that leads to a burst of green but afterwards withers away in the prolonged spiritual drought. God our Father however longs to give us the lush conditions of the tropical rainforest with rain every day.
Why do we hold back in crying out to God so much? The answer is that we fear we will actually die, and this is too much for us. Most of our churches are like comfort food factories giving people comforting messages week to week and altogether failing to deal with the deep issues of life and godliness.
The way of God is not a recipe for success in this dispensation. The apostle John applies the prophecy of Isaiah to the effect of the ministry of Jesus: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:40- 43).
Too many Christians today want the praise of other people more than the praise of God. This is why what we see in the churches is rarely a clear display of the unmixed supernatural power of God.
Let me finish with the quote from the very end of scripture, “17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Rev 22:17). The truth is that we will never see the water of the river of life (Rev 22:1) running through the centre of our city (and down the aisles of our churches) until in hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness (Matt 5:6) we cry out in prayer, “Give me Perth or I die.”