Lots of Christians feel the world around them is becoming progressively more evil, but how would we feel about praying this prayer in Church? “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we…most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.” (General Confession Book of Common Prayer 1662). It is impossible to imagine the average Evangelical or Pentecostal congregation of today embracing this sort of language in prayer or in song. Have we outgrown a legalism and unhealthy fear of God suffered by previous generations because we have advanced in our grasp of the gospel? Or are we missing something of great value? Scanning the scriptures and the history of revivals will tell us.
The Burden of Sin in Bible and Revival
Here are a few scriptures which speak of the impact of exposed sin on a guilty conscience; “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Ps 32:3-5); “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple…. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:1, 5); “the people of Israel assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.” (Neh 9:1). Then in the New Testament; convicted of unbelief, “Simon Peter…fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”” (Luke 5:8); and Jesus commends the attitude of “the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13). These manifestations are not histrionic but in proportion to the gravity of sin before God.
Every famous revival has begun with mourning over sin. Here is a snippet of a more recent move of God. On March 19, 1995 at Wheaton College two students shared what God had recently done in their lives during recent times of revival at their college; “immediately students began to come up to the microphone and confess sin. The confession was deep. It was painful. God really did a work of breaking people.” The service had begun at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. It did not end until 6 a.m. Monday. The “beautiful thing” was that when a person would confess sin, 20 to 50 students would gather around the person and pray for him. Numbers in the meetings soon multiplied and the presence of God was overwhelming; “It was glorious. … It was a foretaste of what heaven is going to be like.”
When men and women experience God as he really they are crushed under the burden of their sins and spontaneously turn to the Lord for forgiveness. In the Spirit they are experiencing the dead weight of sin in its opposition to the glory of God as Jesus experienced it on the cross (Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21). The overwhelming anguish of Christ is not an inwardly looking psychological state of self centred despair, but a totally God-directed plea; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). So intense is Christ’s turning heavenward that the double “my God”, is found only here and in Psalm 22:1, in the whole Bible. The singular power of desperate repentance is a grace-given gift that breaks out upon men and women at sovereignly appointed times of significant spiritual shifts. How urgently we need such a shift today. Who today will heed the Word that introduces Pentecostal power; ““return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments…. 17 let the ministers of the Lord stand and weep between the entry room to the Temple and the altar.”” (Joel 2:12-13, 17).
Few want a revelation of the terrible truth that in the Church we love our sin more than we love God. Not gross sins like sexual immorality, gluttony, substance abuse, love of money etc. But that we love our families, our leisure, music, comfort and ministry more than we love God. It is a struggle to die to things to which we are deeply attached; we hate them being put to death, it feels like a part of us is being crucified and that something of our essential identity is being lost. Since this path is too hard to walk alone only a dedicated band will see revival; “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them” (Mal 3:16). The remnant grasps the heartfelt longing of the Lord is to share the healing pain of Christ’s cross with us for the salvation of many (Phil 3:10; Col 1:24).
There is no shortage of “great and precious promises” (2 Pet 1:4) in scripture to assurance us of divine visitation. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13); “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron 7:14). This land cannot be healed from its escalating transgressions until the Church first experiences forgiveness for its sins. We ignore this order at our peril. Who today is hearing Jesus words in the Spirit, ““I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”” (Rev 2:4). The words of a love sick God apply to the Church to which we belong today. “Leave Israel alone, because she is married to idolatry…. O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me.” (Hos 4:17; 14:8).
In a time sparse of holy discipleship and deep fruit, a time of many idols and complacent transgression, God is keeping his distance from his people. Who amongst us by sharing in “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” desires to be brought to a place of confessing the intolerable burden of personal sin (Phil 3:10)? When Jesus is allowed to take his rightful place in his Church this will be our confession. His patience with sin is perfect but his tolerance of sin is nil because it kills and destroys everything (2 Thess 1:7-10; 1 Tim 1:16). Intolerable evil may be everywhere but the Lord always deal with it first among his people; “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”” (1 Pet 4:17-18). Since the pain of the cross is a beautiful sacrifice in the eyes of the Father the mature in Christ will long to confess, “The burden of our sins is intolerable” (Ps 96:9). Are we amongst the remnant who will urge one another on in this great matter?