Publication: Pastoral Letter, August 2008
Dear Friend in Christ:
I am often asked what I think about what is happening in some particular place where there is a “revival.” There seems to be hope that something will happen somewhere that will move the Church and individuals into a place of renewed power and influence. It has happened numerous times in history and will again. I join those who desire to see a great “latter rain” that will bring the harvest to maturity (see James 5:7).
In the 1960s and 1970s there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that brought a measure of renewal across denominational lines and spawned a multitude of ministries that touched most of the world. I am a part of that. Like you ,I look for the next move of God to take us further. But unlike some of my friends, I am not asking, “Is it here, or is it there?” What I do ask is, “What will bring it about?” That is what I want to try to answer in this letter.
Recently, I met with a small group of friends from several religious backgrounds, but each one a believer in Jesus Christ. Most were not “Charismatic.” What we held in common was a concern for the disastrous loss among American youth and among the youth of our area. As we began, one of the men read a passage from Isaiah 58.I was immediately reminded of a message that I delivered many years ago entitled, “The Secret of Spiritual Blessing.”
The discussion of our common concern and the Scripture was both informed and stimulating. After our fellowship, I went home not able to sleep, so I read Isaiah 58 again. Then I read Isaiah 59-61.What I saw hit me hard, and it continues to do so. I believe the Lord is speaking to me.
WHEN RELIGION DOESN’T WORK (ISAIAH 58:1-5)
Isaiah was told by the Lord, “Cry aloud (from the throat), do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” God was not happy!
You might expect that the Prophet is about to launch a diatribe against a variety of egregious sins like swearing, stealing, adultery, or even murder. That is not the case. He is about to address a people who fast, pray, seek God, and from all outward appearance seem righteous. There is a major problem; God wasn’t listening, and this section is about why (see Isaiah 1:11-17, Matthew 23, and the book of James).
In spite of Israel’s religion, their hearts were not in agreement with God’s heart. What they wanted for themselves ignored what God wanted for others. They had no real concern for the larger cultural issues, those that were bound, hungry, or oppressed. In fact, the oppressors were often religious. One is reminded of some of Jesus’ messages brought centuries later, or the New Testament writings of James.
These verses remind us that any religious observance that stops at the point of personal experience and fails to flow to the needs of others will soon cease working. When blessings stop with the one being blessed – blessing will soon stop.
We cannot repay God for His mercy, but what He requires is that we “pay it forward.”Isaiah’s audience had forgotten this requirement, and the tragedy was that they were not even aware of the problem. We would do well to ponder Israel’s plight without being overly critical. It could be that our own religious observances are having less and less impact upon our rapidly deteriorating culture.
WHAT WORKS (ISAIAH 58:6-10)
Isaiah 58 is very clear about what is chosen and what is not. Not chosen is any religious observance that lacks the desire to lift the afflicted. What is chosen is for God’s people to be aligned with His heart for the hurting. Isaiah lists twelve motivations for prayer and fasting that include a broad range of human conditions: loosing bonds, broken yokes, feeding, clothing, and housing the poor, caring for kinsmen, ceasing from criticism, and oppression.
Concern for others validates the integrity of our religious activity and experience. A lack of concern renders religious experience invalid. Why is this true? It is true because real relationship with God should tell us that He is a Redeemer; He loves the world and sent His Son to die for its sins. We see in Jesus, the Anointed and Blessed One, that He gave life to the meek, hungry, sick, and lost. “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil…” (see Acts 10:38).
When Jesus introduced his ministry to Nazareth, His hometown, He read from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD…”(Isaiah 61:1-2 NKJV).
Jesus went on to point out how both Elijah and Elisha ministered to non-Jewish people; but then, the people in the synagogue wanted to kill Him. There could be no more clear example of religion that works versus religion that doesn’t. Jesus’ way worked. Jesus had no doubt studied Isaiah’s message and understood the problem. Those who followed Jesus, and who truly follow Him now, understand the heart of God for the hurting. That is the field of harvest.
The late Tim Russert was eulogized for his charitable works. He said ,and I may paraphrase, “No exercise is better than reaching down to help a helpless person.” When mercy flows through us to others, it revives us as well.
I believe that the Lord will evaluate us all based upon how much we are motivated to serve those in need. And, I personally believe that the secular world has lost much respect for religion, though not necessarily for Jesus. Perhaps that is because religion is often seen as an end in itself. This should speak to us as to how we might better influence those who are not believers by helping others.
I have observed the impact upon those who take mission trips. They return with a renewed joy and testimony. This fact reinforces my belief that the next revival will come as the Church discovers the message of Isaiah 58-61.
GREAT RESULTS (ISAIAH 58:8-12)
We must not confuse motives with results. Results are not our motive; our motive is to obey God even if we do not immediately see results. The motive is to give, not to receive. What we desire to receive we must first give and allow the “seed” to die in the soil it is sown.
There are at least fourteen blessings that God offers to those who understand and obey. They include: light, healing, reputation, answered prayers, relief from depression, continued guidance, satisfaction, healthy bone marrow, unfailing springs of life, ability to restore, riding on high places ,and a restored heritage. Perhaps the greatest promise to those generous of heart is God’s willingness to hear their prayers (see Acts 10:1-2). Does this sound like revival? It does to me.
GOOD NEWS (ISAIAH 59)
When God seems not to answer our prayers, one might be tempted to ask, “Can’t God hear?” Of course He can hear, but He does not hear us if we refuse to do for others what we are asking for ourselves. If we want justice, mercy, healing, deliverance, or provision, we must be willing to give the same. Failure to give leaves us in the darkness of self-indulgence; we not only fail to bless others, but devour the blessings we once received.
Our culture has been deceived into believing that consumption is the key to happiness, when in fact it is the path to darkness and depression. When the apostle Paul quoted Jesus saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” he wasn’t merely being pious; he was giving the key to renewal and revival (see also Acts 20:35). Yes, God can hear and will hear when we hear him.
Isaiah’s message does not leave us hopeless. Here is the Good News he gives to us:
- Though there was no one whose intercession could change the situation, His “own arm” brought salvation to us. He brought righteousness and justice. His arm is Jesus.
- When the enemy was coming in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifted up a standard against him. The standard is Jesus. The Redeemer came to Zion and those who turned from transgression (verses 19-20).
- Then the Lord made a covenant with them: He put His Spirit upon them and His words in their mouths – and in the mouths of their descendants see verse 21). We need a renewal of this New Covenant in the blood of Christ.
ARISE, SHINE! (ISAIAH 60)
Isaiah says we can move from a religion that does not work to the dawning of God’s glory – His goodness and mercy. Even though darkness covers the earth, His glory will be revealed through those who hear and repeat. People will be gathered to the brightness of His chosen way.
In addition, wealth and resources will come with them. Sons and daughters will be at our side. The Lord will be the Light of His people. Isaiah continues to describe the numerical growth that will come when His people understand the message: “A little one will become a thousand and a small one a great nation” (see Isaiah 60:22). Yes, that is revival!
When Jesus read Isaiah 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth, He was not only announcing His Messianic mission, He was summarizing the words of Isaiah. He was declaring that He would fulfill the Word of the Lord, and became the SERVANT of God’s purpose. But, that congregation missed an opportunity (see Luke 4:14-30).
Will the Church miss its opportunity? Perhaps it will in some cases, but as in Jesus’ day, some will hear Him and follow. They changed the world. The Holy Spirit came upon them and they had been taught by Jesus why He would come. As Jesus said, “The Spirit is upon me because….” Can you fill in the blank?
So where should we now direct our effort? There certainly is no lack of need; “the fields are ripe unto harvest”(see Matthew 9:35-38). The prayer we are told to pray is for laborers. And it will be labor, but the rewards of harvest are plentiful. One of those rewards will be to see our children serve God instead of sex, drugs, and violence.
I have recently spoken to a very successful Christian friend who lost a son to drugs. Another friend is a judge who described the situation among our youth, as only a judge could. If we do not act, the future is at risk. If we can hear God, and find His motive and mission, we can see a great renewal. It has happened before. When David Wilkerson reached out to gangs in New York during the 1950s and 1960s,there were amazing results as recorded in his book The Cross and the Switchblade. Had we time and space, numerous examples could be cited. It is our turn!
Our mission is to extend the kingdom of God, one person at a time. We do not look to institutions to solve our problems or carry our message. It is up to us…all of us. As you support us in prayer and in giving, as so many have for the past 40 years, we will make every effort to be faithful. Please share with us your testimonies and thoughts. I can learn from you. God bless you as you serve His purpose. Please visit us online at www.csmpublishing.org!
Scripture Reference: Isaiah, Matthew, James, Acts