Posted by: stpowen | February 10, 2010

Looking to God for Revival (2)- Humbling Ourselves

Looking to God for Revival (2)

Self-Humiliation

‘If My people called by My name will humble themselves……’  (2Chron 7:14).

So our first call is to humble ourselves.  Humility has a rather bad press in Britain.  People think instinctively of Uriah Heap, the repulsive character in the Charles Dickens novel, David Copperfield, who claimed to be “Ever so ‘umble, Master Copperfield.”  But it is evident that God great prizes humility in His people.   The Lord Jesus proclaimed,  “Blessed are the meek, for they (and by implication, only they) shall inherit the earth” Matt 5:5).  Notice first of all that this call to humility comes before the call to prayer.  I dare say that if all we had to do was to pray, we’d have had revival years ago.  I read a few years back of a man in America who was trying to sign up two million people to pray together for revival.  Whether he succeeded or not, I don’t know; but if he did,clearly it didn’t work.  His thinking seems to have been, “Oh, if we get that kind of number, God is sure to be impressed!”  But God is not impressed by numbers as Gideon could tell you.  God looks at the heart.  ‘A broken and a contrite heart- these, O God, you will not despise’ (Psalm 51:17).

It goes without saying that humility is pretty much a lost chord among people in the world today.  In fact it seems that psychologists would tell us that most of the problems in the world today are caused by ‘low self-esteem.’  Anyone with a trace of meekness is encouraged to undergo ‘Assertiveness Training’ where he can be taught to push and shove and browbeat his way to happiness and fulfilment.  Yet the Bible tells us that pride, which I take to be the opposite of humility, turns us into enemies of God.  James 4:6 says, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’  The word translated ‘resists’ here is very strong.  It is antitassetai which means literally to ‘set oneself in battle array against.’  So God considers Himself at war with the proud, but gives undeserved favour to the meek.  Therefore the Psalmist could say, ‘I am poor and needy; yet the LORD thinks upon me.’ (Psalm 40:17).  It is worth bearing in mind that in Proverbs 16-19, we have a list of seven things that are an abomination to God.  First among these is ‘a proud look.’

Isaiah 57:15 is a helpful verse on this topic:  ‘For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:  “I dwell in the high and holy place, [also] with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”’  This tells us three things:  firstly that God is utterly ‘other;’  He is the ‘High and Lofty One’,  nothing like us.  There are many churches today that purport to cultivate a sort of chumminess with God.   They like to give Him a round of applause every so often as if He were some sort of performer that they had booked for the service.  You get the impression that some of their leaders, if they were to bump into God one day, would shake Him by the hand and say, “Well hello God, old fellow, how are you?  I think you’re doing a great job with the Universe, but if you need any help, just let me know!”   What this tells us is that such churches actually know nothing about God, for those who the Bible tells us actually did meet with God were  immediately conscious of their sin and were down on their faces in the dust in a moment (Isaiah 6:5; Ezek 1:29; Luke 5:8; Rev 1:17).  If a church truly knows the Lord, then its services will be marked by humble, reverent worship.

  Secondly, He ‘inhabits eternity.’  You and I are getting older; when I meet old friends after a while, I cannot help noticing that they have become fatter, greyer, wrinklier since last time I met them; and they observe the same about me.  God is ageless; He is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.  The hymn-writer put it well:-

We blossom and flourish like leaves on a tree                                                                                                                                                                                                                              And wither and perish, but nought changeth Thee.

Thirdly, Isaiah 57:15 tells us that there are only two places where God may be found.  One is in the highest heaven, far out of the reach of man.  The other is in the heart of the humble and contrite.  Therefore if we would have God answer our prayers for revival; indeed, if we would have any relationship at all with Him, we had better get busy humbling ourselves.  ‘Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time’ (1Peter 5:6).

An important point to note is that we are called to humble ourselves.  It is no use praying, “O Lord, please make me humble,” and thinking that you’ve done the job.  That’s just disobedience.  If you have a child and told him to tidy his room and he replied, “No! You do it for me,” you would be angry with him, and rightly so.  Moreover, God is able to bring you a whole lot lower than you can possibly imagine, so asking Him to humble you is a dangerous business.  When God humbled King Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:28ff) He did it so thoroughly that he ended up eating grass like an ox.  But at least God had mercy on Nebuchadnezzar, who appears to have been genuinely converted (v37).  His descendant, Belshazzar, He gave over to his pride until it was too late (Dan 5:22ff).  Better to humble yourself before God in good time. 

It might be asked, why is God so insistent about self-humiliation?  Because pride is the root of many other sins.  It is the root of much rebellion and disobedience against God.  People ask, like Pharaoh, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice?” (Exod 5:2).  “I’m Pharaoh;  I’m the boss around here.  I don’t take orders from anyone!”  People imagine that they know what the sins of Sodom were that caused it to be destroyed, but Ezek 16:49-50 tell us that pride and haughtiness were the root causes of them and immorality the fruit.  Indeed, I suggest that pride is the root of most sexual sins.  ‘Gay Pride’ marches are held in many British cities these days.  I once heard a famous actor, who is also a leading member of the homosexual lobby, being interviewed.  His position seemed to be that God had no right to interfere with his leisure activities, that he would decide for himself what was right and wrong without God’s help, thank you very much.  So it was his practice, when staying in a hotel, to spend the evening tearing out of the Gideon Bible those pages of which he disapproved.  It’s all about pride.  “How dare God tell a man like me- respected, eminent, intelligent- what to do!”

The history of Saul, Israel’s first king, is instructive in this context.  In 1Samuel 15, God says to Saul through Samuel, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel?  And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel?” (v17).  But just a little while later (1Sam 15:12), after Israel had won a victory under his command, instead of giving the glory to the Lord, he erected a memorial to himself.  Is it not the same with us?  When we were first converted and made heirs of salvation, did we not say to God in effect, “God, you’re everything and I’m nothing”?  Is that not the very essence of conversion?  But as we grow older in our faith, do we not sometimes, like Saul, take the liberty of filtering God’s word through our own intellects and judging it by our own prejudices?  “Well, I admit that’s what God says, but for someone like me, being of superior understanding-  well,  I don’t think it really applies in my case.”

I believe that pride is a particular danger for Reformed folk.  After all, we have our theology sorted out, haven’t we?  Unlike those poor benighted Dispensationalists, we understand God’s purposes in history; we have proper Bible versions; we have expository preaching; we do proper worship, along the lines of the RPW, so God’s bound to be pleased with us, right?  And so we end up praying the prayer of the Pharisee; “God, I thank You that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11), instead of the prayer of the publican, which would be far more appropriate.  And God, instead of blessing us, sets Himself in battle array against us.

Many people today are practical Sandemanians (1).  That is, they believe that faith, the faith that saves, is simply agreement with stated doctrine; acquiescence to the proposition that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead.  It is nothing of the kind!  True saving faith involves a humbling of the heart which involves two things;

1.  An understanding that God is everything and we’re nothing.  In this respect it is instructive to read David’s prayer in 1Chronicles 29.  He and his people had raised a colossal amount of money and provisions to build the Temple, and it would have been easy for David to say, “God, look at all this stuff we’ve gathered for you!  Aren’t you impressed?”  But instead he confessed that all things come from God Himself and he finishes,  “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer so willingly as this?  For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given to You.  For we are aliens and pilgrims before You, as were all our fathers;  our days on earth are as a shadow and without hope.”

2.  An admission that God is right and we are wrong; an acknowledgement that, in the words of the old Anglican Prayer Book, “We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, and there is no health in us.” These words appear right at the very start of the service.  The view of the Reformers was that a congregation couldn’t even start to worship God until it had humbled itself by confessing its sins.  I am no great fan of liturgy, but it keeps a church, at least outwardly, on the right track.  It is my experience that very few free churches today have a prayer of confession as a fundamental part of their Order of Service.  This would have been unthinkable to our Baptist or Congregational forebears.  The unspoken view seems to be that God should be jolly grateful that we even show up, and that we’ve come to have a good time, not to get all sombre and pious thinking about our sins.

 The genuineness of such a faith is proved by active obedience.  Think of those heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11; every one of them went out by faith and DID something.  Imagine Abraham saying to himself, “I believe with all my heart that God wants me to leave Ur of the Chaldees”- and then staying where he was.  What sort of faith would that have been?  No, to humble yourself before God is to obey His commands.  “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears” (1Sam 3:10).  How about you?  Having read so far, if you have satisfied yourself that what I’ve written is in accord with God’s word, what is your response?  Will you say, “That is God’s word and I submit to it” and set about humbling yourself according to His command?  Or are you already thinking, “I don’t know about this.  I think God’s a bit on the extreme side here.  I’m not sure I’m ready to do all that.”  Pride is thinking that we’re so great and do so much for God that He will be glad to have us on our own terms.

Here in Britain, we have to admit that the Church has declined drastically rather than prospered in recent times, and that Christianity is more lowly esteemed than it has been for centuries.  One reason for that is that we have been following human wisdom in attempting to grow God’s kingdom.  We have followed the nostrums of all the various Church Growth gurus that have come mostly out of America and they haven’t worked.  Thinking ourselves wise, we have become fools (Rom 1:22) and God has given us over to our folly.  Surely it is time for us to admit that maybe God knows better than we do how to do Church, to repent of our foolishness, ask His forgiveness, pray for His guidance and humbly to search His word to see how He desires His churches to be run.

‘With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High God?  Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:6-8).

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Responses

  1. Thanks for this article.You might find alot of similarities with the article on rivival called “Shush…Its the Pied Piper!”. See here http://wp.me/pEVJ0-82


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