Posted by: stpowen | March 10, 2010

Looking to God For Revival (3). Prayer

Looking to God for Revival (3)

Prayer

2Chron 7:14.  “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray……...”   

Isaiah 64:6-7. ‘But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities.’

The second of God’s requirements is prayer.  In the context of this verse, I suggest that the demand is for humble, repentant, persistent prayer.

There is a teaching that God always answers prayer.  Indeed, there are those who teach that if we pray with the requisite quantity of faith, God is obliged to answer our prayers for whatever we want.  The only problem with these teachings is they aren’t true.  Here’s a verse that tells us that God doesn’t always answer prayer:  ‘You ask [God] and do not receive because you ask amiss that you may spend it on your pleasures’ (James 4:3).  If we ask God for things that He does not approve of, then He won’t answer- unless of course we count ‘no’ as being an answer.  ‘Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us’ (1John 5:14).  We need to ask ourselves if we believe that God would be pleased to answer the prayers that we wish to make.  The way to have your prayers answered is to pray according to God’s revealed will.  We also need to be in earnest.  God will not answer casual prayers.  In the Shakespeare play, Hamlet declares, “Prayers without thoughts never to heaven go!”

  One might imagine that God will always be pleased to answer prayer for revival, but that isn’t necessarily so.  God told Jeremiah,  “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you” (Jer 7:16).  The persistent, egregious sins of the Israelites had exhausted to longsuffering of God and judgement was inevitable.  Is it possible that it is already too late for this country?  Has God’s longsuffering been exhausted?  I don’t know;   what I do know is that unless we get to prayer seriously, we shall not see God’s blessing.  One of God’s complaints against Israel was that they were not praying:  ‘And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You’ (Isaiah 64:7).  Let us determine that we will take hold of God in prayer, and say to Him, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Gen 32:26).

I want to take as a template for prayer for revival the prayer of Nehemiah in Neh 1.  You can look at Ezra 9 or Daniel 9 to see the same sort of earnest, repentant praying.  Nehemiah was told (vs2-3) that Jerusalem was in a shocking state with its walls broken down and its gates burned, the Jews who had returned there from Babylon being in great distress.  It seems that the Lord laid it on his heart to try to do something to help his people, so he starts by fasting and it seems (v4) that he is praying that God would show him what to pray for.

Then, in his recorded prayer, starting at v5, he doesn’t just trot out his request.  So many prayers made in churches resemble nothing so much as a child’s letter to Santa Claus- ‘Dear Lord, may we have…..’.  No, Nehemiah shows first that he knows the God to whom he is praying- that He is Jehovah, the great and Almighty God, the covenant-keeping God who is filled with lovingkindness toward His people.  In v6, he pleads with God to hear the prayers that he is praying,  “Before You now, day and night.”  He shows his persistence; this is not the prayer that he is going to make for five minutes and then forget about. No, this is the prayer that he is going to pray over and over again until God answers him.

In verses 6b-7, he confesses the nations sins, including his own among them.  Here in Britain, we need to understand that we have not come suddenly into the mess we’re in.  Britain’s falling-away from God started more than a hundred years ago.  The trend to doubt God’s word and disregard His commands started way back in the 19th Century, and has gathered pace in recent times.  God’s word has not been preached faithfully in the large majority of pulpits for many years, and instead of getting better, it’s getting worse.  We are no better than our fathers.  ‘In these ways we continue; and we need to be saved’ (Isaiah 64:5).  Nor should we conceal the seriousness of our sin, either from ourselves or from God.  David prayed, ‘For Your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my iniquity, for it is great’ (Psalm 25:11).  This is quite surprising; we might expect him to say, “Pardon my iniquity because it’s only small,” or, as the NIV wrongly translates, “Forgive my iniquity, though it is great.”  No, no;  it is because his sins are great that David prays.  He can find no way to atone for them himself, and so is shut up to the mercy of God.  He comes before God as a beggar, wholly dependent on His forbearance. This is the right way to approach God.   If you or I were approached by a beggar wearing a pin-striped suit who said, “Will you buy me some food, please because I don’t want to break into a £50 note,” we would certainly give him short shrift;  but to a real beggar, one who is clearly perishing through lack of food, and who pleads with us for help, I trust we would not refuse our aid.  God is just the same;  ‘He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty’ (Luke 1:53).  

The Caananite woman of Matt 15:21ff is a good example of this principle.  She knows what she needs and that she has no power to achieve it herself.  She does nothing else but plead with our Lord.  Even when He tests her by appearing to reject her quite roughly, she does not argue with Him but continues to plead (v27):  “Yes Lord, I’m a dog, but give me a dog’s portion and I’ll be satisfied.”

In verses 8-9, Nehemiah reminds God of His promises.  Now God always keeps His promises, so if we want to have our prayers answered we can’t go wrong if we remind Him humbly of the precious promises contained in His word.  The Lord Jesus Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church.  Right now, the gates of hell seem to be doing quite a good job against the Church, in Britain at least, but we know that this will not always be the case.  Maybe God is waiting for our earnest prayers before He blesses us.  The puritan Matthew Henry wrote, ‘When God means to send revival, He sets His people a-praying.’   In his excellent book on revival (1), Brian Edwards recounts an episode from the Isle of Lewis Revival that began in 1949.

‘It was the week-night prayer meeting.  There had been bitter opposition to the gospel in the village, and although many attended the meetings from other areas, very few locals attended.  A church leader suggested they should go to prayer, and thirty or so moved into the house of a friendly farmer.  Prayer was hard, and about midnight Duncan Campbell turned to the local blacksmith, who had been silent so far, and said, “I think the time has come when you ought to pray.”  The man prayed for about half an hour, “because in revival, time doesn’t matter,” and then drew his prayer to a close with a bold challenge:  “God, do You not know that Your honour is at stake?  You promised to pour floods on dry ground, and You are not doing it.”  He paused for a while and then concluded:  “God, Your honour is at stake, and I challenge You to keep Your covenant engagements.”  At that moment, Duncan Campbell recalls, “That whole granite house shook like a leaf,” and whilst one elder thought of an earth tremor, Duncan was reminded of Acts 4:31………….[He] pronounced the benediction and they went outside.  It was two o’clock in the morning and they found “the whole village alive, ablaze with God.”  Men and women were carrying chairs and asking if there was room in the church for them!’

When Nehemiah finally gets to his petition in verse 11b, it is the shortest part of the prayer and in a sense it’s also the least important part because Matt 6:8 tells us that God knows what we need before we ask, and of course his prayer was answered in the most wonderful way.

Nehemiah’s was a solitary prayer, but the Bible makes it clear that God looks for His people to come together in corporate prayer at times of emergency.  In 2Chronicles 20, when Judah was threatened by a great invasion, King Jehoshaphat did two things (v3f).  He ‘set himself to seek the LORD’ and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.’  Jehoshaphat prayed before the gathered people, acknowledging the nation’s inability to resist the enemy in its own strength, and ‘all Judah, with their little ones, their wives and their children, stood before the LORD’ (v13).  In the event, God gave them an amazing victory.

The idea of the ‘Solemn Assembly’ was particularly popular among the Puritans in New England in the 17th Century.  Whenever there was an epidemic, crop failure, Indian trouble or any other emergency, the elders would call the people together for prayer, fasting and repentance.  The principle is found in many parts of the Bible, but its clearest expression is found in Joel 2:15-17, following a plague of locusts:-

‘Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly;  gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes;  let the bridegroom go out of his chamber, and the bride from her dressing-room.  Let the priests, who minister to the LORD weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them.  Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’”’

Does God answer such prayers today?  Well, in the political sphere, the most obvious example came in 1940, during World War Two.  After the collapse of France, the British Army was trapped at Dunkirk and it seemed certain that it must either surrender or be destroyed.  King George VI called a Day of Prayer and so great was the fear among the people that the country came to a virtual halt as they crowded into the churches.  The result was a remarkable deliverance as the army was embarked and brought back to England right under the noses of the enemy.  I understand that the King called two more Days of Prayer:  one before the Battle of El Alamein, and one preceding the D-Day invasion.  In both cases, a major victory was achieved.

In the spiritual sphere, I would go so far as to say that there has been no revival which has not been preceded by urgent importunate prayer.  No matter how sudden the turning back to God has been, one can always find a group of people who have been meeting regularly, often for several years, to pray to God for revival.   Let me say at once that the prayer must be earnest and sincere.  A few years ago, at the time of the Foot and Mouth outbreak in Britain, a local church decided to hold a special midweek service of prayer for the nation.  I was asked to speak and prepared a suitably serious and sombre address.  However, it was decided by the church to have a ‘Time of Worship’ at the start of the meeting, which consisted of a band playing cheerful ditties and choruses that were quite inappropriate for such an occasion.  When I finally got up to speak I was asked by an elder that since the singing had gone on so long, would I please limit my address to an absolute maximum of twenty minutes.   The epidemic eventually eased, but no discernable spiritual benefit was obtained.

However, when God gives the people a true spirit of prayer and repentance, the results can be remarkable.   William Griffiths wrote of the prayer meetings before the 1859 Revival in Wales:  ‘When the stated Sabbath arrived, we were blessed with remarkable earnestness at the throne of grace for the descent of the Holy Spirit to revive the church and convert the world.  Ever since that memorable Sabbath, the prayer meetings presented a new aspect- they gradually increased in warmth and number during the following months.  This continued to February……when it pleased Jehovah to pour down His Spirit from on high, as on the day of Pentecost’ (2).   It is estimated that about  100,000 people were added to the churches of Wales during the 1859 Revival.

In the light of these examples and encouragements, both from the Bible and from Church history, is it not well past time for the true evangelical churches in Britain to come together for regular earnest, repentant prayer until the Lord revives the land again?

‘I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem:  they shall never hold their peace day or night.  You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.’

As citizens of the new Jerusalem and the children of promise (Gal 26-28), let us be about it.

Notes

(1) Revival- A People Saturated with God by Brian Edwards (Evangelical Press).

 (2) Ibid.

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