Dialogs and Commentary

Prayer, Revival, and Sovereignty

Extracted from an email about false starts, dashed hopes, and dreams of ministry that flourish in the Spirit and then flounder in the flesh.

The question, not often asked these days, is whether that which is motivating us is real faith or presumption? Is it God, or is it just good human intention that is fueling our dreams and prayers and efforts? Contrary to popular opinion, we cannot just self-appropriate any scripture we like to ourselves and "claim victory". This is a recipe for disaster.

Deut 1:41-45 (NIV) Then you replied, "We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us." So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country. But the Lord said to me, "Tell them, 'Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.'" So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord's command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. You came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you.

So the real issue to grapple with is whether God has quickened something to us, or have we (mis)appropriated God's command to ourselves without His endorsement? It is an issue that so few bother to consider that there are not many godly examples to imitate in this present age. All seem to assume that God is behind anything that "sounds good", or has some Scriptural pretext. So we get a lot of bee stings... and find few among us willing to consider the source of our error: human arrogance masquerading as ministry.

The worst symptom, perhaps, is that we seem scandalized to even consider the alternatives to real faith. What, us? Presumptuous and pompous? Perish the thought! To listen to the modern church, we are well beyond this plebeian sin. Yet I think these temptations are highly underrated and unacknowledged in our midst. And they are far from shocking.

When people are arrogant, glory grabbing, manipulative, cocky, sure of themselves, glorying in men and what men think splendid, puffed up with pride, etc... I find this NO SURPRISE at all. It is only human, even when the words and "wrapper" are Christian. But to find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control and the like in a group--now THAT is a miracle of grace. Only God's Spirit can do this, and against such there is no law. These are the "fruit of the Spirit" by which we are to discern--not by the stridency of holding to a dream or vision. If God is in it, His fruit will be in it.

Why did God pour out His Spirit on schmucks like us back in 1990? Were we so pious, so dedicated, so smart, so loyal--did we pray it in? Ha! We failed miserably in most of these respects. And yet God was with us so powerfully that miracles were commonplace throughout the day. Nowadays, a real miracle would send everyone into backflips! The most important miracle was the fruit of the Spirit among us, bearing more fruit of like kind. "For a little while your people possessed your holy place" ... indeed.

Isa 63:15,17-17,64:1 (NIV) "Look down from heaven and see from your lofty throne, holy and glorious. Where are your zeal and your might? Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us... Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you? Return for the sake of your servants... For a little while your people possessed your holy place, but now our enemies have trampled down your sanctuary... Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!"

In Austin, for nearly two years, we were much more earnest with godly hopes for ministry, healing, and revival--and certainly more needy. We prayed and waited and prayed and waited and waited and waited and on and on and on... and nothing! It was as if God did not care for Austin, and no amount of cajoling would get Him to visit. So it was just us, in the flesh--which is not a pretty sight.

We must come to grips with the fact that God is sovereign.

Rom 11:22 (KJV) Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God...

Now we get to the crux of the issue. Why does God pour Himself out to one people and not another? Is prayer the deciding factor? Or rather: "I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy."

And remember Jesus' first public sermon:

Luke 4:25-27 (NIV) "I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian."

Which got Him the response of all true prophets and true prophecy, they tried to kill Him.

In all of these kinds of experiences--the ones where God showed up and the ones where He did not--I can find no common denominator except God's sovereign choice and the display of His glory. When I hear that we are going to "pray in revival" or any other such formula I shudder. If anything, in our experience there seems to be an inverse relationship between prayer and the likelihood of revival. It is the honest truth! We are not Elijah, but mere babes in the way of righteousness. Should babes be ordering God around? When God has really moved, has it not most often caught us by surprise!

Perhaps it is just us, and others are always right...

Why is this? I think I have a hint, but more on that later. (We have a posted study on Prayer that deals with this very subject in some depth.)

When God decides to move on a people, He often has those whom are His body pray in accordance with His will in prescience. This does not force God to move, but pleases Him nonetheless when He does. For we can pray and fast and weep and mourn all we like (witness Austin, Jer 11:14,14:11) and if God has given over a city, then we are wasting our time. Better wipe the dust (fleshly praying) off of our feet and clear out.

What is odd about the "Hill Country Syndrome" (Deut 1:41, see opening verse) is that we THOUGHT and were SO CONFIDENT that we were praying in accordance with God's will. We were so ZEALOUS, and there were SO MANY of us. We were so SURE OF OURSELVES that we took even God's still small voice as a "temptation by the enemy" to "doubt". But the sure clue to the unreality of all of this was the bitterness, disputes, jealousy, politics, etc. Undeniable Ishmael and Ichabod city!

And then in another situation you feel the wind lilting just a certain way and BAM--God is all over the place and it is love, joy, peace...

I can only conclude that it is not us that makes the difference, but God.

The Lord can do whatever He pleases. He does not need our permission to move. Did He not say the rocks would cry out if His people did not speak? He is not in any way dependent on us. He does not need our advice. He did not ask our opinions when He formed the universe... nor does He now. He is not shy in pointing this out to those with ears to hear it, nor to rebuke those who are haughty and self-confident.

But still... He delights to have His will proclaimed and pined for beforehand by His remnant as a display of His glory.

As long as those praying do not think they have achieved something by acts of piety, but rather have the view that God is moving despite them.

Instead of God responding as we cut ourselves and dance and pray with all the zeal we can muster around the sacrifice (like the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:17-39), we simply ask because we KNOW HIM--and we find the gesticulations unnecessary. And if our faith fails us, then He is faithful--for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:12-13). Just let us not deny Him by throwing in with idols.

Often God will kill a dream--even one sent from Him--and then resurrect it later after hearts and minds and deeds are changed. This can be a great blessing. If He does not rebuke us early in our attempts to "help Him" get His promise accomplished, then we will have the on-going rebuke of having old Ishmael with us as a continuing curse (Gal 4:29). Better to consider our ways now, and repent and let God do it... if He is really the source of the dream. The temptation, of course, is if God does not move, then we have this tendency to figure He needs some "help" from us (Gen 16:2).

I believe these mistakes and errors on our part are as useful in our spiritual growth as success. Let us not try to hide our sins, lest they be repeated. Let us, like Paul, boast in our weaknesses and mistakes--and let God take care of our glory through His life bursting forth in us through the true humility God has worked into us. For like everything else, we could not do it ourselves. Only God could humiliate us so that we might be obedient to His command. He can DO what He commands and requires of us. Let us glory in the recounting of it.

Ps 66:10-12,16 (NIV) For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance... Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.

How long O Lord? Have you considered our sorrow? For your name's sake--please move. Our enemies have had their play of us. Have you not seen this? We pray and they mock us. We hope for you, and we get razed by the enemy instead. Descend upon us, and scatter those who mock us now. With your feet crush the head of our enemy and drag us as captives in your victory march. Let us be your bounty, O God!

If you do not move, we have no hope at all! Soften our hearts. Change our minds. Have us pray in accordance with your will once again. Fall upon us, we cry. Without you we can do NOTHING!

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