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Edited from a message delivered at the "Heart-Cry for Revival" Conference near Asheville, North Carolina, April 9-12, 2002.
It is crucial that we have the kind of relationship to God that when He speaks we know it is God, and we know what He is saying, and we make the major adjustments in our life to Him. In Brian Edwards book, Revival, A People Saturated With God, I came across a description from a missionary in North Korea, of that enormous moment in 1907 when the Spirit of God fell there. As I was reading it there was a deep movement of God in my own heart. I could not get away from the scenes described in that book of what it is like to suddenly encounter a holy God.
Last November my wife and I were in Taiwan and in Korea. There was again a huge movement of God in my heart. As I approached Korea I knew more than 500 pastors and some of their staff would be gathering from all different denominations and from all over South Korea. On a Tuesday night suddenly what I had read in that book began to happen. Suddenly there was a profound encounter with God. I was not finished with the message, and I had not given an invitation, but suddenly the entire place broke out into wailing. Every person in that room was wailing before the Lord. The encounter was so deep in the lives of some that all they could do was shout. Others fell out on the ground and began to pound the floor. Others pounded the table and they wept. I looked at my interpreter and he was on his face beside me.
I had never been in a moment quite like that. I turned and went back to the chair behind me and began to kneel and pray. There was a touch on my shoulder and a man in broken English said, "Im a pastor," and his eyes were swollen with tears. He said, "Would you pray for me? Is there any hope for me?"
I didnt give him any comfort. I simply asked God to help me to know how to pray. I could tell you the moment that God set him free. Suddenly he hugged me and he cried and he said, "Im free! Im free!" He said, "Thank you," and he turned and walked away. I went back to pray again and there was another touch on my shoulder and it was another pastor. I looked and there was a whole line of pastors. It terrified me.
I grabbed the interpreter and went to the microphone. I said, "Folks, let me say a word to you. When you are in the presence of Almighty God dont ever leave that presence until God is through with you. Do not seek a blessing from a man when you are face to face with Holy God. Lest I interrupt what God intends to do in this place, my wife and I are going to our room and were going to pray for you through the night. Do not leave the presence of God until He has completed His work in your heart."
The next morning folk began to give testimony. A stately pastor stood and said, "You know that I am a pastor of one of the largest Presbyterian churches in South Korea. I came with a very successful ministry. I came with great acclamation from people. Last night God confronted me. He said, You are full of sin. You have lost the shepherds heart. You are no longer ministering to My people, or caring for them. The word I have for My people I cant get to them because of you. If you do not repent, your ministry is over."
This brother cried his heart out. He said the Lord would not let him loose all through the night and into the early hours of the morning and into the late hours of the morning. He said, "Finally God gave me peace. I want you to pray for me because I am going back to my people, and the work that God did in me to cleanse me, is what I want to see happen in the people that God has entrusted to me. God has once again let me be a shepherd to His people."
Others stood to testify, and it was an awesome moment. There were a number there who came and said, "South Korea has not seen a touch of God like this in thirty years."
But I had talked to them earlier and asked them a question. I had said, "Do you believe that God is willing that any North Koreans perish?" They all of one accord had said, "No, He wants them to be saved." Then I asked, "Are you willing for God to prepare you for what He might be about to do to open the doors to North Korea?"
I had said that with fear and trembling because I had just come from Taiwan and something very similar, but not of that magnitude, had occurred. I had not given an invitation, I had not finished the message and pastors began to come with brokenness to the altar and the front row. When I thought it was appropriate I went down to talk to one who looked to be in his early 30s, and through swollen eyes he looked at me. I asked, "Sir, did God speak to you?" He said, "Yes, sir." I said, "What did God tell you?" He answered, "God commanded me to go and preach the gospel to China." I looked at him and said, "You know, sir, that may cost you your life."
He looked back at me, and Ill never forget the look in his eyes. He looked straight through me and said, "Sir, thats the issue I just settled with God a few minutes ago." And then I trembled because I realized that for me to be obedient to God may cost others their life.
It is critically important that spiritual leaders know the tremors of the activity of God. This past week I listened as North and South Korea communicated. Its not a political decision. Its a spiritual decision. I watched to see how God was touching the pastors because when Gods about to do something in one place, He starts it in another place. Then He works so that everything is in place when He does a mighty work. I believe we are standing in the middle of a spiritual crossroads. I believe the evangelical people of God in America are not aware of it, nor are even close to understanding what God is doing.
A Call to Corporate Revival
My theme with you for these moments is "A Call to Corporate Revival." I want to use an instance from 1 Samuel 7 when this happened. Im a long way from the incarnation of this message in my own life. The Lord Jesus was the incarnation of everything He preached, what He taught and how He spoke. He was the message. He intends that there should never be a message that comes from our hearts or our mouths that is not incarnated in our life. If you say one thing and live another, God calls that hypocrisy, and He hates hypocrisy. As evangelicals too often we believe that anything goes as long as its scriptural. We forget that the proclaimer needs to be the incarnation of the message he preaches. It is critically important in corporate revival and corporate repentance, to have the right kind of person to lead in it. There needs to be a leader who knows what to do next when Gods people recognize they are under conviction of sin and cry out, "We have sinned against God!" Samuel was that kind of leader, and there is a reason why he was.
Im going to start in 1 Samuel 6:19: "Then God struck the men of Beth-shemesh because they looked into the ark of the Lord, even He struck fifty thousand and seventy men of the people and the people lamented because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter."
Let me introduce you to an important truth: we will never see a mighty revival until we understand the ways of God. We need to understand that when someone sins against God, it is serious with God. He may take the life of 50,070 people simply because they looked into the ark. The evangelical community does not believe that we serve the God that we see revealed in the Scriptures. We feel we can live any way we want and God will forgive us regardless of what weve done. Its not the God I see in the Bible.
Were going to see when God confronted Eli with the way he was treating his sons, that Eli was honoring his sons more than he was God. Then suddenly in his old age Eli realized that his sons were wicked, and he came to them and tried to instruct them. He said, "A man may sin against another man and God can judge him. But if a man sin against God there is no one who can intercede for him." The Scripture says that his sons paid no attention to that instruction, because God had determined to kill his sons (1 Sam. 2:25). In other words, they couldnt have repented if they had wanted to. They had passed the line and they could not repent. That is like Esau who sought repentance with tears but he couldnt find it (Heb. 12:17). We need to understand the ways of God.
I hear people say "Well, thats Old Testament." I say, "No, thats not Old Testament; thats Holy God." What happened in Korea was they met the holiness of God, and they couldnt stand. They were on their faces, they were on the tables, they were crying, they were shouting. They couldnt get away from Him. I think it was Edwin Orr who gave a message entitled, "Revival Is Like Judgment Day." Thats true. When you cry out to God for revival you need to be ready for the absolute judgment of God on your sin.
Today most dont believe that God will judge our sin. We hear, "It doesnt matter what youve done, God will forgive you anyway." You are adulterating the Word of God and causing the people of God to sin and feel that they can do anything they want and with just a word to God Hell forgive them, without any repentance whatsoever and without even a slightest understanding of what God means by repenting. We set our own standard for repentance, do it, and say, "God forgave me because I asked Him to." Where did you find that in Scripture?
These people had sinned against God. It doesnt matter whether you think it is sin or not, if God thinks its sin youre going to experience the consequences. What was wrong with looking into the ark? Fifty thousand and seventy people of God died. Do you think God thought it was sin to look into the ark?
This was a serious moment with the people of God. It says, "And the men of Beth-shemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? and to whom shall he go up from us? So they sent the messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim saying, The Philistines have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down and take it up with you. Then the men of Kirjath-jearim came and took the ark of the Lord and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord" (1 Sam. 6:21).
Listen to this next verse: "So it was that the ark remained in Kirjath-jearim a long time. It was there twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord" (1 Sam. 7:1).
Here youre seeing another of the ways of God. God does not respond because we pray. God responds out of His sovereign ways. How long would it have taken God to return the ark to the people of God? He could have done it in a day. Why did God let the ark be out of the people of God for twenty long years and why did He let the people of God lament after God for twenty years with nothing happening? Ask Him. They had lost the sense of the presence of God. They had somehow felt that they owned God and if they prayed, God was obligated to respond.
Will God let us pray for twenty years for revival and not bring it? Yes! But when His people become the people to whom He can give revival, then He will do it. But we automatically assume the basic condition for Gods acting is our prayer. It is not. You cant receive the incredible empowering of God without prayer but thats not the only condition of it.
Prior to the capture of the ark, the children of Israel had no open vision. Eli didnt have any word from God; the people did not have any word from God. The sin of Eli and his sons had disoriented the people of God to a relationship to God. Even the elders didnt know what to do and they sinned not even knowing they were sinning. We read in 1 Samuel 4 that when the Philistines defeated the children of Israel, the elders said, "Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us today before the Philistines?" The elders of the people of God had the law of God, they had the testimonies and statutes of God. But they had moved from relationship to religion. When God spoke they didnt recognize His voice. When God acted they didnt realize it was God.
Why has God let the people of God be defeated, they asked. Why has He let these things come upon us? I think God would say, "It is your sin." They said, "Why dont we get the ark and take the ark into battle? That will make us secure." Evangelicals have their little arks they take into the battle as well, thinking God will hear the evangelicals. No! If sin runs rampant in the church you can count on it there will be silence from God and He will let the captivity of our most sacred things come into play. And judgment fell. But the elders were the ones who said, "Lets take the ark and that will keep us." God let the Philistines capture the ark and that put them even in greater distress. Then He left the ark in captivity twenty years to somehow cause somebody to say, "Theres something wrong."
I could let you in on a burden of my heart. From the time I was a little boy I have been praying for revival in Canada. My uncle was in the great Shantung Revival and worked with Jonathan Goforth in North China and in Manchuria. So my whole life has been oriented into revival, and I have been praying for a long time. But as Ive been going through these passages, the Spirit of God has said, "Henry, why dont you ask Me why you have prayed so long and you have not seen a mighty work of God? Why dont you ask Me?" And I tremble when I ask Him.
Samuels Call to the Nation
Then comes Samuel with a simple, clear answer. It was not in answer to the cry of the Israelites, but in answer to the cry of Samuel. In our Scripture passage it says that after the house of Israel had been lamenting after the Lord for twenty years, then "Samuel spoke unto all the house of Israel..." (1 Sam. 7:3). Here is the corporate nature of this. All the individual renewal and awakening is never a substitute for corporate revival and corporate repentance. We are a covenant people; we are a corporate people; we are people who belong to God and to one another. We see this all the way through the Bible, including Pentecost. Pentecost did not come just on individuals. It came on the church. The local congregation gathered together with one heart and one soul. Thats the way God does it.
"He [Samuel] spoke to all the house of Israel saying, If you return to the Lord with all your heart then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroths from among you and prepare your heart for the Lord and serve Him only and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines. So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroths and they served the Lord only. And Samuel said [heres the corporate], Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray to the Lord for you. So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, poured it out before the Lord and they fasted that day and said there, We have sinned against the Lord. And Samuel judged them, the children of Israel, at Mizpah. Now when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel had gathered together at Mizpah the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel and when the children heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines."
It is a good thing, when you see the Philistines gathering that you corporately say, "We have sinned." Not Washington has sinned, Hollywood has sinned, not the lesbians have sinned. Gods people must cry out together, "We have sinned against God!" Let the holy presence of God tell you what it is that you have done that is so offensive to God. Stay there until God tells you. Dont simply say, "God wants us to confess that we have sinned. We dont know what weve done, but its the evangelical thing to do, to come and pray, Lord, weve sinned against You."
God says, "Now start to name your sins." "Lord, I dont know any sin that Ive committed." "Well," He says, "then stay here until I tell you what youve done. And when Im through with you, you will know that you have sinned and then youll make the connection between the condition of your land and the sin of the people of God." As goes the people of God in their relationship to God, so goes the nation.
Could I just interject briefly? September 11, Im convinced, was Gods speaking to the people of God and saying to the people of God, "You have sinned, and I am beginning to withdraw my hedge of protection upon your land." My conviction is that the only people in America who have not understood that message are Gods people. We do not believe the problem has to do with us, and yet sin runs rampant in the life of the people of God. Churches are full of it. Divorce, broken relationships that are an abomination to God, deceit, pastoral leadership having affairsour churches are full of sin. And then we see something happening in America and we say like the Israelites, "Why did God let this happen to us?" God says, "Youre asking the right question, but youre not staying in My presence until I tell you the answer. It is you who have sinned."
So, Samuel stood up after twenty years of the people of God lamenting after God and said, "If you will return to Godnot to activity, but to a relationshipand if you will respond to Him with all of your heart and serve Him, then Hell take care of the Philistines." Now immediately the Philistines heard and came against them.
"So the children of Israel said to Samuel, Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us that He might save us from the hand of the Philistines." Samuel immediately began to offer sin offerings to the Lord for himself. He took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord.
Notice the sequence. Many of us want to cry out to the Lord for revival, but we dont want to do the prerequisite. We dont want to offer sin offerings to God on our behalf before we ever utter a word to God in prayer. We have to have a clean heart and a clean life. You and I know very carefully the passage of Scripture, "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous person..." (James 5:16). Thats what Samuel was.
Was there anything at stake? Yes, the survival of the people of God was at stake! And now it came down to one person. Thank God that the people of God had watched Samuel and knew his relationship to God was secure. Let me ask you, do you have a good enough record before the people of God that if a serious crisis came, youd be the first person theyd call on because they know your relationship to God is secure? They would come to you not to have a meeting, but to cry out to God so that we can survive.
Samuel, out of an intimacy with God, then made a burnt offering to the Lord: "Then Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel..." and "the Lord answered him." The whole survival of the people of God rested on that prayer.
As Samuel was offering up the burnt offerings, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. The Bible says, "The Philistines drew near to battle against Israel, but the Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel." The Lord has a thousand ways to take care of the enemy. He knows exactly whats going to discomfit the enemy. But He has to have someone who prayed significantly so that when the enemy comes He does discomfit them. "The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, drove them back as below Beth-car."
Some of them may have been saying, "Look what we did!" There will never come a time when theres ever a victory that we can say, "Look what we did!" It will be preceded by a twenty-year cry unto God. We dont know why God seems not to be hearing. Then God brings someone. We know from the record it is a man of God. God immediately hears him and God immediately knows how to deal with the enemy.
Were always trying to figure out what to do with the enemy. God knows how to take care of the enemy. It wouldnt take God a week to discomfit all the enemies of the people of God in America. But He has to have His people in a relationship to Him so that when He does it, all the glory will go to Him. We have to have some leaders who know what to do next when the people of God cry out, "We have sinned!" We have to have somebody who knows how to lead the people of God in corporate repentance, and to do it in a way that is credible to God and to men.
After the children of Israel pursued the enemy, then "Samuel took a stone, set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer saying, Thus far the Lord has helped us. So the Philistines were subdued. They did not come back any more into the territory of Israel." Notice the last phrase: "The hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel."
Have you ever asked the question, "Why is the hand of God not against the enemies in America?" We do need to pray. Ive heard many a person say, "We need to ask God to send a prophet." The prophet is always Gods last line of defense before judgment. He uses many means to bring the people of God back to a relationship to Himself. His last line of defense is to send a prophet. If they wont listen to the prophet, its over for the people of God. If youre going to ask God for a prophet, youd better be ready to repent. He will be fearless. He will come from the presence of God and he will bring a word from God and he will speak to the people of God. In that moment they will know what it is like to be in the presence of a holy God. They will see their sin and you need to be ready to guide the people of God out of their sin.
Ive heard scores of pastors, when they come face to face with the holiness of God and the standards of God, saying, "I couldnt preach that in my church. Theyd run me out." I said, "What did God put you there for?" We are far more concerned about the opinions of men than we are of the Word of God.
Gods people dont stand a chance unless there are some pastors who believe God and are not afraid of anything other than God. And they know Him well enough to know that God means what He says. He could say to the churches of America like He did to the church at Ephesus, "Youre doing wonderful religious activities but I have something against you. You have left your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen and repent and return, or else it is over with you. Ill remove your candlestick." Hell do that to a denomination, to a ministry, to a church, to a family, to a pastor, to anybody!
Thats why the dear prophet Samuel cried out, "Oh God, oh God, would You forgive their sin?" And he cried out to the people, "You need to return to God!" And he said, "Bring them all together; let them all hear it together. We need all together to repent corporately before God." Its not enough for three deacons to repent; the whole deacon body needs to repent. Its not enough for one of the staff to get right with God; the whole staff needs to get right with God. Its not enough for only one Sunday School teacher to get right with God; the whole church needs to stand before God and cry out to God under the guidance of the Word of God and the faithful sharing of the servant of God, and cry out under the conviction of the Spirit of God, "We have sinned! Would you pray for us, that God would forgive us, return to us, and defeat the enemies that have come against us?"
This has been the pattern through my entire ministry. When I did not see the manifest presence of God at work in our church, I went before God and then came out of the presence of God before the people of God and said, "We have sinned. That is why God is not manifesting Himself to us." When we repented of our sin, God began to do mighty works. Id read Matthew 16:13-18, that says in effect, "When I put it in the hearts of My people to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the only provision of redemption for a whole world, and I put it in their heart to understand He is the Son of the living God, then Christ is going to build His church on that. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
As a pastor, every three months Id go alone with God and ask the question, "Where are the gates of hell coming down around our church?" because if He built our church, we can see the evidence of the gates of hell coming down. If the gates of hell are not coming down, either He didnt build that church or were a long ways away from Him and the first order of business is to return to Him with all of our heart and to do it corporately. And wed do it.
At a time of revival in Saskatoon, Canada, God did a work in my heart. We had about thirty people in our Sunday school and then came that wonderful time of revival. I stayed 10 years after that. Out of that time we started thirty-eight new congregations. We saw over 100 people called into the ministry. We started a theological college. We started work on about 17 different Indian reservations. My own children felt the call of God to ministry. All four of my boys felt called to pastor and today they are pastors. My daughter is in Germany as a career missionary.
What happens when God comes face to face with a pastor, and the pastor happens to be me? I felt like Samuel. "Oh God, if you dont hear my prayer, Your people cannot survive. They cannot survive in their sin and be blessed. God, who is sufficient for such a thing as this?" Pauls answer was, "God is our sufficiency." He makes me a sufficient minister of the new covenant. I knew that. And I said, "Oh, God, what do I need to share from Your Word so that Your people will return to You and love You in holiness and serve You alone with all their heart?"
Week after week God would do a work in me, for I had no right to share with the people of God what was not incarnate in my own life. It was a devastating time. God still has me before the people of God to say, "Return to God with all your heart." Dont say, "Im okay" when there is no evidence of the manifest presence of God in your life, no evidence of His power in your family or your marriage, no evidence of the presence of God in your church.
A verse that is running through my heart is from a time when things were bad in Israel, 1 Samuel 2:35: "I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in My heart and in My mind."
I ask myself, "Oh God do I even know what is in Your heart? Do I know what is in Your mind or am I quoting clichés that run across the Christian community? There is no authentic word but that it comes directly from the heart of God. Youll know when your message has come from the heart of God. You will be the first to know it. You will not be the same. You cannot bring a message from God and remain the same. The change will take place in you and then youll watch the change take place in the people of God. But do it corporately. The call of God on America today is for corporate revival.
It Is Life or Death!
Would you in your heart respond to God? Its not a light matter. I believe we stand at a spiritual watershed, at a spiritual crossroads. The people of God must recognize that what God has permitted is because of what He sees in the hearts of us, His people. We must stay before Him until He reveals to us what it is that He sees in our heart, and then cry out, "Oh, God, would You correct that? I repent of that. I turn from that. I turn to what I have neglected. But, oh God, it is life and death!"
Do you have a passion that we stand on the edge of life and death, or are you simply practicing religion? God deliver us from that. Im going to leave you in a moment of quiet and then Ill pray. You may have to process this on through the night, through tomorrow, through the next day, through the next few weeks. But let a holy unrest stay within your Soul, until God brings rest when youre right with Him!
"Father, as a solitary servant of Yours, with no merit of my own, I cry unto You for Your dear people. Would You put new hearts within us and take out any stony heart, and would You cause us to walk in Your ways once more? In the process, would You deliver us, Oh God, from the enemy that seems to just surround us and besiege us? Lord, may everybody know that when it is done well raise a banner and call it EbenezerThe Lord, one more time, has done it again! Oh Lord, may there be raised up all over America Ebenezers because of the victories that You have wrought. Raise up for us faithful priests, faithful servants who will do all thats in Your heart and in Your mind. And may the glory come to you alone. Take Your glory, Oh Lord! And we ask it in Jesus name. Amen."