Note: This is a powerful sermon written by my pastor on "doing church." I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to your heart as you read it. It goes along with some of the other recent threads, so I heard that I was to post this.
Eli was just doing church! He was going through the motions and saying all the right words, but the well of his soul was bone dry. He had lost his passionate love for the Almighty God. He no longer hungered for the "Word of the Lord." He no longer lay on his face with tears of repentance as he sought a vision of the holiness and glory of God.
With no conscious awareness of his sad condition, Eli shuffled about in the presence of God. He was bankrupt! The rituals of the temple service were just barely maintained. Disputes were still arbitrated and the teaching of the law continued, but his teaching no longer produced life.
Spiritual life comes only from the flowing presence of a Holy God, and God had withdrawn His presence. Eli's words of instruction were theologically correct and sounded beautiful, but they fell to the dust; all who heard them were left hungry and empty.
Today, we too are "just doing church." As the United States staggers toward hell, our words are without power to transform lost sinners into the redeemed sons and daughters of the Most High. Our words have grown cold and formal. We have become more interested in philosophical arguments and psychological permissiveness than in following Jesus. Our first concern is to be loved and accepted by the world. We have lost our passionate love for the Lord, who is truth. We have lost Isaiah's vision of a Holy God. He wrote, [b]"I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory' "(Isaiah 6:1-3).[/b]
Many in the Church today live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their god is their stomach, and their hearts are on earthly things. We joke and laugh with one another about our work, our money, our real-estate deals, our computers, our toys and vacations, our TV shows, and especially our beloved national sports. Casually, we pass the time talking about the mundane and foolish things of this world. Yet, the rituals of the Church continue. We market the Body of Christ, and we open our Bibles and pour out great quantities of interesting information about religion, but our words are empty and powerless. [u]We must have a new vision of the holiness and glory of God![/u] Our words must be ignited by the Holy Spirit!
This morning, a Pastor, a dear brother whom I love with all my heart asked me, "Ray, what do you mean when you say we must repent? What am I to repent for? I have been washed in the blood of Jesus." I started to cry as I opened the Scriptures and began to read, [b]" 'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty' " (Isaiah 6:5).[/b] I confess that I do not know how to go out or come in. I am brokenhearted by the ugly Church games-the arrogant theological pride, the non-stop marketing and fundraising, the entertainment, the politics, the great flow of useless information and the "business as usual" attitude. I am ashamed and heartsick of my own shallowness and my lack of passion for Jesus. I have sinned without remorse even while I have preached against sin! I said to my friend, "We must repent for our self-righteousness, our selfish hearts and for our antiseptic theology of salvation-theology we have intellectualized and hung out to dry until there is not one drop of Holy Spirit dew remaining. We must humbly lay our lives down once more at the feet of Jesus and follow Him. We must learn anew what our Lord provided at the cross and determine to walk in the obedience that comes by faith."
Are you hungry for Jesus? Do you want Him so much that your soul can find no rest until you are filled with His presence and you can see His glory and holiness? Walk with me through the story of Eli.
[b]No Spiritual Discernment[/b]
[b]"Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the Lord's temple" (1 Samuel 1:9).[/b] He observed Hannah praying and thought she was drunk from too much wine or beer. Eli could not imagine that one of God's children would come before the altar of the Lord with such intense desire. Eli was revealing the sad compromise of his own life. He was barren of spiritual discernment because he no longer prayed with an earnest heart like Hannah. He had become self centered, lazy and careless. He had sold the Lord's favor for His own physical comfort.
Hannah was married to Elkanah, who had two wives. The second wife, Peninnah, had children, but Hannah was barren. Peninnah was a constant tormentor, provoking Hannah with unkind words, but Elkanah loved Hannah and gave her double portions of the meat sacrificed at the Lord's temple. Peninnah's tormenting words beat on Hannah's heart year after year as they went up together to Shiloh.
One year, as they were preparing to return home, Hannah slipped away from her family to seek the Lord one last time. Her soul was filled with bitter heartache. She had come to the end of herself. Her home situation seemed utterly hopeless! The hateful spite of Peninnah had wrung her dry of tears. She threw herself on the Lord's mercy as she poured out her anguish and grief. She prayed, [b]"O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon Your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget Your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head" (1 Samuel 1:11).[/b]
As Hannah prayed, Eli rebuked her, but he did not rebuke with authority; he whined about obedience to God, and yet, he was blind to his own sin. Notice the great difference between Eli and Ezra. Remember when God's people returned from Babylon to the promised land? Despite opposition, the temple of the Lord was rebuilt and the worship resumed, but the people directly violated God's command by taking wives from among the corrupted pagans. Ezra was appalled! He tore his tunic. He pulled hair from his head and beard. He fell to the ground to confess the sin of God's people. Everyone who trembled at the Word of God gathered around him. They sat in silence for hours before Ezra could finally gain enough courage to address the Holy God of Heaven.
He prayed, [b]"O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to You, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we...have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation...But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in His sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes, and a little relief in our bondage...He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God...But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commands You gave through Your servants the prophets...What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, You have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this...O Lord, God of Israel, You are righteous! Here we are before You in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in Your presence" (Ezra 9:6-15).[/b]
Ezra saw and understood the consequence of sinning against God. He had spiritual eyes and a fearless heart that discerned the true condition of God's people. He knew what to do! Pray. Confess. Repent. Intercede. [i]Yet, sleepy, blind Eli demonstrated no profound sorrow for sin.[/i] He saw no need to rend his heart with fasting and weeping. He saw no need to [b]"Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children...Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the temple porch and the alter. Let them say, 'Spare your people, O Lord' " (Joel 2:15-17).[/b] [u]Eli refused to see the sin of his own life or the sin of his people.[/u]
[b]A Life of Compromise[/b]
The Lord remembered Hannah. She conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel that means "Heard of God." After he was weaned, she took him to Shiloh and presented him before the Lord. God was gracious to Hannah; she was blessed with three more sons and two daughters, but Samuel grew up in fear of the Lord under Eli, the priest.
Eli, on the other hand, had two wicked sons who had no respect for the Lord. They were unwilling to accept the sacrifices of boiled meat for their food as directed by God's Word-they preferred roasted beef! The sons of Eli threatened to take by force the choice cuts of the raw beef! Eli loved to eat filet mignon, roasted to perfection. He knew that he and his sons were treating the Lord's offering with contempt, but he continued to enjoy his rich food and the fellowship of his beloved sons.
There were other reports of evil. Eli heard that his sons were using as prostitutes the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, a sin punishable by death. One day he said to them, [b]"Why do you do such things?...No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the Lord's people...if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?" (1 Samuel 2:23-25).[/b]
Eli could rebuke a godly woman for praying with such earnestness that she seemed drunk to him, but he could no longer hear the heartbeat of the Almighty God. He was content to give gentle permissive advice to his dear boys while the wrath of God was on the whole nation because of their sin and his spiritual compromise. God determined to put both boys to death. Eli had finally exhausted the patience of a Merciful and Compassionate God. The Lord sent a prophet with a stern message of impending judgment saying to Eli, [b]"Why do you scorn My sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for My dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than Me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by My people Israel?" (1 Samuel 2:29).[/b] The Lord continued by pronouncing a terrible judgment. The sign that God's judgment had fallen on Eli's house was that both sons, Hophni and Phinehas, would die on the same day.
"Eli, do something, don't just sit there! Confess your sin. Repent. Intercede. Plead for God's mercy before you and your family are swept away. Eli, wake up! Tear your cloak. Pull your hair. Fall to the ground. Fast. Tremble at the Word of God. Stop eating your roast beef!" But there was no heart-rendering confession, no gut-wrenching cry of repentance. Life continued as "normal" for Eli and his boys with no apparent recognition of their perilous standing before a Holy and Righteous God.
The Lord tried one more time to break Eli's hard-hearted compromise with sin. Admist the flickering light of the temple, the boy, Samuel, hears for the first time the voice of God. He runs to Eli, but Eli sends him back to bed. This happens three times until finally Eli realizes that it was the Lord calling Samuel. He instructs Samuel to answer, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening." The Lord came again to Samuel and stood beside his bed; He told him all that was going to happen to Eli and his family. Samuel was afraid, yet he told Eli everything.
[b]The Price for "Just Doing Church!"[/b]
Eli had turned away from the Lord and compromised with evil in order to gain personal comfort. His unconfessed sin and his determined refusal to discipline his sons shut him from God's presence. [u]The Lord was no longer willing to speak with Eli.[/u] The Scriptures tell us that [b]"In those days the Word of the Lord was rare" (1 Samuel 3:1).[/b]
Eli's reply to the message of judgment from God is the classic response of the lazy Christian today. Eli said to Samuel, [b]"He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes" (1 Samuel 3:18).[/b] [i]What a pious sounding answer![/i] How do you challenge or argue with someone who says, "The Lord's will be done." But Eli was passive and refused to take personal responsibility! The Lord was not pleased with his answer. Eli chose not to repent or intercede. Israel paid a horrible price for Eli's sin.
The Philistine army came against Israel. Eli, true to form, did not bestir himself to seek God's blessing or direction. The army of Israel deploys without God's presence. Eli sits comfortably and securely at home while 4,000 are killed in battle! (1 Samuel 4:1,2).[/b] The army commanders quickly send for the Ark of the Lord from Shiloh thinking, "Surely, God will be with us now!" Does Eli put on sackcloth and humbly fall on his face before God and plead for his nation? No! Does he stand up boldly, condemn sin and refuse to allow the Ark to be carried into battle by his two wayward boys? No!
Hophni and Phinehas arrive with flushed faces, ready for a great victory! All of Israel raises a loud shout of joy. The Philistines are frightened because they hear a god has come into the camp of their enemy. But the Philistines defeat Israel. The slaughter was great; Israel lost 30,000 men. Hophni and Phinehas were both killed on the same day according to the prophecy. The Ark of God was captured and stolen by the enemy. Eli, overcome by the loss of the Ark, falls off his chair and breaks his neck. His daughter-in-law, hearing all the tragic news, goes into early labor and dies as her son is born. She named him "Ichabod" meaning, "The glory has departed."
Do you hear what the Holy Spirit is saying today about lukewarm Christians? All of the rituals of worship: the praise and music, the theologically correct sermons, the celebration of communion and prayers-they are all powerless when we face the Philistines without heartbroken repentance and intercession. Because Eli refused to repent before the Lord, God's righteous judgments were poured out; because he refused to intercede for the lost, a whole nation paid the price of death and destruction!
[b]The Prayer of Intercession[/b]
The prayer of intercession is always birthed from the heart of God. The Holy Spirit calls us beyond our own needs in order to pray the "will of God" for another. [i]If you respond as Eli did and say, "He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes," know that you are walking in sin and compromise[/i]. The Lord is not pleased with passive lukewarm people who cannot be bothered to pray. [b]"Woe to the obstinate children, declares the Lord. These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord's instruction. They say to the seers, 'See no more visions!' And to the prophets, 'Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophecy illusions-And stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!' " (Isaiah 30:1; 9-11).[/b]
If Jesus is precious to you, and you are hungry for a deeper experience of His presence, know that you are called to repent and intercede for the lost. Isaiah writes, [b]"Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning? He who walks righteously and speaks what is right" (Isaiah 33:14-15).[/b] You are called to serve and obey the living God of heaven! Paul writes to the church at Colossi, [b]"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3).[/b] God is eagerly searching for a people who will lay aside their love for the world and choose to live a life that is "hidden away in Christ." The hidden life of the Christian finds its most powerful expression in intercession.
[b]Five Principles for Intercession[/b]
[u]Intercession always begins with deep life-changing repentance.[/u] We are the brothers and sisters of Eli. Like him, we have been content with teaching information about God rather than knowing God by pressing into Him and seeking His face. Righteous judgments will soon be poured out on the ungodly. We must come before a holy God and intercede, but first, we must lay aside our human intellectual robe of self righteousness. Repent like Ezra and cry aloud, [u]"O God, send revival to our land and let it begin now with me! I am the cause of judgment upon this land. It is the hardness of my heart, my self righteousness, and my self-centered laziness that causes my lukewarm halfhearted pursuit of God.[/u]
Intercession is birthed as we begin to see the holiness and glory of Christ Jesus our Lord. When the Holy Spirit reveals to us our true condition before Him and the glorious gift of His atoning blood, we will fall on our faces before Him in repentance. Jesus said, [b]"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:15-17).[/b]
[u]Intercession means to pick up the burden for another. To feel the consequences of their brokenness before God[/u]. To intercede for someone is to battle in the spiritual realm. We do this by using our faith to take one of God's promises from His Word and declare the will of God over them. We must place our faith, not in what we experience or see with our human eyes, but in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us make no mistake. The power is not in our faith but in the name of Jesus-He is the One who delivers!
Daniel lived a righteous life before God, and yet he prayed, [b]"O Lord, the great and Awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with all who love Him and obey His commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land" (Daniel 9:4-6).[/b]
[u]We must wait before God in order to listen for His Instruction.[/u] We do not intercede in order to instruct the Lord. He is the Master, we are the servants. He is the one who chooses and calls after the lost. As we pray, we must wait upon Jesus for His instruction regarding another person's situation. Moses waited before God 40 years. God is never in a hurry; we are the ones in a frantic hurry. When you wait before the Lord, wait with a heart that is willing to obey His every direction; His timing will be perfect. Pray in accordance with Scripture. Pray the heart of Jesus because these are the only prayers that will be heard and answered by our Father in Heaven. [b](1 John 5:14-15).[/b]
[u]Obey the Word of the Lord.[/u] As you wait before the Lord, read the Scriptures; praise and worship Jesus. The Holy Spirit will bring a strong conviction to your heart regarding His plan of action. He will reveal His heart to you and direct you in the way you should pray as well as the way you should go. [b](John 12:25-26; Matthew 7:21-27)[/b].
[u]Rest in the Lord-let Him carry you.[/u] The living God of Heaven desires intimate fellowship with His people. [b]"He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him" (John 14:21).[/b] Most of what we accept today as "normal healthy Christian life" is really "normal worldly living!" Do not be satisfied to eat your roast beef while sitting in your chair watching your favorite TV shows, reading the newspaper or playing with your computer. Do not be satisfied with a few crumbs of intellectualized spiritual food! [i]Cry out to the Lord. Confess your sin. Pray that God will open the windows of heaven and pour out His presence upon you, upon your church, and upon our nation.[/i]
David prayed, [b]"Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" (Psalm 51:2-4; 11-12).[/b]
[i]Eli lost everything he held dear-his life, his family, the Ark of God, his nation and the Lord-all because he was unwilling to repent, confess his sin and intercede.[/i] The Lord's word to Isaiah was, [b]"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. Blessed are all who wait for Him!" (Isaiah 30:15,18)[/b]. Do not sit in your comfortable chair and just "talk" about the Lord. Instead, get down on your knees before the Holy Mighty Lord and cry out with all your heart. He will build His Church as you repent, as you intercede for the lost and as you walk in obedience to His commands. The Lord God of heaven is eagerly waiting for you to devote yourself to be close to Him!
By: Ray Greenley
Pastor of the National Prayer Chapel