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Edited from a message delivered at the "Heart-Cry for Revival" Conference near Asheville, North Carolina, May 23-27, 2000.
The heart-cry for revival that Heaven awaits is a cry of genuine faith based on the unfulfilled promises of God. Many of the places where I go, people are praying for revival not with faith, but with hope. They say, "Its probably too late; no real reason to think it will happen, but it would be wonderful if revival were to occur." We need to move from that vague, uncertain area of hope into a genuine confidence in the God of the Bible to bring mighty revival. Earth desperately needs the prayer of faith that God will come in mighty power among all of Gods people.
As I speak in terms of the heart-cry for revival that heaven awaits, please join me in reading from the book of Isaiah, chapter 62....Let me particularly draw your attention to verses 6 and 7:
"I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth."
May I ask you, how disturbing have your prayers been to the Lord? Does He find it impossible to get rest because you are before the throne pleading, interceding, begging, crying to Him for mercy? I know we cant speak literally; Im only speaking figuratively. We know the Lord does not rest. But in this passage it says to not give God rest day or night. The spirit of the words of the text is, "Is the Lord kept agitated, is He kept alive, are His affections constantly bombarded by your prayers?" Surely the heart-cry for revival that heaven awaits is the heart-cry that gives God no rest day nor night.
While we will not take time to read the parables of importunity recorded in Luke, chapter 11 and Luke, chapter 18, both of them occupying the first eight verses of the chapter, they fit exactly into this teaching in Isaiah 62 --dont give the Lord rest day nor night. Indeed, dont give yourself any rest on this issue. Dont ever be silent on this matter. If you are silent yourself, you wont be keeping before the Lord this urgent issue of His coming among us in great power. In those parables of importunity, at the very heart of the teaching is the response that is made because of the conviction there will be no rest until I answer that for which I am being pressed.
Its one thing to cry unto God for revival. But its another thing to keep crying day after day, week after week, year after year when necessary. Some of the great men of the church in this past century gave their lives in a heart-cry for revival, men like J. Edwin Orr and Martin Lloyd-Jones. Some say that they died disappointed, but I dont believe it. They died in the conviction that although God did not answer their prayer fully in their lifetime, it was indeed a prayer of faith, and in Gods own time, a great awakening will come. But how many hearing this will be disturbing the Lord on this subject twenty years from now? Give the Lord no rest day nor night with a heart cry until the urgent petition has been responded to.
In order to press on praying year after year, there are certain things that are essential. People say to me, how long have you been traveling, preaching on revival? And I say, a long time. How long? Well, half a century. Dont you get discouraged? What is there to be discouraged about? Ive been doing what I was asked to do. I wasnt asked to bring revival. I was asked to plead with the people to repent and seek the face of God. I havent done it perfectly. I sometimes say, "Lord, if youd let me run through life again I think I could do a better job the second time," but Ive done what I could. I dont have any grounds for discouragement. Someone might wonder, "Why not?"
Weve had one prayer meeting in Wheaton, Illinois, thats been running for well over twenty years. Have we seen revival in Wheaton, Illinois? Thank God, we saw a stirring in the college about four years ago. But no, we havent seen any revival in the city yet. But have I any grounds for discouragement? No.
I. A Heart-Cry That Gives God No Rest Is Energized By The Passions Of God
The true heart-cry for revival that heaven awaits is a heart-cry that is energized by the known passions of the heart of God. If all I had to work on were my own passions I would get discouraged. But Im not energized by my own passions. Im energized by known passions in the heart of God.
God has a passion for holiness. I know for instance that God has the perpetual passion for the holiness of His people. And I know Gods passion is not being rewarded today. I know that the Church has come a long ways away from holiness. I remember the words that Peter spoke in his first epistle, chapter one: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance" (1 Peter 1:14). Why is the Church so given over to lust? The answer is more than plain; the Church is still in its natural ignorance in many instances.
But then Peter goes on to say, "But, like the Holy One who called you, be ye holy yourselves also in all your behavior, because it is written, you shall be holy; for I am holy" (1:15). The holiness of His people is a passion in the heart of God. That presents powerful reason to pray for revival. The Church is unholy, but the God of the Church is holy; therefore, I must pray for that which is necessary to make the Church holy.
God has a passion to keep covenant. We all know that our God is a covenant-keeping God. We know that God said in the book of Deuteronomy, "Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy with those who love Him and keep His commandments to the thousandth generation." But then it adds, and this we admit to our sorrow: "He also repays those who hate him to their faces to destroy them" (Deut. 7:9-10).
God has a passion for His own covenant, to keep it. I believe that God has made a covenant with His people not to let them go. Even though one or another generation may perish, God is still determined; God is set. God is faithful to the covenant that Hes made with those who believe. When I remind myself of the covenant of God as one of the passions in Gods heart, it stirs me up to press on even further in the yearning for and in the prayer for revival.
The passion of Gods everlasting love is a motive to give God no rest day or night. Im also certain that God, once He extends His love, never extends it in a temporary fashion, but that the love of God as described in Jeremiah 31:3 is an "everlasting love." We find added to that bold statement, "Therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you."
I believe that one of the acts of Gods loving-kindness is when He brings a nation of churches under remedial judgment. If God were tired of America, He could have dropped us into the sea twenty years ago, but instead He visited us with the remedial judgments of spiritual drunkenness (Jeremiah 13:12-14), and the remedial judgment of the withdrawal of His manifest presence. And were we wise or were we better, the realization of Gods passion in drawing us with His loving-kindness in remedial judgment would have brought us straight back. But somehow the Church has an uncanny ability to avoid the serious consideration of the facts as they stand. The known passion of Gods everlasting love is a tremendous motive to give God no rest day or night until He comes in a glorious visitation.
God has a passion for repentance. I read to you from 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slack about his promises, as some men count slackness; but is patient toward us, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." The passion of God toward this incredibly urgent subject of repentance ought to drive us perpetually to giving God no rest until our world is visited with a great and gracious gift of repentance.
God has a passion for intimate nearness. I dont think anyone would dare to say that God is lonely. God is altogether sufficient in and of Himself. But even though we would not dare to describe God as lonely, we must surely realize that God has a passion for intimate nearness. He loves to have those who draw near to Him. He delights when we draw near to Him, to Himself draw near to us. James 4:8 spells this out very clearly. Im often moved over the expression that I find in the New American translation in Psalm 73:28: "...the nearness of God is my girth."
I have been observing now for some years that the sweetest moments, the most precious hours, the most delightful days, the glorious weeks and months--are those periods of time when God has allowed Himself to draw near to me--when the remedial judgment of the withdrawal of His manifest presence is suspended and He draws near. Everyone who has had a sense of Gods longing for the intimate nearness of His people is pushed powerfully forward in the whole matter of giving God no rest day nor night.
Then I mention as well Gods obvious known passion for a bride that is appropriate. If I were a single young man as I was at one time, and I was longing for a bride, would I long for a bride that looked like todays Church? No, I couldnt imagine marrying a bride so soiled, so spotted, so stained, so marred. Our Father has an immense passion that His Son should have a bride without spot and without blemish, without wrinkle and without blame. This is expressed so powerfully in Ephesians, chapter five. Just thinking about what our Lord craves in His bride ought to drive us perpetually onward in giving God no rest day nor night.
Then there is Gods passion that the world might know and love Him. Surely this is powerful motivation for us to be constantly before the throne of grace disturbing God, agitating in His presence, pleading that He will indeed make disciples through us of all the nations, that there will be multitudes from every portion of the earth who are brought to submission to the Son and who are brought into the kingdom of God and who are discipled into the life of faith.
Have these known passions of God been stirring you up repeatedly? If a few weeks or months after this conference you start to cool down again, will these known passions of God arouse you thoroughly and bring you back to that point where God knows no rest day or night because you are perpetually before Him pleading for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? What a shame it would be if, in some weeks or months, you gave God a season of rest. Do you not understand that the heart-cry that God awaits is the cry of His Church that will not let Him go until He blesses?
I speak candidly to you in saying that I dont see any evidence that heaven is being disturbed by the prayer of the Church yet. Oh, I know Ive given God an occasion of discomfort by my agitating, by my prayer, but I also know Hes had plenty of time to sleep, not that He does, but plenty of time to sleep as far as my own personal life is concerned.
II. A Heart-Cry That Gives God No Rest Must Never Be Robbed Of Its Purpose
Sin always robs the heart-cry of its purpose. Nobody who commits sin and allows that sin to linger in his life is going to disturb the rest of God on this matter. Every time you sin you must come to immediate repentance, else God will recognize that no matter how fervently you have cried over recent hours or even weeks or months, you are not willing to keep on crying because you are willing to allow some sin a place in your life.
Its often occurred to me how easily sin enters the Christian heart. The nature of backsliding is that you leave a tiny crevice in your life unfilled by the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the glorious working power of the Holy Spirit, and sin spots that space and plops itself down there. If you let it remain, soon that single sin is accompanied by a multitude of sins. There is no way you can observe the prayer of importunity that gives God no rest day nor night if you allow sin to find its place in your life.
Inability to stand alone robs the heart-cry of its purpose. As a young man still in college I was frequently engaged in revival meetings so-called. Night after night when I should have been in my room studying, I was out preaching. On one occasion a couple of college friends asked if I would join them in a spiritual effort in one of the churches not far off. One was the student pastor, the other was a lovely musician, and they said, "Would you come and preach in an eight-day meeting?" I delighted to say, "Yes."
We traveled out of the city of Spokane a few miles to a rural area. Night after night I preached. By about the third or fourth night the place was jammed with people. There were multitudes standing outside looking in the windows and through the doorway. Somehow a reporter from the great newspaper in Spokane was there and wrote an article in the newspaper about this amazing stirring that was going on in this small community under the leadership of these college students.
We reached an agreement among ourselves. The evidence seemed overwhelming that God was at work, that there was a prospect of a mighty outpouring. So we three agreed to meet together on the college campus following the Friday evening meeting to give ourselves to a night of prayer. So we met. We prayed with great fervor for an hour or two. Then one of the brothers, who was the only married one of the three of us, interrupted the prayer and he said, "My wife will be worried. Id better go home," and off he went.
The two that remained tried to get back into the spirit of prayer. After a little bit, the second fellow said, "Well, after all, we are students. Our major calling is in connection with our studies. I dont think we really want revival. I mean, how could we be leading a great revival and still be students? I think Ill go home," and off he went. There I remained.
"Well, Lord, what should I do?" The answer was obvious: stick by your commitment; pray. So I struggled manfully onward for a little while, and then I thought, "Oh Lord, nothing is going to happen. The two of them have forsaken me." So I folded up my Bible and went to my room.
Foolishly, we allowed the continuation of the meeting to be announced, but by Tuesday night, it was dead. I was agitated. Shame on those two! Imagine the gall of committing ourselves to a night of prayer and then slipping away. Shame on them! I rejoiced to be agitated by their unfaithfulness. After a while it dawned on me that I wasnt called to be a leaner. I was called to stand alone. The real problem lay not with those brothers who forsook me, but in this brother who forsook the Lord.
I began then to learn a very powerful lesson. Ive never been given assurance that Im going to give God no rest day or night in company with a multitude of others. If God blesses me with others, well and good. But if Im alone and there is no one else who is willing to press on in this urgent matter of prayer, I still better stick by my calling.
I ask you, "Have you got what it takes to press on alone without any regard whether anybody else stands with you or not?" I suffered for three or four years from that failure; not that I didnt keep active, but I did not again for over three years see another deep stirring of the Spirit of God. It took me a long time to recover from that failure to stand alone. Oh, I plead with you to set your heart on giving God no rest day or night! Concerning yourself with what others do or dont do robs the heart-cry.
A sense of age can rob of the heart-cry that gives God no rest. By Gods grace I pressed on with a measure of faithfulness for a long time. Then I was approaching my sixty-fifth birthday, and I allowed a sense of age to interfere. I said to myself, "Youre too old to keep on with this work." I was under attack by the evil one and was foolish enough to give in to it. Then it dawned on me that having a sixty-fifth birthday didnt mean a thing. My calling was to give God no rest day or night until He visited us in gracious power.
Maybe someone else has reached that point where theyve said, Ive served my term. Ive done what I could. Im due a rest now. Well, if you give yourself a rest, you give God a rest. Dont do it! Dont do it! Even when youre ill you can keep the Lord troubled on this matter.
Inability to read the times robs the heart-cry for revival that gives God no rest. I find that something else that is robbing many, indeed I fear a high percentage of the Church, from giving God no rest is their inability to read the times and to feel with the heart of God what He feels. Im grieved and troubled by the vast masses in the Church that do not have any visible perception at all where were at.
Being puffed up with pride and success robs one of a passionate heart-cry for revival. One of the practices that I frequently engage in when addressing a group of ministers is to ask the question, "How many of you pastor churches where the attendance is in excess of a thousand?" In all the times Ive asked the question, only once was there a pastor of a church of any size. I know there are exceptions, but by and large those who attend conferences like this are the pastors of the little struggling churches.
Someone spoke yesterday about the great danger of seeing success and then puffing your pride up to the point where you cease to seek God. I fear that much of the Church is unable to feel what God feels today because theyve been overwhelmed with their own pride and success. Dont let this rob you of the passion that it takes to give God no rest day nor night.
Lack of fear of God prevents one from giving God no rest. A lack of the fear of God has enabled many not to disturb the Lord. I dont believe anyone is going to be faithful in holding before the Lord their importunate prayer who is not living under the fear of the Lord. Its seldom these days that you see those who even know what the fear of the Lord entails, let alone walk in it.
Timidity robs the heart-cry. Another great thief of the passion that keeps pressing the heart of God is the timidity, the lack of boldness that characterizes so much of the praying today. Im often moved by the example of Moses in Exodus 32. You remember when they built the golden calf. God and Moses were on the mountains and God said to Moses, "Im going down and utterly destroy those people!" But Moses got in the face of God, and he said, "Lord, if You utterly destroy the people, what will the Egyptians say? Theyll say God brought these people out of Egypt into the wilderness only to destroy them a little while later. What kind of a God would do a thing like this? And," said Moses, "dont forget the promises that You made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob."
While Moses was in the face of God giving Him no rest, Moses didnt know what God was agitated about, for God and Moses were on the mountain. When Moses came down from the mountain, he saw and he heard the licentious activity of the people. Then his passions were thoroughly aroused, and nobody feels what God feels who has not seen what God sees. And, oh the holy boldness that is needed is a holy boldness by viewing the world through the eyes of our creator and joining Him heart to heart in holy passion.
III. The Heart-Cry That Gives
God No Rest Made More Powerful
There are certain factors that make all the more powerful the heart-cry for revival that gives God no rest.
First, the desperate hunger and thirst for righteousness gives God no rest. I have not time to develop this, but in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11) there are three specific things that lead up to hungering and thirsting for righteousness. You owe it to your soul to go back to the beatitudes and to see how urgent it is that one become poor in spirit--that he be utterly empty in the upward look and that he mourn inwardly and personally over his own sin and failure before God, and therefore, become emptied inwardly, and then that he stand in front of his world in the spirit of meekness, admitting to this world what he has already admitted to God and himself. Thus the poor in spirit are emptied upwardly and inwardly and outwardly. And those are the only three dimensions in which we exist.
When we are emptied in those three dimensions, we can do nothing other than hunger and thirst for righteousness. If you are content to hunger and thirst for anything less than righteousness, you wont be successful in giving God no rest day and night.
Secondly, deep heartfelt longings for the manifest presence of God give God no rest. This is an urgent part of importunate prayer for revival. Many people among us absurdly suppose that Gods presence is as well-known today as any time in history. They know nothing of the comings and goings of God. But when you understand the principles that separate the essential presence from the manifest presence and from the cultivated presence of God, then you begin to get a heart longing for God to draw near, for God to manifest His presence.
Third is a sense of shame for sin. This is part and parcel of giving God no rest day or night. It begins obviously with a sense of shame over our own sin, but as in the case of Nehemiah (Nehemiah, chapter 1) his weeping, his heart-cry was not solely over his own sin. He felt a sense of shame over the sin of the people, over their neglect, over the tragic decay of the city of God. Over and over, for instance, in the book of Daniel and in an abundance of other places, the overwhelming sense of shame because of the sin of the people drove men to importunate prayer.
Fourth the sense of urgency for Gods glory makes more powerful the heart-cry for revival that persists. What else is important in prayer for revival beyond the sense of the glory of God? Is that not the overwhelming motivation for this kind of prayer? Is God receiving today the glory due His name? No. Were in a situation like we find in the case of Moses and Aaron when God said, "Speak to the rock." In anger Moses took the rod and whacked the rock. God said to him, "Because you did not maintain My holiness before the people, because you did not carry My glory aright in your own hands, you will not bring this congregation into the land I have given them." Giving glory to God is a great incentive to the most urgent kind of praying and in giving God no rest day nor night.
Then I am touched regularly by the realization that my heart must be perpetually broken for others and especially the helpless. We have the unusual circumstance of having our two children involved with us in our ministry, and, another unusual circumstance, were all living together in the same building. We each have our own quarters, but there we all are together day and night. What that means is when we are so weary we cant keep on with our work, we slip away upstairs to our apartment. We leave the door open, and invariably in a few minutes, one of the little ones is there. So day and night when were home, we have the helpless little ones at hand. The children who cannot pray for themselves, who dont have any idea of the terrible issue of sin, who know nothing of the passions of the heart of God--if their grandmother and their grandfather, if their own mother and their own father do not intercede for them, do not give God no rest day or night, whats going to happen to the little ones? Theyll fall.
And it isnt only the little ones who cant pray for themselves, but all around us are lost sinners who will not and cannot pray for themselves. Its up to us to give God no rest day and night on their behalf.
Then there are others who will not pray for revival. There are literally millions of Americans who will not give God no rest with their urgent prayers, and were going to have to pray on their behalf as well. I want to thank the Lord publicly that He doesnt wait for the whole Church to cry unto Him. He still works through the remnant, and His heart is stirred to move and to act on the behalf of all those who cannot and will not act for themselves.
The heart-cry for revival is made more powerful when we have formulated in our own hearts the nature of the revival for which we plead. I learned by Gods grace long ago not to pray in generalities, not merely to ask God for revival, but to ask God for a Word-centered revival--a revival where the Word of God is right at the middle, where there is great and profound and Holy Spirit-enabled preaching. The difference between a revival of experiences and a revival of God-centered ministry is so vast that it would be a tragedy indeed to be content with a revival that stirred people up inwardly but left them in their ignorance.
When we had the stirring at Wheaton College a few years ago, we who had prayed for it were all grateful but grievously disappointed that the principles of revival were not understood. The students were stirred and moved, and hundreds of them stood and confessed awful sins. But there is a phenomenal difference between the confession of sin and repentance. Many of these students who would in utter honesty confess their sins, were not brought to repentance. And so months, even years now after the revival, their tragic conviction is that revival is worthless, it has no meaning. Some of them have said, "I tried that. I went forward. I confessed my sin, and Im right back now where I was then." We ought to give God no rest day or night until He visits us with a Word-centered revival in which multitudes of people sit hour after hour under the most urgent preaching of the Word of God.
Oh, Lord, help us to learn how to pray with importunity for Jesus Christs sake. Amen.