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Paul J. Bucknell
God tells us that the problem of backsliding and sluggishness of our spirit begins with His people and ends with His people. If the sin of God's people brought them into this situation, then it is their turning from these same sins that will bring the needed help to deliver them from their situation.
In other words, unless we can identify our sins, acknowledge them and take full responsibility for them, then we have no hope. We can not change this world by political reformation and improved educational funding. A church will only be able to turn back from their spiritual decline by carefully following the principles outlined in 2 Chronicles 7:14. This is not the only place these principles are mentioned, but they are clearly articulated here.
Let's look at part two where we see God's Action Plan to return to Him and His blessings.
... Humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways ... (2 Chronicles 7:14b)
The Lord asks four things of His people to find renewal. We might think four things are too many. Some might even be critical that God requires anything. These critics will not call upon His Name. They are not the ones that will be healed. The desperate soul is the one who has tried everything and now coming upon his last attempt seeks to follow the instructions as it is written.
We think of the blind man that was to wash Jesus' spit out of his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. This man was not going to take any chances. The opportunity to meet Jesus was rare. His request was something he could do. He wanted to see and therefore would go to only the Pool of Siloam to wash his eyes (cf. John 9). Similarly, when we are desperate, we are willing to do anything that we can to gain what we so greatly need.
Before we go on, perhaps then, we should ask if these are things that we can do?
(1) humble themselves
(3) seek My face
(4) turn from their wicked ways
Are they something that any believer can do?
Sure they are. Perhaps this is the reason that this promise is only for the believer. If one is a believer, then truly he can do all these things. In fact, the more we look at these four conditions, we are amazed that God has not made the stipulations greater. Religion would require large donations of money, time, and devotion. God's religion demands changes that take place in the heart. Once the heart is changed, the things on the outward come naturally.
So let's take courage. Do we want a revived spiritual life? Have we seen ourselves decline in the past few years or weeks? Do we want the church to get back to the basics? Here are the four steps that we all can take.
Christians do not normally think of humbling themselves.
We might hear that we should be humble but to seek humility is a rarely heard. However odd this action might sound, it does make sense as our first action step to take.
When we think more of our ways than God's, we are living in arrogant pride. The only solution is to humble ourselves.
After all, it is our pride and stubbornness that brought us into these terrible circumstances in the first place. We wouldn't hear God. We had to insist on our own ways. The husband knows God's Word says that he shouldn't divorce, but he makes his feelings and perception of his situation to be more important than God's Word. The wife finds an excuses not to submit to her husband, but it requires her to exert her pride and judgment over God. The child insists on getting his own way, but he does so at great consequence to his relationship with God and his parents.
What does 'humble' oneself mean? We might think of a man who is standing tall. We ask him to fall to the ground and put his face on the dirt at his feet. This is a picture of a man who is bowed down. 'Humble oneself,' however, speaks to the bringing down of the heart and spirit of man. We will often find a bowing low of the body, but what is most important is the lowering of ones view of himself. Jesus spoke of the humbling of one's heart as the first step into the kingdom of God.
Humility is when we rightly understand our place before God.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NASB).
Our generation is typified by talk of high self-esteem. We know little of true humility. We want to believe better things of ourselves than is true. People even help us along by not saying anything about our faults and in fact lying. They think this is good for us!
God says the first step in approaching Him is to evaluate oneself in light of His holy and majestic character. In other words, we are not to evaluate ourselves by what we feel about ourselves but by what God says in His Word. Did we get a divorce? Does the wife actually submit to her husband? Does the son and daughter obey and honor their parents? By examining ourselves in light of God's Word, we get a true perspective of ourselves.
We can do this by taking an inventory on the things we have said and done. Are they pleasing to God? Have we really been listening to God? When we humble ourselves, it means that we clearly affirm that we are but made from dust. Only He is God, and He has the right to do anything He judges that is right.
We should not say, "Why did God do this?" but "Lord, I have left Your way." Let us not be so haughty to think that God could ever do anything wrong. We might disagree with Him, but then that is lifting up our opinion over His. Truly we need to humble ourselves. This can be done anytime. We should do it each day. We have been prideful. Let's speak the truth and admit that we foolishly thought our ideas were better than God's.
Without humbling ourselves, our prayers will be a stench in His nose. He wants nothing to do with our prideful prayers.
"When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Matthew 6:2, NASB).
Most people today do not understand there is a connection between the weather, animal behavior, health and God.
Religion is built on the show of humility, but in most cases the heart is very prideful. Ones prayers will differ on what one truly believes about God. God loves those who humbly pray before Him and cry out for help. If one is not humble, then prayers are secular. These prayers have no effect. They may as well not pray. God seeks genuine prayers from real heart needs.
We pray in order to state God's true glorious nature. He is mighty, awesome and compassionate.
We pray so that we can bring up our special needs before Him. 2 Chronicles 7:13 mentioned three special needs: drought, insect invasion and disease among God's people. Most people today do not understand there is a connection between the weather, animal behavior, health and God. God says He controls it and uses it to wake up His people.
For instance, let's examine the word pestilence or plague. The Hebrew word comes from the verb 'to speak'. When Moses went to Pharaoh, all Moses had to do was speak what God told him, and the plague begun. Sure we can go back and say there are physical situations that contributed to that disease, but surely the timing and increase was from God. By withdrawing His grace, disease just steps in. Or we can say it another way. As sin increases, God's grace is withdrawn thus allowing all sorts of problems on our societies. The world is now facing 'madcow' disease and AIDS not to mention a host of other STDs stemming from immoral practices.
When a person first faces a health problem, he usually immediately makes plans to see the doctor. If there is a drought problem, he studies the weather patterns. If the problem has to do with some devilish insect consuming the crops, he goes and buys a stronger pesticide. Does he think of God? Rarely. (1) Only when one has humbled himself before God, can he begin to see that there is a direct connection. This is simply what Paul did when he saw a pattern of sickness and death among God's people at Corinth.
For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. (1 Corinthians 11:29,30).
Once a man is aware that he is under God's judgment, then he is not only humble but penitent. He is much more apt to plead to God for mercy. Prayer comes in real natural once a person fears God! He might not have prayed for a long time, but all of a sudden he becomes an expert. His need leads him in the right direction of seeking God's mercy and help. Let's look at the third condition.
If we were to tell a group of mature Christians that there were four conditions in order to initiate a real revival among God's people, they would probably miss guessing this one: to seek God's face. Many Christians have never been able to put their finger on the difference between a zealous Christian and a traditional Christian. This phrase 'seek God's face' does a good job at doing this.
First of all, we see that God breaks through the impersonal wall. God is personal and must be dealt with as a person. I just got an email from a friend this morning saying he needs to talk to me 'face to face' about a situation. There are many movements out there that speak a lot of God's impersonal nature or His distant 'unknowability.' This verse quickly reminds us that God is not too far away. In fact, if we turn to Him, He is right there.
By being afar off, we will only see His holiness and humbled at the wicked things that we have done. But by getting close to God, one also discovers His love and mercy can fully pardon us of all of our sins.
God wants to reveal Himself to us. He is not hiding Himself so that we can't find Him. Just as in a game of 'Hide and Seek,' children really do want to be found. They don't want to be isolated forever in their hiding place. If a child is left unfounded, he starts making sounds so that others will come and find him. We do need to seek Him. He will allow us to find Him if we have been sincere in the first two steps. We might be tested about our sincerity in wanting to know Him. We might need to poke around here and there before He allows us to find Him, but He is there and really wants us to fellowship with Him.
Lastly, we should understand that the phrase 'my face' speaks of an intimate relationship with God. If we say 'Seek Me,' we might think that there still exists a distance between Him and us. We can't see Him too closely. We can't touch Him. But when He says 'Seek My face,' we are forced to understand we should get close to Him until we see His face. When we meet Him, we are impacted by His face. How amazing that we, the great backsliders, are told to get right in the face of God.
We know what will happen if we do seek His face. We will see His holiness and love. We will all of a sudden be aghast at the wicked things we have done and the haughty attitudes that we have held. His deep and penetrating love will be contrasted with our cheap selfishness. The contrast will be so great, the gulf so deep, that we will weep seemingly without end. By looking at a distance, one might not see anything but His holiness. But by getting close to God, one also discovers His love and mercy that pardon us of all of our sins. This is where God wants to bring us.
Our wills are involved in this process. We need to seek Him out. We need to seek Him, the God of the scriptures. All the other religious notions and ideas of who God is must be put to the side in the trash can. Seek the God who revealed Himself to you when you came to first know Him. He is the same as the One who revealed Himself to Moses or Abraham.
Remember God's purpose for drawing us close is so that we see both His holiness as well as His mercy. This encounter I promise you will never forget. You will never want to leave Him. You would give up a life time of free top entertainment for five minutes of meeting Him. We must seek His face.
We must repent. There must be a clear change in the way we approached our lives from before we met God and afterwards. I pity any who draw close to God and yet continue on without changing. Think of Judas who in the end chose silver over loyalty to Christ. We must place the turning from our wicked ways as the highest priority on our list.
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. (James 1:22-24, NASB).
Clearly the people who say they have tried but couldn't change are the same who never truly sought God's face.
There might be some who would wonder why God insist on changing a person's ways. They might think that if God was so kind, then He would accept ourselves the way we are. They wonder why His mercy doesn't require tolerance and so repentance is not important. There is so much to say here because there is so much nonsense being sold to Christians. The scriptures tell us to turn away from our wicked ways.
Many Christian counselors greatly fail God's people when they suggest that it is impossible for a person to break away from their habitual sins. Sometimes they say they are in a person's gene makeup; at other times they say it is just the way he is. They encourage their clients by telling them they are doing good by trying. However good their intention might be, try not to have a divorce and get one is very different. Try not to get drunk or smash his wife is not the same as being sober and being kind to his wife. There is no hope apart from repentance.
A person yesterday told me how a Christian committing immorality finds comfort in her speaking in tongues. Putting aside this issue of speaking in tongues, we know that God is not speaking comforting words to her in her situation. He may as well speak in a foreign language because she is not meeting God!
Salvation comes through repentance. Sanctification also comes through repentance just as this verse states. Dare we think it more holy or loving that God does not insist on a complete break from a person's drugs, immoral behavior, anger, or worry?! We just haven't thought clearly about the matter. Clearly the people who say they have tried but couldn't change are the same who never got to step three. They have not sought God. If they sought Him, then it was not the right seeking. If it was the right seeking, then they are just unwilling to change!
Most of the time that we don't want to change has nothing to do whether we know it is wrong but on our unwillingness to change. Of course, if we really humbled ourselves, then there would be no problem with our wills. We must use our wills to lower our high view of ourselves.
There are also a host of Christians who protest that they just can't turn from their sin. In this case, we are just deluding ourselves. If we are non-Christians, we must allow this to be true, but otherwise every Christian can and is fully obligated to turn from all of their sins, both in attitude and behavior. Notice Paul's last words below.
But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:3-7).
We must get right with God. If we refuse, God will hold a person liable. Man says he can't, but God accuses that person who claims to know Him as a fake. Just after speaking about the process and need of disciplining children, God has this written to help us realize the importance of following through.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14, NASB).
We should realize that we have a lot of sins to repent from.
We should deal with the ones that come first to our minds. No sin is unimportant.
If God brings it first to our minds, then it is important for us to immediately deal with it.
If we think we are getting too extreme, check with an elder about some action or attitude.
Do remember, though, in the end, we are fully accountable to go back to the scriptures and find what God says about it.
Repentance is important because it is the baseline from which a new foundation can be built. Without it, there is no salvation. Without actually breaking off our affection for our lusts, we have no confidence in eternal salvation (3). Only our desire for God's ways and our willingness to go beyond lip action and change what we do and how we think can confirm this inner desire. In the end, what we decide to do or not to do reveals what we really believe.
Let's review these four steps to cleansing: Humbling, Praying, Seeking and Turning. We can do all these things by His grace. God is the source of revival and life. This is a fact. We are not saying that the whole revival process is in our hands. The revival process starts with God.
Yes, truth is lacking; And he who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey. Now the LORD saw, And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice. And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede; Then His own arm brought salvation to Him; And His righteousness upheld Him. (Isaiah 59:15,16, NASB).
Revival is in essence a bringing of new life to His wayward people. We, however, must understand that God already has done His part. Jesus Christ, His Servant, has already died, come alive and ascended above. He has already sent His Holy Spirit to work among His people. He has even told us how His Spirit would work among His people (2). God has already done His part! Now we need to respond. The whole condition that 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 is formed around is established upon God's promise.
Now it is time for God's people to act.
By recognizing their waywardness and deserved judgment from God, they humble themselves.
By asking God for help, they give up on their own devises.
By seeking His face, they put away all idols and desire His Presences.
By turning from their wicked ways, they show their true love and loyalty to God.
Which of these steps have you gone through in your own personal life? Which of them have you seen in your church? Look for the signs of God's work on your heart.
Humbling of soul brings grief over sin, both our own sin and others.
Praying to God reveals the foolishness of trying to solve our problems in the world's ways.
Seeking Him shows how awful that we have thought other things were better than He.
Turning from sin serves as a climax in this process by rejecting any love or toleration for sin.
Sometimes we are rather hardened. Perhaps you wonder how you can really start on this trek. Let's look at a few suggestion.
If we are not grieving over our sins and the sins of others, it is usually because we have hardened our hearts from our own sin! Ask God to begin to reveal your sins to you. You can ask this of the church too, but remember that if you are not part of the revival process and grieving over your own sin, then there is a good chance of pride in your heart or spite toward the church. Focus on your own heart. When He shows you some sin, don't say that it doesn't matter. It does matter. That is why you aren't grieving over sin. Instead take it seriously, and start with a simple confession that you have gone astray and not listening to Him on this one point. Let me give you an example.
Perhaps you read Psalm 33:18.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, (Psalms 33:18, NASB).
While reading it, you sense that you have not been hoping on His lovingkindness. You in fact have been cynical lately, thinking there is no hope. You need to confess that you have looked at the problem rather than Him, His power, and His promises. Confess and continue on with steps 2-4.
We do not need to make this process harder than it really is. Just get honest, and you will see that your actions and attitudes is not what it should be. Get into God's Word, and He will reveal these things to you.
If we have not been broken over trying to get out of the mess that we are in, then we are still trying to get out of it on our own. When we rely on our own ways, then our prayers are going to be insincere if present at all. As long as we think the final answer is from some counselor, some inheritance, some religious activity, etc., we will go on in a prideful manner. Psalm 33:16-17 gives us a picture of those who wait on their own resources.
The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. (Psalms 33:16,17, NASB).
We might seem confused here, but we shouldn't be. Yes the king does need an army, but in the end that is not his real hope. If it is, then he won't pray for help, and if he does, those prayers will be mere religious posturing without any true effect. Our hope needs to go to God rather than methods, people, degrees, financial backing,etc. Instead, we should have the heart that we see the Psalmist having in Psalm 33:20.
Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. (Psalms 33:20).
He waits upon the LORD. Yahweh brings him help. Yahweh supplies protection. Sin always leads us to trust in things other than God Almighty. We need to identify and confess any hope in anything but God. We must not trust our experience, our wisdom, our ways. As we confess our self-reliance as sin, and admit our belief that we can get on without God, then we see our absolute folly.
The reason we do not desire Him is because we have desired other things more. The reason we love these other things more is because we think they hold the magic key to a successful life. We need to confess that we have given our devotion to other things. We might think life is good so long as I can watch two football games a week. We might think life is good just so I have this job. The list goes on and on a wife, an affectionate wife, lots of money, a house, a child, a friend, etc. Our heart's affections go after those things that provide those resources. If it is money, then we do everything to please our boss. If it is fame, then we show off ourselves.
In the end, it is not these things that can truly satisfy. They are vain idols.
The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works. (Psalms 33:13-15,).
God knows our hearts. We need to confess all the different idols that we have trusted. We often do not think of ourselves, our bosses, our car, our plans as idols, but when they cause us to take our eyes off God, then we should see how they have usurped God's position. The point is not to give up one's secure job for example, but to realize that you trust your job rather than God for your security. This needs to be confessed. Every sin that is pointed out in the end has a false idol that has caused us to think it can provide better for us than God.
This is our sin. In a positive way, we begin seeing how God is the One who cares for me and is able to rightly care for me. Notice where the Psalmist's heart is below.
For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. (Psalms 33:21, NASB).
Some might say this perspective does not fit into the modern world. In a sense they are right. That is why we have no revival. Either we do it God's way or forget God's blessing. You have to make your own 'blessing.' In the end it will end up as a curse. Only God should be our great joy. Only He is the great and glorious One.
Each step of turning away from wickedness is confession. Confession enables us to see our sins for what they are (an offense against God) and tell them to God in prayer asking for restoration. The real test is whether we do it and for how long. We must make decisive decisions that will change how we live our lives. If we have been looking at pornography to indulge our lusts, then we need to stop looking and thinking about such things. We need to see how horrible that we lived for our own pleasures rather than to serve God.
If a husband keeps getting angry because his wife does or does not do something the way he likes, then he must start by confessing his anger. He cannot control things by his anger. He is no God, but a servant leader. He will instead tenderly and consistently love his wife. Turning from wicked ways also means turning to the right way. If we can do the former (turning away from evil), the later comes easy (turning to good).
Four steps that bring us closer and closer to God's glorious presence. Take them now. We can turn to God no matter what our circumstances. That was the background of this promise. No matter how far into judgment we might have gone, we can turn around by God's gracious promise. I just got a note from a friend who is going through a very dry time far away. He says how he wish he could meet up with me or even some other Christian. He is dry. He is struggling with sin. He knows I and others can't visit him. But what a privilege to send a note back telling him that this promise is for anyone.
In fact, what Christian has not inadvertently practiced these very principles without knowing it? Who has not been stained by the world and needed to find a way back to God. What a wonderful promise is given us here. We can take proactive care. We can minister the promise to ourselves or a friend. What a blessing will follow if we do; what a curse if we don't.
Next => Let's look at part 3!
(1) Some people might interpret these words as meaning we should not have doctors or meteorologists. This is not what is being said. They play their function. The criticism is that people do not link these problems with God's anger as they should or think dealing with them only on the doctor level will really help in the long run.
(2) We find that John 14-16 has a great explanation of the Spirit's work among His people.
(3) Having no confidence of eternal salvation does not mean that one does not have eternal salvation. When living in unconfessed sin, we should not be affirming our eternal status with God but instead fearing that we might not repent and end up fooling ourselves about our love for God.
Examples of Revival Water Gate Revival Nehemiah 8.1-12
Call to Revival - Zephaniah"Gathering Before His Throne"
The Process of Revival Understanding Revival's Cycles Judges 2:10-19
Constant Personal Renewal
Reviving Our Personal Devotions
From Revival to Despair Psalm 106:10-15
Revival and the Fear of God in Society Psalm 78
Revival comes from Joining the Church not Abandoning her
Reviving Our Lives and Ministries through God's Word
Reviving our Faith | Deepening our Reflections
Tracing our Life's Journey | Pursuing our God
Exhortation to be Revived Five Misunderstandings Ezekiel 14
Solomon's prayer which initiated the Promise for Revival2 Chronicles 6-7
God's willingness to promise revival2 Chronicles 7:12-15
Revival: God's Promise (Part I)2 Chronicles 7:14
Revival: God's Action Plan (Part II)2 Chronicles 7:14
Revival: God's Reward (Part III)2 Chronicles 7:14