How Badly Do You Want It?

I want revival.

I look at the condition of the world, our nation, our communities, our churches, our families—and I know that we need revival. Who but the Lord can rescue us from the mess we have gotten ourselves into by our hedonism, materialism, moral relativism, and lack of regard for God and one another?

But revival didn’t come the first time I prayed for it. Or the second. Or the third.

Actually, I know people who pleaded with God for revival for years already. And they are, for the most part, still waiting.

So I didn’t know whether to be encouraged or dismayed a few days ago when I read something I’d never noticed before in 1 Samuel. I probably don’t need to remind you of the context. It’s the same tired, old story of God’s people—both then and now. He blessed them, they became complacent, He let them go their own way. When that resulted in unpleasant repercussions, they became miserable, scared, and at last, wistful: they remembered they needed Him.

By the time 1 Samuel 7 opens, the people are desperately aware of their need for God. Verse 2 says, “For 20 years the entire nation of Israel mournfully sought the LORD” (GWT).

I’ve been chewing on that verse ever since I read it. Here are things that stood out to me.

They sought the Lord for 20 years. That’s a long time to stay with one prayer request! But they didn’t give up. They didn’t resign to “It is what it is.” They hung in there and persevered.

The entire nation sought the Lord. How many million people was that? I don’t know, but “the entire nation” is a lot of people. A lot of unity. A lot of intergenerational collaboration. How did that even happen? These days, there are a few people praying for revival—some who, bless them, have been doing it for years, maybe even decades. But we’re a long way away from an entire nation seeking the Lord. May it be, Jesus! Turn the entire nation’s hearts toward You!

They mournfully sought the LORD. Their attitude, it seems, was humble and contrite. They sought God, didn’t demand from Him. Unlike their ancestors, they don’t seem to have grumbled against God—they meekly sought and waited on Him.

They sought the LORD. Even though He seemed far away and silent, and, to their credit, Him alone. Although they weren’t always that single-hearted, during this time period, it seems that they didn’t seek outside remedies. It was God they needed—not trendy religions, popular psychology, political platforms, retirement accounts, or mindless diversions. They needed the Lord—and it was Him they earnestly, mournfully, persistently, unitedly sought.

As I pondered all this, the question that came to me was How badly do you want it? I do want revival! I know that we need God to come. We need His deliverance, His conviction, His forgiveness, His healing, His renewal. We need Him. We need His holy presence. So, 1 Samuel 7:2 calls me to a deeper level of prayer. If this is what I want—and I do—then I think He’s calling me, us, to really go after it, to really go after Him. Anyone with me on this?

Thank God for the Blacksmiths!

I don’t know a lot about war, but I know this much: weaponless armies don’t win many battles. This is as true in spiritual warfare as it is in any other military endeavors.

God brought this to my attention the other day when I was reading in 1 Samuel. For decades, the Philistines had oppressed the Israelites. In spite of their boorish reputation, these Philistines were not stupid. They knew that if they kept the Israelites unarmed, they would have the upper hand. So the Philistines created a monopoly on blacksmithing. I’m not sure how they pulled this off, but they did—it says so in 1 Samuel 13:19: “There were no blacksmiths in the land of Israel in those days. The Philistines wouldn’t allow them for fear they would make swords and spears for the Hebrews.”

As I puzzled over this passage, the Holy Spirit made some connections for me. There’s a battle raging all around God’s people—but many of us are weaponless, or act is if we are. Just as he did in Samuel’s day, the enemy continues to work hard to keep God’s children unarmed and defenseless.

Our weapon, of course, is God’s Word. However, in spite of the fact that Bible ownership in the United States is at an all-time high, Bible literacy is in steep decline. The Christian Post reported that “Although approximately 88 percent of Americans reportedly own a Bible, less than half of those people read the Bible more than once a month.”*

Could this explain why many describe our culture as “post-Christian”?

If God’s people don’t read, study, and internalize His Word, we are easily taken in by the enemy’s subtle deceptions. We fall for his perversions of the truth. We embrace his twisted world view. We naively adopt his self-serving attitudes. We fall for his discouragement and intimidation. We stand helpless when he robs us blind of everything that matters. And our whole culture pays the price.

Sometimes we get the impression that spiritual warfare is as simple as knowing a few choice verses that we can lob at the enemy when he attacks. We might toss a few grenades, reminding the devil that we’re “the head, not the tail” and that “no weapon formed against [us] will prosper” (Deuteronomy 28:13; Isaiah 54:17).

But winning spiritual battles requires a lot more than knowing a few key verses. The whole counsel of God’s Word is our arsenal. Being effective in spiritual warfare is

  • having the right word for every occasion, as Jesus did when Satan tempted Him (see Matthew 4).
  • knowing Scripture so well that we are able to discern the subtle ways the enemy twists it.
  • finding strength and hope in God’s truth so that the enemy’s arrows of fear and defeat don’t take us out.
  • being grounded in God’s wisdom so we understand the times we live in and know how to respond to them.
  • Being trained—by God’s Word and His Spirit—in godliness (see 1 Timothy 4:8) so that we are in a constant state of battle-readiness.

Unlike ancient Israel, there are still blacksmiths in our land. Thank God for that! We have nearly limitless opportunities to purchase, study, enjoy, and be fortified by God’s Word. Oh, friends, let’s do it! Let’s be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power so that when the day of evil comes, we can stand our ground and keep standing! (Ephesians 6:10, 13).

*http://www.christianpost.com/news/300-christian-leaders-tackle-disconnect-between-bible-ownership-literacy-61421/

Where Are All the Wonders?

It’s generally easier for me to pray for “little answerables”* than to pray for miracles. I don’t like this about myself, but it’s true.

Recently God challenged me about this. I am part of a community of believers who regularly ask God to do Big Things. They ask Him for a lot more than traveling mercies, healing from colds, and help for loving difficult people. And Scripture tells me that God is a God of Big Things. But I’ve only witnessed a few of these in my experience, so I suppose that makes me timid.

Many of the miracles I hear about either happen in places far away or times long ago. Though that probably shouldn’t raise doubts for me, it does. So I think you’ll understand why, while reading in Judges recently, a familiar story hit me in a powerful new way.

The people of Israel had disobeyed God—nothing new there. So He allowed them to be oppressed by the Midianites for seven years. Nothing new there, either.

When it got really bad, God’s people cried to Him for help. He sent a prophet to explain why they were suffering like this: God had told them not to worship false gods—but they did not listen to Him.

Nevertheless, God decided to show mercy. One day the Lord told Gideon He would deliver Israel from the Midianites. But Gideon had a hard time believing.

“If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’” (Judges 6:13, emphasis added).

I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t read a word further. Gideon didn’t know the end of the story, but I did. I knew that God would do great miracles through Gideon, several times over. God was indeed about to deliver Israel from their enemies. How could Gideon doubt? I wanted to enter the story and scold him for his lack of faith.

That’s when I realized I am Gideon.

I look at the wonders that other people tell me about and assume that was then and now is now. Or that was there and here is here.

As I pondered Gideon’s lack of faith—and mine—I realized that the Bible describes other periods when God did not act or speak for a space of years (e.g. Psalm 44:1-9, 74:9; 1 Samuel 3:1).Then, as now, there were long seasons when God didn’t seem to be doing Big Things. (Often, incidentally, that was because His people had turned away from Him, but that’s another subject for another day.)

However, just when people were about to despair of all hope, God would show up. He would deliver, heal, revive, restore. He would do Big Things—even bigger than anyone imagined or asked for (see Ephesians 3:20).

That gives me hope. The fact that I haven’t seen Him do any Big Things in quite a while does not in any way shorten His hand or diminish His power. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

So, when I doubt, I want to remember Gideon. “Where are all the wonders?” They are coming! God is still on His throne. His arm is not too short to save or His ear to weak to hear (Isaiah 59:1).

“I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him” (Isaiah 8:17).

*I borrowed this term from Jon Graf (http://www.harvestprayer.com/resources/articles/personal/pray-like-paul)

The Psalm Project

A couple of months ago I spent a couple of days away with God at a quiet retreat center.

I didn’t go with an agenda—I wanted God to direct the time. And He did! He surprised me with a fun project He wanted to do with me.

First, you need some background: I’ve been asking God to teach me more about worship. Corporate worship is pretty easy for me—I go to church, someone leads, and I join in. But I don’t want always to have to depend on someone else to lead my worship time. I want to offer meaningful worship to God when it’s just Him and me, too!

So it was a lot of fun when God led me to surf the Internet (Yes, I’m serious!)

Why don’t you create a play list of songs based on the Psalms? I heard Him whisper.

Why, indeed? Well, I suppose because I never thought of it before! But now that He had planted the idea, I was eager to try it out.

I grabbed my laptop and my Bible, connected to the Internet (yes, even remote Catholic retreat centers have Wi-Fi) and connected to Amazon Prime. I searched the Psalms, one by one, and sampled the different songs that came up. If I liked them, and if they were free (that’s how I generally operate), they went onto my playlist. Sometimes I had two or even three songs to go with a single Psalm. Where there were holes, I’d search on some of the more well-known lines of the Psalm to see if that produced anything. Often it did.

I spent hours on the project—there are 150 Psalms, after all—and the time I spent was pure joy. I never would have found the time for such a project if I hadn’t taken the time to get away on a personal retreat. By the end of the afternoon I had nearly 100 songs, which I put in canonical order onto my playlist.

In the weeks since then, I have used that playlist almost every day. Each morning I read a Psalm, meditate on it, pray it, and then, with the help of my playlist, I sing the Psalm to the Lord. And because music sticks in my head, I often find the Psalm playing through my head throughout the day.

Sometimes I come to a Psalm that isn’t represented on my playlist. If I especially like that Psalm and want to remember it and sing it, I will search the internet to see if there are any songs available for purchase. (I prefer no cost, but hey—it’s worth paying 99-cents to get a good song, right?)  I haven’t been disappointed. I have found songs for every single Psalm through Psalm 50 so far!

A cool side benefit of this new practice is that I’m starting to what the various psalms are about. I know that 24 is “King of glory.” Psalm 4 is evening and Psalm 5 is morning. Psalm 35 is one of the rescue-me-from-my-enemies prayers. You get the idea.

Anyhow, I’m enjoying this little project so much that I just thought you might like to know about it. Maybe some of you already do it. Or maybe you’d like to start. If you do, let’s compare notes—or play lists!