The Scottish poet Robert Burns said it this way:
“Would some power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!”
It’s a gift most of us need to receive more often. We all want to believe the best about ourselves. That’s natural, and it’s even healthy. But it’s also healthy to have someone hold the mirror in front of your face and say, “This is what you really look like.” It can be a very instructive experience.
Spiritual progress begins when we see ourselves as God sees us. It’s one thing when a friend says, “This is what you look like.” It’s another thing for God to utter those words. We can sometimes fool even our closest friends, but it’s impossible to fool the Lord. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” He knows what we say behind closed doors, the secret thoughts no one else can hear, the hidden motives, the buried ambition, and all the twists and turns of our sinful nature. He doesn’t have to uncover our thoughts; he already knows them.
This is a sermon about revival. Let’s start with the word itself. You revive something when you bring it back to life. You can’t revive something that has never been alive in the first place. That’s why revival is different from evangelism. Evangelism is preaching the gospel to the lost that they might be saved. Revival awakens the saved from a state of spiritual slumber. When God sends revival, the church wakes up. Or to give a more formal definition, revival is the sovereign act of God, whereby he calls his backsliding people to repentance, faith, and new obedience to him.
I grew up in a church tradition that emphasized “revival meetings,” usually week-long gatherings where a visiting minister would challenge us spiritually. I can remember sitting with rapt attention as Angel Martinez preached night after night at the church where I grew up. That was at least 50 years ago. Probably the greatest move of God I’ve been part of happened during a youth revival in May 1970. Lives were changed forever by the decisions made that weekend. I say that so you’ll know I’m not speaking against “revival meetings.” Not at all. They can be greatly used of God. I simply point out that revival is a sovereign move of God that can’t be scheduled in advance.
Our text comes from 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is perhaps the most famous verse on revival in the Bible:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
In the preceding verses the Lord lays out certain hard times that might come to the people of God. There might be a drought or a plague of locusts or an outbreak of disease in the land. 1 Kings 8 adds other times, such a crushing military defeat, or famine or blight or cities under siege by the enemy, or being sent into captivity. This verse is meant for God’s people whenever there is trouble in the land. The promise always applies, but in desperate times we need to pay close attention to verses like this.
2 Chronicles 7:14 was written for such a time as this. Let’s consider what it says under three headings.
I. The Subjects of Revival
“If my people, who are called by my name” (v. 14a).
These two phrases tell us this verse is limited to those who know the Lord. In this political season, when clergy of all stripes rush to support their preferred candidates, it’s important to remember 2 Chronicles 7:14 was not written to the Democrats or the Republicans. This is not a blanket invitation that applies to anyone, anywhere, at any time. God limits this invitation to those who are “his people.” This is not, for instance, a verse that applies to the Hindus. Nor does it apply to mankind in general. This promise applies to those who know Jesus and to no one else. To be called by the name of the Lord means you have called upon the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:13).
II. The Conditions for Revival
“Will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways” (v. 14b).
Here are the four conditions for revival:
What exactly is humility? Although many answers might be given, perhaps the simplest is that humility means seeing my true condition before God. After all, pride is simply taking credit for things that I’m not really responsible for. When we start feeling too puffed up about ourselves, we need to remember 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?” The answer is nothing. Not even Bill Gates can say, “I did this by myself.” To be sure, it took courage and ingenuity and commitment and perseverance to build Microsoft. Mr. Gates sits atop a multi-billion-dollar empire that didn’t happen by chance. Give that man all the credit he deserves. The same applies to every other successful man or woman in any field of endeavor. Kudos to anyone who has “made it” to the top. But just remember this. The strength to do the task, the intelligence to put together the plan, the skill to bring all the parts together, the courage to make it happen—all of it comes directly from God. It is true that between the richest man and the poorest man there is a great gulf in terms of worldly possessions. But on one point—the only one that counts—there is no difference. Both are alike the recipients of the grace of God. Neither man has anything to boast about. When we understand that, it changes the way we look at life, it changes the way we evaluate ourselves, and it changes the way we treat other people. If we are wise, it also changes our view of worldly success. We won’t base our self-image on our net worth when we believe God isn’t impressed with our bank account. We’ll have time for people because we understand we are all created by the same God.
What sort of prayer is the Lord talking about? It is the sincere prayer of a person who realizes his true condition. When I understand everything I have comes as a gift from God, my prayers will be filled with gratitude, love and praise. I will cry out to God, confessing how far short I fall of his divine standards. And every day I will remember the words of Jesus, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
# 3: Seeking God’s Face
The phrase “seek my face” is a familiar one in the Old Testament. It has to do with the direction of my life. It is very similar to the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). To seek God’s face is to hunger for a closer walk with him. Many of us know little of this because we fill our stomachs with spiritual junk food that never satisfies but keeps us from seeking nutritious food. The question is, what are you hungry for right now? Those who are hungry to know God seek one thing; those who are hungry for a career seek something else. What you are hungry for determines what you seek.
# 4: Turning from our Wicked Ways
At some point things have to change. We must repent. To repent means you turn from your wicked ways. You used to cheat on your wife, but now you don’t. You used to be lazy, but now you aren’t. You used to fill your mind with bitterness, but now you don’t. Once you were angry most of the day, but now you have turned away from anger. Once you were sloppy on the job when the boss wasn’t watching, but not anymore. Once you lived in lust for that which God has forbidden you to have, but not anymore. Once you lived to party on the weekends, but that life is part of your past. Whatever your wicked ways are, revival means turning from those ways to the ways that Please God. It means a definite break with the past and a deliberate change of direction.
If you think about it, these four conditions form a kind of progression:
You will never pray with any fervency until you see your true condition before God.
You will never seek God’s face until you begin to get serious about prayer.
You will never turn from your wicked ways until God becomes all-important in your life.
Humility leads to prayer. Prayer leads to seeking God’s face. Seeking God’s face leads to turning from our wicked ways.
III. The Results of Revival
“Then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (v. 14c).
We need to think carefully about this because it’s easy to turn 2 Chronicles 7:14 into a formula for revival. Certainly the verse lays out a plan for us to follow. The word “then” encourages us to believe our crying to God will never be in vain.
Our tears are not in vain.
Our prayers are not in vain.
Our burden is not in vain.
|Our sadness is not in vain.
Our desperation is not in vain.
Perhaps we can say it this way. When we are so dissatisfied with the status quo that we cry out to God for help, the answer will indeed come from heaven and things will begin to change. We must not limit God as to the how and the when. He is still the sovereign God who does whatever pleases him (Psalm 115:3). We must not dictate to the Lord about how the answer from heaven will come. He will answer in his own time, in his own way, according to his own will. But we have this assurance:
He will hear.
He will forgive.
He will heal.
If we do our part, though it will seem very incomplete, God will certainly do his. If we humble ourselves, and if we pray, and if we seek his face, and if we turn from our wicked ways, knowing all the while that we still fall short, God will move from heaven to come to our aid.
Politics is Not the Answer
This verse gives me hope because we seem to be in a bad state today. I cannot remember a time when America was more divided than we are at this moment. As a nation, we have turned away from the Lord. How will we ever find our way back to God?
The answer won’t come from the White House.
Politics will not save us.
Putting another justice on the Supreme Court won’t heal our land.
I say that in full recognition that it matters greatly how we vote because it matters who sits in the White House and makes those judicial appointments. We have to vote. I’m all for speaking out and taking a stand.
But when all is said and done, our greatest need is not political; our greatest need is spiritual. We need another great awakening in our land. Perhaps it will come in our day. I certainly hope so. Perhaps we will see another Layman’s Prayer Movement sweep our nation. I’m certainly encouraged by the thousands who have come to the various state capitals to pray with Franklin Graham. I’m very glad about the hundreds of thousands who came to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the “Together 2016” event. Later this year a number of ministries are planning different events to call the church to prayer. I urge you to get involved in praying with others for revival. Across the nation churches have come together to pray in response to the shootings that have taken place. This is all to the good.
Praying in the Last Days
Let me add one final thought. I believe we are living in the last days before the coming of the Lord. It certainly seems like the “terrible times” of 2 Timothy 3:1 have come true in our generation. I don’t have any secret information about the date of the Lord’s return. I’m simply giving my observation on the basis of what the Bible says about the last days.
What if Jesus is coming soon? What difference should that make to us? Can we still expect a move of God in the last days of human history? With all my heart, I believe the answer is yes. Take a quick look at Luke 18:1-8, which we call the Parable of the Persistent Widow. Most of us know the story about the judge who gave the widow what she wanted because she wore him out by coming back again and again. It’s an easy-to-grasp lesson on the importance of persistence when we pray. That much is obvious. But here’s the kicker. Jesus ends the story this way: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Where did that come from? This isn’t a parable about the second coming. It’s about prayer. But Jesus applies it to the situation on the earth when he returns.
What’s up with that?
We need to read this against the larger New Testament teaching that in the last days there will be a huge turning away from the Lord. It is sometimes called the “apostasy” or the “falling away.” You can read about it in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and 2 Thessalonians 2. As we rush headlong toward the return of Christ, we should expect to see exactly what is happening today:
Christians compromising their faith.
Pastors turning away from the truth.
Spiritual leaders who mislead the flock of God.
As the foundations of society crumble beneath us, we will see this happening more and more. All these things are just the “beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8).
We ought to read Luke 18:9 in light of those passages. In a world where truth has become entirely subjective, where feelings trump biblical commands, where we reinterpret the Bible to justify our sin, Jesus’ poignant question takes on a deeper meaning:
When the Son of Man comes…
Will he find faith in your church?
Will he find faith in your family?
Will he find faith in your heart?
While going through my files, I found the notes from the final sermon I preached at the first church I pastored after seminary. On that parting Sunday I told the people, “I have some prayers I have prayed for a long time.” I listed a number of requests I had brought before the Lord. My notes say I had just talked with someone whose marriage was in trouble because of an enslaving habit. They were in despair and needed a place to live. No name is written down, and I can honestly say that 33 years later, I have no idea who I was praying for back then. But I added this…
“Not all my prayers have been answered… yet!!!”
As we journey along through life, there will always be some prayers that haven’t been answered yet. Will we give up or will we keep praying? That’s what Jesus means when he asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Will he find anyone still believing or will everyone turn away?
Will he find faithful believers who still pray as the world self-destructs?
We can make sure the answer is yes. We can do our part by praying persistently, unitedly, fervently, joyfully, and faithfully. I believe those end-time prayers will have great power with the Lord because they are offered in the face of persecution, ridicule, and rising unbelief.
God will not let those prayers go to waste.
Start by Looking in the Mirror
So where does revival begin? The answer is always the same. It begins with you and it begins with me. It’s one thing to talk about what stands between our nation and revival or between my church and revival. It’s always easier to confess someone else’s sins. Ask God what stands between you and a new experience of his power and blessing. If you ask in sincerity, God will surely answer.
Do we have to stay the way we are? The answer is, “No, but." We have to start by understanding “the way we are.” Once we see that, the possibility of genuine change and real spiritual growth is open to us. So I end where I began. Revival is not far away when we see ourselves as God sees us. It’s easy to say, “America needs to get right with God” or “My neighbor needs changing” or “My church needs revival.” Those statements can become excuses for evading our own responsibility.
The call of Christ is always personal. He calls us one by one to follow him. Perhaps we should repeat the Chinese prayer that goes this way: “O Lord, change the world. Begin, I pray thee, with me.” Revival begins with the person you see when you look in the mirror. Start there and by God’s grace revival will begin inside your own heart.