Revival comes as God’s response to the acknowledgment, anguish, and action of his people.
My favorite Sunday to preach, over the course of the entire year, is on Homecoming! Normally, I use it as an occasion to preach on the theme of home or place, a very important theme to the story of the Bible. However, today, I want us to think about revival. Homecoming Sunday kicks off our late Summer revival here at Mt. Pleasant, so I want to get us off on the right foot.
However, I also want to preach about revival today, because I think that we all recognize we are a people in need of some sort of revival! In our homes, in our churches, in our communities, and in our public discourse we need a movement of God!
For that reason, I want us to think today about three things needed for revival: (1) acknowledgment of our real problem and need, (2) anguish over our current situation, and (3) action empowered by the Spirit of God! Now, I do want you to know that these things do not exhaust what is needed for us to experience of a movement of God. Obviously, prayer is essential to experience revival in our churches and in our communities. However, I only talk about prayer in a round-about way.
There is one more truth that I want you to understand about renewal before we get started. No one wants revival more than God does! No one—not in this room, not in this county, not in this state, not in this nation, and not in this world—wants the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven as much as God does! May that encourage you as we consider God’s Word today!
REVIVAL COMES WHEN WE SEEK IT FROM THE RIGHT PLACE: AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF OUR NEED FOR GOD
Renewal comes when we seek it from the right place—from an acknowledgment of our need for God. To see this, I am going to walk you through a few sections of the book of Hosea.
I want us to think a little bit about the history and plight of Israel in the time of Hosea, because what took place in the days of Hosea among the people of Israel, I think, is analogous to our current situation.
And, the thing that we need to understand about Israel in the days of Hosea is that, like us (I will argue), Israel sought the wrong kind of revival.
Hosea preached and prophesied in a period of Israel’s history in which they desperately needed revival, and no one wanted it more than God did! No one! However, at first Israel could not even see that there was anything wrong. Why? They could not see that there was a problem, because they were blinded by their prosperity. Things were going well!
And, then, when they did realize that something was wrong, they could not see their real problem. Therefore, when they asked God for renewal, they did not ask him because they recognized that they did not truly know him as they needed to or because they desired that, moving forward, God’s kingdom would come from heaven to the earth through them.
Rather, all they wanted was for God to take them back to a previous moment in history—a more prosperous moment. But what they did not realize is that the moment that they wanted to return to was a time in which they were as equally in need for God as they were in the present! Israel sought the wrong kind of revival!
With that, I want to lay out the context for the first verse that we will look at today: Hosea 5:15.
When Hosea began his ministry among the people of Israel—the people of God—they were settled in the land of promise. And, they were in desperate need for a movement of God, but here is the kicker: they didn’t even know it!
Israel was God’s chosen people in God’s chosen place, and for a long time they experienced the blessings of God. For many people, things were going well. They had plenty and felt relatively safe from outside forces. However, beneath the surface, not all was well with Israel’s soul. Some of you may be that way today. When we gather together on Sunday, we all wear our best clothes, right? Women put on their makeup. Men shave and comb their hair. When we gather as a body, we should be transparent and open, so that we can bear each other’s burdens and encourage one another in the Lord. Instead, we put on our proverbial masks, and it is possible, if not probable, that some of us are like Israel. Things look right on the outside, but not all is well with our souls. If that is you, then listen carefully to God’s Word today and open your heart, because no one cares for you soul more than God does!
Israel looked good on the outside, but not all was well. They confessed to be people of the LORD—people of the god who had rescued them from Egypt. They confessed to be the people of the God-of-the-Bible, but, in reality, their trust was in other gods, gods that promised to prolong their prosperity and fertility. Back then they were called Baals. Today, we could call them Mammon and Lord Military, perhaps even Uncle Sam. But the problem, then as today, is that these gods are not like the LORD. They are not compassionate, merciful, and faithful. They did not look at all like Jesus! They are not gods who have a heart for the broken and bruised of this world. Rather, they are gods who consume, and, in this quest for consumption, overlook and oppress the broken and bruised.
And, Israel, as they worshipped these gods, began to become like these gods, which always happens by the way! They began to be shaped into a greedy people who overlooked the vulnerable ones God had called them to embrace, and they began to overlook and oppress the broken and bruised in their midst. Israel was sick, and they didn’t even know it! They were blinded by their prosperity, and their full worship gatherings.
Israel’s focus and delight in other gods shaped them into a greedy, cold-hearted people who sacrificed their poor so that they could gain more and more and feel more and more secure. As a result, they built systems and developed habits that promoted those desires, and the evil one who longs to steal, to kill, and to destroy was at work through it all to draw God’s people and place toward death and destruction.
This is where verse 15 comes in. Verse 15 is God’s response to an idolatrous, but oblivious Israel.
God’s solution to Israel’s problem was to withdraw from them for a time and to hand them over to the consequences of their sins. He would do this in hope—in hope, that they would come to their senses, acknowledge their sin, and come to a place of true repentance, acknowledging their need for God. Look with me at verse 15. There, the LORD says:
15 I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.
God would withdraw from them and their land to his throne in heaven. He would hand them over to the consequences of their actions. And, without the aid of the God of life in a world under the power of the evil one, they would begin to experience the beginnings of disorder and de-creation—life without God.
And, that is what happened. Their crops began to fail. Their peaceful existence in a world of violence began to appear more fragile. What they thought had been a sure future began to be more uncertain. This brings us to verses 1-3. In these verses, Israel is starting to recognize that something is wrong. So, Israel asks for renewal but from the wrong place.
This is a recurring theme throughout all Hosea and the prophets. Israel asks for help, asks for renewal but they are so blind that they don’t even know what their problem is. They don’t know what they need revival for! And, they won’t listen or look even when it is spelled out in front of them by the prophets. However, you can bet that they expect God, because they are his people and have been given a place of privilege, to restore to them their former prosperity. Look with me at verses 1-3 of Chapter 6. Israel says:
1 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
Israel had finally come to the place in which they saw a need for renewal, but they sought that renewal from the wrong place. They did not seek it from a desire truly to know God and have that change them from the inside out, but they sought it from a desire to go back to the way things were before. That’s what and why they grieved, if you can even call their trite prayers grief at this point!
Israel’s prosperous harvests and sure foundation slowly began to give way to scarcity and uncertainty. But, at first, they didn’t let it bother them too badly. They remembered who they were. They were the LORD’s chosen people! They remembered his promises. The LORD had told Solomon that if things started going South, then they just needed to come together and pray, they just needed to press on to know the LORD, then he would hear from heaven and would heal their land.
So, that is what Israel does in verses 1-3. They come together. They make their sacrifices. They offer their burnt offerings. They say their prayers. They have their “revival” services. They sing their revival songs. But HERE IS THE PROBLEM! They were seeking renewal from the wrong place. They didn’t really acknowledge their problem. They didn’t really acknowledge that they had worshipped other gods and become unjust toward the vulnerable just like the gods of the age.
They didn’t seek really to know the God of the Exodus whose eye is toward the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant. They didn’t really seek to know the God of steadfast love, compassion, and mercy. And, they didn’t really desire his kingdom to come from heaven to earth through them. They just wanted to go through the rituals and to receive the blessings of their former prosperity.
If you don’t believe me, then look with me at God’s response in the following verses. In verses 4-10, God responds in this way:
4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. 7 But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. 8 Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. 9 As robbers like in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. 10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled.
What’s the LORD’s response to Israel’s half-hearted prayers for revival? Like a parent with a child who just jumped off the bed for the hundredth time after he had just said the ninety-ninth was the last time, the LORD answers: What am I to do with you, my child? What can I do to make you see? What is it going to take? Their love and faithfulness, their prayers for revival, their desire for a change in them and in the world around them, it disappeared as quickly as the morning dew that melted before I even began this sermon.
So, first, the LORD grieves! Remember, he wants their flourishing more than they do!
Then, the LORD told them what he desired even though they would not take it to heart. He didn’t want their sacrifices. He didn’t desire their burnt offerings; those were for their benefit, not his. He didn’t want, as if they were an end in themselves, their protracted services and emotional appeals. He wanted them to know him—truly to know him—as the God who frees the oppressed, and as the God who homes the homeless, and as the God who welcomes refugees. And, as the God who gently mends the hearts of those who have spent too much time away from him.
Some of you have spent too much time away from God, and you need to know God as the one who mends broken hearts. He longs today for you to come and to rescue you!
That’s what he had done for Israel! He wanted a deep relationship with the people he’d made and saved for his glory. And, coming to know him in an intimate way, he wanted them to reflect that compassion and mercy in the way that they treated others around them and in the way that they structured the programs and the systems of their society. That’s what he wanted. He wanted them truly to come to him, to drink from the waters of life, and to allow those living waters to spring forth from them to heal the world around them as well. He wanted them to repent from their lust for more and more things and more and more power and to begin to treat one another fairly and compassionately. But you know what? They still didn’t get it! They didn’t get it! Therefore, the LORD allowed them to experience the consequences of their sins even more fully. As a result, scarcity and the fear of an uncertain future deteriorated into the threat of war and captivity.
This brings us to the last three verses that I want us to look at from Hosea: Hosea 7:14-16. Here, the half-hearted, unserious prayers of 6:1-3 have changed. Israel is no longer heaving up trite mantras for revival, they are crying and wailing for it. They are no longer beginning to get worried; they are literally cutting themselves from emotional distress. However, their desire was still for the wrong kind of revival. It still wasn’t truly to know the God of love and to have their hearts changed to reflect his kindness and mercy. And, as a result, they would be handed over to their enemies and taken again into captivity. Look with me at Hosea 7:14-16:
14 They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. 15 Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. 16 They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.
Israel cried and wailed; they cut themselves for revival! But they still didn’t get it. They still didn’t even understand their problem. They didn’t lament the fact that they had failed to grasp who God truly is. They didn’t lament the fact that they failed to reflect his kindness and compassion to the world around them.
What did they really want revival for? Why did they really grieve? The LORD tells us in verse 14. They did it for grain and for wine! They lamented the fact that their bank accounts were no longer booming, that their fridges were no longer full, and that, in their minds, their borders were no longer secure. They cried, wailed, and cut themselves not because they wanted God’s kingdom to come from heaven to earth nor because they wanted him to heal their hearts, but because they wanted to go back to the prosperity of a previous generation, because they wanted God to Make Ephraim Great Again.
But Israel’s root problem wasn’t that the prosperity of a former era had gone. Israel’s problem was most certainly not the poor and downtrodden in their midst! Their problem was that even though they claimed to worship the God of the Bible, they worshipped the gods of the evil age. And this was clear, abundantly clear, to the LORD and the prophets through Israel’s lack of compassion, through their perverse willingness to arm themselves and shed blood.
What they needed, even though they were too blind to see it, was not to return to a “golden age” that didn’t even really exist. Rather, they needed to move forward toward a renewed knowledge of God as the covenant-keeping LORD who is for the marginalized and oppressed!
Israel sought the wrong kind of revival and from the wrong place, from a place in which they lamented their lost prosperity but not their need for God and his kingdom!
I say all of that because we also seek the wrong kind of renewal! I want to propose to you today that the reason our prayers for renewal are not heard is that we, like Israel, long for the wrong kind of renewal. We, like Israel, need to acknowledge what our real problem is. We come to the LORD with our tent revivals. We come to the LORD with our revival services. We come to the LORD with our National Days of Prayer. We sing our revival songs.
But what is our desire? What is it that we are longing for? What is it that we believe to be the problem?
Is our desire to go back to an era that once was or is it truly to know the God of the Lord Jesus Christ more deeply and to have that knowledge reshape everything else in our lives? Our root problem is not that the jobs of a bygone era have gone. Our root problem is not that kids today have never known the morals of a previous generation. Our root problem is that we do not know the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as deeply as we need to. And, I can say that we complete confidence because we lack compassion.
I don’t know about you individually, but corporately speaking, evangelicals in this country have a compassion problem, which is really a knowledge of God problem. And, until we acknowledge that fact, renewal won’t come. Renewal comes when we seek it from the right place, from a place in which we acknowledge our sin and our need for God.
REVIVAL IS BORN FROM A PLACE OF ANGUISH
Secondly, I want us to see that revival is born from a place of anguish. The biblical word for this is lament. Renewal for Israel was finally born from a place of deep lament. To see this, I want you to turn back with me a few books to Lamentations 1.
I don’t know if our trip through Hosea inspired you to read the rest of the prophets this afternoon to see if they truly repented and experienced revival, but I am going to just go ahead and tell you anyway! Spoiler Alert: Israel still didn’t get it. After Hosea’s ministry, they were handed over to their enemies, both Israel and Judah—both branches of the Israelite tree. The Assyrians and the Babylonians came in with their armies, destroyed their cities, took their best and brightest young people away into captivity, and left those alive barely to survive, if not slowly starve, in a dystopian environment.
That is where Lamentations comes into the picture. Lamentations is Jeremiah’s record of the survivors who had been left in Jerusalem after the War.
And, what we see is that . . . now they get it. They see their true problem, but it’s almost too late. I say almost, because a remnant would survive the Exile and give birth to Jesus. But they had to go through deep suffering in order to get to a place in which they finally heard God’s cries and calls for them to come to him that he might heal them.
As we read a few verses from Lamentations, I want you to think of these verses sort of like the Christmas Story! In the Christmas Story, a miserable ghost warns Scrooge not to follow in his steps. Think of these verses in that way: the ghost of missed-revivals-past speaking to us Scrooges today! Look with me at Lamentations 1:12, 14-18:
12 “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger. . . 14 “My transgressions were bound into a yoke; by his hand they were fastened together; they were set upon my neck; he caused my strength to fail; the Lord gave me into the hands of those whom I cannot withstand. 15 The Lord rejected all my mighty men in my midst; he summoned an assembly against me to crush my young men; the Lord has trodden as in a winepress the virgin daughter of Judah. 16 For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed. 17 Zion stretches out her hands, but there is none to comfort her; the LORD has commanded against Jacob that his neighbors should be his foes; Jerusalem has become a filthy thing among them. 18 The LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word; but hear, all you peoples, and see my suffering; my young women and my young men have gone into captivity.”
Israel finally recognized her problem and lamented in the midst of her desperate need for God. And, from that sort of lament came the remnant that would one day give birth to Jesus.
Revival is born from a place of lament. Revival, for us, will come from a place of lament. We need to get to the place in which we are in anguish over what our world has become. We need to get to the place in which we are in anguish to know God again and to have him change us into people who are more like Jesus!
But here is my question to you? What will it take for you to come to a place of true lament?—a place in which you truly understand your desperate need for God and for God to reshape your heart?
What’s it going to take? Individually, for you? Will it take the disruption of your home? Will it take the breakdown of your marriage? Will your children be sacrificed to the gods? What will it take?
The people of Jerusalem speak to us from their lament and say, “Do not let it get to that point! Today is the day of salvation and renewal for you, seek him and live. No one wants a new beginning for you more than God does!”
Corporately, as a movement of evangelicals, what is it going to take for us not only to see our need for renewal but also our real problem? How many people must be locked away? How many black and brown bodies must lie dead in the streets? Just how hard must our hearts become? How bad do things have to be for us to see our need truly to come to know the God and Father of the Lord Jesus and for us to come truly to reflect his compassion to one another and into the world. What is going to take for us to cease attacking ourselves and gossiping about ourselves as a body of believers? And, what is it going to take for us to weep over the brokenness outside our walls?
What is it going to take for us to lament? Are you there today? If you are there, then begin to pray for your brothers and sisters. Pray for me. Pray for us a renewed knowledge of God and for him to reshape our hearts and our lives after the image of Jesus.
Revival is born from our anguish and lament.
REVIVAL COMES WHEN THE GRIEVING GOD WORKS THROUGH HIS GRIEVING PEOPLE
Renewal comes when we acknowledge our need for God. Renewal comes when we lament our current suffering because we don’t know God as we should. Finally, renewal comes when the Spirit of lament works through his grieving people.
I began by saying that no one—no one—in this room, in this county, or in this world longs for revival, longs for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven as much as God does. No one! I think we see that in Romans 8. In this passage, Paul talks about how the creation laments for God’s kingdom to come. He talks about how we, at least should, long for God’s kingdom to come in the midst of this dark and broken world.
However, he also says something profound. He says that God, through his Spirit, also laments and groans for the new life of his kingdom to come to life in this dark world. In fact, the Spirit himself groans for the fullness of the kingdom more than we do! And, then in Romans 8:28, Paul says that God is at work to bring the renewal and new creation he desires and groans and laments for to life through his people. Look with me at that verse. Romans 8:28:
28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love God and are called to his purpose. (RSV)
How does God bring renewal and revival and new creation to an area? He does it through people who have acknowledged their sin and need for God. He does it through people who have lamented over their current condition and the condition of the world around them. And, he does it through those who are being transformed after the image of his Son, those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Revival comes when our groans meet the Spirit’s groans, and we are then moved into action!
Paul says that God is working for good in all the things that happen in this world, but he is doing it through the people who love God and who have been called by him for his purpose in this world.
One of the biggest problems with the way that we have always looked at revival is this. We want God in an instant to fix all our problems and all the problems of this world. Sort of like the Israelites, we think if we bring the sacrifices and the burnt offerings of revival services and revival songs to him, then, after just two days, he should give us the return to greatness that we desire and, in a flash, fix all our problems—all our personal problems and all our societal problems.
But that has never been God’s design, not in the beginning when he ordered the creation and not when he gave his life for the world and gave birth to church through His Spirit. Think about it. God made and ordered the world, but he did not fill it. Rather, he created humans as his image, and, in effect, said, “Lets fill this world together! You look to me for wisdom, and I will work with you to fill this world with my glory.” God created a world, but made humans to fill it!
In the same way, when God’s Son came into this world, he didn’t go into all the world. Isn’t that fascinating! He stayed in one small area and preached to one marginalized, messed-up people. He didn’t go into the world and build hospitals or create clinics or preach or start churches. He stayed in one place and preached to one small group of misfits. But he told them this.
He told them that he was going to give his life for them and for the world, and then, empowered by his Spirit, they would go into all the world and they would share and live out the good news. They would start hospitals and clinics and would feed the poor and welcome home the stranger. Jesus even said that, filled with the Spirit and mobilized and set forth as a body, they would even do greater things than he.
That’s how God works. Revival services can be the beginning. They can be the occasion in which we get real and acknowledge our sin and our need for God. They can be the place in which we lament current conditions. But if renewal is really going to come, then it will come as God works through his lament-fueled people to go out into the world sharing and embodying the gospel—embodying the gospel not just in evangelism, but in all things!
God’s desire is to work in all things for God through his Spirit-filled, Jesus-shaped people!
How has God moved in your heart this morning? Have you spent too much time from him away? Perhaps you need to acknowledge your need for God. Are you realizing the pain that exists in our homes and in our communities? Perhaps you need to lament and to pray. Has he opened your eyes today to ways he wants you to go and embody good news? Perhaps you need to ask God to empower and encourage you by his Spirit. However, he is moving you today, be obedient! No one cares for our souls and longs for our flourishing more than he does!
If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.