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“The greatest threat we face as a nation is an unawareness of our own condition. So many in our nation fail to realize that we really are at war.”
What a Pentagon official told me could be said about the church. Many have settled into a mindset that Ephesians 6 and the battle in the spiritual realms for the souls of men is just not relevant today. We seem more concerned about the latest trends in technology in worship, the latest book or the hippest new preacher than we have in the fact that the devil, the flesh and the world conspire against our souls. If we ever doubted that we are in a spiritual battle, the past few weeks of outright assault on religious liberty should have awakened us. If that is not enough, just look at the worldliness of our people.
There needs to be prayer for revitalization in the West, support for revival in the rest. It is good, then, for us to have a holy dissatisfaction.
So we begin with Isaiah 64:1-12. Isaiah had seen the throne room of God. He had seen God’s glory. He not only had a sacred encounter (Isaiah 6) but a divine calling. He never can be the same. In a way, he never can be satisfied with pious platitudes, shallow solutions or earthly answers. He wanted God to come down. It is God’s message to His church today.
Once you experience revival, you never will forget it.
I remember having gone on my first trip to Albania to preach. It was right after the wall fell. There was revival in the air. I was coming back home through London. I was in a black cab going to my hotel, passing monuments of a glorious Christian past, yet people were passing by them as if they were passing Starbucks. I began to unload on the cab driver about how at the top of the Bank of England there is an inscription that says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psalms 24:1).
I asked him, indignantly: “Do you know where that comes from, my friend?” Before he could answer, I told him, “That is from the Psalms! Or don’t you know where the Psalms are located? That is the Bible, my friend! This entire city and civilization was built on the foundation of that Word, and just look at the people passing! One day, these all will crumble for lack of spiritual upkeep; and then you will know!” I paused, out of breath. He looked at me in the mirror, giving a look of open-mouth wonder, and asked in his Cockney way, “You wouldn’t be a padre, would ye?”
Isaiah had been on a mission trip of sorts. He had been to the very throne room of God. He came back with a message that could be summarized as, “Repent, believe and follow God.” The cab drivers of Jerusalem knew he was likely a padre, too. God told him, however, his divine message would go unheeded. Yet Isaiah revealed that he had a heart for the people and a heart for God.
Jim Kennedy used to tell me, “Michael, to be a minister you must love God, love people and love His Word. Without any one of those things, you never will be useful for the Lord.” Isaiah seemed to have all three working. In Isaiah 64, he has looked upon the godly foundations of Israel crumbling under the increasing weight of sin and neglect of their faith in God. So he began not by trying to change laws, but trying to change himself into a praying man. He called down God. He believed that without God there’s no hope.
Our nation needs hope. Our churches need hope. So we do. In 1961, then actor and GE spokesman Ronald Reagan said that if government intrusion went unopposed, we could find ourselves in our sunset years telling our children what American used to be like when men were free. We are already there in telling our children what it was like when biblical Christianity was a primary presence in our nation. For we see our nation at a point when many of us don’t recognize it. Many are concerned the foundations, erected by our forefathers, are crumbling under the weight of secularism and relativism, increasingly antagonistic relations between unbelievers and believers, and worse—apathy among those who claim the name of Jesus.
Isaiah 64:1-12 describes what I need to do and what God will do in this nation today to see the spiritual foundations restored and have a realistic hope for a real recovery.
We Need a Holy Dissatisfaction
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence” (Isa. 64:1, ESV).
When I read God’s Word in its whole, I come to understand the Word of God begins with a burden. The burden is God’s burden for His own creation. Man was unable to keep God’s law and fell away from his Creator. This grieved God. According to Ephesians 1, God saw this before the foundation of the world and took steps to remedy the problem. After the fall, the rest of Scripture is a record of God working out His covenant of grace. That is, God, by grace, doing for man what man could not do for himself. It is a record of God ordaining that He would come down to fulfill the requirements of His own law and pour out His divine wrath for sin upon Himself as a propitiation for the sins of man. God was burdened for His own creation.
So the vision of the Bible begins with a burden. Therefore, I would say that if it is to be biblical, any outline for a church’s vision must begin with a burden. When we come to understand that burden, when we have a heart and a passion for something that grieves us, that pains us, that creates desire, we then have a vision. A biblical vision is a divine solution that lifts the burden.
I turn to Isaiah 64, for Isaiah was a man with a burden for God’s glory in his own generation. In this passage we may first come to understand the definition of this burden. We see this when we encounter the prophet’s words, “Oh, that…” Job used this phrase more than anyone in Scripture. He cried out from the deepest part of his soul: “Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!” (Job 19:23).
David used the same opening in his exasperation regarding the sin of the wicked: “Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness. And for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psalms 107:21).
Isaiah the prophet also cried out: “Oh, that You would…come down… (Isa. 64:1b).
“Oh, that” is a holy dissatisfaction with the way things are in comparison with who God is. The prophet has seen God, experienced His glory, known His salvation, desired that Israel know Him, and thus, was dissatisfied.
There is evidence throughout the Bible that Christians are to be dissatisfied. We are enjoined to be content, but it is to be with our circumstances, not with God’s glory!
Moses had a burden. When he first had a burden for his Hebrew brethren, he took matters into his own hands and ended up herding goats in the back 40 of Midian; but then God came down in a burning bush so that when Moses took his rod and marched into Pharaoh’s court, he had a burden for God’s glory.
Paul knew God’s glory in grace and never could be content with ordinary religion. He would sacrifice all, count every gain as rubbish, put himself at risk and take on any earthly power. For what? That he might know Christ and the power of His resurrection. Paul was a burdened man. He was burdened for God’s glory. He had experienced Christ and thought the world unworthy until every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father.
The Reformation could be traced to a holy dissatisfaction in the soul of the German Priest Martin Luther. That paper with the 95 theses that he nailed to the Wittenberg church door was a sign of his holy burden for God’s glory and God’s grace to flow over the land.
There is a song I remember singing with Christians in Wales when I studied there. I brought it back; and when I planted a church in Kansas City, I used to gather our core group, sing this and remind them this is why we were planting a church—because we were desperate for God to come down!
“RESTORE, O LORD,
The honour of Your name,
In works of sovereign power.
Come shake the earth again;
That men may see
And come with reverent fear
To the living God,
Whose kingdom shall outlast the years.
“Restore, O Lord,
The honour of Your name, In works of sovereign power Come shake the earth again; That men may see
And come with reverent fear
To the living God, Whose kingdom shall outlast the years.”
This is Isaiah’s cry exactly. This was Luther, Calvin, Whitefield and Edwards’ cry; and it is ours. Any mission to our nation, for our family, for our own lives to be right with God must begin with a burden, a holy dissatisfaction. “Oh, that” is the soul cry of a person or church who has known the grace of God, who has come to know the joy of surrendering one’s life to the compassionate Christ and who is discontent until God is glorified, worshipped and enjoyed.
God is calling us to see and experience His own burden in our generation. We must be as Isaiah and say, “Oh, that God would come down” in our community. There are people here who need Christ. Oh, that God would come down to our nation. Oh, that God would come down to the Muslim people, the African people, Hispanics in Los Angeles; to smug, comfortable, pretend Christians who are not living to give God the glory.
I pray for a church with a burden for the glory of God. Isaiah’s “Oh, that” reveals his holy discontent, but the unfolding passage reveals more. We move from what I need to do to what God will do.
We Need for God to Come Down
Isaiah gave us three responses to this necessary dissatisfaction: There must be a prayer for revival, a position of repentance and a plea for remembrance. Let me explain.
1. When God Comes Down, There Is Prayer for Revival (vv. 1-4).
Isaiah was dissatisfied. Isaiah was burdened, and the relief he sought was genuine revival. The entire passage is a prayer for revival, especially verses 1-4:
“Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make Your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at Your presence. When You did awesome things that we did not look for, You came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides You, who acts for those who wait for Him.”
Oh, the passion in this passage! The prophet’s holy dissatisfaction moves him to prayer; his prayer focuses on God supernaturally coming down to earth, which is in dire need of His presence and power—not that Isaiah expects that when God comes down in revival there is a catastrophic reaction on earth, mountains burning, forests aflame, the rivers boiling. Imagine the Japanese earthquake, the California forest fires and the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami all at once!
The effect? This unmistakable presence of God creates terror in the hearts of those who oppose Him, and His name is magnified in the earth. Revival happens, and this is how it looks. It is outside our control. It is an act of God. It is clearly all about God’s timing, not ours; for Isaiah said God acts for those who wait. The waiting yields climactic revelations. It turns the world upside down. It converts the worst offender, and entire nations are impacted.
Our only hope is for God to come down in revival, and what this passage teaches us is that such transformative power—the power that brought Jesus to earth, that turned the cross from an instrument of shame into an symbol of salvation and made the tomb a sign of hope—is the power that saves us from ourselves. Pray, then, for this in our lives, our families, our nation and our world. “O, God, rend the heavens and come down!”
In 1992, it was my pleasure to preach throughout Albania. Communism had fallen days before I arrived. I was to do street preaching in Skanderbeg Square, the main square in the capital city of Tirana. I asked my Albanian friend where I should stand. He smiled a sort of mischievous smile and said, “Stand there.” I saw what appeared to be crumbled concrete. Then I saw it. It was a toppled statue of Joseph Stalin. I stood on the crumbled remains of an edifice to a madman who sought to destroy the gospel. From those remains, I proclaimed the gospel.
I saw the hunger for God in people who crowded around to hear God’s Word. I witnessed God coming down and transforming souls. When you see the glory of God in revival and then you see the cold, dead formalism of so many in our day, you are burdened. When you see revival, you never will forget it. I love this quote from Duncan Campbell about the revival he witnessed in his country:
“This is revival dear people! This is a sovereign act of God! This is the moving of God’s Spirit, I believe in answer to the prevailing prayer of men and women who believed that God was a Covenant-keeping God, and must be true to His Covenant engagement.”2
Paul Johnson, in his book History of the American People, notes that American history is a history of revival. I look upon our nation, our need, our evangelical churches so often going from one faddish program to another to try to grow members, to employ marketing and psychology to build buildings; and I want to cry out,” Oh, that God would come down!” We need genuine revival, a moment of God that transcends our natural abilities and makes everyone know that God has come down.
Will you continue as you are; or after encountering God in this passage, will you pray? Will we have such a holy dissatisfaction that our predicament becomes prayer for God to come down? There is no other answer to the redemptive goals of Christ in the church than for God to accomplish it through His Holy Spirit coming upon us. There is no other solution for our national and global problems other than a prayer for God to come down and cause us to tremble in His presence.
When God comes down, you can be sure there is a prayer that is calling Him, but we see a second consequence of Isaiah’s holy dissatisfaction that leads to this prayer:
2. When God Comes Down, There Is a Position of Repentance (vv. 5-7).
There is a bad idea out there about passivity in Christianity. If we walk an aisle; if we say a prayer; if we simply adopt an attitude of prayer, then that is enough. Yet Isaiah teaches us that there must be a militant rebellion against sin in self. There must be an observable response in the life of the believer to God. Isaiah said: “You meet Him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember You in their ways.”
Yet this new way of working what is pleasing to God begins with a wholehearted hatred of our sin and a confession of our condition:
“Behold You were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon Your name; who rouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”
Any hope for our lives, for our nation, for our world—and there is great hope because of Jesus Christ our Lord and His grace—begins with repentance. That is, literally, making a turn from everything else to God. Isaiah is so serious about this repentance that he named the sins. Often, Paul in the New Testament named sins. So must we. However, to examine our sinful lives before a holy God causes God to come down, change us and make us new people.
I remember a childhood friend named Sandy. Sandy was a bully. He was a year older than me and was known principally for his almost uncanny command of an ever-growing volume of curse words. I’ve never heard a more filthy mouth, but another kid began to pray for Sandy and invited him to church. There was a new preacher at our church, and it was an excuse for Sandy to go.
Well, Sandy was saved, and he changed. He eventually led his entire family to Christ. He was called to the ministry and is today a greatly used preacher in the Southern Baptist Church. The point is that Sandy became as aware of his sins as others were! As his heart was changed, his speech and behavior were changed. He began to take hold of God. He began to work righteousness. His militant response to sin, of repenting and transferring his trust wholly to Jesus Christ caused God the Holy Spirit to come down into his life. He was a new man.
We must have a burden for God’s glory in North America today. We are tired of vulgarity on the airwaves of our nation, horrified by abortions being given legal protection, struck with righteous indignation about our great Christian churches ordaining unrepentant sinners to the pulpit, offended by the sexualizing of everything and the open attack by Madison Avenue on our children’s innocence. However, are we burdened because we have a burden for God’s glory in our land?
We must surely be a church burdened by the ugliness of sin in our generation and by the bondage, pain and brokenness that accompany it. We long for reformation of our land. We pray God would come down and do something in the hearts of our countrymen, that God supernaturally would renew the minds of our families and communities so we can walk in righteousness before God and man.
3. When God Comes Down, There Is a Plea for God to Remember (vv. 8-11).
The question then is: How can we be saved? Indeed, this is Isaiah’s question in v. 64:5: “Shall we be saved?” (ESV) “How then can we be saved?” (NIV) “And we need to be saved” (NKJV).
Our answer is found in Isaiah 64:8: “But now, O LORD, You are our Father…”
When we pray and repent, we also call on God to remember His covenant. This is what Mary did in her Magnificat when she said that in the coming of Jesus, God had remembered His covenant. She is one of the best covenant theologians in the Bible!
In that one statement, we have our hope. We fix our eyes on the very nature of God as He reveals Himself to us. He is our Father. The fatherhood of God assures us that He will answer our prayers.
God as Father desires our salvation, healing and the transformation of our world more than any of us could. This is the testimony of Scripture:
• “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
• “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (1 Corinthians 5:19).
• “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
Benjamin Warfield of old Princeton taught that the emphasis of John 3:16 is about the love of God in comparison to the wickedness of the world. He “so loved the world.” God’s love is greater than our sin. His grace and mercy are greater than our rebellion.
This tells me that when I am burdened for God’s glory in revival and reformation, I want what God wants; and my prayers are bound to be answered. For God’s own nature, His fatherhood, assures me He will come down.
Jesus assured us of this truth when He said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).
Look also at Isaiah 64:9: “do not remember our sins forever” (NIV).
He didn’t. God, before the foundation of the world, made a sacred pledge with Himself, a covenant of grace, that He would assume the sins of His people Himself. Thus, on Calvary’s cross, the central act of cosmic history was conducted. I quote Paul: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV).
Our burdens are lifted at Calvary, and therein is our hope, our answer and the vision of our lives, churches and families. The love of God in Jesus Christ gives us optimism in our day. God will be successful. We may begin the work of prayer, preaching and witness in our day. We may not see the salvation en masse that we long to see, but God’s kingdom will be successful. He will bring them all in, which gives us unbounded assurance and joy regarding our work as a church. We are on the winning side.
Isaiah 64 draws us into a surprising beginning together. Our mission in the world, for God, only can be met by God. Thus, there is a prayer for revival, a position of repentance and a plea for God to remember His covenant in Jesus Christ. Then we shall be saved. Then the vision of Isaiah—that the earth would be so impacted that nations would be converted—will come to be.
We are at war. Christ is our victory. There is none other. Our holy hope is at the foot of the cross.
I once preached a message on the soul’s desire for God. After the service, an elder came to me and said, “I go to church. I pray. I do everything a good Christian is supposed to do; but when you talk about desiring God, I’m lost. When you talk about panting for the presence of God, I have no idea what you are talking about. I know the catechism, but I don’t know about this passion for Christ or this love for Him. Can you tell me what’s missing?”
What was missing was a true awareness of God’s glory, of his own sinfulness and of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ at Calvary’s cross. I am happy to say he came to know that love and grace. To know Him is to love Him and desire Him. To desire Him is to long for Him, to be burdened for His crown rights as King of kings and Lord of lords in our generation.
I quote the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the matter of praying for God’s burden to see God’s glory:
“We say our prayers, but have we ever prayed? Do we know anything about this encounter, this meeting? Have we the assurance of sins forgiven? Are we free from ourselves and self-concern, that we may intercede? Have we a real burden for the glory of God, and the name of the Church? Have we this concern for those who are outside? And are we pleading with God for His own name’s sake, because of His own promises, to hear us and to answer us? Oh, my God make of us intercessors.”
Don’t leave this place until you come to know your sin, your need and His holiness; but also know His love in sending His own Son to die for your sinful condition. When you know Him in that way and you look out on a world of brokenness, sin and shame—across the ocean, across the nation, across the city, and yes, across the living room of your own home—then your soul will be burdened to cry with Isaiah, “Oh, that God would come down…”
“Restore,” by Graham Kendrick and Chris Rolinson Copyright © 1981 Thankyou Music.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers/Crossway Books, 1987) 198.