The Pathway To Revival
By Dennis Kinlaw
The following message was given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference, April 2004, at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Let us first look at Isaiah, chapter 52. This chapter leads into Isaiah 53, that picture of Christ our Lord as the suffering servant Savior, as the arm of the Lord. The word here in Isaiah 52 is a word to Zion, the people of God and it is a word to the center of the people of God.
"Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion. For this is what the Lord says: ‘You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.’ For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘At first My people went down to Egypt to live; lately, Assyria has oppressed them. And now what do I have here?’ declares the Lord. ‘For My people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock’ declares the Lord.
"‘And all day long My name is constantly blasphemed. Therefore My people will know My name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.’ How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.
"When the Lord returns to Zion…[very interesting, when the Lord comes back to His own city and to His own house]
they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. [The Lord has returned to Zion.] The Lord will lay bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the Lord. But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard."
Father, we would not come to Your Word or to an hour like this without turning to You. Yours is a divine Word. So we open ourselves to hear what You have to say to us, and we pray that You would speak. Lord, You can use instruments of clay. Speak to our hearts, and we will give you praise in Christ’s Name. Amen.
A conviction has grown with me across the years that I’m not sure that I can prove. As I’ve looked at the Church, the Body of Christ, and at life in general, I’ve come to the conviction that organizations or institutions or movements or groups of any kind tend to rise or fall in one heart. At the center of any group there is a heart that is the key to the whole. There may be times when God has to work around that key, and He certainly does that, and I would not say He can’t. The conviction, however, has deepened with me that His normal pattern is, as you can only have one mother for a baby, so there is one person who is a key to a group. The group may be a family; it may be a neighborhood; it may be a Sunday school class, an educational institution, or a local church.
When I was a pastor, when spiritual slippage came in my own soul, and when there was spiritual dissipation in my inner being, there was disintegration in my flock, in my congregation. And when there was a centering in Christ and a total depending upon the Spirit inside me, God seemed to be free to work in the people for which I was responsible. This had nothing to do with my skills or the program that I was operating as a pastor. That’s where I came to feel that God usually starts to work in one heart and then moves to that larger group.
I think there is some biblical base for this. In the Garden of Eden, when God created man, God started the whole with a part but He had the whole in mind. When the time of the flood came and the thoughts and imaginations of men’s hearts were evil and "evil only," God had to wipe them out. He started again with Noah, a part, to reach the whole. After the tower of Babel, God had a world that was lost on His hands. Again he started with a part within the whole, Abraham, to reach the whole.
You find when He spoke to Moses, He said something like this: "You are to tell Pharaoh to let My firstborn son go. If he does not let my firstborn son go, it will be son for son." (Ex. 4:22). I missed for a long time the fact that He said "firstborn son." It may be the first great text in Scripture for me for missions. God seems to be saying here that Israel is to be His firstborn and there is going to be a place for others like the Gentiles. That would be a secondborn. But God started with a part to get to the whole.
You find that Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, the means God could use to reach the world. But by the time you get to Deuteronomy, it’s not the whole of Israel, it was an Israel within Israel, those that are circumcised in heart and not just in the flesh. It is a remnant, and it is a part in the part of a whole that He worked with. Then you come to Isaiah, and He was looking for something within that part of a part and He said that if He could find one the circumstances would be different. When He couldn’t find one, He had to become one. So we have in Isaiah 53, the promise of Christ.
The biblical call to repentance fits this, because the call to repentance in Scripture is not primarily to Babylon nor to its leaders, to the Sennacheribs or the Nebuchadnezzars or the Cyruses. The calls were to the Jehoiachins and the Zedekiahs, who were the kings in Israel. The call for repentance is to the people of God because there is no point in calling the world if the people of God are not what they are supposed to be.
So it is a call for revival among God’s people that is the only hope for the world. In Isaiah 52 God says in effect, "Awake, awake, O Zion, the people of God! Would you awaken and will you open the door so God can return to His own city?" If they do, the arm of the Lord will be manifested. All the nations of the earth will see it when He is able to return to His own people. God says, "You who bear the vessels of the Lord must be clean."
The Call Is to God’s People
In connection with this, I’d like to deal with a verse which is probably the first verse that you and I tend to turn to when we think about revival, and that is 2 Chronicles 7:14: "If My people, which are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
You notice immediately to whom this is directed: "If My people who are called by My name…." We Christians are the ones who have the name of Christ on us. This is not a word to the world. It is to His own people who are identified with His name. There needs to be a consonance between the name we bear and what we are. If that consonance is not there, then the world has no way of knowing the way out of its own darkness. So God is saying, "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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
I am not a Hebrew scholar but I used to teach a little of it, and I know enough that when I find a text that intrigues me, I turn to the Hebrew to see if there is light there for me that doesn’t come to me through the English translation. I looked at this passage and checked out the language used. There were insights that came that you’re not going to find in commentaries, but I think they will help us.
God says, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves…" The verb "humble" in the expression "humble themselves" comes from a Hebrew word that is not a common word in the Semitic world, but is used in a way that means to "contract" – something that is larger is brought down and made smaller. It is used of an eagle which has been soaring above everything, folding his wings. When he folds his wings, he is down to reality, down to the earth.
I’d like to make a suggestion from that. To humble oneself is to deflate oneself. We are getting to a realism about what is necessary for God to be able to show His hand. I may be puffed up and think I have something to do with the work of God and that I can produce it. The Scripture is very clear that we are never causes; we are only occasions for the work of God. It is very easy for us to come to the place where we think we are causes, and we begin to assume a little credit. When we do, God begins to withdraw because if you mislead people to think that you can do it, then you have misled them into deception.There is only one hope for the human heart.
There is only one answer for the human heart and that answer is God Himself in Christ. The idea of this humbling ourselves is getting us deflated to where we know very well that our only hope is God, and if He doesn’t move, it is vain; it is futile.
"If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray…." I checked on the Hebrew word here for "pray." It is not the word for worship, where one bows down before the Lord. It is the word which basically means "to interpose." It can be translated "intercede," although it is not always translated that way. It is interesting that both the verb "humble" and the verb "pray" are reflexive. The verbs point back to the speakers – "will humble themselves, and pray." Since these verbs are reflexive, the meaning is – they will humble themselves and will insert themselves in between the God who can answer and the people who have the need of God. So it is the interposing of themselves.
But what does it mean when one interposes oneself? It means that the other person’s problem becomes yours. You commit yourself to that other person’s problem. You take it. I’ve become more and more enamored with the way the Old Testament uses the word "bear." What happened on the cross was that Jesus bore our sins; He bore our evil and our transgressions. He interposed Himself and took our problems for His own. Likewise we should interpose ourselves: take the lostness, the sickness – take whatever that burden is that others have and bear it before God until God is able to act and solve that problem.
So the "pray" here is an interposing of oneself. It’s more than going down a prayer list. It’s where the other person’s problem becomes my problem, and I care more about him than I do about myself, and I’m ready to take his place, as it were, that he might be redeemed.
"If My people…will humble themselves and pray and will seek…." What are we to seek? Not the blessing of God. We are not even supposed to seek revival. We are to seek God and to seek His face, because HE is what we need. In 1970 when revival broke at Asbury College a few minutes before the end of chapel, a philosophy professor turned to the Academic Dean who was presiding and said, "He’s here, and if you give the audience a chance, there will be a remarkable response." Notice that sentence, "He’s here!" The Lord calls us to seek Him: "seek My face." But let me move on to the next phrase and then come back to "seek My face."
"…and turn from their wicked ways." I got a bit of a surprise when I looked at the Hebrew meaning for "wicked ways." Although there is a great strong Hebrew word for wickedness that is used in contrast to righteousness, a different Hebrew word is used in 2 Chronicles 7:14. This word translated as "wicked ways" means something that is offensive, something that is disagreeable, something that disturbs the relationship. What He is talking about here is to turn from those ways that distress the Lord and that are offensive to Him.
If a person is to be used of God and to have the anointing on him, he has to be more than moral. He can’t be immoral, but he has to be more than moral. There has to be that personal relationship with God where He can say to a person, "I don’t like that, and I want you to quit that and get clean on that score." You may say, "Everybody else does it. It doesn’t seem to bother all the other Christians." The Lord says, "I know. That’s their problem. This is My problem. I just don’t want it in your life."
I had the privilege of being married fifty-nine years to a remarkable wife. She taught me more than I ever taught her. She was a person of prayer. Because of my vocation I traveled much. Sometimes I’d be gone for weeks or months at a time. When I came home from my traveling, she would meet me. Do you know what was the first thing I always did? Before I ever asked, "How are you?" I looked at her face, because her face told me where I stood. In a close, personal relationship, faces will tell you worlds. When her face was troubled, it was not because I had broken one of the Ten Commandments. It was not because I had been unfaithful to her. But there was something in our relationship she was not happy with, and I knew I had to deal with the issue that caused her face to tell me so.
"Grieve Not the Spirit"
I have come to know godly people across the years, people with the anointing, who have had a relationship with Jesus that was personal. The text in Ephesians that says, "Grieve not the Spirit" (4:30), was a living reality to them. The people who have meant the most to me have been people, oftentimes met in unexpected ways and in the most unexpected places, who have had that relationship with Christ that they do not want anything in their lives that’s displeasing to Him. And they live close enough to Him that they know when something displeases Him.
Sometimes after you’ve ministered, God says something like this, "You had a little too much of you in there, didn’t you?" And you say, "Lord, forgive me." I look back across the years and there are certain people for whom I give thanks. I always give thanks for the widow lady who said to me very directly, "Now Dennis, when you’re clever, it’s much harder to see Jesus."
I was a young evangelist right out of seminary, preaching for souls, and I thought my reputation was going to hang on my effectiveness. When I got back to the parsonage one night after preaching, the pastor said to me, "Now Dennis, there was a little more of you in that invitation than there was of the Holy Spirit, wasn’t there?" I knew he was right. And I thank God that he said that to me, because when we inject the flesh into the things of God, we contaminate things, and make it much more difficult for God to get His work done. We’re not talking now about great sins. We’re talking about those things that affect that clear relationship with the Holy Spirit where He can anoint us and use us, when we become clean channels through which He can work.
And so God says in effect, "Seek My face, and get rid of the things that offend and displease." And when we do, He says that He will hear. When He hears He will forgive and will heal our land. I don’t know of anything our nation needs more today than healing – God’s healing. There is no point in railing against the people we read about in the news. The place where we need to start is right here with us, His people. When He starts with us, the wonderful thing is that all of us are in webs of influence.
There was an elderly bishop in the Southern Methodist Church in the early part of the 20th century, who had been a railroader and got converted. He never had the privilege of academic training as so many people did. He pastored in San Antonio, Texas, for a number of years, and in that time he never had a Sunday without conversions. Somebody asked him what the secret was. He said, "I have sixty men who meet during the Sunday school hour and pray for the next service. They pray until their hearts are hot. Then they go scatter themselves through the audience. One of our rules is that no two of them sit together in the service. Any sinner who sits down next to one of them will melt and thaw out, so that we’ve got him before it is over."
I wonder if that is not the hope of America. God will come when in these small webs of relationship we get something burning in us so much that the sinners around are affected by it. We need to start!
I had a friend when I was on the board of Christianity Today, and oftentimes we would sit together at the board meetings. He was a prince of a man, a Baptist from the West Coast. I liked him and we had things in common. In the meetings, when the break came, we talked. One day we were in O’Hare Airport, leaving Chicago, and our gates were opposite each other. We both had a little time on our hands and he said, "Dennis, let me tell you a story, a personal one."
He said, "I was converted as a teenager. When I graduated from the university, God called me to preach, so I went into the ministry. I had what was considered in our church a successful ministry. By the time I was twenty-nine, I had five people on my staff. I felt pretty good about it. Slowly I came to the place where I found a great emptiness in my life. It was deep enough and troubling enough that I thought, if this is all there is to it, it isn’t worth it. One night I went into my study and locked the door behind me, and shut the light off. I just stretched out flat on the floor, and began to pray."
He said, "Dennis, I had a very unusual experience. It is hard to describe. But it was almost as if I were a briefcase, and He picked me up and turned me upside down, and began to shake. As He shook, I was astounded at what came out. He shook and He shook and He shook until I thought He was never going to quit shaking. Then finally He quit and turned the briefcase right side up, and then in all of His glory He climbed in and filled it. It may not be true, but I would have sworn the room turned to light. And I found myself transformed. ‘They that bear the vessels of the Lord must be clean.’ I felt clean.
"I decided I wouldn’t tell anybody about my experience. So I didn’t say a word to anybody about it. A few weeks later I was meeting with my staff, and we finished our business but nobody moved. All of my staff turned and looked at one person. I thought, ‘Uh oh, something is coming,’ and I was right. The staff member slowly and hesitantly looked at me and said, ‘Pastor, we’ve been talking to each other, and we have a question, and it’s very personal. We think something has happened to you, and we like it. We don’t know whether you’d be willing to tell us about it or not, but if you would, we’d appreciate it.’ So I shared with them my experience. I said, ‘Now I’ve told you. You cannot tell a soul.’"
Continuing his story, my friend said, "Not too long after that I was in a deacons’ meeting, and we got to the end and nobody moved. Everybody was looking at the chairman, and the chairman was looking at the floor. Finally, the chairman looked up at me and said, ‘Pastor, we’ve been talking, and we think something has happened to you. We like it. If you’d be willing to tell us about it, we would appreciate it.’" So he shared how the Holy Spirit came and cleansed his heart and filled him. A totally new relationship was established, and a totally new relationship with his people as well.
Let us give the Holy Spirit a chance to speak. Let us look to Him, in His face, and ask, "Is there anything in me that grieves You? Lord, could You and I just talk about that? Just You and me. Is there anything in me that grieves, that hinders You? If it grieves You, it would be better if it were straightened out." Let’s give Him a chance so that we can become clean.
Lord, You are the source of all light. And through Your Spirit You can shed Your light into our hearts and into the dark corners so we can see what’s there, and so that we can simply turn to You and be cleansed. We want to be clean, we who bear the vessels of the Lord. So Lord, if there are things You want us to do, help us make our plans to do that. What we want is not to be picking ourselves apart, but we want to be clean before You so You can flow through us and do Your work. What we need is You, and what You can do and You alone. Thank you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.