Monday, November 28, 2011

Revival in the Book of Jonah

There is something needed in the church today. It is something that has never been more needed than right now. It is something that has happened time and again throughout church history, something that will continue happening until the return of Jesus Christ. But it is something that we can’t create or start on our own. It is something that God must do among us. This thing that is so needed today is REVIVAL.

Revival is an interesting word. It means to bring back to life again, to restore vitality and strength, to awaken. There have been many revivals throughout history, more recently, the revival under St. Francis in the 1200’s, the Florentine Revival, the revival under Luther in Germany, the Swiss revival under Calvin, the revival in Scotland under John Knox, the evangelical revival under John Wesley, the Great Awakenings, and more. If you don’t know, or haven’t heard of these revivals, look them up. You will not find a more encouraging topic to read about than the revivals. Understanding the revivals of days gone by will help you understand why the church is in the state it is in today and why the church needs revival today.

Revival is something that most would say is necessary, but few would admit they actually need it. Everybody wants revival, but nobody really likes it. Listen to the words of James Burns as he describes why the church doesn’t like revival:

‎"For to the Church a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness, and an open and humiliating confession of sin on the part of her ministers and people. It is not the easy and glowing thing many think it to be, who imagine that it fills the empty pews, and re-instates the Church in power and authority. It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to condemn ministers and people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the Cross, and to call them to daily renunciation, to an evangelical poverty, and to a deep and daily consecration. This is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the Church. Because it says nothing to them of power such as they have learned to love, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin, it tells them that they are dead, it calls them to awake, to renounce the world, and to follow Christ."

Very few want to admit the need for revival. We don’t like to admit that things are not ok. We don’t like to admit that we haven’t read the Bible in weeks, or had a devoted time of prayer in months—if ever. We don’t like to admit that our spiritual flame, which once burned so hot and was once so alive and vibrant, is now nothing more than a few coals slowly cooling with each passing day. What we like to do is to go about our lives ignoring the fact that there is sin permeating our lives and pretending that we have arrived at some sort of perfection. We ignore the fact that our sin keeps us from fellowship with God—keeps us from effective prayer—keeps us from fellowship with other saints—keeps us from having an effective witness in the world—keeps us from being obedient in even the simplest matters of faith—keeps us from cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit—keeps us from perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

We like to be comfortable, and to admit that we need revival will make us so uncomfortable that we can no longer be the same. Admitting we need revival will drive us to our knees before a holy God because he is the only one that can bring revival to our hearts. Revival will humble us and prepare us for the work of God’s Spirit in our sinful hearts of stone. A spiritual revival will rock your world, turn it upside-down and move you from your comfortable place of spiritual laziness to a place of spiritual hunger. Revival shows us our sin for what it really is. It sheds light on the darkest, most hidden corners of our lives. It reveals the most disgusting practices of our hearts and minds. Revival shows us our need for God.

We have recorded for us in the pages of Scripture a number of different revivals. Each one is equally worthy of our study, but perhaps none is as clear as the book that is devoted to revival—Jonah. From each revival, we learn that there are certain characteristics that are common to all revivals. I’d like to look at three from the four chapters of Jonah.

     1.       The Word of God – Jonah 1:1-2 – The book of Jonah starts with the word of the Lord. We learn here that the word of man cannot start a revival. Only the Word of God has the power to change a life. Each revival of history begins with the word of the Lord. As the Word is proclaimed, the Spirit works in our hearts to stir revival.

a.      A specific people – 1:2 – “Go to Nineveh” - God wanted Jonah to go and preach to the city of Nineveh. What was so unique or difficult about this? First of all, they were Gentiles. For Jonah to be sent to the Gentiles is a unique thing. In that day and age God was dealing with Israel as His chosen people. Secondly, think about Nineveh for a moment. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire. Its population nearly 750 thousand people, making it one of the largest settlements of the day (2x the size of Babylon). The Assyrians were a wicked people. They were known for using the military tactic of fear. They were notorious for their brutality and they made sure that their enemies knew how fierce they were. They had powerful bows, battering rams, and archers on horseback. They mutilated their prisoners, skinned people alive, piled skulls of the dead as a warning to others, decimated entire populations, and even bragged in stone about their atrocities. It is no wonder that Jonah fled the opposite direction. He probably feared for his life. On top of that, Jonah wanted to see Nineveh suffer for the evil that they had done, especially to his own people.

b.      A specific purpose – 1:2 – “cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” – The word of the Lord that came to Jonah was very specific. He was to proclaim to Nineveh that their wickedness had come up before God. It was time for God’s judgment. God, in His mercy, patiently endures sin. Romans 3:25 tells us that in His forbearance, He passed over the sins that were previously committed. Despite God’s forbearance, there is coming a day when all people will stand before Him to be judged. We need revival to come from the word of God in order to experience God’s mercy.

     2.       The Servant of God – 1:1-3:4 – The word of the Lord came to Jonah. This message didn’t come to Elijah, Elisha, or any other prophet. It came to Jonah. God has his man picked out. We learn through this that in every revival, there is a man chosen by God to lead the way. He is a man that has been chosen, molded, and commissioned by God to be a spiritual leader and to lead people to God. In Italy, it was St. Francis. In Switzerland, it was Calvin. In England, it was Wesley. In Scotland, it was John Knox. In Wales, it was Evan Roberts. In America, it was Jonathan Edwards. God always has a man picked out to lead His people to revival. God always starts a revival in the heart of one; and He uses that one to bring about change in others.
a.       Being used by God takes preparation – 1:3-2:10 – Jonah wasn’t ready to go to Nineveh when God first told him to go. He ran the other direction. He rebelled against the command of God. But God used Jonah’s rebellion to bring him to the place of obedience. God used a mighty tempest and a great fish to humble Jonah and to teach Jonah that he could not hide from God.

By the way, the storm and the great fish were prepared by God. In fact, all the storms and trials of your life are prepared and appointed by God. That means when you face life’s many difficulties it is for a purpose. God has specifically designed each trial and tribulation for your good, not for evil. God’s servant is molded and fashioned by God through those storms.

b.      Being used by God takes submission – 2:9 – “I will pay what I have vowed” – Jonah couldn’t be used by God at first because of his rebellion. God’s preparation led Jonah to the point of submission. There is an easy way to submit or a hard way to submit. Jonah took the hard way. Think about how much easier it could have been if he had just submitted to God in the first place.

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give

This is the attitude of submission. Humble yourself under the Mighty Hand of God. Submit therefore to God. It is not a question of preference; it is a matter of principle. Are you going to submit or not? Many want to follow God without doing what He says. Jesus addressed that in Luke 6. “Why do you call me Lord, and do not do the things that I say?”

c.       Being used by God takes obedience – 3:2-4 – “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.”

An attitude of submission is useless without taking acts of obedience. Submission isn’t enough. The servant of God must obey Him. Jonah’s submission led to obedience. He obeyed the commission of the Lord.

Revival can be measured by obedience. A lack of obedience proves a lack of submission, regardless of what our lips are saying. One of the trends in churches today is an obsession with feelings--even feelings of conviction. Christians like to read books that convict them, but they never do anything about it. We watch Christian films that challenge us to strengthen our marriages or to be better dads, but we never do anything about it. We listen to songs like “What if His people prayed” and “I have decided to follow Jesus”, but we never do anything about the words that we are listening to. I don’t mean that reading good books, watching good, convicting movies, or listening to convicting music is bad. And I don’t mean that conviction is a bad thing. Conviction is what is needed to stir hearts towards revival. But conviction has become the end all to be all instead of being a motivator for obedience. We must be obedient to the will of God if we want to be used by Him.

     3.       The Work of God – 3:4-4:11 – God worked in the people of Nineveh and in Jonah
a.       A change of heart – 3:4-10 – The people’s response to Jonah’s message shows the genuineness of their heart. From the greatest to the least, they did whatever they could to show their remorse and repentance from their sins.  

God brings about revival by working in the hearts of individuals. That change is the result of the living God giving life to those who were dead.
b.      A change of attitude – 4:1-11 – Jonah hated the people of Nineveh. It is evident by his response to them. He went outside of the city to watch it be destroyed by God. But God wanted to teach Jonah something. So God prepared a plant to give Jonah shade, and a worm to destroy the plant. Jonah got mad because of the plant. God was trying to teach him something about Grace, Mercy, and Love. I like to think that Jonah learned the lesson. Why else would he have written it down?

Revival needs to begin within the church. We need a change of heart and a change of attitude. Think about the attitude that the church has toward the lost—or toward others in the church. Sometimes we have a hard enough time just liking each other, let alone loving each other. We say that we are concerned for the lost, yet we never mention the name of Christ outside the four walls of the church. Our actions show that we don’t really care for the lost. We care about ourselves, our comfort, our possessions, our building, and our church. We’ve taken the purpose of the church and flipped it upside down. Instead of living for the glory of God by making disciples of all nations we live for the glory of self by taking care of self. Truly we need a change of heart and a change of attitude.

There is a revival coming. There is always a revival coming. Like the tide coming in one wave at a time, so God is bringing revival one wave at a time. Each one is followed by a recession of sorts.

How will God bring about revival?

“Revivals are not usually preceded by the awakening of the Church to a sense of need, but by the awakening of devout souls here and there, who, feeling the need, begin to entreat God in prayer for a revival. Gradually this deepens and spreads until the sense of need becomes a burden, until the cry, ‘How long, O God! How long?’ becomes an agony. This is the cry which God cannot deny. It is for that cry that we must intently listen. For until the need becomes vehement the answer is not given. Not until the kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence comes there the divine response.”

The church needs individuals to listen the word of God, submit and become obedient to the will of God, and allow the work of God to change their lives. Only then is the church ready for revival.

What will the coming revival look like?

“Whatever form the coming awakening may take, we may be certain, at least, that it will bring us back to essentials, to concentration on the vital issues of the spiritual life, for every true revival does this. It cuts through all the trappings until it gets at the center of life. It leads men back to glowing certainties, and to simplicity, for simplicity is one of the great characteristics of a revived spiritual life. When the heart earnestly seeks God, it goes to Him by the shortest route. Above all, it will bring us back to Christ, back to discipleship that will be something more than name, back to the Cross, and to bearing it.”

Revival doesn’t mean the discovering of new truths. Revival means we get back to the basics. It means we keep the main thing the main thing. It means we rid ourselves of all those secondary things of life and practice that have got in the way. So the natural question is what are the basics? Burns outlined it for us in the previous quote: glowing certainties, discipleship that is more than a name, and back to the Cross and to bearing it.

Is your heart ready for the next revival?

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