blogs about awakening
"You do not have, because you do not ask." (James 4:2)
Spiritual awakenings are happening in a number of places around the world right now. We hear of many coming to faith in Christ in unexpected places like Iran, India and China. Places where people often pay a high price to follow Jesus.
Let me ask you this: Could persecution actually BE one of the chief reasons the gospel is spreading so rapidly in those nations?
You see, for people to come to Christ, they need to see more than just "nice" people who go to church on Sunday and generally behave themselves during the rest of the week. They need to see Jesus! When people are threatened with imprisonment or worse for following Christ, they are confronted with a choice: either courageously stand for their Lord or capitulate to the pressure.
When Christians boldly and lovingly endure hardship, they powerfully communicate the reality of Christ to a watching world.
This reminds me of the time the founder of the Voices of the Martyrs ministry, Richard Wurmbrand, came to my college campus many years ago. Richard was a Romanian pastor at a time when Christians were often persecuted for their faith in that land. He himself had to endure 14 years of imprisonment accompanied by torture for his faith. During his speech at my school, Richard took off his shirt, and showed us some of the 18 scars he had resulting from his numerous beatings and other painful assaults.
Besides seeing his injuries, I will never forget Richard's words comparing Romanian believers with those in our country: "In Romania," he said, "you have only one kind of Christian, a Christlike Christian. However, in America, you have many kinds of 'Christians.'"
Has it been too easy to be a Christian in America? Are we like those worldly believers whom the Apostle Paul describes in Philippians 3? There, after challenging the Philippian Christians to follow his example of forgetting the past and "pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus," Paul then sadly tells where some errant believers have gone: "For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Philippians 3:18-21)
Do we need more pain in our lives before we pray more, before we share our faith more, before we set our hearts and minds on heaven more? Do we really need full scale persecution before we really let Christ live courageously through us? Or can we choose--even now in our relative ease--to be "all in" for Jesus and His Kingdom? I pray so!
A growing group of Christ-followers in West Michigan are praying for the church in our area to be revived, to come fully alive, leading to the biggest spiritual awakening in the history of America. Will you pray daily for that to happen in your community too?
Someone has well said, "Revival and spiritual awakening are going on somewhere in the world today. Why not here? Why not now?"
Consider Leonard Ravenhill's quote at the top of this letter. Do we want revival enough that it leads us to fervently pray and enthusiastically obey until He graces us with His awesome power and manifest presence?
This video about the Second Great Awakening will remind you of the amazing things that accompany spiritual awakenings.
"You do not have because you do not ask God." (James 4:2)
Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, but He repeatedly taught them, by word and through His own personal example, how to pray.
In Luke 11, after giving His followers what we call The Lord's Prayer, Jesus told one of the most amazing stories about the manner in which He wants us to pray. Please don't let your familiarity with this story cause you to miss its incredible impact.
"Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence." (Luke 11:5-8 NLT)
Wow! "Shameless persistence!" Other translations render this term "shameless audacity" (NIV), "importunity" (KJV), "impudence" (ESV), or "persistence and boldness" (Amp).
Does God really want us to pray with this sort of attitude? Aren't we supposed to treat God with incredible reverence and respect?
Yes, but we are His dear children. And He is 100 percent faithful to every promise He has ever made. Friends, He wants us to trust Him and go to Him with our hearts fully expecting He will certainly answer our prayers if we pray: (1) consistent to the Word of God; (2) for His glory, not ours; and (3) prompted by the Spirit in our hearts.
If these three aspects are true for something you are praying about, DO NOT QUIT KNOCKING on heaven's door until the answer comes! He wants us to pray with this sense of expectancy.
When I talk to folks about prayer, I am often reminded of my dear son Daniel. While he is now an MD and is bringing God's blessings to many, when Dan was only about 4 years old, he had a habit of asking me difficult questions. Like . . . "Dad, how did God get started?" I would answer, "Well, Dan, God has always been." With a look on his face of total disbelief, Dan would say, "Dad, how is that possible????"
When I couldn't satisfy Daniel's insatiable curiosity, he would essentially grab my face with his two hands and say, "Dad, just tell me!!" Did that make me upset with Dan? On the contrary, it would endear me to him. He thought his dad knew everything (which, obviously, is very far from the truth!)
Sometimes, I do the same thing with my Heavenly Father (who DOES know everything and is all-powerful and all-loving as well!) When I believe He wants to do something for those I love and for His glory, I have the sense of holding His face with my hands and coming to Him with shameless audacity. As I grab His face, I see God smiling at me. And, my friend, He will do the same with you!
Will you pray with a growing group of us in greater Grand Rapids who are praying with this sort of persistence for revival and spiritual awakening in our area for His glory and the salvation of many?
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9-13)
No one, especially none of us pampered Americans, likes pain. While pain can warn us to quickly take our hand away from that hot stove to prevent deeper burning, it’s still not something we long for. Those who relish pain we call masochists.
Yet pain is an inescapable part of life. Not just the physical pain of stubbing our toes, jumping into a pool full of cold water or getting bit by an angry dog; but emotional and relational pain that, in some respects, can be more debilitating and even permanent if we let it.
Given the choice, wouldn’t we all choose a pain-free existence?
But should that be the case for us followers of Christ? Sure, we would love to grow into all God intends for us without pain. But students of the Bible know that because of our self-centered natures, we need pain to motivate us to mature in godliness.
So, we are exhorted by Paul to “glory in our suffering” (Rom 5:3) and to delight in our weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties. ( 2 Cor 12:10) James says we should “consider it pure joy” when we encounter painful trials. (James 1:2) Not because we are masochists, but because we know that pain is God’s way of helping our selfish characters grow more like Jesus’ selfless one. The author of Hebrews says that God disciplines those He loves and that no discipline is pleasant, but painful. (Heb 12:6,11) But what does it produce? “A harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:11)
Consider the Biblical examples of Joseph and David who were unfairly treated by those around them, but all that pain produced in them persevering faith in God. A.W. Tozer put it this way, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
In Hebrews 12, we see Esau who demanded his hunger be satisfied now even if it meant foolishly selling his precious birthright to his younger brother Jacob. In contrast, consider Moses described in Hebrews 11 as being willing to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Why did he do this if pain is our ultimate enemy and pleasure our ultimate friend? “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Heb 11:26)
And that is the key! Not living for a short term benefit that is temporary, but for the long term, more permanent gain. We trust that God will reward us in the life to come. Jesus said that we should rejoice when we are mistreated for the cause of Christ because “great is your reward in heaven.” (Matt 5:12) There are promises like this all through Scripture.
So, like an athlete training for the Olympics, or a musician practicing scales day after day, we choose to endure the pain of preparation for the goal of ultimate, certain reward.
But what if your worldview says that this life on this planet is all you get? Then pain becomes our greatest enemy, because I simply must get all I can out of my 70 or 80 years of existence. So if you cause me pain, you owe me big time!
This sort of thinking explains the rise of what people are calling the evil of “microaggressions.” A microaggression is defined as “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that often unintentionally or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.” One example of a microaggression comes from the University of North Carolina’s Employee Forum which, among other transgressions, warned against complimenting a woman on her choice of footwear. Why? Because, “To do so would be considered to be a microaggression meaning ‘I notice how you look and dress more than I value your intellectual contributions. How you look is really more important.’” (I think I can hear a number of gasps from you who just read these words.)
In any event, when we consider the pain that Jesus and His followers endured as they sought to obey God and demonstrate His love for us who would follow them, we need to have the attitude of Paul, who said, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10)
Bottom line, while we do not choose suffering or pain, neither are we shocked when it comes our way in this world. And whether pain comes to us as loving discipline or to prompt our growth in character, we know it originates from the hand of our sovereign, loving Heavenly Father. He will surely give us the grace to be like Jesus, who kept His eyes on the joy set before Him and thereby was able to endure the cross. (Heb 12:2)
What a grief to hear of the vicious, unprovoked attack last night on police officers in Dallas. As a former prosecuting attorney and trial court judge whose role brought me daily into close contact with law enforcement officers for years, I hurt for the brave police officers in our cities who need now to be ultra-alert as they daily continue to put their lives on the line to protect us all. I also hurt for their loved ones who must wonder if they will ever see daddy or mommy again as they walk out the door to their daily posts.
Yes, it would appear some police officers have abused their authority and made deliberate or negligent choices that have resulted in deaths to otherwise innocent victims, some of which are African-American. These incidents are themselves tragic, but certainly do not justify the deliberate murder of men and women whose only connection to the errant cops is that they too wear a uniform and have a badge. To draw an analogy, it would be totally unjust to condemn every doctor as evil personified simply because we hear of one who abuses his position and carelessly or deliberately causes the premature death of a patient. Those who make wrong choices must bear their own punishment.
And, beyond deliberate choices people make to hurt others, in the course of everyone’s life, there are honest mistakes that we all make! We put erasers on pencils for a reason! Yet it seems that the public demands total perfection in certain areas of life.
I saw this reality repeatedly as a juvenile court judge concerning the system that dealt with child neglect and abuse. Often conditions in the child’s home required removal and placement in foster care. While the overwhelming majority of foster parents are wonderful caretakers, there are a few who are not. During my 15 years on the bench, I saw more than one case where we removed kids from their own neglectful or abusive homes, only to be neglected or even injured in the “licensed” foster home the system found for them.
I also saw instances where caseworkers returned children to their natural parents only to have the kids suffer repeated abuse or even death at the hands of their parents. Needless to say, the public was furious in such cases: “Caseworkers must never make mistakes in licensing foster homes or in returning kids to parents!” Newsflash: caseworkers are human too.
So enough of expecting 100 percent perfection from anyone in culture, including those in law enforcement. Excessive or repeated negligence must be responded to. But anyone who demands perfection from others needs to take a long look in the mirror and also seek the honest feedback of those around them, including their spouses. We all are in need of grace.
So how can we defuse the racial animus that seems to be escalating in our nation? I’m confident there will be calls by city mayors and other officials for all the races to “come together and work together” to bring peace and harmony among different ethnicities. Sounds good, but will it work? Unfortunately, not very well.
You see, if I continue to look at life through the eyes of how poorly “my people” have been treated by “your people,” I will never be satisfied until things are equal in my eyes. And even then, I’m going to feel you owe me for the past injustices against my people. Yes, maybe we can eke out a temporary truce of non-violence, but it can never engender true, unconditional love.
There is and has always been only one answer: Jesus Christ breaking down the barriers and producing genuine love.
How does that look? Let me offer a couple of true life illustrations.
One is Otto Kelly, a tall, muscular former football player who I met in Reno. Otto is Black and a pastor. Otto gets how his race has been systematically subjugated by white people over the years. Yet he told me, “Consider that Jesus was willing to go to the home of a Roman centurion to heal his servant. That would be like a Jew going to help a Nazi General in World War II.” Otto continued, “If Jesus can do that, I can forgive and love my white brothers and sisters." "Forgiveness,” he said, "is not a feeling; it's a choice to obey God."
Jesus commanded us not just to love our neighbors, but to love our enemies! That is precisely what Otto has chosen to do, and he gets the power of God to do it wholeheartedly. I love this brother and am so proud of him!
The other illustration is one very close to me. The highlight of my week is being part of a prayer group that formed only about nine months ago. While it continues to grow, it now consists of a dozen or so white, black, and Latino men who are pastors and ministry leaders. A year ago, few of us knew anyone else who is now in the group. Yet despite being relatively new brothers in Christ we genuinely love each other. And we love to be together. I am convinced these men would literally die for me if need be, and I for them.
The only way to explain this bond we all feel is that we are true blood brothers, a reality that far transcends race, ethnicity or background. We have all been bought by the blood of our big brother Jesus Christ and been adopted into God’s family. As I write this I am choking back tears of gratitude for these men who are so precious to me. God has done this and longs to do this more and more in our days.
Jesus prayed for this sort of unity the day before He went to the cross. Let’s not frustrate His prayer. Listen:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me--so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
National Day of Prayer event we sponsored in downtown Grand Rapids this past Thursday
Thank you to those who prayed for our National Day of Prayer event this past week in the center of downtown Grand Rapids. God gave us great weather, a good crowd and, most importantly, the blessing of His presence.
After an inspiring time of worship, we asked leaders from the Seven Mountains of Culture to share appropriate scripture passages and then asked local pastors to lift these areas of culture up in prayer. So, for example, we had a local mayor, a state representative and a trial court judge each share scripture relating to their governmental roles, and then a pastor covered that entire area in prayer. The same was done for business, education, arts and entertainment, media, religion and family.
People were clearly touched by God's presence. Here's a few comments that people posted on social media:
"What an inspirational, Spirit-led evening! Crowds praying for repentance, revival, and reconciliation! Moving forward together in Christ!"
"National Day of Prayer in Grand Rapids. The SUN showed up. And so did the SON!"
"Great in every way!"
"Powerful time!" "
Toward the end of the event, Grand Rapids First Church Pastor Sam Rijfkogel summed it up well. He said we will look back at May 5, 2016 as a major milestone in our pursuit of revival in our region, that God will certainly be responding to our united prayers. To which we say, "May it be, Lord! All for Your glory!"
Many asked what's next for The Grand Awakening. Please pray that we will clearly hear God and boldly follow His leading.
So you can get a better sense of what happened, below are a few more pictures of the event, most taken by photographer Tom De Vette. To see even more, click here.
The temptation is strong for us to think that if we can just get "our man" or "our woman" in the White House, he or she will restore our nation to spiritual strength and vitality.
I'm reminded of what Chuck Colson once said, "The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One no matter how good the president’s character or great his ability. Don’t get me wrong: Elections are important; the law is a moral teacher. But all the laws and political victories will not help us if we lose the culture. Our job is the same no matter who is in office: that is, to make serious disciples and to bring Christian truth to bear in all of life.”
Isn't it fair to say that we followers of Christ have, in Colson's words, "lost the culture"? We have not been the salt and light to preserve our nation. We have more been influenced by our world than we have influenced our world for God. Pastor Erwin Lutzer was right when he said, "Perhaps the church doesn't suffer for the sins of the world as much as the world suffers for the sins of the church."
The fundamental problem of our nation is selfishness, me living for me and you living for you. So how do you cure selfishness? Pass a law making it illegal? Of course not. We need heart change. And that takes Jesus Christ working in and through us.
Imagine how things would be different in our cities and nation if every follower of Christ had the attitude of Jesus expressed in Mark 10:45,"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many."
You want to fix our nation? Then consider this: politics/government is a lagging indicator of the health of our culture. Our culture, in turn, is a lagging indicator of the health of the Church in America. In the words of Columnist Cal Thomas, “Without revival of God’s people, major political change is impossible; with revival, major political change is inevitable.”
Yes, our ONLY hope for healing for America is revival of the church leading to major spiritual awakening of our nation. While God, in His sovereignty, determines the when and the how of revival, our part is to unite in desperate, humble, and repentant prayer. And obey what He calls us to do in the power of the Holy Spirit.