One of my favorite preachers of all-time, the late Vance Havner, said the following about revival, “When I was a boy, preachers used to talk about ‘holding a revival.’ What we really need is somebody who will turn a revival loose.” He also said, “A lot of our activity often mistaken for revival is just the church turning over, but not waking up. Turning over is not getting up, and waking up is not getting up. The Word of God says we're to get up and go about our business for the King. A revival is the church falling in love with Jesus Christ all over again. We are in love with ourselves, in love with our particular crowd, in love with our fundamentalism, maybe, but not in love with Him.”
I like that! We need revival to be turned loose. We just don’t want activity. We can have a lot of activity, but that does not mean there is captivity of God. We are now in the second half of the book: building God’s people. What I love about Nehemiah is that he knows the difference between long-term and a short-term objectives. The wall was a short-term objective. It was a means to an end. Chuck Swindoll says, “The purpose of the wall was to contain, to protect, and to give the people of God an identity.” The wall exists for the people. The people do not exist for the wall. Nehemiah avoided “turning the wall into a monument to himself, or to the people involved. He entertained no inflated opinions…to him the wall afforded the people a useful and helpful environment (the means) in order to experience a revival that would have eternal ramifications (the end).”
Unfortunately lots of churches are about programs, or “building walls” just to build walls. No one cares if the believers are alive or dead. No one cares if believers are biting at each other and devouring one another. No one cares if there is no evangelism. Just make sure we have the programs up and running. This is when the church is dead and lost her purpose.
We have been talking about personal revival. In our definition of revival, we said revival was “a renewed interest for God and the things of God after a period of indifference and apathy.” It doesn’t have to happen at a retreat or a special conference, but right now! But let’s make sure it is not an end in itself. The reason we need revival is not for us to not feel guilty anymore. It is not for us to even love the Lord or even each other more. The reason why we need it is because without it we are doing the motions. We will lose the favor or God. We are wasting our time. I want God to take me, shake me, fill me and use me for His fame and reputation in this community long after we are gone. Don’t you want to know that everything you are doing here counts? Don’t you want all that God has for you and us at this church? It comes through personal revival. We need it everyday!
The city is now well defended and well governed. We saw in Neh. 7 that Nehemiah helped the people become well organized. But the real question is: Are the people well pleasing to the Lord? How do I get there? What are the ingredients in the recipe for revival? We said last week that revival begins with:
I. A growing appetite for the Word of God (Neh. 8:1-8)
We saw the people of God come together to hear the Word of God. They asked Ezra, the priest and scribe or the religious leader to read to them. Nehemiah, the leader/organizer stepped aside to let the pastor do his thing. Ezra read for several hours. The people interacted with the Word by being attentive to it, by responding to it by lifting up their hands and falling before their faces. They wanted to understand the Word and got help from the Levites and others who explained the Word to them.
One of the frustrating things about raising a toddler is trying to get Abbie to eat. We are constantly running around the house trying to get food into her mouth. Then when we do, she keeps the food in her mouth for hours at a time! Sometimes she spits the whole thing out. I wonder if that’s how God feels about us? He is constantly trying to get us in His Word and when the times we do get His Word, we don’t let it into our soul and end up spitting it out.
Revival is not going to come into your life as you are sleeping on your bed. It’s going to come as you start to dig in His Word. Unlike going to a buffet, which makes you so full sometimes you feel like you won’t eat for a week, being in God’s Word makes you hungry for more! A couple of years ago, we were in New York and went to this restaurant for dinner. I decided to order something I was not really familiar with. It was a bad decision! I ended up nibbling on it and finally I left it. Since then, I have not eaten a single meal. I didn’t have time for it and since that bad experience, I decided not to eat anymore. Obviously not!
Some of us are like that with God’s Word. Oh, I don’t get anything out it. I don’t have time for it. I’m not going to get into it anymore. The strength of this church comes from God’s people deeply rooted in God’s Word. Show me a revived person and you will always see them in God’s Word. A revived people makes a revived church. A revived church is a church God can use. Revival begins there in God’s book. Remember you grow your appetite by picking up the book, reading it and interacting with it. Revival begins with a growing appetite for the Word of God. Secondly,
II. A glorifying adoration for the God of the Word (Neh. 8:6-8)
The Word of God brought them before the God of the Word. Notice the language, “”Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God” in Neh. 8:6. Stephen Davey said, “There is no revival if you have a little god; a puny god who can be coerced and bribed; a petty god who, like some divine genie, exists to do your will and fulfill your every wish; an understandable god who is not majestic or transcendent; a weak god who can barely keep up with his own creation.” Revival, instead, will come to the one who sees how big God is.
In Isaiah the prophet’s first vision of God, he said he saw God “high and lifted up” (Is. 6:1). Even in the book of Revelation, when John was on the island of Patmos, persecuted along with so many believers around him, the first thing he is shown is that of Jesus Christ, in His glory (Rev. 1:12-20). Later, the Spirit says, “John, I have to show you what is going to happen” and the first thing he is shown is a throne (Rev. 4:2). The Lord seated. The image is of one secure, settled and in control. If you have a small god, you will have big problems. If you have a small god, you will have a big self. How is your view of God?
Look at Isaiah 40:30-31. Everyone loves to get to these verses. “Lord, I’m waiting for you and I need strength. I want to fly like an eagle!” However, look at Is. 40:12-13, 15, 18 and 22. Look at these verses that precede. The truth of Is. 40:30-31 applies to someone who is waiting for the kind of God that Isaiah has just described. That person will receive strength. In fact, the word “wait” is not a passive verb in the Bible. It is very active, meaning to meditate on God’s character, trusting His attributes and relying on His great power and provision. The person who waits on this kind of God is promised strength.
And in the New Testament we know that the invisible God was made visible in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15). If you remember the story of those disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24…how did they understand who Jesus was? Jesus went through the Scriptures with them and showed them how everything was pointing to Him. What was their response? “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). That is the kind of heartburn I want to have! They just saw a bigger picture of God.
I met the Lord Jesus at age 17. Until then, I thought I knew it all. I thought I was right with God because I did the right Christian things. I was so proud and compared myself to others. I had my own Trinity: Father, Son and Robin. But it was the preaching of the Word of God when the Spirit of God brought me to the Son of God. My view of God suddenly got really big. I can tell that over the years when He becomes just a worship song, or a name in a book or a lifeless figure on a cross to me, I have lost it all. Augustine said, “Christ is not valued at all, unless he is valued above all.”
This is why I love that old hymn, “Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest; Now Thee alone I seek, give what is best. This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee; More love to Thee, more love to Thee!” And C.H. Spurgeon adds, “Jesus will never tarry in a divided heart. He must be all or nothing. Search then thy heart; dethrone its idols; eject all interlopers; chastise all trespassers; yea, slay the Diabolians who lurk in thy soul.” Lord Jesus, when you look at your people at Living Hope, may you find a group of people with a glorifying adoration of you, the God of the Word.
The third ingredient in the recipe for revival is:
III. A grieving awareness of sin (Neh. 8:9)
What happens as soon as you see God high and lifted up? You become low and cast down. The pattern in Scripture is consistent. Isaiah, pointing the finger at nation after nation in judgment, exclaiming “Woe” for the first five chapters, sees the Lord high and lifted up in Isaiah 6:1 and says, “Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Peter, after the Lord performs a miraculous catch of fish, falls down at Jesus’ feet and says, “Depart from me Lord, I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). John, who had leaned on the Lord of grace for three years, found himself at His feet as though dead when the Lord of glory appeared unto him (Rev. 1:17).
Here in Neh. 8:9, the same thing happens. The people repent. They may have thought of their ancestors’ sins, which caused the Exile in the first place. They may have thought of all the inter-marrying they did with neighboring nations. We don’t know exactly what they heard, but the reading of the Word of God brought conviction. Paul says, “for by the law is knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The Word of God is a mirror that shows our uncleanness (James 1:23) and causes us to run to Jesus for cleansing.
This is the first day of the seventh month. On the tenth day, they would be observe the Day of Atonement, where a high priest would go into the Holy of Holies and atone for the sins of the people. That was coming up. This is why the leaders are telling the people not to mourn or weep now. Moreover, it was the Feast of Trumpets. It was a “day of solemn rest and remembrance of God’s provision for his people through the Sinai covenant (Lev. 23:23–25).” A food offering was also given at this time, which was one of feasting and celebration, which we will go in to later.
But here we see that the immediate impact of the Word of God upon a sinner is conviction. There is brokenness for sin. I love the C.S. Lewis phrase that “The closer you get to the light, the more dirt you see on your shirt.” Here is the point where people go toward the Savior or away. George Bernard Shaw, the British playwright, once had a Bible. A few years before he died, he sold it. On the flyleaf was an inscription written by Shaw himself which read: “This book is a most undesirable possession…I must get rid of it. I really cannot bear it in my house!” I wonder if in reading it, it showed himself to be a sinner and he just couldn’t tolerate it? We don’t know. It reminded me of when I was sharing the gospel to my cousin once and in telling her that she will need to confess her sins, she replied, “Oh, I can’t think that about myself!”
We will never know how great a Savior Jesus is until we see the greatness of our sin. Sometimes when I read my old journals, I often think, “I was so much better with the Lord back then!” In some sense, I think it’s true. There is that first love fervor that I remember, that I always want to have in greater and greater capacity. Now that I finished college and seminary, been married with a child and now in ministry, I have come to this conclusion: I am really messed up! The amount of self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, pride, desire for control, anger, approval of people, self-glory, critical spirit and everything else that is ready to devour me is astounding. Aren’t you glad the moment you came to Christ, God didn’t show you all your issues? I’m so glad!
Before I was saved, I used to think I was so good to get into Heaven, but now there are times I am just speechless before God, due to my own sinfulness. It is then I hear the sweet refrain, “Just as I am, without one plea; but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou biddest me come to thee, O Lamb of God I come.” Yes indeed, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling. Naked I come to thee for dress, Helpless I look to thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly, wash me Savior or I’ll die.”
We call this brokenness. David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). Isaiah says, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Is. 57:15). God says He has two addresses: one is no shocker: eternity. The other place is: with the broken.
This word, brokenness, is often misunderstood by Christians. A lot of people think it means to be sad or gloomy or to cry a lot or to sit down and simply confess all of our sins and to keep beating ourselves up. Unfortunately, such morbid introspection leads to false humility, which is really pride, since all you ever do is think about yourself. And pride is the opposite of brokenness. There are people I know who shed buckets of tears every week at church, but I fear they do not understand what it means to be broken. Others think brokenness has to do with tragedy in our lives, which shakes us up. But tragedy does not guarantee brokenness.
Author and speaker Nancy Leigh Demoss says, brokenness like a fragrance, is easier to detect than to define: “It is not a feeling or emotion. Rather, it requires a choice, an act of the will…True brokenness is an ongoing, constant way of life. True brokenness is a lifestyle---a moment by moment lifestyle of agreeing with God about the true condition of my heart and life---not as everyone else thinks it is but as He knows it to be.”  She goes on to share three ways we can recognize it:
1) A shattering of my self-will. It is the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God. No resistance, no chaffing, no stubbornness. Those things are replaced with submission.
2) A stripping of self-reliance and independence from God. There is no confidence in his own righteousness, but total dependence upon the grace of God working in and through him. Jesus himself said, in the Beatitudes, that the people of His Kingdom and first and foremost, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). He could have used two words for poor there. One word suggests “someone who lives just below the poverty line, someone who is always having to scrimp and scrape to survive, someone who makes it, but barely. But this is not the word Jesus chose. He chose another word that means a beggar—a person who is utterly, absolutely destitute. This is someone who has no hope of surviving unless somebody reaches out a hand and pulls him up.
3) A softening of the soil of my heart. It is the breaking up of any clods of resistance that could keep the seed from penetrating and taking root. Believers with broken, contrite hearts are receptive and responsive to the Word.
The late Chicago preacher A.W. Tozer, in a series of messages to Wheaton College students in the 1940s and 50s once said, “the Holy Spirit comes into a person’s life, as Dr. A.B. Simpson said, like breathing in, without any effort on our part. If you were to break a light bulb, there would be a pop; it is a vacuum, and the atmosphere wants to rush in there. It cannot get in past the glass, but as soon as you break it, the air rushes in. You do not have to get on your knees and cry, ‘Oh atmosphere, please rush into this bulb!’ Break it, and it will rush in. That is all you have to do. You do not have to wait around and talk and talk and talk.”
Why be broken? Because such is the only kind of person God will use. The late preacher Vance Havner, also said, “God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”
The two points we covered today were two necessary ingredients for revived hearts: A glorifying adoration of the God of the Word and a grieving awareness of sin. Let me close with this. DeMoss shares this story: “Years ago a missionary served in a region in Africa that had known seasons of true revival. He reported that whenever he would mention the name of any Christian, the national believers would ask him, "Is he a broken Christian?" They did not ask, "Is he a committed Christian?" or "Is he a knowledgeable Christian?" or "Is he a hardworking Christian?" They wanted to know, "Is he a broken Christian?"
Are you a broken Christian? Am I? I am passing out Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ list of characteristics of proud and broken people. I want you to have this since this is a resource I look at constantly. Look at it, don’t skim it, but prayerfully, find your top three areas you would like God to break you in and write a prayer of self-reflection afterward on your outline. Am I a proud or broken person? After a few minutes, the worship team will lead us in a time of worship.
Vance Havner, “The Vance Havner Quotebook” complied by Dennis Hester (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), WORDSEARCH software.
“More love to thee O Christ” http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/m/o/morelove.htm accessed September 23, 2009.
Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus (420). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (2108). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.
As quoted in Davey, 147.
DeMoss, Nancy L. Brokenness: The Heart God Revives.(Chicago: Moody Press, 2002), 53.
Tozer, A. W., & Dorsett, L. W. (1998). Tozer Speaks to Students: Chapel messages preached at Wheaton College (24). Camp Hill, PA.: WingSpread.
http://www.quotiki.com/quotes/288 accessed September 24, 2009.