Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Something or Someone is missing?

Do you long for real revival in your heart, community and our land? Today we are facing a period of moral and spiritual decline that is perhaps more widespread than ever in our history. In spite of all our efforts, programs and methods we seem to be drifting farther and father away and the darkness getting darker and darker.  As a nation we desperately need revival - a touch from heaven, a fresh encounter from God that will change our lives, behaviors, ethics, norms and even the structures of our society. God has an answer for us.  He has revealed Himself and worked in the past in times of darkness. He can do it again. In fact, He is ready to help but He is waiting on a people that will return with their whole hearts to His agenda and purposes. It is time for us to stop, reflect and re-connect with the One that can change it all. Will you be such a person? (Essay by Dr. Francois Carr).  

I am profoundly convinced that the greatest need in the world today is revival in the Church of God.” – Dr. D.M. Lloyd-Jones [1]

Is God gone too? I began to seek God, but couldn’t find him.” Jim Bakker spoke these words as he pondered about the time he had spent in prison. Jim and his wife, Tammy Faye started the Praise The Lord Club in 1967. It became one of the most televised ministries of its time. They added Heritage USA, a Christian theme park. They saw prosperity as a gift from God. Everything around them seemed to be blessed, until a series of scandals surfaced in 1987. Jim was caught funneling money and paying a $265,000 bribe to his church secretary to cover up their adulterous relationship. Newspaper reporters began to investigate them and discover financial wrongdoings. They discovered that more than $158 million of the ministry's funds were spent on themselves. Jim admitted to spending money on luxury cars and six mansions. He had forty-seven bank accounts in his name. They have wasted money on all kinds of luxuries, this even included $60,000 in gold-plated bathroom fixtures.

He was convicted of fraud and sentenced to forty-five years in prison and given a $500,000 fine. He served almost five years before he had been paroled for good behavior. God used that time to draw Jim back to Himself because He meant it for his good. Looking back on his time in prison, Jim Bakker said:

The first months of prison were devastating. After being in public ministry for every day of your life and then finding yourself with everything gone – not only the material things, but friends and reputation – facing forty-years, you wonder, Is God gone too? I began to seek God, but I couldn’t find him.” [2]

Where is God?

The words of Jim Bakker reminded me of a question which was asked by Gideon, one of Israel’s Judges, in the Old Testament when Israel faced many trails, transitions and persecutions? He asked, “O my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles, which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hand of the Midianites.”

The children of Israel`s way of living was evil in the sight of the Lord (Judges 6:1-10). So God delivered them in the hands of Midian and the Amalekites and the children of the East who bordered Israel. He allowed the Midianites to raid Israel for seven years. The annual raid took place around harvest time, destroying their crops, stealing the livestock and ravaging the land, leaving people living in fear, caves and in deep poverty. If you can imagine and picture the scenario, you’ll have some idea about the uncertainty and suffering Israel experienced. They were gravely impoverished. The crops and harvest were gone. Their desperately needed provisions were gone. They too might have wondered if God was gone? Being weary of hiding and struggling they cried out to their God.

An unexpected visit brings insight

Gideon did not doubt the existence of God. Maybe his family read the Law of Moses or talked about the miracles of God by the hands of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4-5) or days gone by? Maybe he was thinking about the message of the prophet (Judges 6:8) sent by God? However, he struggled with the fact that God had worked mightily on behalf of Israel in the past but not at that time in history. Seven years of suffering had gone past and it seems not to be ending.

God met with Gideon around about the eighth Midianite invasion. At the time he was a farmer and descended from the tribe of Manasseh. The Angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son was busy threshing wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!”

When we first met him, he was hiding – attempting to covertly thresh wheat in a winepress (Judges 6:11). The process of beating out grain and separating it from the chaff normally took place out in the open, on a hilltop where the breeze would blow the chaff away. He took cover in the shelter of a winepress. This was not the ideal place for winnowing wheat and maybe he thought it would go undetected. No doubt Gideon was startled by the fact that his hiding place was discovered. But we can sympathize with him. He was afraid.

Gideon struggled with faith and was a bit of a coward. However, he is a great encouragement for people that have a hard time believing that God can make anything out of them or do anything with them or change their current circumstances. The Lord can and wants to show himself strong (2 Chronicles 16:9). He is just waiting for someone to really believe in Him, trust Him enough to adjust their lives and follow Him.

He encountered a truth

Gideon was reminded about God’s power and presence in days gone by when He led the people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He reasoned about their circumstances and what was happening and the problems and hardships they face and experienced, wondering where the power and presence of God had gone. This caused within him a crisis of faith, struggling with doubt and fear as he was trying to understand and making sense of it all.

I can imagine the questions that must have crossed his mind: Does God really cares? Does God know what He’s doing? Will God take care of us? Will God keep His promises? Why are we living in poverty, fear and hiding in caves? If God is with us, where is He? Is He gone? Does He even exist?

One would think that God would give him a well-thought-out plan of action, some war strategies, resources and lots of encouragement when He answered him. That did not happen. He simply said to Gideon: “Surely I will be with you, and you will defeat the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16, NKJV)

When the Lord spoke, he addressed the real issue affecting Gideon’s faith and that of the nation. God was still at work but Gideon could not see or hear Him speak or understand His message, and experience His care and provision.

God still speaks

Firstly, God was speaking through the Midianites, Amalekites and people from the East (Judges 6: 3). God allowed the trials and hardships to take place because of their sin and disobedience. He wanted to get their attention and lead them to repentance and have them return to Him. His desire was to restore them. He wanted to be their God and live among them and bless them.

God is still present

Secondly, God was still with him and with the nation. The Angel of the Lord confirmed this when He said: “The Lord is with you” and ‘surely I will be with you’. He could not see or experience the fact of God`s presence and closeness. His view and outlook on life was blurred by his circumstances and that which was happening around him. It is a reality that also affects us today, that God is present amidst the hardships and uses that to draw us to Himself.

God still cares

Thirdly, the people of Israel cried out to God. God still cares and His desire was to help them. He wanted to bring them back to Himself and reveal His glory to the nations. God appeared and revealed Himself to Gideon and invited him to join Him on His mission. God`s desire was to work in and through him, but he had to believe, adjust his life and accept His invitation (Judges 6:11-14).

Some similarities today

We can draw some conclusions from Gideon`s conduct and experience which are applicable even today as there are some clear similarities with the people of Israel and life as we now it today. In reality the times we live in are some of the most demanding and challenging we’ve ever known. People worldwide are facing difficult trials, conflicts, persecution and transitions which are affecting all aspects of their lives. Countries and nations war against each other, groups of people raid towns and villages, killing one another for more power, land and money. Riots, unrest, widespread violence and conflicts are reported daily on the news media. We see millions of refugees relocating to other countries searching and looking for safety and a better life and future. People of all cultures and backgrounds are living in poverty, uncertainty and in fear. The political and economic crisis worldwide continues to affect all of us as governments and leaders have no solution to bring about peace, stability, growth and prosperity.

Businesses are closing down, while debt and unemployment continues to escalate. Life has become a daily struggle for many. Survival, paying the bills and put food on the table are part of this daily struggle. It was clearly visible on my recent trip to the Middle East, noticing the number of hotels closing down and unemployment and poverty increasing due to a drop of eighty percent of tourism. Ron Blue in his book, Surviving Financial Meltdown explains that the rising cost of living, the economic turn down, job insecurities, growing debt, losing of homes while many have no savings for when they grow old is the cause of fear in the hearts of many [3]. We are truly living in uncertain, unsettling and difficult times leaving many of us with the same burning questions as Jim Bakker and Gideon.

Where is God? Does He still exist? Why is this happening? Will it ever stop?
Does He really cares? Is there any hope?

The lesson is clear. When we stop seeking God and His heart the lit comes off and the blessing stops until we stop and pay attention to what we experience (Haggai 1).

The Dilemma in the World

We continue to see a great moral, ethical, and spiritual decline that permeates our nations, culture and communities. Political and corporate scandals and corruption are common at all levels of society and leadership. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortions, outbreak of diseases, crime, violence and global terrorism plague the nations and world.

As a result, the world plunges deeper and deeper into darkness. We see thousands of people, aimlessly drifting and debasing themselves and human dignity in public and in private. A spirit of lawlessness and spiritual apathy hangs like a fog over our land and the world. People are doing what seems to be right in their own eyes (Judges 2). Richard Dortch, senior vice-president of PTL who was also convicted and sent to prison with Jim Bakker later said: “Pride, arrogance, and secrets led to the scandal.” He also said they did not plan the scandal; instead it was the natural result of living for oneself rather than for God [4].

We are beginning to see the disintegration of foundational social institutions, culture and history. Unless something positive happens, which will transform our lives and redirect our course of life, civilization, as we know it, is sure to change even further for the negative. Dr. Henry Blackaby, author of Fresh Encounter, wrote:

We seem to be drifting farther and farther away from God and His standards. The darkness around us seems to be getting darker and darker, but the problem is not with the darkness because the nature of darkness is evil. The problem is the lack of light, because when light shines it dispels the darkness” [5].

The Dilemma of the Church

Many communities and cultures are not Christian or even religious anymore and in many instances even hostile towards anything spiritual. The sacredness of marriage, family, home and Church is forgotten. Great numbers of people start to doubt God and His existence, and coldness towards God and the Church are clearly growing. There seems to be a new way of thinking and a drifting away from God. People have become more critical towards religion. New schools of thought and a new kind of spirituality have developed. According to John Dickerson in his book, The Great Evangelical Recession only 1 out of 10 people is Christian and in the next thirty years it will be 1 out of every 25 people [6]. We are on a downward spiral and this tendency is just continuing getting worse and out of control.

The Dilemma in the Church

Church membership is declining in the Western world. Most churches are shrinking and pastors are leaving the pastorate. Churches close their doors weekly. Instead of seeing Churches growing, establishing and equipping believers and evangelizing the lost they have become a weak minority. The Church has become powerless with little or no impact.

Many of them have fallen into the lure of novelties, marketing and teaching a doctrine without power, while others pursue the one church health program to the next. Calendars and schedules are filled with events and programs, the latest fads and quick fixes, chasing the ABC’s (Attendance, budgets and cash) of a successful church. Instead of finding change, transformation and reality they find themselves going through the motions of religious activities with little of no impact in our communities and cultures.

Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle says:
Nothing can defeat the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.” But, a powerful storm is surging against the Church, threatening its health. Yet most is asleep or unaware of the problems within itself that is warning signs. He said we are not as big as we think we are, Biblical literacy is declining and personal transformation has become rare [7].

The Dilemma of Christians

People have become stress out, tired, overcommitted and overloaded. There seems to be no time or energy left for God and Church. Many have become mere spiritual spectators and losing interest. I believe the reason for that is because we are not well rooted in our faith and in Jesus Christ.

First, instead of cultivating an intimate personal relationship with God we replace Him with programs, and exercising religious activities. According to Dr Andrew Murray, all believers run a risk in their devotional life and walk with God "of substituting prayer and Bible reading for living fellowship with God, the living interchange of giving Him your love, your heart, and your life and receiving from Him His love, His life and His Spirit" [9].

Furthermore, the lost sense of God’s presence and power in a believer’s life, church life, meetings, and in the general, a loss of the manifest awareness of God`s presence in our communion with Him is also a major factor and reason why many are struggling with unbelief, unconfessed sin, careless living and worldliness in their action or attitudes. Too often sin makes us complacent, dulling our spiritual sensitivity and blocking the channel of God’s blessing. Tom Elliff, explains this fact in his book, The Pathway to God’s Presence. He said: “a believer’s life, without the presence of God, is destined to flounder because we are not immune to the pressures and strains of life” [10]. It is a sobering thought that the loss of a definite sense of His presence might be the reason for our failure and low-level impact.

The lack of intimacy and God’s presence can rob us of God’s best, but we find ourselves hesitant to discuss it or even acknowledge or be willing to address this issue. It seems to be easier to just launch a new program and project, instead of becoming quiet, sit at His feet and allow Him to speak to us. However, exhausted by the added responsibilities, pressures and demands of the day, we find ourselves drifting away from our commitment to the Lord, lacking spiritual power and energy, resulting in failure, discouragement, more frustration and no lasting impact on our community.

Is there any Hope?

It is easy to despair. Robert Coleman, in his book The Coming World Revival states that it is easy to be pessimistic when problems seem overwhelming. Everything seems to be dark and one may feel that a better future seems to be impossible. However, we must remember that it is usually in these periods of great darkness and crises that revivals and transformations were born. This can happen today as well. Coleman says that our sense of helplessness can make us more sensitive to the need for supernatural grace. [11]

Billy Graham, well-known evangelist once asked a university professor what he thought was the greatest need of our hour. He responded:

I could give you a variety of answers all the way from tax relief to disarmament. I may surprise you, because I am not a religious man, but I believe that the greatest need that we have at this hour is a spiritual awakening which will restore individual and collective morals and integrity throughout the nation.” [12]

First century Christians and churches had their problems but they were able to change and transform the world. Today we have all the resources and technology but we struggle with changing the world. Could it be that we have been looking for answers in all the wrong places? Just like the people of Israel and Gideon could it be that God is allowing us to drift away from Him because we have stopped seeking Him and replaced Him and His agenda with our own agenda and way of thinking?

I believe that there is hope and that God is presently at work. God still speaks. He is still present and He still cares. The question is: Can we see Him, hear Him speak in and for the times we live in? As I travel throughout the nation, I see some encouraging signs:
  • There are a growing number of people that is longing for more. They cry out for more reality in their walk with God and for a deeper knowledge of God. They know God is alive and are not satisfied with the current status and their experience.
  • They also want to see and experience God today like in the ways God’s people have experienced His mighty power and presence, in Scripture and in history.
  • There is a willingness to return to God’s standards and His agenda, wanting to Glorify Him.

Where to start?

The heart`s cry of many is for a genuine revival – revival that comes from God and not from man. History gives testimony that whenever God had sent revival or there was a touch of His people, lives had been changed. Christians and Churches also have experienced new power and fervor to do His work and glorify Him. But, many are saying, “We don’t know what do? Where do we start?

God’s Word provides the answer. He has spoken clearly about His expectations and standards. He has revealed some principles and examples. He has created all mankind for His glory (Isaiah 43:7). So, how do we glorify Him? By doing and finishing His work and agenda (John 17:4). I believe that if we give special attention to what is on His heart, He will reveal and manifest Himself once again (John 14:21-23). What is on His heart?
  • His eternal and personal purpose and plan (Romans 8:29)
  • His Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • His compassion for the harvest and our response (Matthew 9: 35-38)
Firstly, we need to realize that Revival and Spiritual Awakening starts with God’s people and understand how that connects with His purposes and great commission. What is Revival? When does God send Revival? Why does He send Revival? What should we be doing right now? Do you long for real revival and fresh encounter with God?

Image result for revival spiritual

Secondly, Christians and Churches need to become transformational in impacting their surrounding communities and cultures if we want to see lasting change. It will only happen if we understand our call and character and how that affects our community and culture. We also need to become ‘TransforMissional’ in our outlook and approach for the future, as we Re-discover the biblical model for lasting transformation.

God is ready to bless us (Hebrews 11:6) and pour out times of refreshing. He is waiting for us to return to His heart and His original intention, adjust our lives, schedules and agendas and respond in obedience to Him.

Will you be such a person? Will you stop, reflect and pay attention to what you, your church or country experience? God is not dead and gone. He is still to be found. He cares and still speaks. He is waiting for us to return to His heart and experience His power and presence. Don’t settle for less.

Author: Dr. Francois Carr

1. Stephen Olford, Heart Cry for Revival (Ross-shire, Scotland, Christian Focus, 1962), p 15
2. Dave Early, Living in His Presence (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 2005), p 77-78)
3. Ron Blue, Surviving Financial Meltdown (Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois, 2009), page 3
4. Dave Early, Living in His Presence (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 2005), p 78)
5. Henry Blackaby, Fresh Encounter (Nashville, Tennesee, LifeWay, 2006), Backpage
6. John Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession
7. Jim Cymabla, Storm (Grand Rapis, Zondervan, 2014), p 10-13 and backpage
8. Bruce Bennie, Andrew Murray Theologian by Heart (South Australia, 2004) p 17-18
9. Bruce Bennie, Andrew Murray Theologian by Heart (South Australia, 2004) p 19
10. Tom Elliff, The Pathway to God’s Presence (Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, CLC Publications, 2014), p. 39
11. Robert Coleman, The Coming World Revival (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989), Introduction
12. Lewis Drummond, Eight Keys to Biblical Revival (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 1994), p 7)

Francois Carr, BTH, MCC, D. Min, NDPM, is the Executive Director of Heart Cry in South Africa.  He is well known for his burden for revival and a popular speaker in Africa, North America, Europe, United Kingdom and New Zealand.  He authored several books and articles on prayer, holiness and revival. Francois’s ministry, Encountering God and Heart Cry  exist to glorify God by helping Christians and churches to experience God more intimately and mentor them on the way to Revival and Spiritual Awakening. He co-sponsors the Heart Cry for Revival Conference that takes place at the Billy Graham Training centre in Asheville, NC.  He is married to Dorothea, have one child and currently resides in Pretoria, South Africa.