Praying for Revival
The church's only hope is that God will act and not be passive. The Psalmist has declared that:
"Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain." (Ps.127:1)
Such truth should encourage us in at least two regards:
The final outcome doesn't depend upon us – and what a relief that is, the burden of success is not placed on our shoulders!
If the Lord must be actively involved if our efforts are to count for anything then we should pray, and pray earnestly, to that end.
Prayer is not easy and we need all the help we can get to pray. We need examples, incentives, promises etc. In short you name it and we need it!
And there is in Isaiah's prayer that fills most of ch.63 and all of ch.64 an abundance of help if only we could see it and learn from it.
A few weeks ago we considered the opening of Isaiah's prayer Is.63:7-
In that opening section to his prayer Isaiah reminded himself and remembered before God just how God had acted for the well-
Isaiah was a realist and he didn't pretend that the people of God were a wonderful group of individuals who were so nice that they genuinely deserved the intervention of God. No, he knew that when God acted for his people it was because of his love for them, because of his compassion for them. God had pity on them and came to their rescue even though the heart of his people was fundamentally rebellious. In fact this rebellious streak caused God to act not as their friend but as their adversary until he determined to bring about a significant deliverance for them.
Isaiah began with this brief overview of the way in which God had dealt with his people in the past because the people had got themselves into another almighty great mess and were just as undeserving as their ancestors. But if God had shown mercy to their ancestors there was hope that he might show mercy to them as well!
The main body of Isaiah's prayer covers Is.63:15-
Let's look at some of the themes that are important to Isaiah as he prays:
Firstly, and underscoring everything else, is Isaiah's vision of God himself.
God is exalted – if he is to take an interest in his people then this God must condescend to "look down" from his exalted position in heaven. 63:15, 64:1.
God is capable of mighty zeal and when he intervenes his interventions are powerful, effective and impressive.
God is capable of showing great compassion.
God stands in a paternal relationship to his people. Twice in this prayer Isaiah declares that God is the Father of his people (63:16, 64:8) even though there is precious little if any evidence of family likeness expressed in the lives of his children. Now, we are so used to thinking of God as Father that we are probably not particularly struck by this here. But search the OT you will not find 10 references to God as Father and here in Isaiah's prayer the idea sounds out like a clarion call twice in the space of just a handful of verses.
God is sovereign and his sovereignty is absolute.
Is.63:17 "O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage."
Nevertheless this conviction that God's sovereignty determines even the hardness of their own hearts in no way leads Isaiah to passivity or fatalism – he is praying after all and praying very great fervency at that! We should never try to hide behind the sovereignty of God as though it excuses or dismisses our human responsibility before him.
God's honour is affected by the apparent success of his people's adversaries.
Is.63:18 "our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary."
Is.64:2 "make your name known to your adversaries… that the nations might tremble at your presence!"
(See also Is.64:10-
We could on adding to this list: God is holy and as a consequence reacts against sin – he is angry, he hides his face, and he ensures that sin has consequences, consequences that are often felt. Much if not all of Isaiah's problem is the sense of having being abandoned by God.
Questions and Pleas for Help
Isaiah's praying is not in the least cold or formal – he is enthusiastic and passionate! Even his questions are really expressions of his desire that God should act in a different manner, that he should act in their favour and no longer be indifferent or worse actively opposed to them.
Is.63:15 "Where are your zeal and your might?"
This is not a question that wants a supply of information as an answer – the only answer looked for by Isaiah is a renewed demonstration of God's zeal and God's might acting in favour of his people.
The same is true for his question asked in v.17
"O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?"
It is a change in what God does that Isaiah wants to see not an explanation.
In 64:5 Isaiah reviews the character of God and recognises just how God's people have failed but he longs for this people actually to be saved, he is not expressing mere curiosity as to what the future might hold:
"You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?"
There are two more questions that Isaiah puts at the end of chapter 64 and once again we must interpret his questions as pleas and as expressed desire – how he longs for God to come to their aid!
Is.64:12 "Will you restrain yourself at these things, O LORD? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?"
If only our praying could match this intensity of desire! And so far we have only considered Isaiah's questions!!
As we turn from Isaiah's questions to his clearly expressed requests, what energy and passion we find as Isaiah pleads for God to act mercifully and powerfully to rescue his people and to further their interests. He supports his pleas with appeals and with argument!
Is.63:15 "Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation."
Is.64:1 "Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence -
Is.64:9 "Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people."
Isaiah is concerned for his people, he is concerned about his adversaries and he is concerned for the way in which God's honour is besmirched.
He pleads the people's relationship with God – he is their Father and they belong to him as his people.
He pleads the faithfulness of God – others might give up on this people but surely not God.
He pleads the fact that God has powerfully intervened in the past for his people.
He pleads the effect their condition is having both on the nations who are emboldened in their rejection of God and the dishouring effect that this has for the name of God himself.
As we move into a New Year let us take heart from Isaiah's example in prayer.
As Isaiah looked forward the situation didn't look very promising – disobedience was leading to exile and very few were interested in Godly living. Isaiah speaks broadly of the sinfulness of the people in vv.6-
Nevertheless Isaiah prayed! And he encouraged himself too by reminding God of how he generally responded to such behaviour:
May we, in 2015, be a people who "wait for him" calling often upon him in prayer and living energetic Christian lives as we serve our Sovereign Lord.
Illustration of how we could react to the absolute sovereignty of God:
Picture a couple of sailing boats hauled up onto the beach – they are neither of them going anywhere. For them to move they must be on the water and the wind must fill their sails. The stupid thing to do would be to leave the boat on the beach and its sails safely packed away. The right thing, recognising that the boat will only travel when the wind blows is, nevertheless not inactivity but serious preparation: push the boat out and hoist up the sails. Let us do that as we earnestly pray for his blessing as his might fills the sails!