For years I have heard the Religious Right bemoan (and have myself been found bemoaning) the culture around us, and I now see Evangelicals expectantly wondering if God will bring revival to this corrupted world through the current pandemic. While I can resonate with the sorrow over the world's sin and a desire to see souls come to God for the first time, I have begun to wonder why we Christians seem to lack brokenness for our own sins, and why we focus so little on the conformation of our own souls to the Divine. We seem to think that we have arrived at holiness, or at least commendable acceptability, and that others really don't need to be like God so long as they become more like us. But that's not what I want. I want the God to whom people come to be a god not mis-fashioned in our own image. I want the God they come to to be transcendent.
In order for the world to see the Divine through us, we must struggle to get the logs out of our own eyes before asking others to take the specks out of theirs. For how could we lead others to a God whom we ourselves can't even see? And how could we expect others to want to come to a Holy God - not to have their beings transformed - but rather only to have their pet sins changed to become those of the church? For if their sins become our sins, they can then be overlooked. In the church's eyes, the gay, the aborter, and the atheist must change, but the greedy, gluttonous, unmerciful, prayerless Christian - the functional atheists - must not, since, of course, the latter looks like me. Oh how we have logs in our eyes!
But praise God for his mercy and grace, for in this, the Son and the Spirit are our perfect hope. The Spirit, the stonemason, takes our heart of stone and chisels it to become a heart of flesh. Jesus the carpenter, in turn, removes the logs from our eyes and fashions them into a yoke which is easy to bear. Together they lead us into the arms of a loving Father and King, to whom we do not merely profess some empty faith, but to whom we bow our knees as the outworking of true faith. Without such a transformation - without putting our subordination where we claim lordship lies - we smother our light, trample our salt, and build our house on sand.
As we Christians think about revival out there (which we should), I think the prophets would ask us to first consider our own repentance and need for reformation, both as individual Christians and as a collective body. I know that I fail to seek mercy and justice. I fail to walk humbly with God. My "sacrifices" don't cost me anything. I seek the praises of others. I contribute to systems and actions which oppress the weak. I murder with my hatred. My heart, more than any other heart, is in need of revival. Let me acknowledge my sin in the presence of God before seeking and expecting revival elsewhere. And perhaps it is acknowledging my sin and allowing God to transform my life - genuinely submitting to his lordship - that he will bring about revival in others. Maybe God calls us to judge ourselves and those inside the church rather than those outside. Maybe the loudest voice for God isn't the condemning one, but the one whispered in seemingly relative obscurity through a distinctive life of holiness and incarnational love, embracing the sinners and calling out the hypocrisy of the religious. Maybe the Christian is the one who stoops to write in the miniscule pebbles of sand rather than being the first to throw stones. Maybe, just maybe, a revival comes through following Jesus and becoming more like him - not just saying it.
In that vein, I want to invite any Christian reading this to look over Isaiah 58, one of my favorite prophetic calls to repentance and justice. And after you read that, you will find the ways God has been calling me to repent. My prayer is that this will spur you on to examine your own life, and that as the body of Christ, we can be broken open as a sweet smelling aroma to the world around us.
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
My (far from exhaustive) list of sins and failures:
- I proclaim that God is sovereign and powerful yet the amount of time I intercede on behalf of the world or commune directly with God is miniscule in comparison to the time I spend on entertainment and trying to DO things FOR God.
- I proclaim that God is the God of all and that his Kingdom is diverse, yet I fail to seek diversity, I fail to advocate for the minority, the weak, the oppressed, and the other.
- I recognize the people who I love and serve are people who can repay me in like fashion. I rarely sacrificially - truly sacrificially give to the poor and the despised.
- God has provided us with all that we need, yet when I heard about receiving stimulus checks from the government, my first thought has been joy at the chance of doubling our savings account as opposed to considering how I can use that money to help those in need.
- I have spent years bemoaning abortion and the degradation of the family, yet we have not yet pursued adoption or fostering or significantly supporting those things in any tangible way.
- I don't love my enemies, whether those are political or national enemies. I speak evil against them, and if my anger is any indication (which Jesus thinks it is), given a situation where I had to choose between my life and the life of my enemies, I have little doubt I'd sacrifice my enemies.
- My convenience and comfort are often valued more than my children, as evidenced by my anger towards them when they inconvenience me through disobedience, through their shennanigans at bedtime, etc.
And the list could go on....