The Prince’s Kiss (Prayer & Revival)
Today is what they call “Star Wars Day.” May the 4th be with you. Get it? The “god” of Star Wars, “The Force” as it is reverently referred to by all the good characters, and actually by the bad ones as well, with it’s “Light Side” and “Dark Side” offers power to do things, even amazing things like choking people without using your hands and raising space ships from swamps. It’s really the old pagan gods of the Greeks and the Romans and witches and animists rolled into one and dressed in modern cinematic garb. It’s fun for fantasy stories, but it makes for bad religion. “The Force” bears little resemblance (other than being the incorporeal location of ultimate power) to the One and Only Real Creator-Sustainer-Redeemer Father-Son-Spirit God revealed in the Bible. And yet it seems to me that we in the Church can at times treat this One True God, whom we wisely trust and rightly worship, in a pagan sort of way, like a “force” to be manipulated for maximum dispensing of desired power for our man-centered purposes.
Ironically, I see it happening especially when serious and devout Christian folks like us start talking about “Revival.”
It is not, by the way, a new problem. I ran across this paragraph in my recent studies for our “Kingdom Awakens” sermon series in the Gospel of Mark (note the shameless use of Star Wars imagery). It is from a Mark commentary by renowned Bible Scholar, C. E. B. Cranfield. He writes of Jesus’ disciples’ frustration at not being able to drive the demon out of the boy we meet in chapter 9. He says it is because they lacked real faith, even though they clearly and confidently believed they would be able to do it…
It would seem that the disciples had thought of the gift of 6:7 (authority to drive out unclean spirits) as given to them in such a way that they had henceforth the disposing of it, and therein had lain their lack of faith. They had to learn that God’s power is not given to men in that way. It has rather ever to be asked for afresh (in prayer) and received afresh. To trust in God’s power in the sense that we imagine that we have it in our control and at our disposal is tantamount to unbelief; for it is really to trust in ourselves instead of in God. (Cranfield, Mark, p.305)
For years now, and in every city in which I have ministered, I have heard and participated in numerous efforts to understand and encourage city-wide, nation-wide, world-wide “revival.” It has been an encouragement to me and a privilege to join with men and women earnestly seeking a special movement of God in our time, another “Great Awakening” when God revives His people, effects significant redemptive changes in human cultures, and dramatically advances His Kingdom. Most recently, I along with many from our church family participated in our “Thirst Conference” and subsequent “One Cry” all-churches-invited city-wide gathering at the Lawlor Events Center.
Our Thirst Conference was everything I hoped it would be and more. I experienced personal renewal as we worshipped and learned and prayed together, and I have heard that it was so for many others in our Covenant family. The teaching offered by our special presenter, Steve Canfield, was excellent, and I especially appreciated the emphasis on personal revival. I cried “Amen” in my heart as I heard him affirming that we cannot schedulereal revival, so our task is to “set our sails” to catch the wind of God that blows by His will and not by ours. And the One Cry event was a marvelous opportunity to gather together as “The One Church” of Jesus Christ in Reno, Nevada, to celebrate first our Unity in Him and then the diversity of our expressions of our faith. I am so grateful to all those—especially our brothers and sisters at Reno Christian Fellowship—whose vision and faith and hard work and uncommon generosity made all of this possible.
At the One Cry event, though, I did hear again (not the main emphasis, but a fairly clear implication in some of the speeches) what I always seem to hear when people start talking with passion about revival: If we pray, God will bring Revival.
I hear this kind of enthusiastic religious rhetoric especially around the time of our annual National Day of Prayer (which is tomorrow).
Revival historians tell us that every major revival, all the “great awakenings” in history, have been preceded by long and ardent periods of prayer. One speaker, via video, pointed us to the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings of the 18th & 19th centuries in America and to the Welsh Revival at the beginning of the 20th century and to the faithful and ardent time of prayer that preceded them. Then he called us all to pray with greater frequency and fervor. That was good. Very good. Then he said something like this: “The blueprint is right there in front of us! So let’s pray, pray, pray!” That was bad, I think. Very bad. The implication was that we can cause revival in our land, or, as another speaker suggested, unleash God’s power for revival, by our prayers.
And in my ear I hear Obi Wan Kenobi counseling young Luke Skywalker: “Use the Force, Luke.”
Where did we get the idea that our God is on some kind of leash waiting for us to unclip it from His collar?
Why do otherwise faithful and true fellow followers of Jesus, feel compelled to suggest that by our concerted prayer we can get God to do what we want when we want it? That sounds like blatant paganism in quasi-Christian attire. Instead of doing the prescribed dance on the right night, or saying the magic words in the right place, or throwing the innocent sacrifice into the right fire, are we going to offer our effective action (fervent prayer) at the right time (now) in order to compel God to give us what we desire (revival in our day)?
As one of my high school teachers told my class once long ago in a far-away math classroom: Correlation does not necessarily mean Causation.
We do not, we cannot, cause large-scale revival. There is nothing we can do to put God in our debt. Jesus will never owe us revival or anything else. What we can do is cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the work that God desires to do and is doing in us and around us. And this, as our Thirst Conference presenters made clear, begins with each of us individually.
Over the next few months, in sermons and personal study and small group sharing, we are going to focus on the issue of Personal Renewal. We will be using a 12-week study called “Seeking Him” recommended to us by Steve and the Life-Action Team. I will share more about this later, as I encourage us all to get one of these study guides and participate together as we seek the New Life that God offers and reveals and desires for us. To close this message let me offer what I consider to be a much better picture of the prayer-revival connection, a picture that affirms and celebrates the correlation while unequivocally denying any causation. It is the picture of Sleeping Beauty.
In the introduction to the “Seeking Him” Study Guide, a well-know writer on Christian Revival is quoted. He calls the church a “sleeping giant,” and says “When revival comes, the giant will not only stir and awaken, but also move with dynamic power and glorious impact.” It’s a compelling image, a stirring picture of God’s church awakened and on the move (And as our current “Kingdom Awakens” sermons in Mark suggest, I am fond of the “awakening” imagery). The danger, of course, is that such an image may lead us to “make it about us” (like humanity has been doing habitually and naturally since the Garden of Eden). We must be careful not to think of ourselves as the holders and dispensers of God’s power (like Jesus’ disciples seem to have done in Mark chapter 9).
I prefer the image of Sleeping Beauty. The Church is asleep, alright, but we are not so much the Powerful Giant as we are the Beloved Bride. And what does the sleeping Bride need in order to wake up? She needs her Princes’ Kiss.
Now as she snores on her couch, unconscious, what can the Bride do to cause her Savior to ride up, come close and touch her lips with his? Nothing. She’s asleep. If she is going to awaken, he is going to have to do what is needed. All him.
We are the Bride, the Bride of Christ we are called in God’s Word. We are beloved just as we are. Asleep. We need to be Awakened. And we cannot awaken ourselves. And we can do nothing to cause our Savior to act for us, to awaken us.
Jesus is the Prince.
And, here is the point I’m driving toward, Prayer is the Kiss!
When we look back and see long and profound periods of prayer preceding dramatic and large-scale movements of God, Great Awakenings, in history we are seeing the Prince’s Kiss! What we are observing is not the cause of God’s action of Revival: We are seeing an important part of God’s action already begun! People praying is part of, an essential part of, His work of Revival! God brings the prayer before He brings the Revival. Or better, the prayer is part of the Revival. It is His Kiss, enabling, empowering, causing the Awakening.
And why does God begin with prayer—called for, empowered, caused by Him—before the dramatic and obvious church and culture “awakening” proceeds? To make it clear, from the outset, that this is His work from start to finish. People pray, pleading with God, so He will do what they cannot do on their own. Prayer, joined in by many, many people, affirms this reality. God help us! Yours is the kingdom. Yours is the power. Yours is the glory. Forever. You belong to Yourself, not to us. We are Yours. Only Yours. Always Yours. It is the right way, the most helpful way, for God’s grand works with and for and through His people to begin and to continue.
Do you see now why it is so insidious and so wrong for any of us to imply that by our prayers we cause God to work, unleash His power, or perform the prerequisite for God to bring Revival? When prayer is our tool for manipulating God, we have made it into the opposite of what it is meant to be. Instead of our gracious reminder of our utter need for God—God help us! We cannot do this!—it, ironically, becomes our self-centered method for securing and owning the power so we can do this. Then our God becomes too much like “The Force,” and we become too much like pagans disguised as Christians.
Do we believe God is going to bring a major revival in our day? Are we willing to pray to make it happen? These are the wrong questions to ask.
Maybe we should ask, instead, if we feel a new compulsion to pray. And if so, let us pray!
If our Prince, Jesus Christ, is kissing us, let us kiss Him back!
Revival, an unprecedented return to the Living God in Reno Nevada, a new Great Awakening in our time, will take care of itself. The Real Awakening began 2,000 years ago, and it will continue by God’s power, and in His time, and for His glory.
Soli Deo Gloria,
May 4, 2016