By Sloan Milliken
“Cry loudly, do not hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to my people their transgression and to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, they delight in the nearness of God.”
-God, Isaiah 58:1-2 (NASB)
I like Isaiah 58—in a masochistic, I-run-ultra-marathons-for-fun sort of way. There’s not another scripture that convicts me like it does when I’m in it, but few spur me on to run the race set before me like it does. It presents a way to understand obedience to Jesus that cuts across the Christian life I was taught and across the culture of our time. Moreover, instead of simply viewing it as a chapter with some good principles for fasting, which certainly it does, I see it as holding a key to unlock revival in our day.
As the foundations of our Judeo-Christian culture seem to be crumbling around us, a hunger for a move of God is stirring. As much as I am inspired by groups of people who come together to fast and cry out for revival, and though I am pursuing similar things in my own life, I am concerned that our prayer and fasting will be largely in vain unless we learn to heed God’s rebuke of Judah in Isaiah 58:1-2.
A PERFECT CHURCH...BUT NOT REALLY
I laugh sometimes when I think about what it must have been like for Isaiah to receive the first part of this word from the Lord. I would have been scratching my head, at least at first, telling God, “You want me to say what?!?”
If we could send a pastor back in time to observe Judah’s religious meetings, he would probably return envious of their “church life.” To put Isaiah 58:2-3 in modern terms, our time-traveling pastor would have found a people dedicated to their morning quiet times and Bible studies. He would have mingled with a people passionate about knowing the word of God, gone to gatherings full of prayer warriors, and enjoyed worship nights passionately pursuing the presence of the Lord. He would have been amazed to find thousands and thousands of people banding together in fasting and prayer for revival. Yes, his reports to us about their life in God would have been glowing. But in only attending their meetings, he would not have seen the whole picture, for God was not pleased.
To a nation of people seeking God and crying out for the restoration of their land, God’s rebuke in verse 2 thunders. He says in effect, “You are mixed up. You appear very spiritual and earnestly want revival, yet you don’t do what I have commanded. You have forsaken my covenant and don’t obey me, but you still wonder why I’m not moving on your behalf.”
REVERSING OUR RED-LETTER DROUGHT
I wonder if much of the modern Church, myself included, has set itself up for an Isaiah 58:2 rebuke. We want God, but we neglect what he has said to us in and through Jesus. Please hear me, now. Many of us are very good “Christians.” The problem is, though, that Christianity has neglected the biblical definition of the word.
The Scripture defines Christian very simply. Acts 11:26 puts it like this: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” If this is true, then we have our understanding upside-down. Today, we say that someone is a disciple if they are a really committed Christian, but a biblical Christian is a disciple of Jesus!
Jesus’ own statement confronts our situation directly: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching...He who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:23-24). When I think about my life through these words and the lens of Isaiah 58:2, I grieve inside. I love the presence of God, and I have a heart for missions, prayer, revival, and discipleship. Still, I often ask myself, “How can I obey the Great Commission and teach others to do what Jesus said if I don’t first know how to obey his commands?”
God wants to heal our land, but first he is calling us to return to simple devotion to Jesus. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, but as I close, there are three things on my heart to encourage us practically in this pursuit:
Let’s discover all that it means to be sons and daughters of God. The Father loves us just as he loves Jesus (John 17:23), and by his blood, Jesus has given us the right to live as God’s kids (see John 1:12). If we are not secure in this reality, we will never walk as Jesus walked. After all, Jesus in us and through us is revival.
Let’s return to a focus upon the red letters. Sometimes I feel that the modern church follows Paul more than it follows Jesus. If we are going to love the Lord Jesus by doing what he says, we must first set aside time to learn his words as recorded in the gospels, letting the Holy Spirit teach us!
Let’s fast and pray. If we are to do the red letters, we will not throw the baby out with the bath water. Jesus assumes that we will walk in fasting and prayer, and he promises that the reward for doing so is great.
Brothers and sisters, be encouraged. As we obey the Lord Jesus, our fasting and prayer will not be like Judah’s in Isaiah 58. Instead, God will respond, not in rebuke, but by moving heaven and transforming earth.