This week in The Living Word we’re looking at the different stages and tensions of revival, and how God is always at His work of renewing, although we often do not recognise it.
The story starts with Isaiah’s picture of hidden streams appearing in the desert and causing a sudden bloom of bright vegetation.
Then it moves to John the Baptist’s renewal movement which was like water in the desert, suddenly appearing and blossoming with a big impact for a short time. Then he was imprisoned – but not before he had carried out his unique God-given task of announcing the arrival of Jesus, King of kings, and pointing Him out to people.
Our story today closes with the focus on the final renewal that we are waiting for. We have seen moves of the Spirit, reformations and renewal movements every century or so, and recently, more often — but we still await the final and all-encompassing renewal of everything in Jesus’ return. This waiting can be a tense time – that’s the holy dissatisfaction — but patience and fellowship is what is needed as we discern signs of the Lord is coming.
- See also The Living Word Bible Study with verse-by-verse commentary, reflections on each reading and discussion starters for groups and individuals — the basis of this episode
- Watch this week’s video Holy Dissatisfaction Gets Us Reaching for God’s Freedom (short preview here main video here
- Listen to the podcast
God in his love and faithfulness is always at work.
Also at work is the devil, bringing every kind of human suffering and bondage where he has opportunity, but the Psalmist reminds us in these words from Psalm 145 how God in his love and faithfulness is always at work for our freedom.
Blessed are those whose hope is in the Lord their God [who] remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed, gives food to the hungry and sets prisoners free. The Lord gives sight to the blind and lifts up those who are bowed down. The Lord loves the righteous… but He frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever… for all generations. Praise the Lord.
Psalm 146:1-5 NIV excerpted
Isaiah had an amazing insight into what God was saying and doing, and his inspired words endure across times and generations. We hear God speaking to us through them today.
Although there is desolation and hardship in freezing, damaged towns in Ukraine as the fighting and oppression continues, God is at work in the opposite way. He loves the righteous and upholds the cause of all who are oppressed. We hear this now from Isaiah 35:
Wilderness and desert will sing joyously… like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and colour… God’s resplendent glory, fully on display. Awesome, majestic God.
Energise… limp hands [and] strengthen… rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! God is…right here, on His way to put things right and redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He will save you!”
Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, lame men and women will leap like deer and the voiceless break into song.
Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, [creating] streams [that] flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis, thirsty ground a splashing fountain, barren grassland will flourish richly [and] even lowly jackals will have water to drink.
There will be a highway called the Holy Road. No one rude or rebellious is permitted on this road.
It’s for God’s people exclusively— and it is impossible to get lost on this road.
No lions, no dangerous wild animals on this road — no one dangerous or threatening. Only the redeemed will walk on it, the people God has ransomed.
They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion, halos of joy encircling their heads,
Welcomed home… as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night.
Isaiah 35:11-10 The Message, excerpted
Isaiah reminds us that even as we experience, or helplessly observe, the many forms of oppression, God is working His purpose out and showing us a way of safety through the rocky outcrops and crevasses of life. Beneath the lifeless desert, there is water ready to erupt in springs.
And in those dry places, dormant life is ready to show itself. God’s renewal is something we can confidently pray for, knowing it is always His will, always on His agenda. Praying or working for maintenance is really saying that we prefer decline!
Here is another example of two contrary directions working at the same time that we hear in John’s perplexed followers’ questioning of Jesus, as the prisoner they are most concerned about is not set free. This excerpt is from Matthew 11:
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask Him, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me.”
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John:
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.
“Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
“Truly I tell you… there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Matthew 11:2-11 NIV excerpted
Jesus speaks of the many who are finding freedom, and praises his forerunner as the greatest of that distinguished line of prophets of the Old Covenant. But the Old Covenant was about to be superseded, and someone was needed to open the door to the new, directing people to it, and showing them Jesus. This was John’s unique role – a one-man renewal movement who glorified God in losing his righteous life to a philandering tyrant.
We live in many tensions today where it feels as though we are pulled this way and that between two contrary movements
There is a longstanding numerical decline in those claiming to be Christian, so the recent ONS survey shows. However, there is also a strong movement of vibrant faith in Jesus which is being expressed in planting churches, replanting moribund ones and making world-changing disciples. Young people are not establishment-minded but are attracted to participate in a movement. That’s where we see Jesus working with the evidence of organic growth.
The parallel moves are seen as we enter a season of co-ordinated industrial action in the UK with inflation and economic hardship. Politicians struggle to convince even their supporters that they have answer — but this powerlessness is prompting more and more to seek the more satisfactory answer of God’s power to bring change and His true government.
The cold and the unaffordable cost of heating is a hardship we all experience but a particular burden for those of limited means. However, it is turning churches into community hubs, places for people to find many kinds of warmth, friendship, conversations and help. Is Jesus telling us that, at last, we are getting it, that this is what His church is about?
These times requires spiritual discernment, without which we descend into blaming each other. James urges us, as believers who know our Lord is present and looking to return, to work with each other not against, as we hear in God’s word from James 5:
Be patient… until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop… waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
[Like the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord] you too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
James 5:7-10 NIV excerpted
We have been living in what the Bible calls the last days for nearly 2,000 years, and yet the need is to double down on our patient resolve to stand firm as we wait for His coming. It has been said before, but the season we are in does feel like the last lap before that final entrance of Jesus. It’s a testing time – all renewal tests our faith, and brings its own spiritual and emotional tensions that threaten to undermine the prayer and unity of Christians.
Whenever God seems to be doing two different things, or allowing contrary directions, we struggle to understand it and find it hard to agree with what He is doing. As people did in the time of Isaiah and the later prophets. As John’s disciples did when Jesus was gaining followers and their leader was in a cell. As those in the early church did, facing all kinds of difficulties while Jesus’ immediate return seemed overdue. And as we, today. trust God to bring us out of conflict and decline and into freedom, growth and joyful fellowship.
Do we trust God to bring us into freedom when all the signs seem to be telling us the opposite? What gets us standing together and praying with one voice as we affirm Jesus as our Lord and seek His kingdom and His right way?
Sometimes we need to be stirred from our passivity. And holy dissatisfaction gets us reaching for God’s freedom.