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A Case Study: The Water Gate Renewal—a look at the significant revival of Nehemiah's day Part Two

From these observations of the setting, we can now see

Six Characteristics of Spiritual Renewal

from Nehemiah 8-9.

1. Reverence and Love for the Reading of Scripture

Chalk Prayer #3: We're praying for a restoration of our love for and study of the Word.

This experience is typical of those entering into spiritual renewal.

It is also noteworthy that the people listened very attentively (v 3b). You might say this was a spiritual feast for hungry souls. By the way, this has a New Testament parallel in Acts 10:33 where the Word was read and taught, and a significant work of grace followed.

To show how much they valued the Word, notice the people stood as Ezra read the Word. v. 5—Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.

This gesture of standing is interesting in that it later became characteristic of the Jews in the synagogue service; whenever the Word was read, the people would stand. This is often done in some churches today. It shows reverence for the Word. But I'm not so sure the standing is as important as the reverence today.

I'm sure we could explain away the reverence, because they didn't have the multiplication of Scripture that we have. Few people had access to the Word, so this was a very special moment.

In the Middle Ages, before printing presses and the Reformation, Bibles were chained to pillars in the parish churches of England. In order to learn the Word of God, people were forced to attend church services. Can you imagine?

Today, though there is an abundance of Bibles available to us, the familiarity should not lessen our awe. These people valued the Word of God, not only because it was rare but because it was special. Bruce Wilkerson, president of "Walk Through The Bible," tells this story:

Several years ago I had the opportunity to see first hand how precious and powerful the Word of God is. I was ministering with a group of friends in a remote village in the jungles of Bolivia. One night a missionary asked me if I would like to attend a service. "Sure," I said. "Where is the church?" "Oh, it's right here," he replied with a knowing smile. He told me the service would begin at eight. A few minutes went by and I looked at my watch. "It's past eight." "Don't worry, the people will come." And they did. For the next half hour men, women, children, and even a few dogs began to come and sit together. "When is the service going to begin?" I asked. "Why, it's already begun."

Presently, a little man unwrapped a small object he had been holding close to his breast. It was a copy of First Corinthians. He stood and preached for half an hour as my friend interpreted for me. It was a moving message. Then a second man stood and spoke from the village's only copy of Ephesians. Finally a third man stood and preached still another sermon. Three sermons in one service!

Suddenly a lady on my left began to weep. God was dealing with her. She stood and openly confessed that she had been unfaithful to her husband, had repented, and had asked him to forgive her. Now she was crying out for forgiveness from her brothers and sisters in Christ. She was restored and then received in love by that church. The scene was straight from the Book of Acts. Two years earlier that church had no standards, no means of reconciliation, no Bible, and no idea of right and wrong!

What a great impact a little of the Word of God had on that village. I wonder, "Are we sowing generous seeds of God's Word in our hearts?" (Taken from "Kindred Spirit," published by Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, Fall 1982, p. 8.)

 

Wherever there is revival, there is a real awe for the Word of God. People in genuine renewal hold the Word with care; they open it with care; they follow attentively to whatever is being taught. On the other hand, people in "emotional renewal" or a "cultic revival" refer to the Bible only in a cursory way, emphasizing stories; testimonies; "deep teaching" not found in the Scriptures; obscure verses; and topical messages.

People whose lives are being genuinely renewed have a love for the Scripture born out of a relationship with the author and a desire to know how to please God.

How much do we value God's Word?

The answer is very revealing, because it indicates whether we will really listen to the renewing Spirit of God in our lives, and whether we are candidates for and really desire a "chalk revival." We are so enriched through the Word and yet we often say, "I don't have time." We don't take a discipline like this seriously. I wonder what would happen if the Word was taken away from us? I wonder if there would be some regrets for the times we could have put these good words in our hearts?

G. Campbell Morgan, another famous revivalist in the early days of this century, became dissatisfied with his ministry. So to seek the Lord, he locked up all his books except his Bible. For months he would go to a little house in the back of his property, simply to study the Bible. He was changed!

Will you take an inventory of your love, your reading, and your listening to the Word? Try to rate the value you place on it. Does it call to you? Do you have a hunger for it? Do you desire to know what it says so you can please God? If that doesn't describe you, it's not a reason to feel guilty; it's just an indication of your heart and the need to make the Chalk Revival your prayer. Your lack of love for the Scripture is very significant. It is an indication of a calling, and of your spiritual state.

As a whole, this church shows a hunger for the Word. It is evident in the rustling of pages, in the number of Bibles present. We are noted all over town for a saying that precedes my sermons: "Take your Bibles, please." Like most pastors, I am very proud of your response. But don't be satisfied with the habit or the discipline of study—press on in God until you love His Word and it provokes awe.

This week, I want you to make a commitment to simply read the Bible with awe. Open your heart to what it might say.

2. Worship of God

Psalm 135

1 Praise the LORD. Praise the name of the LORD; praise him, you servants of the LORD, 2 you who minister in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God. 3 Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant. 4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession.

5 I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. 6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. 7 He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

8 He struck down the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of men and animals. 9 He sent his signs and wonders into your midst, O Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants. 10 He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings—11 Sihon king of the Amorites, Og king of Bashan and all the kings of Canaan—12 and he gave their land as an inheritance, an inheritance to his people Israel.

13 Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, through all generations. 14 For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. 16 They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; 17 they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. 18 Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

19 O house of Israel, praise the LORD; O house of Aaron, praise the LORD; 20 O house of Levi, praise the LORD; you who fear him, praise the LORD. 21 Praise be to the LORD from Zion, to him who dwells in Jerusalem.

Praise the LORD.

 

Nehemiah 8:6—Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Chalk Prayer #7: A reshaping of my praise and worship so I truly worship with my whole heart, body, and life—Ps. 95:6; 100; Rom. 12:1; Eph. 5:18-21; Matt. 5:16; James 5:13.

We see in verse 6 that worship accompanied genuine revival. Try to catch the emotion of this scene, as Ezra praises God. We don't know what his words were; it would be wonderful to read what he said. Perhaps it was similar to Psalm 135. We do know it was such that it created a response in the people. Notice specifically how they responded. All the people lifted their hands—a natural and universal sign of participation and identification. (Just try to cheer or to get excited without your hands!) We sing and dance with our grandchildren a lot, and it's very natural for them to dance and clap their hands when they are excited.

We are clearly encouraged in Scripture to respond to the Lord in a physical way. The book of Psalms says to: ...lift up your hands in holiness and bless the Lord...

1 Timothy 2:8 instructs, I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing—I Tim. 2:8.

Here, another characteristic of a revived and renewed people is seen: that which is genuinely expressed in the heart is expressed outwardly, indicating identification with what is being said. Outward expression also indicates surrender and praise. Worship, however, is to be a response to what the Word says, not just an act of emotional catharsis or expression. Praise is a characteristic of renewed people, emitting from the heart; when expressed outwardly, it indicates identification with God, the music, the Word, surrender and praise.

How will we know when to respond in an outward expression? How do we know any personal expression is valid and authentic? Two preparations will assure us genuine responses:

  1. Heart Preparation—Ps. 16:7-11"I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8] I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9] Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure. . ."

     

    Heart preparation precedes praise...

     

  2. Content Preparation—Col. 3:16"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."

     

All the people responded with "Amen! Amen!" which indicated their participation with Ezra in his prayer. They were with him. "Amen" is a powerful word, saying "So be it; I believe it; I say the same thing." I'm not calling us to disrupt the services with a kind of learned response that has more to do with ritual than with agreement, but I do think it is important even in your hearts, or quietly to say, "Yes! Amen! So be it. I believe it Lord." "Amen" is a one-word prayer.

Next, all the people bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground, showing their devotion to, adoration for, and willing submission tothe Lord and His authority. "Worship" in Hebrew means "to grovel, to lay down before the Lord in submission." And it's not a bad thing to do in your private prayer, to bow down on your knees and pray. It's another expression of agreement, submission and surrender.

 


Let's move on to look at Nehemiah 9, where we see the same elements of revival continuing, although it is several days after the events of chapter 8.

Nehemiah 9:1-5— On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God.

Standing on the stairs were the Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani—who called with loud voices to the LORD their God. And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: "Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise."

Notice how the Israelites divided their time:

 

  • a fourth of the day for the reading of the Law
  • a fourth for confession and worshipping the Lord

     

The Levites led the way in worship, thus were the examples of how to worship (e.g., in verse 5, they called the people to stand up and worship). This passage highlights key elements needed in our worship:

 

  • sensitivity to what is appropriate
  • humility in leadership
  • demonstrating lifestyles of worship
  • worship which reflects their hearts

We need some examples or models from those who lead in worship.  Our worship leaders are leading us, and I am encouraging them to lead out. I've encouraged them not to be concerned about their leadership being seen as manipulative or pushy. I want them to listen to God for new songs, new expressions; to look for new models that reflect who God is, who they are, and who we are—in that order.

We need to be encouraged to worship, as Ezra and the Levites encouraged the Jews. This is sometimes a problem for us because it could give the impression of exterior and not interior worship (hypocritical worship), of the worshipers being encouraged by a cheerleader. But even if our worship is emitting from interior hearts of joy, we need encouragement from our worship leaders to express our joy and praise. This is not manipulation; it's simply calling us to express what Jesus has done and is doing in our hearts.

On the other hand, if there is nothing in your heart, no desire to worship, don't get upset with the worship leaders. Ask yourself if the real problem is what is in your heart.

We all need a nudge from others to not let fear keep us from being genuine. If something is in our hearts, we are to express it! The genuine outward expression of worship, however, is to be directly connected to what we are saying in our hearts and God has said in His Word. We see an example of this encouragement in Psalm 95:6-7a—Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; 7] for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

The Psalmist leads the way in praising God, then calls the people to praise Him as well. In chapter 9, we see a wonderful example of where the Levites' worship came from—vv. 4-31. Essentially, this passage is a summary, or retelling, of what they had just read in the law but now was in the form of praise or worship. Their worship came from the Word and reflected praise for what God had done, in spite of their sinfulness. This is a wonderful model for us, to read the Word of God and find a way to turn it back to Him in praise. This pleases God.

It guides our praise and keeps it biblical.

 

I want us to practice the example of Nehemiah this week.

 

  1. As you are reading the Word and showing reverence for it (the first characteristic of those experiencing renewal), then
  2. Add to that reading an act of worship and praise. When you finish reading (e.g., a psalm), meditate on the passage until you find something to pray about and to praise God for. Then pray through the passage and give appropriate praise as you go along.
    Example: Psalm 51

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book on praying through the psalms in which he advocates this practice. I do this after almost every sermon I preach. People often want to know why I do it; it's because the Scripture then becomes the basis for prayer and praise. It works not only with psalms. Take a narrative or a teaching passage and pray through it by asking God to help you learn its principles, and then praise Him for the instruction, the story, and for the power and wisdom He always gives to apply His Word.

Do you see how this will keep our Chalk Revival from inappropriate emotional expressions and lead us to prayer and praise that is biblical? Let's be like the Levites of Nehemiah 9:5! They said, "Stand up and praise the Lord your God who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise."

I say, let's go for it—prepare your hearts so we might follow the lead of those in Ezra's day. Let us fill our hearts with the Word as we read and meditate on it this week. Praise your God for who He is and for what He has done. By all means, praise the Lord. Do not let fear keep you from praising Him.