Something else accompanies biblical praise: something most do not appreciate.
3. Comprehension of the Scriptures
This sequence can be helpful to see. 8:7-8—"The Levites...instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read."
- Reverence and love for Scripture caused them to initially listen.
- The worship of God softened their hearts and focused their attention.
- The continued reading of the Law of God then "planted [it] in the soil of their hearts.
This brings us to a new step. vv. 7-8—"The Levites...instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read." Clearly, the exposition/explanation of the meaning of the text led them to comprehend what they had read. As a result, the people understood the Scriptures.
All these elements are tied together.
Ezra was apparently assisted by the Levites, who helped with the reading of the law. v. 7—The Levites...instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there." They then explained the meaning of the text in smaller groups. v. 8— "They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read."
Don't miss the significance of what is happening here.
Ezra sets a pattern here for Protestant services with an emphasis on worship and teaching. This passage is the prototype, establishing roots for what we carry on in church services today. Ezra and his helpers were the first in a long line of expository preachers, small group leaders and teachers who explained the Bible.The large group has always been tied to the small group. We practice specifically this biblical model as a church two-three times a year, when we tie our Sunday morning teaching to mid-week small group meetings for application and further explanation.
1 Tim. 4:13—"Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching..."Passing on teaching to other teachers is a pattern Paul followed in many instances with his ministry team. This is how I initially learned to do exposition, because I didn't have the training or teaching models. I had majored in speech but not exposition in my undergraduate studies. It was only in my doctoral program that I was formally taught the way to exposit or teach a passage properly. That is why I wrote my dissertation on teaching the untrained/or lay teacher how to teach the Scripture.
Acts 20:20,27—"You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 27] For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God."
1 Cor. 4:17—"For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church."Young pastors in China actually memorize sermons to begin ministry. Mimicry, in fact, is a wonderful way for beginners to learn to teach.
2 Tim. 2:2—"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." (See also 1 Tim. 4:4-6ff; 6:1-2ff; 2 Tim. 3:14-15.)
2 Tim. 1:13—"What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus."
Nehemiah 8:9 "Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘'This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.' For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law."
Nehemiah 9:1 "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.
The teaching, interpretation, and application of Scripture struck a responsive chord in the hearts of the Jews. This happened to Josiah in 2 Kings 22:11—"When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes."
The New Testament expresses this type of brokenness in Heb. 4:12. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
God's Word is living, as God is. It is active and energetic, cutting and laying bare any untruth in us. God's Word penetrates to the innermost recesses of our spiritual beings. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. God's Word was all of this to those who listened with open hearts to Ezra's words.
This is exactly why some people avoid the Bible. It is hard to read the Word sometimes, because it exposes us. A quote on the flyleaf of George Bernard Shaw's Bible read:
"Except as a curiosity, this book is a most undesirable possession...I must get rid of it. I really cannot bear it in my house."
Confession of sin, and repentance, are not to be left in the background of our Christian life, or seen as connected only with the early days of our Christian experience. Indeed, it is the humble (broken) and contrite heart that God will not despise. He will, in fact, keep the proud away from Him! Do we need to ask God to rekindle the sensitivity to Him that we had when we first came to Christ?
If we avoid a daily humbling before God, we will soon become hard-hearted, cold, and indifferent to the things of God. We will never have God plant the seeds of His life upon the soil of our hard, unbroken spirit. We will see those seeds only where the conviction of the Holy Spirit has brought brokenness, where the soil has been watered with tears of repentance as well as of joy.
It is a tremendous moment in a Christian's life when he can honestly look into God's face and say, "Yes, Lord, you are right and I am wrong."
When a Christian stops arguing with God, drops his controversy, and stands before God broken, he says, "Lord, I got what I deserved in this situation." The Holy Spirit works to bring us to that place over and over, because God can continue to use us then. The Lord is more ready to forgive the sins of His people than a mother is willing to snatch her child out of the fire—but the sin God will never forgive (the "unpardonable sin") is the sin we will not confess.
One revivalist said: "Humility is God's first requirement. A major step forward would be for the church to cease pretending that it is doing well and admit that it is doing worse than it has ever done in modern history. So far things are not so bad that most denominations and even local churches think that a new program or another committee is bound to turn the tide. When we reach the point that we stop all sham and pretense and in brokenness and contrition cry out to God, then the hopes begin to brighten. Hardness keeps the Word from having impact, and humility opens the heart for good seed."
No revival is possible in any fellowship without a price being paid: the confession of all sin! We recognize our sin by honestly asking questions. As long as we compare ourselves with others, we can always find someone worse than ourselves, so we can say, "Well, I'm not that bad, so I guess I'm okay." If, however, we compare ourselves with who we could be in Jesus, with His expectations for us, it is a completely different story.
Sometimes, then, we need to ask ourselves some questions.This study will help us discern what is in our hearts and where we need to confess our sin. Read each question and then search for the passage that applies. These questions are not designed to inflict guilt upon us, but to help us uncover things that need to be brought into the light.
- What about my relationships with people?
- Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am?
- Is there the least suspicion of hypocrisy in my life?
- Am I honest in all my words?
- Do I exaggerate?
- Am I reliable?
- Can I be trusted?
- Do I confidently pass on what was told me in confidence?
- Do I grumble and complain in the church?
- Am I jealous, impure, irritable, touchy, distrustful?
- Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
- Am I proud?
- Do I thank God that I am not as other people?
- Is there anyone I fear, or dislike, or criticize, or resent?
- If so, what am I doing about it?
- What about my devotion to God?
- Does the Bible live in me?
- Do I give it time to speak to me?
- Do I go to bed on time, and do I get up on time?
- Am I enjoying my prayer life today?
- Did I enjoy it this morning?
- When I am involved in a problem in life, do I use my tongue or my knees about it?
- Am I disobeying God in anything, or insistent upon doing something about which my conscience is very uneasy?
- When did I last speak to someone else with the object of trying to win them for Christ?
- Am I a slave to books, dress, friends, work?
- How do I spend my spare time?
Do you remember how it was when you first became a Christian—how sensitive you were to the things of God? You made sure things were right between you and God and others. You swiftly forgave people. You were intense about making sure your life reflected what was in the Word of God. You had a real sensitivity to God's heart and you quickly confessed your sin.
But something happens in many of our lives. We become "mature" and we allow that sensitivity to the Lord and that confessional spirit to dissipate. Other concerns take precedence, and we don't read the Bible as much. I can remember one wonderful, spiritual camp experience I had as a young youth pastor. The sensitivity the Lord created in my life was simply profound. But then I made an abrupt transition to the real life. It still sticks in my mind how I felt when we stopped on our way back home. As I walked into a restaurant, I felt a shock to my spiritual system. Now, I needed that shock, and I had to go into the real world. There was then, however, a sensitivity that I have since prayed would continue to grow in me during the Chalk Revival. I am praying for a renewed spirit of brokenness, humility, expectation and spiritual sensitivity, causing me to quickly respond to God, should He speak to me about anything.
In a spiritual renewal, however, sensitivity to God, a humble spirit, and a pliable heart are regained and renewed! The spiritual poverty of the first Beatitude ("Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.") is revisited. That hunger and thirst for righteousness is awakened, and we mourn at our need: how much we need the Lord, His comfort and His help!
When you have answered the previous two sets of questions, move on to the following.
Evaluation, testing, diagnosis is very critical to our spiritual health. Just because we are feeling okay, or even looking good spiritually, in reality we may not be healthy. Sometimes a physical examination reveals things to be not as good as they appear to be. There may be signs in our body or spirit, but because we don't know what they mean, we might ignore the pain/discomfort, or play it down as insignificant.
We need to learn to read the symptoms and let them alert us to our real condition—it can save our life!. And remember, the Bible is the best diagnostic tool we have!
At other times in our physical lives, we can become so numb we need a battery of tests to reveal if we have been dulled to what should be causing us pain or discomfort. I am told, for example, that people are deformed with leprosy not so much because of the disease, but because they lose feeling in their extremities and thus don't know when they are hurting themselves. (Fearfully and Wonderfully Made)
We can discern how we are doing by asking how we feel about some of the following questions.
- How do you feel about relatives, family and friends who don't know Christ? Have you become numb to their condition?
- How do you feel when the name of Christ is taken in vain, used as a swear word?
- How do you feel about the children in your immediate or extended family who are not doing well spiritually?
- How do you feel about people groups/whole cultures who have never even once heard about Christ?
- How about the needs of the legitimate poor and needy? Do you care if they have their needs met?
- How do you feel about taking seriously a Bible study a pastor asks you to do surrounding a series of questions, e.g., above?
When she got her epidural, she obviously didn't feel the contractions as she had before. It was obvious they were still happening, because we could see them on the monitor. But for the moment, the pain was masked.
Sometimes I wonder if we as believers have not allowed ourselves to be given a "spiritual epidural." As we sin, we learn to mask the symptoms with activity, religiosity, some other high, or even a relationship. When it comes to spiritual disciplines or stretching experiences that might develop our faith and "deliver" us into another area of maturity, a spiritual epidural blocks the pain or concern.
We tend to quote the Scripture that says, "I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly,", and thus we resist any trial or stretching experience that might mature us. We say, "This trial can't be God's will; it is too hard. God wants me happy and joyful, experiencing an abundant life."
We also give ourselves a shot of Philippians 4:4,7—"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!... And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
But we forget that the rejoicing and peace are made possible in the context of extending gentleness to others and the spiritual discipline of prayer seen in the rest of the passage.
Mark it down:
We should feel the pain of repentance, suffering, and discipline without seeking some way to ignore or numb it. With all the wonderful benefits of an epidural, the mother must still be involved in the pushing process of the final 1-3 hours. Don't miss the trial, pain, or stretching experience, or you will certainly not experience the joy that follows.
We see next another element of revival that seems almost opposed to confession and remorse.
5. Rejoicing in God's Fellowship—Neh. 8:10-12.
Actually, we shouldn't be surprised by the contrast. Feasting and fasting go together.
Feasting=Fellowship, communion, and rejoicing in the Lord.
Fasting=Denying ourselves, humbling ourselves before God.
These two are tied together.
Feasting and fasting are constantly repeated in the Christian experience. We can see this in Nehemiah. Though Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites were encouraged by the repentance, they proceeded to comfort the people, reminding them that "this is the day" for feasting and not for fasting, for joy and not for a fast.
The seventh month is a month of worship, a time of celebration for a feast of trumpets. The Jews were instructed to celebrate the festival with eating, drinking, and sharing their joy. They were reminded, "The joy of the Lord is your strength"—8:10b.
The people's hearts and consciences were being stirred as they came to realize how far short of God's standards they had fallen, but apparently Ezra wanted them to set their failures in the context of God's forgiveness and His invitation to come to Him. Confession has an essential place in revival, but our response after hearing God's Word can be joyful acceptance.
The joy of the Lord is the expression of our spiritual nature. It is a fruit of the Spirit, reflecting a heart that has come not only to a knowledge of sinfulness, but of the graciousness of God. The joy of the Lord is also a strong incentive to stay on the right path. You can always tell a person who is under a strong temptation to leave the path of the Lord; he will show a downcast spirit, a lack of joy, and a negative view of life. On the other hand, the person strong in the Lord is not only at peace and rest, but takes joy in the Lord.
The joy of the Lord is given at the time of repentance, and is a sign a person is fully restored—Ps. 51:12.
The Jews in Nehemiah 8-9 rejoiced for two reasons:
- They were encouraged by their spiritual leaders to have their actions reflect what the day was all about, what was really in their hearts.
- They now understood the words that had been known to them. The Law itself showed them that their God was gracious and forgiving, and that excited the joy within their hearts.
We see one final principle of revival here.
6. Obedience to the Word—Neh. 8:13-18.
The Bible reading that took place on the first day of the seventh month was only the beginning.
Neh. 8:13-15—"On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. 14] They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month 15] and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: 'Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths'—as it is written.
The mass of people returned to their homes and towns, but the heads of the families, the priests and Levites, came back to Ezra to hear more of the Word. This time the reading progressed to Leviticus 23. Here they were reminded that on the 15th-22nd days of the seventh month, they were to observe the Feast of the Tabernacles by dwelling in booths. This was to remind them of the temporary dwellings their forefathers had in the wilderness. It was one of the three apparent seasons when all able-bodied males from Jerusalem were to appear there. It was a very special occasion.
The Jewish men were determined not to be hearers of the Word only, but also doers.
8:16-17—So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. 17] The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
The Old Testament called God's people to obedience, but our obedience is inspired by love. We must be a people of obedience if we will see continued revival. We are not to "grin and bear it" because we have to, but obey because we love Him—"If you love me, you will obey my commands."
Ask yourself three questions when you read the Word:
- What does it say? Read it.
- What does it mean? Explain it.
- What does it mean to me? Apply it.
"...Roberts worked in coal mines, but he walked in the heavenlies. Never without his Bible, he prayed and wept 11 years for revival in Wales. He entered the Preparatory School for the Ministry at Newcastle, Enlyn, when about 26, but he never finished. Compelled by the Holy Spirit, he returned in November, 1904, to his home village of Loughor, to tell of Christ. And fire fell! Evan did not preach (in the traditional sense) but He led the meetings, praying, Plyg ni, O arglwdd! ("Send us, O Lord!") and urging, Obey the Holy Spirit. Obey! The Calvinistic Methodist church was moved until all Loughor became a praying, praising multitude.
" They went from the pain of repentance to the joy of the Lord, resulting in empty taverns, closed brothels, and churches which were filled—daily. "Fire spread until all Wales was brought in repentance to its knees at the cross."
How can we have revival? We do not wait for some miraculous intervention from heaven. Charles G. Finney said that revival comes from the right use of clearly defined means. God's clearly defined means are from Nehemiah:
Reverence for Scripture
Worship of God
Comprehension of Scripture
Remorse for Sin—a Brokenness
Rejoicing in God's Fellowship
Obedience to the Word of God
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