A Christ Awakening And The Struggle Of Prayer
Edited from a message given at "The Christ Awakening" Conference, held in Terre Haute, Indiana, October 23-25, 2003. Used by permission.
People who are at this prayer conference, I assume, are here because you have a heart for prayer, a love of prayer, youíre involved in prayer, maybe youíre leading others in prayer. Yet for all of us, in one way or another, there is also the struggle of prayer.
One Answer to the Struggle
There is a book that has deeply influenced my life on this matter. It is one of the best books on prayer Iíve ever read. Published in 1747, it was written by a great Puritan scholar-pastor in New England by the name of Jonathan Edwards. Recently it was re-published by a British publisher, and they asked me to write an interpretative essay to re-introduce the classic to a whole new generation. I am convinced it has as much to give to this generation as it had in 1748.
Jonathan Edwards titled his book: An Humble Attempt To Promote Explicit Agreement And Visible Union Of Godís People In Extraordinary Prayer For The Revival Of Religion And The Advancement Of Christís Kingdom On Earth, Pursuant To Scriptural Promises And Prophecies Related To The Last Time." If you break that down, the title says about anything you want to know about prayer!
First of all, we must make a humble attempt to promote prayer. We canít create it. It is a gift of God. The miracle of the modern prayer movement is that we are praying! That is one major manifestation of the supremacy of Christ, that He has broken through our hearts and given us a faith and hope that does not come to us naturally. He has given us a hunger for God that is of His own creation in us. Jonathan Edwards understood from his study of Scripture Ė and he is one of the most brilliant minds this nation has ever produced Ė that we can promote prayer and we can encourage it, but we canít create it. Ours is always a humble attempt, because we are always in a position of learning and growing in prayer. Each of us has a lot further to go, and only "Christ praying through you" can keep us moving forward in prayer.
It is a humble attempt to promote explicit agreementÖ. About 90% of what the Bible teaches on prayer Ė and Jonathan Edwards understood this Ė is on corporate prayer. There is to be explicit agreement, that is, Christians can and should agree on the major issues we are praying about. As we are awakened to the supremacy of Christ, it is a lot easier to find explicit agreement despite our diversities denominationally, ethnically, socially and many other ways.
Iím a part of a prayer movement in New York City that spans the ethnicities and the denominations. Hundreds of pastors and thousands of Christians from many different parts of the Body of Christ move together in unity in prayer. In one part of the prayer movement there is a prayer watch Ė twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for over seven years now, made up of many parts of the Body. That kind of unity could not happen if there wasnít explicit agreement. In explicit agreement, we set aside lesser agendas we may each hold Ė derived from our traditions, our backgrounds, our ethnicities Ė and we come together with the larger issue. We all get down before the Lord and invite Jesus to be supreme among us and let His Kingdom agenda of spiritual awakening to Christ for our city now become our agenda.
"Öin extraordinary prayer" Ė by that Jonathan Edwards didnít mean his book was written only for people who donít ever struggle in prayer. Rather, he said, it is extraordinary if any of us are praying at all; itís extraordinary if weíre praying together; and itís extraordinary if weíre praying about whatís most on Godís heart rather than just whatís on our heart. Thatís what Edwards meant by extraordinary prayer.
Then his title reminds us that a prayer movement is always the reviving of the Church and the advancement of Christís Kingdom. Edwards focused on Christís supremacy from beginning to end of his book. The glory of Jesus and His purposes defined Edwardsí objective. But notice the rest of the title of the book. Itís pursuant to something Ė weíre going after promises and prophecies, he said. The single greatest principle for igniting and sustaining a work of prayer in a life, in a church, or in a city, is to help the people you want to see praying get absolutely clear on the hope they are praying toward, and to be sure their hope is shaped around nothing less than the supremacy of Christ. That is exactly what Edwards understood 250 years ago from his study of the Scriptures. Prayer is how we pursue the fulfillment of the promises and prophecies of the Scriptures.
Notice the last part Ė related to the last times. Edwards pushed back the perimeters of the life of prayer of the Church to encompass the Consummation, to encompass the Second Coming of Jesus Christ Himself. And out of that larger vision he drew his agenda for how we pray right now; for what revival should look like in the Church right now; for what the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ on earth should look like right now. What Jesus is Lord of ultimately, He is Lord of now! So if I understand what His Kingship will look like in the Consummation, I can understand more about what it should look like right now. And I pursue that by prayer, Jonathan Edwards said.
But this book was for "struggles" most of all. The primary thing it talks about is not prayer. Itís about Christ and His Kingdom. In fact, the reason the book was written was to help a dying prayer movement get back on its feet. There had been a prayer movement for some years, out of which had come what Church historians call, "The First Great Awakening," in the early to mid 1700ís. It was an explosive phenomenon, in many ways worldwide in scope. But by 1747 the people who had prayed for that awakening and tasted that awakening, had begun to conclude that they had received all God had for them and were becoming distracted with many other good things. Consequently, the prayer movement was beginning to fade away. Jonathan Edwards wrote the book because he saw Christians in this struggle of prayer.
What was his strategy to help struggling Christians to get back into the kind of prayer life that could become the fountainhead of another great awakening? His strategy was not to teach a lot on prayer, though He did some of that. But he understood that the main struggle people were having is that they have lost sight of the kingship, of the supremacy of Christ. Their hope for greater works of God was dwindling. They had become satisfied with what God had given them, not understanding that because of who Jesus is, there is always so much more. They needed to deal with two questions all of us face if weíre going to count in the struggle of prayer. Those two questions are: Is there more of Christ that God wants to reveal to us and to His people right now than we have yet seen? And the second question is: If there is, do we need to seek this from the Father more than we do? Edwardsí answers were "Yes" and "Yes!"
The Greatest Struggle in Prayer
People often ask me, "David, what is your greatest struggle in prayer?" Above all, is a struggle, virtually every day, to hold fast to the hope in God. To abound in hope in the midst of situations that have no answers, that are confusing, that make no sense; when it feels like the Lord is far away, that Heís silent; when Iím discouraged because I feel like in certain things I have failed to give God my best; when Iím angry or bitter or upset with the way people have treated me Ė all those things that can impact my joy in the promises of God and deeply hinder my prayer life. In the midst of all these things, therefore I could say my greatest struggle in prayer is to get back to the magnitude of hope I have in the supremacy of Godís Son.
I often think of it this way: Every day I stand before three doors, and I have to choose daily the right door. There is one door that I open in. Itís the door of prayer that invites Christ into the midst of my life. It deals with the whole issue of Christís centrality. A lot of praying says, "Lord Jesus, come into my life problems. Come into this situation. Come into our church. Come among these unreached people." The door opens to invite Christ in. In Revelation, chapter three, Jesus says, "I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me." But what makes this so powerful is that the One standing at the door in Revelation, chapter three, is the Jesus we see in Revelation, chapter one, with the eyes of fire, and the face glowing like the sun. Thereís plenty of hope in that exchange!
There is a second door. It opens the other direction. It opens out. God opens that door. He invites us in to all He has for us in Christ. That is the greater hope. In Revelation 4:1 John says he saw this door, and it opened into heaven. He heard a voice which said, "Come up hereÖ"
God wants to bring us into more of His Son and His Kingdom. Revelation chapters four and five, are all about the supremacy of Christ. John is standing in the Throne Room, and there John weeps. No one can be found to open the scroll, to bring history to its consummation, to unleash the massive display of the supremacy of Christ of which He is so worthy. Who is going to open that scroll? No one qualifies, so John is praying as he stands there, not saying a word, just weeping, with the thought that the full revelation of his Savior and Lord might never come to pass.
Then he hears a voice which says, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." Hope springs eternal for John once again! God opens this second door every day for every believer. A victorious prayer life sees that door and runs through it as fast as we can into the glorious promises Christ offers at His throne of dominion.
The third door I face every day is a sad door. It is a closed door. The great Methodist preacher, Charles Allen, said, "If ever we say a person or a situation is hopeless, that is the same as slamming the door in the face of God." I have to be honest with you Ė too many times in my life I didnít open the door when Jesus knocked to enter in more fully. Nor did I see the open door into more of Christís reign and choose to enter more into the life of God. I slammed those doors for all practical purposes right in the face of God. In those moments it felt like a person or a situation, or an experience, was really hopeless. In those moments I was saying: "This is beyond anything God can do. In this instance, Christ is not supreme no matter what Godís Word says." That is part of the struggle of prayer for all of us.
What May We Hope?
The question that needs to be asked, therefore, is, "What can we hope?" That is the greatest key to winning the struggle of prayer.
Philosophers say there are three major questions that every human being needs to ask and answer if they are going to find out what a meaningful life is all about. The first question is, "What should I know? What information should I be gaining?" The second question is, "What ought I to do? What are the moralities, the obligations, the responsibilities I must take on?" And the third question is, "What may I hope? Where is history headed? Where is my destiny in it all? What kind of a future do I have? Are the prospects good and promising?"
In the evangelical Church, are we good at dealing with what we need to know, or what we ought to be doing? Very rarely in the evangelical Church do we ever get to the third question: What may I hope? Most of what our people are hearing, whether intended or not, is that there is more we need to know, and thereís more we need to do, rather than more we need to hope.
Chuck Swindoll in his book, The Grace Awakening, makes this observation: "The greatest heresy in the modern evangelical movement, is our emphasis on what we should be doing for God rather than on what Christ has done and is getting ready to do for us." In other words, we donít emphasize the hope grace brings to us. If there is any reason why there may be a struggle with prayer in our lives, it could be that we need much more emphasis on what we may hope, on what God gives us permission to believe, and on how large that hope should be because of who Jesus is as Lord.
The Disciples Struggle
Remember when the disciples came to the Lord Jesus to ask, "Teach us to pray." My reaction would probably have been at that point to set up a seminar on prayer and tell them what they need to know about prayer, and what they need to do in prayer! But Luke, chapter eleven, says that when the disciples said, "Teach us to pray," what Jesus did was to give them a greater vision of what they were to pray toward Ė the glorifying of the Father, the advancing of the Kingdom, the uniting of the people of God.
Then He gives a parable about a man who knows his next door neighbor has bread that can feed visitors who have come in the middle of the night and are hungry. This man goes to the one place he knows he has hope for resolving his problem. He is so convinced that this is the answer to his problem, that he will not stop knocking on the neighborís door, even when the man inside says, "Leave me alone!" The man keeps knocking. Jesus seems to say: "I commend anyone who comes to God in prayer that same way, because they are not looking at the act of praying any more. They are looking at what they are praying toward Ė the magnificent hope waiting for those who seek the Lord."
In that same chapter, Jesus continues by talking about asking and seeking and knocking. In the Greek, the verbs are in the present tense, so it means keep on asking and seeking and knocking. Furthermore, the Greek word for asking is the word for begging; the Greek word for seeking means going after something hard to get, like digging for a buried treasure; and the Greek word for knocking refers not to just a gentle rap but a pounding on the door.
In other words, once we understand what God wants to do, then, as it says in Isaiah 62, we can take no rest. We can give God no rest Ė until He establishes His people and makes them His praise in all the earth. We keep begging, and digging and pounding away. It isnít about what we need to know or what we need to do. Prayer is basically about what we may hope.
The Strategy of Joel
In the book of Joel, the people of Israel were in the midst of a massive locust plague. Four waves of locusts had come through and totally obliterated the land. There were no crops left; the cattle were dying; they had nothing to even offer in worship and sacrifice in the temple. You would think that long before Joel showed up, the people of God would have been at the threshold of the temple seeking the Lord for a breakthrough. If desperation is the ultimate thing that drives people to prayer they should have been in prayer long before Joel came along.
Joel says, "Blow the trumpet in Zion!" It is a trumpet of warning; there is a battle going on. It warns us that we must not stay in this helpless condition any longer. We must gather everyone to the threshold. Even the woman who is nursing a child should bring the child with her. Even the bride and groom who have entered their honeymoon should come to the threshold! Joel says, "Who knows? The Lord may leave behind a blessing."
How does Joel get the people to the place of prayer? The secret appears in the middle of chapter two. After calling the Israelites to prayer, before they even start praying, as part of his call to prayer, Joel proceeds with these words: "The Lord will replyÖ" and the rest of the book becomes a glorious portrait of what it will look like when revival comes. Joel tells how the Lord is going to restore the years that the locusts have eaten; and how He is going to pour out His Spirit on His sons and daughters and they are going to prophesy; how He is going to gather all His enemies into the valley of decision to judge them; how the Lord is going to roar out of Zion; and how the Lord is going to be powerfully present among His people.
Joel understands that even desperation is not as great a motivation to get people over their struggle of prayer as anticipation is.
So it is with us. God shows us a vision of His Son and what He wants to do. It is so wonderful I conclude I canít live without what He has promised. But itís also so wonderful I finally conclude, I canít produce it. So when I canít live without it but canít produce it, thereís only one thing left to do. I have to seek it. I have to pray, because the next move is Godís. And thatís what hope is all about.
When you ask, why are so many of Godís people not praying the way the Scriptures call us to do, it is either because 1) we donít have a vision so wonderful we canít live without it, or 2) we have a vision, but it is so small that we feel if the hand of God doesnít move for us, we can probably still produce the results anyhow. So we conduct our church committee meetings. We lay out all our plans. Then we conclude our time by asking God to bless the plans, knowing deep in our hearts that the plans look so good that if God doesnít come through, there is probably a way we can make it happen anyhow. This is the opposite of the biblical way of praying. To do it Godís way, we should meet and pray, and stay in the place of prayer, until God gives us His plans. When He reveals to us promises and plans filled with Christís glory and Kingdom, then we will keep praying, even as we start working, until He produces it.
Godís Strategy with Jeremiah
Itís what God said to Jeremiah, who found himself down in a pit inside a city that was under siege that Jeremiah already knew was going to be sacked, and its citizens taken captive. In that very hopeless pit in a very hopeless condition, God proclaimed to His servant: "Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know" (33:3). This means, "Jeremiah, as hopeless as this may feel to you at this moment down in this slimy pit, the fact of the matter is, there are things Iím getting ready to do that are not only great and magnificent but also unsearchable Ė things you will never figure out on your own. But if you call to Me, I will show you that Iím getting ready to do something youíve never even seen before." That is a message of hope, based on the greatness of our King! The rest of Jeremiah, chapter thirty-three, describes the hope, what a city in true revival looks like. I have found there nine different facets of a spiritual awakening.
This is the hope God gave to Jeremiah sitting in that pit. So wherever any of us may be in our struggles with life Ė no matter how often this affects our struggles with prayer Ė the key to victory for us is for God to do for us what He did for Jeremiah, and even more because now it is all summed up in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The New Testament Strategy
Look at First Thessalonians, chapter five, in that familiar section on prayer, starting with verse 16: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Godís will for you in Christ Jesus." God wants you to be a man or woman of prayer. He wants prayer to be a way of life. Now notice the next sentence: "Do not put out the Spiritís fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt." The Spirit of God is creating fire in Godís people. Fire gives light. Weíre talking here about a fuller awakening to Godís glory. There are literally thousands and thousands of promises in the Word of God. The Spirit wants to set them on fire. In turn this will give us a life that is constantly rejoicing and praying and giving thanks. Set on fire by the Spirit, the Word of the Lord creates a larger vision of the Lord, poured into the hearts of people who end up praying "without ceasing" because the hope-on-fire compels them to do so.
It is somewhat like the prayer meeting in Acts, chapter four. In a sense we are Christians today because of the prayer meeting in Acts, chapter four. You can actually argue that if you watch the train of events coming out of Acts, chapter four, it leads to the Apostle Paul, who then goes to the Gentiles. You can say the prayer meeting in Acts, chapter four, is directly responsible for you and me sitting in our churches, right here, right now. That prayer meeting came, however, when persecution was breaking out. It was a dark moment. It could have become a time of corporate hand-wringing. There must have been a real struggle to get down to prayer in that situation. So, how did those disciples help the Church come to the place where we read: "They raised their voices together in prayer to God"? How did the disciples get them to pray in explicit agreement and visible union?
As you study the prayer in Acts four, you get the sense that before they even started praying, they went back into the Scriptures, and in this case, they went to Psalm two, another great Psalm on the supremacy of Godís Son. It tells how God wants to make all the nations the inheritance of His Son. No matter how the nations may fight against the Anointed One, God just laughs at that, because He knows that His Son will prevail, ultimately and in totality. So they study Psalm 20. Then they look at the God who spoke that Psalm. They see Him as Creator of heaven and earth. He can back up everything He promised, without fail. Starting from that point, they build their prayer. So their prayer is not, "Get us out of this fix!" Their prayer is not, "Bring the persecution to an end!" Their prayer is very simply, "Enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus." And the place was shaken. We sit here two thousand years later, because they prayed boldly Ė because they were filled with hope in the supremacy of Christ, based on the promises in Christ.
What Does the Struggle Look Like Today?
Many Christians are struggling in prayer today because of the busyness of our schedules. One of the ways we survive in a busy life is to create little compartments: the family compartment, the job compartment, the recreational compartment, etc. Then in church we have more compartments: There is Sunday morning worship, the mission committee, etc. As a way of surviving the hectic pace, one of those compartments we may create to help to bring order to our lives is prayer. Even if every believer you interview in your congregation would respond, "Yes, I believe in prayer; yes, I pray," the fact of the matter is, prayer is not a core essential of their daily grind. Why is that?
Let me suggest it comes back to their vision of Christ, rather than their vision for prayer. It is because their understanding of Christ is more an issue of centrality than of supremacy. What do I mean? In centrality Jesus is seen as the center of my family; Heís the center of my work life; Heís the center of my worship life; and hopefully Heís the center of my prayer life.
But when you consider His supremacy, you mean that every facet of your life is to be brought under Him as Lord. As it says in Ephesians, chapter one, Godís plan for the fullness of times is to sum up everything in Christ, things in heaven and earth. Thus every compartment in my life right now should be brought under Ė summed up in Ė Jesus as Lord. Then prayer will become a part of everything I do, because Christ is seen to be constantly over my family and my job, over my relationship with my neighbors, over the times I go to church and worship. Wherever I am, my heart is constantly longing to see a greater revelation of the supremacy of Christ that will touch all the earth Ė through my family, through my job, through my church.
Here is one other important implication of our lack of vision for Christ. For those of you who are spiritual leaders Ė maybe you are a pastor, an elder or a deacon Ė I want to suggest that a part of your struggle of prayer is your exhaustion. The average pastor in America is seeking to fulfill many different roles in terms of the expectations of them by their people. They have to be great preachers and counselors. They need good bedside manners when they go to the hospital. They have to be wonderful administrators and financial directors and fund-raisers. Unfortunately most leaders try to meet all those expectations. So their lives become so exhausted in the work, as well as of the work, that there is not energy left for significant prayer.
Because most of our people donít see Jesus very clearly Ė certainly not in terms of His supremacy Ė He is not the One they look to to meet their needs. Therefore, they lay hold of the next best thing and that is the one physically before them who represents Christ to them, and (in a sense) they ask the pastor to be Christ for them. In turn, many of the leaders, because they fail to see Jesus in His supremacy, try to be Christ to their people. No wonder they are so exhausted. And that exhaustion leads into a life of even greater prayerlessness, which only serves to increase their weariness and despair.
Struggles with Unanswered Prayer
One of the greatest struggles in prayer that every Christian is likely to have, is our secret disappointments with the Lord.
There are times when we have prayed our hearts out, times when we have really sought to trust God for somebodyís healing or for the revival of our church or our financial situation, or whatever it may be, large or small. We have earnestly sought the Lord, and yet it seems as if He didnít come through for us. Most of our people, and maybe most of us in this room, have a backlog of disappointments in Christ.
But what do you do with those heartbreaks? Do you talk about it with other Christians? You donít want to sound like an unbeliever by saying, "I think the Lord has failed me." You donít want to discourage somebody elseís prayer life. What kind of a setting can you walk into, however, where you could talk with each other about those times when it seems as if God did not come through to answer your prayer?
Every one of those times of disillusionment lingers in your heart and continues to cut away at the nerve of your hope in God. If prayer is the living and breathing of faith, and if faith, according to Hebrews 11:1, is the evidence of things hoped for Ė then, if our hope is being undermined, our faith has no vitality. If our faith has no vitality, we are never going to pray, because prayer is faith taking words and coming before the Throne of the Lord. So somehow we have to create an open and receptive environment for our people to open up, be honest, and unpack their disappointments with unanswered prayer.
Maybe we need a testimony meeting some night in church, where the only things weíre allowed to talk about, at least the first half of the meeting, are the times when it felt like God failed us. We are not saying He actually did; we are saying it felt like that, and from all we can see, it still seems that way, and we need to confess it. Then we find out we are not alone at all; many have the same experiences. Now we can start addressing what these disappointments mean and how to heal them and where to go from here.
In many ways all of us have done what a pastor friend of mine said he did. I remember visiting him in his office some years ago and he showed me rows of books on revival. He had studied extensively on revival. He knew the topic well. He also had prayed his heart out for revival. A few years after our visit, he came up to me in a meeting in another city to share with me something of the pilgrimage he had gone through since the last time I saw him. He told me how he had left the ministry. He had become a shoe salesman for a number of years. He was just now coming back into the ministry the week he came up to say hello.
He said to me, "I prayed so much for revival that I prayed myself into unbelief." I thought about that. How many of us have at one time or another, prayed so hard for something and seen so few results that we have actually prayed ourselves, unknowingly, right into unbelief? This can happen even with revival praying if we focus more on revival than on the glorious greatness of our Savior, and the promises of His Kingdomís advance.
A Re-conversion to Christ
The struggle of prayer is why we need a great awakening to who Christ is. In a sense we need a re-conversion to Christ among Godís people. This may seem strange to say, but I believe that our evangelical churches are filled with people who need to be re-converted to Christ for all that He is. They need to be brought back to Christ for who He is, for what He imparts, and where He leads. It will be for them, once it happens, an experience that will seem to them as if they were being re-converted to Him. And the end result will be fresh, abounding hope in Christ (Rom. 15:13).
Robert Webber is probably the foremost evangelical theologian on worship in our country today. He teaches at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago. In his book, The Divine Tapestry, Robert Webber writes about his growing relationship to Jesus Christ. He tells that as he was waking up to more of the Christ he worships, he had an extraordinary experience as a maturing believer. Here is what he says:
"My view of the work of Christ was severely limited. It wasnít that I didnít believe the right truths [what should I know and do]; I simply didnít understand how far-reaching and all-inclusive the work of Christ really was [what I may hope]. When I discovered the universal and cosmic nature of the work of Christ [supremacy], it was for me like being born again, again. I was given a key to a Christian way of viewing the whole world, a key that unlocked the door into a rich storehouse of spiritual treasures, treasures that I am still handling in sheer amazement."
Thatís worship! That leads to prayer! When your life is continually plowing deeper and deeper into the heart of Christ Ė into the kingdom of the Lord Ė you come on a Sunday morning to rejoice in sheer amazement at what you have been discovering the past seven days. You seek Him in worship and awe. But according to Webber, it happened for him only as he was re-converted to the majesty of King Jesus. Then, great hope possessed his heart to end the struggle of prayer.
Prayer and Feasting
Jonathan Edwards in his book, "A Humble AttemptÖ" begins with three verses with which I conclude. They are from Zechariah, chapter eight. Zechariah came to a group of people who were struggling with prayer. When Cyrus gave the decree to rebuild the temple Ė that is to raise up the place of prayer Ė every Jew in captivity was free to go back and help. But only 40,000 did. Most of the Jews, after seventy years of captivity, were settled in, comfortable, with good businesses and large families. Here was an opportunity to raise up a witness to the glory of God and a place where the nations could meet and seek His face. But only 40,000 of the refugees decided to tear up their roots and go back. We could say they were the most committed people on planet earth at that time.
When Zechariah came on the scene, however, they had been at the task about fifteen years, and they were discouraged. Haggai prophesied at the same time. You remember he told how they quit working on the temple and went back to paneling their own homes. They were saying to themselves, in other words, this temple cannot even begin to approximate what it once looked like. Other things were discouraging in terms of foreign people in the land, who were saying to the returned Jews that they would fail. So Godís people had lost all hope and were focusing on themselves instead of God. They might have been God-centered in their own lives, but they were not looking at Godís supremacy over their life together and their mission.
Along came Zechariah. He gave them nine visions of hope. One we have often quoted is in chapter four, where he said to Zerubbabel, "Donít give up; donít despise the day of small beginnings. Youíve laid the foundations and your hands are going to complete it. When you set the capstone youíre going to hear all heaven say, ĎItís by grace! Itís by grace!í because ĎIt is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.í" It was that kind of hope that Zechariah was giving to re-ignite their hearts with the greatness and glory of God.
Finally we come to the end of Zechariahís nine visions in chapter eight. In the beginning of chapter eight, Zechariah was approached by some of the leaders to ask if they should continue fasting. For seventy years you see, the Jews had been fasting four different fasts each year to represent the four major sieges of Jerusalem that finally destroyed the city. For seventy years they had been wringing their hands, weeping before the Lord, looking at their failure, and looking at the hopelessness of their condition! Now they were back in the land but they are still feeling quite hopeless. They came to Zechariah to ask, "Shall we continue the fast?" Zechariah says, "Stop your fasting. Itís time now for days of celebration!"
Youíve heard of prayer and fasting? There is a place for that. But Zechariah, chapter eight, is about prayer and feasting, where one is so full of hope and so confident in how God is going to answer His promises that we hold a celebration banquet before it happens. We celebrate it as though it were done! Zechariah gives them these words, words that Jonathan Edwards quotes to begin his book, as he called his own generation out of the struggle of prayer and back to a full-orbed pursuit of the supremacy of Christ:
"Öthe inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ĎLet us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.í And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat Him. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ĎIn those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the edge of his robe and say, "Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you."í"
If you want a definition of what an awakening is, those words are it. An awakening is when Godís people are so alive in the powerful presence of their Lord in answer to united prayer, that the unbelieving world can see a reality of the living Christ in their midst that is so tangible, and so attractive, that unbelievers start laying hold of us. We donít have to go after them; they start going after us. They say, "Now we see in you what youíve always talked about but seemed like just empty words. Now we see the reality of Christ and we want to know Him too. Will you take us with you to help us find Him?"
Thatís a Christ Awakening! Where does it come from? It comes from one city going to another, or one Christian going to another, or one pastor going to another, saying, "I myself am going to seek the Lord, whether anyone comes with me. There are promises for us so wonderful that I canít live without them, but so wonderful I know I canít produce them. But I know Christ can! I donít want to seek Him by myself, however. Iím not talking about Christ being more the center of my life. Then I might seek Him by myself. Iím talking about everything we are and have being placed at the center of who He is and what He imparts and where Heís headed. So weíve got to be in this work of prayer together.
"So come, letís go; letís go at once! Letís not delay. Letís lay all of our hopelessness, all of our disappointments, all of our disillusionment, all of our unanswered questions Ė letís lay them all aside for the moment and let us go after the larger work that we know God wants to do. Because in that Christ-awakening God has promised us will be found the fulfillment of all His promises, and even greater hope about answers to our prayers that are yet to come."
The struggle of prayer can become the song of triumph.
Thatís the transformation God wants to give to every one of us.