Floods On Dry Ground
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2008 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A.In the great subject of revival there are two matters that have immense consequences: on the one hand, God drawing near and manifesting Himself, and on the other hand, the incredible flow of the Word of God like a mighty flood. In this message we will deal primarily with the flow of the Word of God.
The Apostle Paul, in a prayer request found in the third chapter of Second Thessalonians, focused on this issue of the Word as a flood: "Finally, brethren, pray for us that the Word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you" (v. 1). At the time Paul wrote these words he was living in a circumstance that was different from what he had formerly experienced. Many of the places where he had been, the Word had moved forward with incredible power and covered the area like a mighty flood. But he is now living at a time when the forward movement of the Word is grievously hampered.
Many older preachers like myself can testify to the same thing. When I was but a boy preaching all over the land, we saw incredible stirrings of the Holy Spirit. Now we see very small movements in comparison by and large. Once in a while there is something more vital and enduring when God draws very near and there is a free flow of His Word.
It is marvelous in a season of revival the way the Word rushes forth with great power and covers broad areas and people come flocking into the kingdom of God. It is not uncommon for more people to become profoundly and lastingly converted in six months of gracious revival than in sixteen years of constant, faithful preaching of the Word of God.
There are not now many people in the land that really believe in revival or care anything about it. We have had a good deal of excitement, noise, and enthusiasm. But of the manifest presence of Christ we have not had nearly enough, and of the powerful forward flow of the Word of God, it has been scarce indeed.
Abundance for the Thirsty
An Old Testament text that speaks to this particular issue is found in the prophecy of Isaiah 44: "But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour out water on him who is thirsty and floods on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants; and they will spring up among the grass like poplars by streams of water. This one will say, "I am the Lord’s"; and that one will call on the name of Jacob; and another will write on his hand, "Belonging to the Lord," and will name Israel’s name with honor’" (vv. 1-5).
"I will pour out water on him who is thirsty and floods on the dry ground." We are not experiencing very much of God’s outpouring of water, and is not the explanation more than obvious? We are not thirsty! God doesn’t break His Word. He doesn’t give promises and then betray His people by violating what He has said: "I will pour water on him who is thirsty and floods on the dry land."
This text goes in two directions. It goes in the backward direction of those passages out of Old Testament Scripture that describe the situation when God’s people fail and betray Him, when they worship and serve gods of their own manufacturing instead of the God who reveals Himself in Scripture. Listen to these words from Leviticus 26:3-5: "If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land." That is just one of an abundance of passages.
Listen to these words from Deuteronomy 11:10-17: "For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden." Notice: "…water it with your foot…." They had pumps that they worked with their foot, and it was a hard job getting a crop that was worthy of the labor. The Lord says that it is not going to be like that in the land into which He is bringing them: "But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year. It shall come about, if you listen obediently to My commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that I will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain…and you shall eat and be satisfied. Beware lest your hearts be deceived, and you turn away and serve other gods and worship them. Or the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you."
Solomon picked up this same significant issue and he voiced it in his prayer that preceded the dedication of the temple. For instance, 1 Kings 8:35-36: "When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You, and they pray toward this place and confess Your name and turn from their sin when You afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your servants and of Your people Israel, indeed, teach them the good way in which they should walk. And send rain on Your land, which You have given Your people for an inheritance."
God’s reply is in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14: "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves…." Prayer from the proud in heart is an insult to the Almighty. Every fresh work of grace begins with the people of God humbling themselves. As we look around us and we see how dry and how parched our land is in the things that really matter, you would suppose that the whole of the Church would be on its face weeping, fasting, praying and calling upon God. But thus far nothing has occurred that we can’t handle. Of every fresh affliction that has come upon us, we have been able to boast afterward, "Well, we took care of that one." And we often wonder what the Lord is going to have to do before we are sufficiently thirsty to humble ourselves and pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways so that He can indeed hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land.
The same basic theme is echoed in a powerful and positive way in the book of Joel when the prophet cries out: "Do not fear, O land, rejoice and be glad, for the Lord has done great things" (2:21). We must not forget what precedes these words: a plague of locusts that comes in four different ways, and a severe drought so that first manifestations of worry and concern are seen in the cattle of the field who wander about in a hopeless state, for there is not a blade of grass to eat or a drop of water to drink.
"Do not fear, beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness have turned green, for the tree has borne its fruit, the fig tree and the vine have yielded in full. So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in the Lord your God; for He has given you the early rain for your vindication and He has poured down for you the rain, the early and latter rain as before. The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil. Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; then My people will never be put to shame. Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other; and My people will never be put to shame" (2:22-27).
This promise of water among the thirsty, of floods on the dry land is principally focused on earthly soil, crops, drought, hunger and thirst as a result of sin. But the passage goes in the direction of the even more consequential, when the Word of God comes without power, without meaning, without influence, when multitudes who hear it give no serious attention to it, when the times grow steadily worse and worse no matter what preaching of the Gospel there is.
Look back at Isaiah 44:4-5: "...they will spring up among the grass like poplars by streams of water. This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s’; and that one will call on the name of Jacob; and another will write on his hand, ‘Belonging to the Lord,’ and will name Israel’s name with honor." Clearly there is another dimension to that besides rain from heaven that waters a dry earth. It enters into the realm of the spiritual. In Isaiah 55 this is even more dramatically illustrated: "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David" (vv. 1-3).
Drop down to verse 9: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (vv. 9-11). So we have the dimension of the rain of the Word of God, of the flourishing of the Gospel in the hearts and lives of the peoples and nations.
I think often of the prayer that so gripped the heart of that wonderful physician-preacher in the city of London, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who Sunday after Sunday pled with God for an outpouring of the Spirit upon the land, and who often voiced to his fellows that his greatest hope was that he would not die without first seeing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As I grow older and weaker, more and more I bear that same hope – that before my eyes close and I pass into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ my heart might brighten with the realization that our King has come among us in reviving power.
The Essential of Thirst
But it is senseless to hope that He will pour rain upon us if we are not thirsty. The subject of thirst is truly a biblical subject. It is not only an Old Testament issue. I often preach out of the book of Jude, and so often I am moved afresh by those five similitudes of nature (vv. 12-13), when he speaks about those who are uncharted, "…hidden reefs in your love feasts," those who are "clouds without water," those who are "trees without fruit," those who are "wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame" and those who are "wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever."
Turning that passage around there are such beautiful pictures to launch our lives into, and to lay hold of and say, "O God, may the rest of my days be lived out as a charted reef so that my life itself forms a safe harbor for all the lost souls around me. O God, may I never again be a dry cloud, but may there always be the abundance of the rain of Your mercy out of my life. May I never be a fruitless tree, but, O God, that every hungry man and woman that draws near to me will gain strength and nourishment from my walk with Christ. O Lord, that I might be a gentle wave of the ocean so that any person in an uproar in their life can say, ‘If I can just sit down next to Mr. Roberts where the peace of God reigns, then His peace will be near me.’ And, oh, that I might die as I live, as a fixed star so that anybody in all my world can get their bearings by knowing where I am at."
Jude was burdened about clouds without water. We have many of those around us and indeed some of us may be dry clouds ourselves. Peter was concerned about this same issue in his second epistle: "These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved" (2 Peter 2:17). And our Savior Himself declared, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’" (John 7:37-38).
Things Hampering Thirst for God
Let us focus upon this urgent expression, "…if anyone is thirsty." I have jotted down some things that keep us from the kind of thirst that results in the outpouring of God’s grace and blessing upon us. First of all, when we are full we lack both hunger and thirst. And as I look around me and see how few in the Church demonstrate genuine thirst, I don’t see how I can avoid thinking they are already full, not full of Christ, but of themselves. And is this not the heart of the first four beatitudes? "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle [meek], for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:3-6). God would have us full not with ourselves but with righteousness.
It is possible for humans to relate in three dimensions – upwardly with God, inwardly with self, outwardly with others. Then it is quite clear that before we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we must be emptied in those three realms. I believe that when our Savior pronounced His blessing upon the meek, what He had in mind was a meek person that admits to their world what they have admitted to God and themselves. We do not hunger and we do not thirst to the degree that is appropriate because we are altogether too full of ourselves.
We can never be full of the righteousness of Christ when we are partially full of ourselves. Before we can truly hunger and thirst, we have to be sure we are emptied of self. The last vestige of self must be gone before all of the fullness of Christ will be ours. We will be hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and as He guarantees it, we shall be full of Himself.
Pride Inhibits Thirst
Another reason it appears to me why we don’t thirst as we might, is what many of us have done to create a grove of trees by our own pride that effectively shields us from the rays of the righteous Son of God. When we should be desperately thirsty and longing ever so greatly for the fresh moisture of God Himself, we are immune to it because we have sheltered ourselves in our own pride. I don’t believe the churches of our nation have ever been in such a terrible grip of pride as are the churches in America right now.
Is it not astonishing that when the Church is at its lowest level in our history, we are acting as if the Lord has never had greater reason to rejoice in His people than He does in us? It amazes me regularly when I realize that even in that relatively small portion of churches that still has some kind of a corporate prayer meeting, they waste the bulk of their time on things that God has already taken care of, and the great eternal issues are by and large left unmentioned in corporate prayer. And in our private lives we don’t feel anywhere near the level of thirst that we should because our own pride has sheltered us from the reality of the sorry mess in which we find ourselves.
Consider also that the more you exercise, the thirstier you are. If somehow we can manage not to exercise spiritually, then we can keep ourselves from an appropriate level of thirst. I don’t mean to suggest that we are inactive, but I don’t meet many people who are exercising themselves spiritually, who are so deeply in love with Christ and His Word that there is always increasing hunger in them. That is because the more you know, the more you want to know. When you are happy with a wee bit of knowledge and content with a slight spiritual experience, there is no real hunger. If we would learn to get busy about that which really matters, instead of the busyness which grips us so frequently, there isn’t any question but what our thirst for righteousness would be wonderfully enhanced.
Pleasures of Sin Quench Thirst
It seems to me also that many in the Church manage to quench whatever thirst they have by drinking from fountains that are corrupt. If we allow ourselves to be held in the grip of our love of pleasure in sin, we will not know what it means to thirst for righteousness. I love the words that were spoken about Moses in chapter 11 of Hebrews: "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward" (vv. 24-26). Whenever we satiate our thirst and our hunger with unworthy and illegal wrongful things like the pleasures of sin, we will keep ourselves from any serious hungering after God.
Also I observe that when the Church creates a spiritual mediocrity, and I believe that most of our churches have done exactly that, they have created a norm for Christianity which is so low that no demon in hell has to feel a moment of trouble. I have heard people say concerning a new convert, whispering among themselves, "Don’t worry. We’ll soon have that fellow down to our level." What a wicked thing when we conspire together to keep one another from moving forward spiritually when the Church is designed by God to be a conspiracy of righteousness where we help everyone forward in the things of Christ. Spiritual mediocrity breeds lack of thirst for righteousness. What a grievously prevailing wickedness that is!
Then, too, I find that I don’t thirst nearly as much when it is 30 degrees below zero as when it is 110 degrees above. I believe the ice cold atmosphere of some churches has created a situation in which there is virtually no thirsting for righteousness. But we live in a time when the thinking of multitudes is so warped, and our culture really assists us greatly in this grievous error, that we are tricked into believing that dryness is normal, that if you have any real hunger and thirst, you are abnormal. Our churches teach much more about intellectual ascent than about heartfelt religion. Dry faith is more promoted than glorious experiences. I have had dealings with pastors who have said to their congregation, "I don’t know why you are all agitated about that; I have never had such an experience." All around us are those who are discouraging those who have any thirst and hunger. Our culture, I say, adds to our lack of thirst.
And then of course, when we are in a drunken state, we don’t have the kind of thirst that is appropriate, and it appears to me that in our society and in our churches we are intoxicated on the wine of prosperity. We have so much that is worthless that we have no hunger and no thirst for that which is eternal.
Also I have observed that when a person is in the fever of lust and greed, they can find satisfaction in some filthy and vile act. Then they have no place for hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
And finally, busyness, busyness, busyness! It keeps from that hungering and thirsting that is so urgently needed and is so vital if indeed the Lord is to pour water upon those who are thirsty and floods upon the dry ground.
Remedy for Lack of Thirst
There are a few steps we need to deliberately take.
1) First, we need to admit our dryness. It may be hard for some who have pretended to know the fullness of Christ, but it is necessary. Admit how dry you are.
2) Second, repent of whatever the causes are. I gave you some possibilities; there might be twenty more that you know to be true. But whatever the causes that have kept you from hungering and thirsting for righteousness, repent and do that now. If you don’t act at an appropriate time, the urgency of doing so is quickly lost. Face the reality of your need, and in an urgent and total way repent.
3) Then we have but to thirst, and we shall be full. Why should we not live as those persons who are in a desert, for we are living in a desert land. And why should our focus not continually be upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ, longing to be perpetually filled?
Is it not right that we should enter into covenant with the Lord? "Lord, I wasted too many years of my life where I was satisfied with a wee bit of moisture instead of the fullness of Your righteousness. Now I enter into a covenant to live out the rest of my days with my heart set to seek perpetually the great outpouring of water upon the thirsty." And why not band with some who are like-hearted in consistent prayer? Year after year praying together with a group, "O God, pour out Your Spirit upon the thirsty! Pour floods upon dry land!" Then don’t insult the Lord by living in doubt. Believe that the Lord keeps His Word and get ready for an incredible outpouring. It is very wrong to ask God for something and not get ready for the answer when it comes. Lord, in Jesus’ name, help us!