“Love in the Balance of Heaven and Earth”, a worship poem from L.Willows (Glory of God, Majesty, Near to God)

Love in the Balance of Heaven and Earth

In the mountain tops, I answered,
Near the white cloud mist’s hold.
Where shoulders of green bear gentle earth mothers.
They call up horizons, they reach to sky’s fold.
Bearing weight all, caring with nests filled with gold.

Sweetened with sunlight shed full upon
Mountain fellows, their faces, turned by lives worn.
Here on their shoulders, high in the sky,
dipped in the blue is a Majesty’s cry.

Love in the balance of heaven and earth
dreams reach up to Thee as the clouds fall with mirth.
Into the soft shoulders of gentle green peaks
like mounds of earth mothers that bear, quake, birth, seek.

Soft are the bellows, on sky mounds that run
lovingly towards home, near to the sun.
Angels paint rainbows in tomorrow’s new day,
from the mountaintop’s glory, in horizons we pray.

© 2019 Linda Willows

Colossians 1:16
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

Psalm 95:3-5
For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 19:1
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

“Kingdom-Centered Prayer”, from Tim Keller (Spiritual Awakening, The Holy Spirit, Bold Prayer, Gospel Leadership)

KINGDOM CENTERED PRAYER with DR. TIMOTHY KELLER

Throughout the Old and New Testaments and church history, every spiritual awakening was founded on corporate, prevailing, intensive, kingdom-centered prayer. We cannot create spiritual renewal by ourselves, but we can “prepare the altar” and ask God to send his Holy Spirit to change our hearts, our churches, and our communities. Christians are used to thinking about prayer as a means to get their personal needs met. More mature Christians understand prayer as a means to praise and adore God, to know him, to come into his presence and be changed by him. But the corporate aspect of prayer is not well known. How do we pray, repent, and petition God as a people?

SPIRITUAL AWAKENING AND RENEWAL IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God continually fall into periods of spiritual stagnation and then cultural accommodation to the idol worship and practices of surrounding pagan societies. Then there is a turning to God, the raising up of new leaders, and a “covenant renewal”—a restoration of spiritual vision and vitality.

This pattern is especially visible in the book of Judges, but it continues throughout the reign of the kings, the captivity, and the return from exile. Just as Israel was constituted a people with the reading of the law and the taking of the covenant oath at Mount Sinai, so the people must periodically remember who they are, renew the covenant, and return to the Lord.

Sinai-like covenant ceremonies occur again before entering Canaan (Joshua 24), before choosing the first king (1 Samuel 12), and after the return from exile (Nehemiah 8–9). Less formal but crucial renewal movements are continually happening (you can find a string of them in Judges 3:7–11; 3:12–15; 4:1–4; 6:7–10; and 10:6–16). If we look at all of these various revivals, we are first struck by how different they are. Some are formal ceremonies. Some seem to be spontaneous. Some are led by a strong central leader, and some seem to bubble up from the grassroots.

But one thing is stated over and over again: the people “cried out to the Lord.” It is the only factor that is always present in every revival. It is corporate, intense, prevailing prayer—not for personal needs, but for the presence and reality of God among his people.

SPIRITUAL AWAKENING AND RENEWAL IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Even in the New Testament under the leadership of the apostles, it is evident that there is still a need for continual renewal. Just as Israel’s election as God’s people was demonstrated at Mt. Sinai, so the church is constituted by the descent and filling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. But just as Israel is continually called to Sinai-like covenant renewals, so the church, even when it doesn’t seem to be in major decline, receives fresh fillings of the Holy Spirit. “Mini-Pentecosts” happen in Acts 4:31; 7:55; 8:17; 10:44; and 13:9.

What do these have in common? It is very easy to get distracted by the three unusual phenomena of the day of Pentecost: the mighty sound like “a violent wind” (v. 2); the visible “tongues of fire” over each person (v. 3); and speaking “in other tongues” (v. 4), which each member of the multiethnic audience could understand in his or her native language (v. 6). Speaking in tongues happens in some of the other Spirit-filling occasions, but not all, nor even most.

The central, abiding characteristics of Pentecost are that they were together in prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:1), they were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4), and therefore they “began to speak” (2:4) “declaring the wonders of God (2:11).” Compare this with two other incidents in Acts after Pentecost.

In Acts 4:31, like Pentecost, there is a period of prevailing prayer (4:24) and then a powerful shaking as everyone senses the presence of God descending. But unlike Pentecost there are no tongues of fire or speaking in tongues. What results again are boldness (an assurance of God’s love and reality) and the ability to speak the word of God (v. 31).

The incident in Acts 7:55–56 is interesting, because it is an individual experience. As Stephen is about to be executed, he raises his eyes to heaven (v. 55), as the believers in 4:24 raised their voices to God. He gets the same assurance and boldness, the sense of God’s reality and presence called “the fullness of the Holy Spirit.” This allows him to face persecution in a completely Christ-like way, with courage and forgiving love toward his executioners.

In summary, what do all of these incidents have in common? We see that there is a continual need to renew the fullness of the Spirit. We see also that the fullness, in general, is connected to prevailing prayer, especially in the face of a challenge.

WHAT IS SPIRITUAL RENEWAL?

Spiritual revival, or renewal, is a work of God in which the church is beautified and empowered because the normal operations of the Holy Spirit are intensified. The normal operations of the Spirit include conviction of sin (John 16:8), enjoyment and assurance of grace and of the Father’s love (Rom. 8:15–16), access to the presence of God (John 14:21–23; 2 Cor. 3:17–18), and creation of deep community and loving relationships (Eph. 4:3–13).

This view differs or opposes three other common views:

1) The popular charismatic notion of revival, which sees revival as essentially the addition of extraordinary operations of the Holy Spirit (miracles, healings, prophecy, revelations).

2) The popular fundamentalist view that revivals are simply especially vigorous seasons of evangelistic activity. A “revival” is taken to mean an evangelistic crusade or a city-wide mission, etc.

3) The popular secular view that revivals are primitive, emotionally cathartic events, occurring among uneducated people subject to psychological manipulation by evangelists.

Instead the marks of revival are based upon the following.

  • First, there is an outpouring of the Spirit on and within the congregation, so that the presence of God among his people becomes evident and palpable.

In New York City, the Fulton Street Revival began in 1857, when a layman at the North Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street began a noontime prayer meeting for businessmen. These statistics are drawn from collections of sermons preached by New York City pastors during the revival years. When this happens, “sleepy” or stagnant Christians “wake up.” That is, there is a new and deeper conviction of sin and repentance—not just for major “behavioral sins” but for attitudes of the heart.

They experience a far more powerful assurance of the nearness and love of God, with the end result that Christians become both humbler and bolder at the same time. The more deeply one feels his or her debt of sin, the more intensely he or she feels the wonder of the payment on their behalf.

Nominal Christians, or Christians in name only, begin to realize they don’t actually have a living relationship with Christ by grace, and they get converted. When this begins to happen, it electrifies people. Long-time members are getting up and talking about being converted or speaking of Christ in radiant terms or expressing repentance in new ways. The early stages of renewal shake up other nominals and “sleepers” into renewal. Corporately, there is a sense of more passion and freedom and the presence of God in the worship services.

  • Second, as a result of this outpouring of the Spirit, new people are brought into the church, and it begins to grow. On the one hand, the renewed believers create a far more attractive community of sharing and caring and, often, great worship. There is the beautified community of the King. This can attract people from the outside.

On the other hand, Christians who begin to experience God’s beauty, power, and love put their relationship with Christ and the church first in their lives, and they become radiant and attractive witnesses—more willing and confident to talk to others about their faith, more winsome (less judgmental) when they do so, and more confident in their own church and thus more willing to invite people to visit it.

As a result, there are numerous conversions—sound, lasting, and sometimes
dramatic. Significant, even astounding, church growth occurs. Many churches in America grow rapidly, but almost completely through transfer growth. When that is the case, renewal dynamics are not strong in the church.

Many churches in America do grow rapidly, but there are tell-tale symptoms of lifelessness. Most or all of the growth may be by transfer, not conversion. There is no deep conviction of sin or repentance, and thus few people can attest to dramatically changed lives. Also, the growth of many churches makes no impact on the local social order, because people do not carry their Christian faith out into their use of wealth, their work, or their public lives.

Without deep renewal of the gospel in our hearts, our external lives will be sealed off from what we believe, and our beliefs will never result in concretely changed living.

HOW DOES SPIRITUAL RENEWAL COME?

There is much to say about this, but we will concentrate on what is, biblically and historically, the one non-negotiable, universal ingredient in times of spiritual renewal: corporate, prevailing, intensive, kingdom-centered prayer. What is that?

  1. It is focused on God’s presence and kingdom. Jack Miller talks about the difference between “maintenance” and “frontline” prayer meetings.
  2. Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical, and totally focused on physical, personal needs inside the church.
  3. But frontline prayer has three basic traits: A request for grace to confess sins and humble ourselves; a compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church; and a yearning to know God, to see his face, to see his glory.

It is quite clear when listening to a prayer meeting whether these traits are present. Most interesting. It is to study biblical prayer for revival, such as in Acts 4 or Exodus 33 or Nehemiah 1, where these three elements are evident. Notice in Acts 4, for example, that the disciples, who had been threatened, did not ask for protection for themselves and their families, but only for boldness to keep preaching!

 It is bold and specific.

The history of revivals shows one or a few or many who take the lead in praying fervently for renewal.

Their pattern is Moses (Exodus 33), who pitched a tabernacle outside Israel’s camp, where he and others prayed for God’s presence and to see his glory. Such prayer need not (indeed, usually does not) begin as an organized church program, but rather it is a private field of strong exertion and even agony for the leaders. The characteristics of this kind of prayer include pacesetters in prayer, who spend time in self-examination. Without a strong understanding of grace, this can be morbid and depressing. But in the context of the gospel, it is purifying and strengthening. They “take off their ornaments” (Ex. 33:1–6). They examine themselves for idols and set them aside.

They then begin to make the big request—a sight of the glory of God. That includes asking for a personal experience of the glory and presence of God (“that I may know you,” Ex. 33:13); for the people’s experience of the glory of God (v. 15); and that the world might see the glory of God through his people (v. 16). Moses asks that God’s presence would be obvious to all: “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” This is a prayer that the world would be awed and amazed by a show of God’s power and radiance in the church, that it would truly become the new humanity that is a sign of the future kingdom.

It is prevailing and corporate.

By this we simply mean that prayer should be constant, not sporadic and brief. Why? Are we to think that God wants to see us grovel? Why do we not simply put our request in and wait? But sporadic, brief prayer shows a lack of dependence, a self-sufficiency, and thus we have not built an altar that God can honor with his fire (see 1 Kings 18). We must pray without ceasing, pray long, pray hard, and we will find that the very process is bringing about that which we are asking for—to have our hard hearts melted, to tear down barriers, and to have the glory of God break through. We need sustained, repeated prayer.

BUILDING AN ALTAR

Let’s return to Stephen’s “mini-Pentecost” in Acts 7. When Stephen was dragged before a human court, he was condemned unjustly and was about to be executed. But he was filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 55). How so? We are told, “full of the Holy Spirit, he looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him . . . While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed… ‘Lord, do not hold this sin
against them’” (vv. 55–57, 59–60).

What happened? First, he prayed. He looked up. Second, by the power of the Holy Spirit, something Stephen knew with his mind became real to his heart. He saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand. This refers to his work as our Advocate (1 John 2:1 says we have an advocate with the Father, one who speaks in our defense—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the propitiation for our sins). At the very moment that an earthly court was condemning him, he realized that the heavenly court was commending him.

In other words, the “fullness” he experienced was an experience of the gospel. At that moment, he got an extremely vivid, powerful sight of what he already knew intellectually—that in Christ we are beautiful in God’s sight and free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1; Col. 1:22). The Spirit took that intellectual concept and electrified his entire soul and mind and heart and imagination with it. Third, Stephen, although only for a moment, was able to exhibit the new humanity that God is creating. He had courage. He forgave his oppressors. He faced his accusers not just with boldness, but with a calmness and joy. That is spiritual renewal.

It is not simply an emotional experience—it is a heart-changing and therefore life and practice-shaping work of the Holy Spirit. A good image for seeking the fullness of the Spirit is the concept of “building a life altar.” In the Old Testament, an altar was built and a sacrifice placed on it, and then God sent his fire to burn up the sacrifice (e.g., 1 Kings 18). This is a great illustration of the dynamics of personal revival and spiritual renewal.

Paul uses it when he tells us to make ourselves a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1–2). We cannot create spiritual renewal—we can only prepare the altar and the sacrifice. Only God can send the fire. If we look at Acts 1, we see Jesus helping the disciples build an altar. There are at least four parts to this process.

A renewed church is vision-driven.

In Acts 1:6–8, Jesus repairs their faulty vision of what he is going to do in the world. They were looking for a political campaign, and he tells them about the nature of the kingdom, which will spread through his disciples as they become his witnesses and ambassadors.

The vision is that through our words we will bring people under the kingship of Christ, which will heal and repair all things.

A renewed church is gospel-driven.

In Acts 1:9–11, Jesus ascends to heaven, and the angels tell the disciples that now the knowledge of his ascension should empower them. As in the incident with Stephen, it is only as we “preach the gospel to ourselves” about our standing in Christ that the Holy Spirit takes that truth and catches it on fire in our hearts, creating times of amazing assurance that equip us for service.

A renewed church is prayer-driven.

In Acts 1:14, we see the disciples uniting in corporate, prevailing prayer. It is only in prayer and through prayer that the Holy Spirit takes up the vision and the gospel and makes them fiery realities in the centers of our being.

A renewed church is leader-driven.

In Acts 1:15–26, we see the disciples asking for God to raise up leaders. Personal and corporate revivals occur through leaders which God identifies and equips.

How, then, can we as leaders “build an altar,”

…seeking our renewal as a church and a people by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s begin now.

  • First, pray that your church grasps its own vision in a new way. Take time to thank God for your church, for what it has done in your life, and for what you see it doing in the lives of others and in your community. Ask God to help you better understand and grasp what he is calling you to do to reach your city. Pray that your small group and outreach ministries will give people a deeper appreciation of your church’s vision and an experience of real community.
  • Second, pray that your worship services this season will be particularly anointed, that the truth of the gospel will be unusually vivid and spiritually real to all hearers—believers and non-believers—and that God’s presence would be evident.
  • Third, pray that your seasons and services of prayer would not be just a passing program but would signal a greater emphasis on and practice of corporate prayer within your church.
  • Fourth, accept your leadership role in the church. Even if you are not an officer—even if you think of yourself as a “volunteer”—you, as an active worker and servant, are a model to those less committed.

Take time to pray for yourselves, that you could enter a season of self-examination. Ask that you may be, with full gospel assurance, nonetheless hard on yourself. Ask that God would show you ways in which you don’t represent Christ as you should, in your relationships, in your work life, in your family life, in your habits and attitudes, and in your relationships within the church. Take time to pray for yourselves, that God will make things you know about the gospel in your head real to your heart, and changing the way you live where you need to change.

Copyright © 2005 by Timothy Keller, © 2012 by Redeemer City to City. This article was first used for a leadership training session in 2005.

“Inspirational Quotes on Prayer”, from L.Willows (See God, The Holy Spirit, A Praying Heart)

Inspirational Quotes on Prayer

“God shapes the world by prayer. Prayers are deathless. They outlive the lives of those who uttered them.” —Edward McKendree Bounds

“Prayer delights God’s ear; it melts His heart; and opens His hand. God cannot deny a praying soul.” — Thomas Watson

 “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” –John Bunyan

 “Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.” —John Piper

 “When praying for the Lord’s will about something questionable, don’t give up if you don’t receive clear leading after one prayer; just keep on praying until God makes it clear.” —Curtis Hutson

“The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” – F.B. Meyer

 “Not to pray because you do not feel fit to pray is like saying, “I will not take medicine because I am too ill.” Pray for prayer: pray yourself, by the Spirit’s assistance, into a praying frame.” – Charles Spurgeon

“God-given prayer and praise have as their essence a waiting on God, a willingness to be wrought upon by the hammer and the fire of the Almighty, until the chains of self-centered desires fall away from the personality, and the love of Christ become the deepest hunger of the inner life.” –C. John Miller

“Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do. Expect unexpected things ‘above all that we ask or think.” – Andrew Murray

 “You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him.” —A.W. Tozer

“We must learn to measure ourselves, not by our knowledge about God, not by our gifts and responsibilities in the church, but by how we pray and what goes on in our hearts. Many of us, I suspect, have no idea how impoverished we are at this level. Let us ask the Lord to show us”. –J. I. Packer

 “Prayer is an exchange. We leave our burdens, worries and sin in the hands of God. We come away with oil of joy and the garment of praise.” — F.B. Meyer

“Remember, the only real leader you have is Jesus Christ. Unless you are daily taught of Him you will not be able to make the right decisions. To get to Him you need to pray, but it needs to be prayer of a unique quality. You can pray all night and all day and still not be in touch with His will. Prayer is not full and effective unless it adds up to our learning to wait upon the Lord for Him to make known His will. He needs to break down our tendency to cry out in prayer “Your will be done,” and then to get up and still try to impose our will on circumstances.”–C. John Miller, from The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters to Jack Miller

“I am convinced that prayer, effective praying, is a divine gift that comes while praying. Sounds odd, prayer comes while you are praying? But I think that really there is praying which gets results and that is fine, but then there is praying that gets into the center of God’s will and gets bigger results and also leaves the soul at peace, satisfied that God’s will has been contacted and God has responded with peace in the heart.” –C. John Miller, from The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters to Jack Miller

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