"Revive Us Again!"

(Isa 58 NKJV) "Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins. {2} Yet they seek Me daily, And delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness, And did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; They take delight in approaching God.

For many Western Christians who follow the liturgical calendar, they are already well into Lent. For those who follow the Eastern Tradition, this Sunday, known as Forgiveness Sunday, marks the beginning of "Great Lent" which officially starts at midnight. Coming from a non-liturgical tradition, as several on this list are, all I knew about Lent was that it meant giving up something, a fast. Beyond that, it was a mystery.

As I learned about Lent and Holy Week last year, it began to dawn on me that the Nazarene Church has something very similar in purpose. They are called "revivals". They occur about once or twice a year. And although they began historically as a means of evangelism (thus the term used to describe the person who comes to hold the meeting "evangelist"), they evolved primarily to be a reviving of the church, the people of God. They became a time of examining one's self under the light of God's holiness so that sins, hatreds, bad attitudes, and anything which separates us from God and our fellow man; might be revealed to us and we would have the opportunity to submit ourselves before God and each other.

Revival is not a new concept. Isaiah here details for us what happens when revival takes place. Consistent with other areas of Scripture, revival starts first by acknowledging our sinfulness. An attitude of repentance is first and foremost in being able to approach God. Ironically, it is only when we have gone through the painful uncovering of our sins and transgressions that we find God approachable at all. Only then, like the Prodigal Son, do we see the Father running to us. Only then, like Isaiah in his heavenly vision, do we experience and see the mercy of God as a coal taken off the altar that cleanses our sins from us. Only then, do we find it a "delight" to approach God and draw near. Until then, we have something to hide, the fear of judgement and condemnation. The fear of humiliation, and thus we hold ourselves apart from God and fear to come near.

And in the history of the Church, revival has always been linked to the fast and the feast, the predominate one being Great Lent. For forty days prayer and fasting takes place in order to prepare our hearts and minds to receive what will take place on Easter, or as Orthodoxy calls it, Pascha (which is the Greek word for "Passover"). During Holy Week, it is nothing less than what a Nazarene would consider a full blown revival, with two or three services every day of the week, full of prayers and Scripture readings designed to draw us into the passion of Christ in order that we may experience fully the joy of the resurrection. As someone has said, you cannot fully appreciate the feast of Easter until you have gone through the fast of Lent.

But what type of fast does the Lord call us to? What type of fast will bring us to this point where we can experience the resurrection in a much more personal way? Isaiah continues:

{3} 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?' "In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers. {4} Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high. {5} Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD?

We all know that Jesus warned us about fasting as the hypocrites do. We are not to walk around looking dejected, downcast, and like we haven't taken a shower in a week. When Jesus gave us these words, there is a good chance He had these verses from Isaiah in mind. The purpose of the fast was to "make your voice heard on high". It was to be noticed by others. It was to impress each other with how great a sacrifice one was making to serve God.

And there is a real danger in fasting that we must avoid. It is easy if one is not careful to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to what others are doing. Of looking at our stricter fast as gaining us more love and attention from God. That in denying ourselves of certain pleasures we are scoring points with God. This is not the fast that God is calling us to, Isaiah tells us.

This is a real danger to the Orthodox Church, for out of the various denominations and groups with the label "Christian," they have the strictest fasting rules, which use to be universal in the Church but now is only retained by the Orthodox. It is easy for Orthodox to compare themselves against the others in a judgmental way. While it may be true and of great value that the Orthodox Church has kept the fasting of the Early Church intact, we must also keep the spirit of that same fast intact and not let it become a matter of pride. Once it has, it falls under the type of fast which God says above is not the fast He has called us to.

So, what type of fast has the Lord chosen for us? Isaiah tells us:

{6} "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? {7} Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Fasting is a personal spiritual discipline that is designed to focus our attention on ourselves, not other people. It takes us through the struggle with our passions which causes us to grow closer to God and farther from the bondage of Satan in our lives. Notice the different emphasis that Isaiah shows us here through God's prophecy. Instead of being dejected and downcast, we are freed of burdens and oppression. Instead of focusing on getting God's attention, we focus our attention on those around us who are needy and suffering and do something about it. Instead of seeing it as submitting ourselves to a burden, it is the breaking of Satan's yoke. Instead of drawing attention to ourselves, we draw it to God and service to others.

Fasting is the pruning that God does in John 15 so that we produce fruit in our spiritual journey. If it doesn't do that, then it is not a fast which God has called us to, but a man-made fast.

But some of us might ask why a fast is necessary at all. Can't we get the "revival" without going through the fast? The reading on this Forgiveness Sunday gives us the basis for why a fast is necessary. Adam was expelled from Paradise primarily because he failed to keep the simple fast which God had given him. The failure to keep that fast caused a separation from God that has affected all men and women down to this day. Thus, it is through fasting, the one that the Lord calls us to, that will help us to walk not by the flesh, but by the Spirit (Rom 8:3-5). We are doing what Adam failed to do. And when we blow it and fail in our fasting, we find out just how much like Adam we are and how much we must rely upon God's grace to keep the fast rather than within ourselves.

And here is what Isaiah says happens as a result of keeping the fast that the Lord has chosen for us:

{8} Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. {9} Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' "If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, {10} If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday. {11} The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. {12} Those from among you Shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In. {13} "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, {14} Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken."

In short...revival will take place. For the Nazarene's on this list, can you imagine the difference it would make in a week of revival services if the church had prepared for it by forty days of prayer and fasting! The results could be truly amazing. People might actually take a delight in coming to an altar of prayer!

For the Orthodox on the list, keeping the fast that God has chosen means keeping the end in mind, that we may participate more fully in the glory of the resurrection; not to earn brownie points with God or become prideful over others. If we keep ourselves in the services, in the prayers of the Church, in the Scriptures which are read, in an attitude of repentance and humility before our God, we will have done the fast that God has chosen for us and fruit will be produced in us.

May all of us keep the fast which God has chosen for us, and through that may we find a true revival of our souls in drawing closer to His likeness and glory. Amen.

In His grace,

Timothy Rick Copple