by Henry E. Neufeld
“So know today that the LORD your God is crossing over before you, a devouring fire. He will destroy them, and he will subdue them before you. But you shall dispossess them and you shall wipe them out quickly as the LORD your God told you.”
– Deuteronomy 9:3 (Author’s translation and emphasis)
While studying through Deuteronomy, this verse struck me in particular. It summarizes some of the tension in the first several chapters (1-11 at least) of the speeches of Moses to the people of Israel on the border of the promised land. The people are camped very near to where they will cross the Jordan river and enter Canaan. They have wandered for 40 years in the desert. An entire generation has died, except for three people, and of those, Moses will die yet before they enter the land. The tension of these chapters is that God is completely in control, the people are totally dependent on Him, and yet success depends on obedience.
There are many things we could discuss, such as how one is to understand a scripture passage that orders mass killing in this way. We can look at the literal application to Israel’s conquest of the land. But I want to use this point in Israel’s history as an example of an issue we face each and every time we are called into something new in our lives: Is it God’s doing or ours? Do we act, or do we wait on God?
Now those questions could have many answers, and if you ask groups of Christians you will likely get the full range, from “It’s really all God, even if we do some of it” to “Praying is good, but good hard work is what really gets the job done!” Each person can find scriptures to support his or her position.
And here we find a scripture that supports both positions at once.
I was asked to speak for a conference on revival a few years back where the theme was “Revival: Our Idea or God’s Idea?” It was a question that demanded the answer “yes.” Speaker after speaker talked about whether one should just wait for revival, or whether one needed to work for it. Were there certain things one could do? Was there a certain amount of prayer that would guarantee that revival would break out in one’s church?
I would suggest that our verse illustrates the answer. But in order to get there let me first tell you how I define revival. I believe revival is very simply when you, your church, your community or group however defined are living the life that God intended for them. In our text, God intended the Israelites to live in the promised land, the land of Canaan. In order to do that, they had to cross the river and take the land. For them, that was the life that God intended. “Revival” is bringing people back to life, and for those who follow God how can that new state of life be anything less than or other than what God has planned for our own lives?
We place many conditions on revival, we seek signs of revival, we have criteria by which one determines whether a church is in revival or not. But “in revival” is not a Biblical condition of the church. “In revival” is not from the positive experience of the church. “In revival” has been a state of temporary energy poured out in various places in the church without much permanent result.
We have many “experts” in revival. But all of us, myself included (and I’m not an expert in revival) can only be experts in failure. Because while revivals have come, they have also always gone, and a revival that has gone is ultimately a failure. The only revival that is actually a success is one that ushers in the kingdom of God. (Please don’t envision this as a boring heavenly dictatorship where everyone does the same thing. God’s will is not a straightjacket and God’s kingdom is not something that ends freedom. But that’s another topic!) The only entrance into the promised land that would ultimately be successful was one that left Israel living in the land God promised them. Leaving the land was not a sign of a new season or a new good experience-it was a sign of failure.
And what was the formula to accomplish the true revival? Depend on God and obey. God will do it, but you will. Be ready for new orders, new situations, new circumstances. Be ready to listen.
Partnership with God is a matter of His empowering and our acting.