Make sure you read or listen to “A Time To Cry” first, preached the Sunday before this sermon.
The passage of the word of God that we're turning to this morning is found in Isaiah's prophecy, Isaiah and chapter 64. Isaiah 64, this is the great reviving prayer of the word of God, of the prophet Isaiah. Let us read it as a prayer together, beginning at verse 1:
"Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence. As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence. For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste. Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Lord? Wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?"
Let us pray: Our Father, we come and bow in deep need before Thee as a people that are seeking Thee - some of us, perhaps, as we have never sought Thee before. We are coming to Thy word empty that Thou shouldst fill us. We are looking for a word from God. Lord, surely Thou wilt not leave us desolate, surely Thou wilt not deafen our ear to Thy voice. So we pray that, by the Spirit's still small voice, that Thou mayest speak to our hearts, that Thou mayest come down, that Thy presence may flow upon us in this very place this very day. Oh Lord, that Thy people may rejoice in Thee and glorify Thy name once more. Amen.
I've entitled my message: 'A Refreshing Prayer' - a refreshing prayer. This is a refreshing prayer simply because it is a prayer for refreshing. A prayer for refreshing is always a refreshing prayer, it is always refreshing to the one who prays it, it is refreshing to the one who listens to that prayer - but I would go as far as to say that it is refreshing to God. God is refreshed when He sees His people pray for the showers of blessing. What a blessing it must be to God to look down and to see within His church - beyond all the 'shopping list' praying, beyond the praying that says 'Bless Mummy and bless Daddy', beyond the prayers that plead God for the things that we want - what a blessing, what a refreshing it must be to God to see men and women who want to be real with Him! Men and women who have a heart thirsty for the living waters. Men and women who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Men and women who are coming to God and saying: 'As the deer panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee O God'.
What a blessing it is for God to see men and women following hard after Him. What a blessing it is for God to see this, to see men and women diligently seeking Him, because God loves it! God is the rewarder of them who diligently seek Him. Out of all the prayers of the Bible this is one we ought to look at to see how we ought to pray to God, and how we ought to seek God for His presence. The one theme throughout this whole prayer of Isaiah is this: the prophet evokes the past blessings of God in order to see God bless again in his present day. In other words, he looks back at what God has done, and he lets it infuse his own soul and spirit to let him see with the eye of faith and foresight what God can do - the fact that God can do it again, only God can do better!
I say this categorically: throughout the word of God there was not a man or a woman who God used or lifted a finger with who did not have that prayer in their bosom. My friend, if you don't have a thirst after God to move in the Iron Hall, God will never use you - never! Old Gideon, when things were bad, and every man was doing that which was right in his own eyes, and there was no king in Israel, there was no leadership, there was no godliness - it says in Judges chapter 6 and verse 13: 'Gideon said unto God', he prayed a prayer like Isaiah's, 'Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites'.
Do you see his prayer? Do you see how similar it is to Isaiah's? He is invoking the past blessings of God and saying: 'If this is the God that is with us, why is His power not with us?'. It is the spirit of the Psalmist that we looked at a fortnight ago in Psalm 74: 'O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? Why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt...We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long'. 'The God that our fathers told us of seems to have cast us off!'.
Today some of us in this assembly pray and fast - do you know why? To see God bless us again! This passage speaks to many of us, do you know why? Because I believe God has put into our breast a deep aching, a deep dryness that nothing will satisfy - whether it be sin or self, and let me tell you I have tried to satisfy myself with both of those. I have tried the broken cisterns, but ah! the waters failed! You know this: as you stoop to drink, they flee and mock you! As you wail with that deep dry aching void that only the presence of God can refresh.
I ask you: is there not a need for refreshing? Oh, is there not a need for God to open the windows of heaven and pour a blessing out upon us here, now, this very day? Is there not a need for refreshing in your own heart? In the Iron Hall? In Northern Ireland? In the island of Ireland? In the whole of United Kingdom? Is there not a need for God to come down and God to bless us again? Do you not long to see it? Is your appetite not whet to see souls saved once again here, on a regular basis people weeping their way to the rugged cross? Is your appetite not whet to see young men and women following in Biblical paths, rather than following their academic career, and following pop groups and fashions and everything but God? Is there not an appetite to see our young being built up as the people of God? Is there not an appetite for you to see this district saturated with the power of God? Imagine! Drunken homes, adulterous homes, children that are growing up and haven't a hope - is there not a desire in your breast that God would break in and do what we seem to be powerless to do?
I have come to the conclusion that this will never happen through preaching the truth. That might sound heretical to you, but do you see when you're doing it for a little while? You begin to see that you are preaching the truth, you're preaching the truth to the lost, but they aren't saved. You're preaching the truth to the young people, but they have no desire for the prayer meeting, or for the Breaking of Bread, or for following hard after God. You preach the truth in the Open Air and there seems to be nothing happens at times. The reason being: preaching is not enough, because we need the presence of God in our lives! We need God to come, and He will only come when we seek Him.
Oh, this is an encouraging portion of Scripture - because I know, for me, it encourages me, it infuses me with faith to pray on and to believe that God can, and God will, bless us if we seek after Him. Just like Isaiah did, if we come to God and plead and cry, and seek His face until He comes and until He avenges us - what a thrill to think that God will come if we truly seek Him! Oh, that encourages me, that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, that He will avenge the cry of His elect that cry unto Him day and night without ceasing. 'Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out', for 'If you call upon the name of the Lord, you shall be saved' - and that's not just salvation, for we need saved from the presence of sin here and now!
I want you to see how we ought to pray this day from Isaiah's prayer. The first thing is this: this was a prayer for God's presence, a prayer for God's presence. Verses 1 to 3, look at the very first word of this prayer: 'Oh'! 'Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens'. True praying is always characterised by that word: 'Oh', for it's the expression of longing, it's the expression of a deep thirst and desire after something that one has not got hitherto. It is the expression of a depraved - whether they be following after God or not - the expression of a depraved man at the end of his resources, who knows there is nothing in himself or of himself to help, there is nothing in himself that can overwhelm the power of the devil, and the power of the world, and temptation that has come into his life. It is the expression that this dark cloud that is coming over the people of God, he is helpless to do anything about it, so he cries at the end of himself: 'Oh God!'.
He is looking and longing after God. You see, that's what true praying is. You see in verse 7, the prophet says there is none that looketh or takes hold upon God: 'There is none that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee'. That is what praying is: taking hold upon God, laying hold upon Him! Not a half-hearted prayer! I vouch to say today: God does not hear cold-blooded prayers! He hears prayers that lay hold upon Him - prayers that are prayers of a full, broken heart after God!
Jacob, wrestling with that angelic figure, and that angelic figure told him: 'I must go', and Jacob said: 'I will not let thee go! You are not going anywhere until I am blessed!'. That might seem a bit far-fetched for us to say to God, but I believe that God wants us to say it to Him. I believe that God would want us to lay hold upon Him, that God should answer us in a peculiar way. He wants us to look to the past, like Isaiah did. He wants us to look to His mercies of old. In other words, in verse 1 what Isaiah really says, the tense is this: 'Oh that You had come down'. In other words, 'If You had been among us, and if You had come down, this all wouldn't have happened! If we had been seeking God the way we ought to be, none of this would happen!'.
His mere presence would have changed everything. In chapter 63 and verse 15 the prayer of the prophet is this: 'Look down'. Oh, he's just satisfied with God looking down. But, my friend, he moves from chapter 63 to 64, and he is no longer satisfied with God looking down, he wants God to come down! 'Oh that Thou wouldst come down'. Do you see the picture? Isn't it an awful picture? 'Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens'. Do you see it in your mind's eye? The heavens and the clouds being rent in a cleft, and the very foot of God stepping down into time! Imagine God opening heaven and coming down. Imagine God coming down and melting the mountains. The mountains speak to us of permanence, they've always been there, they were there before we were there and before our forefathers were. There they are, the spirit and the image of the ancients, the creation that has always been, but God comes and all that was permanent for us disappears!
'Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence. As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!'. There is the picture of fire, the picture of fire just like in Exodus 19 when God gave them the law there on Mount Sinai. There was the thunder, there was the lightning, there was the smoke, there was the shaking of the earth - and let me tell you this: the people of Israel always looked back to that, because when they saw the power of God demonstrated to them all they could do when they were in spiritual backsliding was to look back.
'Lord, we remember when we saw Thee in fire, we saw Thee in thunder and earthquake and in lightning. We saw the pillar of fire and the cloud of smoke, we remember! We can look back and see when God's presence was among us, but Lord it's not here!'. So they looked back and they pleaded. Like the hymnwriter said: 'Oh rend the heavens, come quickly down, and make a thousand hearts Thine own'. Oh, is that not what we long for? Is that not what we long for in our families, that God would rend the heavens and come quickly down and make a thousand hearts His own? That's what's revival is, that's what an awakening is: when God comes down!
Like verse 2, when He comes like the boiling of water, that the nations would tremble like a kettle filled with water over 100 degrees centigrade, moving and shaken by the very presence of God! Oh, we know nothing of this. George Whitefield knew about it and in his journals, one day as he preached in the open air in Cheltenham, he wrote on Wednesday the 18th April - listen to this record: 'I preached this morning with power to a much larger congregation than we had last night. Several servants of God said they never saw the like before'. On another occasion he records: 'Suddenly God the Lord came down among us'. Oh, that we would see something that we have never seen the like before, and that God would come down among us.
Their memory recalls when God intervened, when God came to them. It's a good thing to remind ourselves, isn't it, of God's past interventions in the life and in the church of God - looking back at the Reformation, looking back at the great revivals, looking back at when God opened the windows of heaven and poured out a blessing literally, if you look at it, when they looked not for Him! This is when God came - they weren't looking for God, but God came and delivered them. They weren't looking for His presence, they weren't looking for His blessing, but yet He came and intervened.
In Egypt He sent the plagues to Pharaoh and all his house and all the nation, and God said: 'Let my people go!' - and they went! They came to the Red Sea and God intervened again. They didn't look for it, He intervened of His own free will - He opened up that sea and He delivered them right across. In the wilderness they're starving to death, and it is God who feeds them with the bread of heaven, with the manna come down from above, the angel food. They didn't look for it, but God came and God gave it to them. He gave them the water from the rock, He led them into the conquest of the promised land, and He defeated all their enemies and gave them a land flowing with milk and honey. Oh, how they are surprised - and that causes them to look back, and to look to God for another day like that when God would surprise them again!
Oh would you remind yourself today, as you fast and pray, of the power of God. Will you begin to pray as Isaiah did, realising the great power of God. What an encouragement it is to pray, but let me say this: we have a greater encouragement than Isaiah did! For when we look back we can see that when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son made of a woman, made under the law. He couldn't look back to that, he couldn't look back to an old bloody cross where he could say:
'My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh my soul!'
He couldn't say it. He couldn't look to an empty tomb and say: 'As He liveth, so we also shall live'. He couldn't look to a rent heaven at Pentecost, to a little number of believers in the Upper Room waiting and waiting and waiting until the promise of God from on high came, and they were empowered for service. But friends, we are post-Pentecost, we are post-resurrection, we are post-Calvary, and we can look back at it all and we can say to God upon the authority of His word: 'Lord, do it again! Rend the heavens again, as You rent it when you sent Your Son! Rend the heavens again, as You raised Him from the dead! Rend the heavens again, as You sent the Holy Ghost in power!'.
Do you believe this? Do you believe that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds? You look all around you, look at the Labour government - what is their majority? 146, or something like that, and the house is 160? You see that, the majority that they have. You see what's going on in our land. You see what's happening in the church. I was talking to a believer yesterday, and do you know what they said to me? They were up at David Lloyd's gym in Dundonald, and his remarks to me were this: 'You know, I saw it, and I thought myself that's the way a church ought to be' - that's the way a church ought to be. We look at it all, don't we, and we think that's it - it's finished. But my friend, if you want to deny the word of God like that, that's fine - but God says the weapons of our warfare are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. In other words we could pull down the Labour government if we put our minds to it! We can pull down anything, for the mountains melt at the presence of Almighty God! 'Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ'! Oh, what power there is!
There was a prayer for God's presence, and secondly there was a prize for those who waited on God. In verse 4, look: 'For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him'. Now, look, you remember what God did when they weren't looking for Him? Now Isaiah is saying: 'Look what God can do when people are looking for it!'. People who are seeking God - oh, what a thought, to 'look for'. That word 'wait' is the same word as 'look for' in verse 3 - 'we looked not for it'. It's the same sense as 'wait'. In other words, if we're going to wait on God that means we have to look for God. It means an expectation, literally 'to exercise a patient, confident and expectant faith'.
That is what God requires: expectant faith. He doesn't want a Christian sitting around waiting for the second coming, waiting for the Lord coming again! He wants a Christian looking for the Lord in his own life! Don't you forget that! The heaven and the earth will be dissolved with a fervent heat, oh, that's coming - and the rapture is coming, praise God for it. All these things are coming - but don't you forget, don't you cut out of the word of God what Peter said: 'Seeing all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of men ought we to be?'. The waxing worse and worse, and the great falling away and the apostasy, ought not to be in the heart of a believer - and you ought not to be satisfied with it!
Oh, but what a thought: if we look after God, if we seek after Him. You know, Paul quoted this verse, you know it in 1 Corinthians 2 and 9. Do you know how he quoted it? This is one of the most badly quoted verses in the whole of the word of God, he says: 'As it is written', looking back to Isaiah, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him'. Now, that's not heaven. Heaven is part of it, but that's not what it means primarily - heaven. If anything it means the here and now, it means the Christian life, what God has prepared for us now! Verse 10 of this passage tells you that: 'But God hath revealed these things to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God'. God has revealed to us - we have it now!
Isn't it astonishing: there's no limiting God. People say to me sometimes: 'Och, you're asking too much of God you know. You're aiming too high. Do you actually expect God to come as He did in the past, and do what He did, and people to come in contrition and in confession, weeping before God? Do you expect there to be a move?'. Yes! Do you know why? He is able to do exceeding abundantly more than I ask, or more than I even think, according to His riches and according to His power that works in us. Oh, John Newton, we sing him so much and we make liars of ourselves:
'Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring,
For His grace and power are such
You can never ask too much'.
We believe we can ask too much, don't we? There was a prize for those who waited on God, and there's the prayer for the presence of God. Thirdly there's a penalty for the people's sins. Verse 5 to 8, it's amazing, isn't it, that the request is that God come down to defeat their enemies, but when God does come down what happens is they begin to fall down in His presence, trembling and hiding because of their sin. That is what the problem is - their sin - in verse 5: 'Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned'. Sin! He says in verse 5 that God delights in those who live in practical righteousness, but the people were not living like that. They were not living holy lives and the wrath of God was incurred upon them. Verse 6, their sins are described - they're an unclean thing. Literally that's the word that's used in Leviticus where a leper was to cry when anybody came near him: 'Unclean! Unclean!'. Personal unfitness for fellowship with God.
Their righteousnesses, verse 6 says, are like filthy rags. Do you know what that literally is in the Hebrew? 'A garment of menstruation', a stained cloth with menstrual blood - and in Judaism anything to do with the reproductive system and procreation was seen and considered to be defiled. Do you know why? Because all human life is fallen. In other words, we are born in sin and shapen in iniquity, and the point that Isaiah is making is this: even our righteous acts flow out of our fallen nature! Even the good things that we do flow from our fallenness!
In verse 6 he says that we fade like a leaf, we're dead. Like a leaf in autumn that falls down, we have the name that we live but we are dead - and our sins blow us away like the wind. God abandons us to the consequences of our sin, and the penalty - what is the penalty of our sin? What is the penalty of my sin? It is the absence of God! Oh, that I would realise that. Verse 7 says: 'There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee'. It's amazing - no-one seeking God, no-one stirring themselves, literally, rousing themselves. The idea is waking up from sleep. In other words, can I put it in the contemporary vernacular: nobody can be bothered!
You go to the young people: 'Oh, I'm too young, I'm getting on with my life. I haven't time for all that'. You go to the old people: 'I'm too old, I've seen enough blessing. I'm quite satisfied in my lifetime, I'm willing just to die peacefully without any upheaval of blessing'. You go to the middle aged, the young marrieds as well, and they say: 'I'm trying to rear a family. I'm trying to pay bills. I'm trying to please my boss. I don't have time'. So, if you go to the young, middle-aged, and old - who's going to seek after God? If the truth be told, there are times none of us can be bothered!
That is exactly what hides God's face from us, verse 7 says. It is our iniquity. God allows sin to take its course, and sin takes its course in death - and that is why some of us feel this deadness in our spiritual life, because God has let sin take its course! But I want to bring to you today a message of hope - and I need that message, because I'm exactly what I'm talking about here in this book. Don't think I've arrived, for I haven't - far from it! Verse 8 is the hope - oh, what a hope: 'But now, O Lord, thou art our father'. Isn't it wonderful that God is changeless? Although He is changeless in His requirements of us - in other words He requires holiness, He requires repentance - He is also changeless in His mercy and in His grace.
Do you know what Isaiah is saying? He is the potter, and you are the clay. He is the Father, and you are the children. Like Jeremiah 18, the potter and the clay - in other words, He has the power to change us. Oh, we sing:
'Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me'.
Another of our hymns was written by A.A. Pollard:
'Have Thine own way, oh Lord, have Thine own way.
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mould me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded, and still.
Have Thine own way, oh Lord, have Thine own way.
Search me and try me, Master today.
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.
Have Thine own way, oh Lord, have Thine own way.
Wounded and weary, help me I pray.
Power, all power, surely is Thine,
Touch me and heal me, Saviour divine.
Have Thine own way, oh Lord, have Thine own way.
Hold o'er my being absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see,
Christ only, always, living in me'.
Oh, there's a plea for God to avenge Himself fourthly - and that is because, in verses 9 to 12, God is implored not to be angry any more. 'Lord, don't be angry - for, Lord, You're also unchangeable in Your relationship to us. You are still our Father. You are still the potter, we are still Thy people'. The point is this: we are always in this state and, oh, that we would come to God as His own people. Oh, that we would look into His face as a child to a Father, and ask God that He'll lift us! Ask God that He'll have mercy! To ask the Potter that He'll mould us the way that He would want us to be!
In verse 10 and 11 he asked God to look down at the desolation of the temple, and the brokenness of Jerusalem, and everything that had been burnt with fire. God's place is a desert, it's desolate, and he's saying to Him: 'Things are in a bad way. God's house, where our founding fathers once sung Your praise as the church of God, is burnt to the ground'. Are you jealous for the glory of God? Are you jealous that the church once more would be a brilliant light, not a brilliant organisation? The church, in the last 50 years, has had brilliant organisation - and yet things decline more and more. They've had brilliant buildings, but things don't get any better. They've had brilliant preachers - but, my friend, what we need is the presence of God!
Will you be jealous for the glory of God? Will you repent as these people repented? They repented, they became right with God, they exposed their sin - and the wonderful thing about repentance is this: it works with God! When you wait for God, it works! When you work righteousness, it works! When you draw near to God, He draws near to you! When you seek Him with all your heart, you find Him!
I believe that if we truly seek the Lord, the Lord will leap into action and deal with the enemy, and create a new situation that transcends all the ruins of the past that we have known. He will do a new thing! I believe He will do it if we pray for His presence, if we wait on His prize, if we proclaim to Him our sin, and if we plead that He avenge Himself. We must pray today, rejoicing in the God that we have, for a touch of power from heaven to be among us. Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens. Oh, that Thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at Thy presence.
As we close, don't forget that after this service - straight after - there'll be some folk coming upstairs. You can stay for as long as you can, but there'll be folk here all afternoon seeking God's face, and praying to Him: 'Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens'.
Oh, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens. Oh, that Thou wouldest come down, and make a thousand hearts Thy home. Lord, You did it at Pentecost. Because You've given the Spirit once and for all to the church, we appeal to Thee, our Father, to fill us - and if it takes it, to break us and melt us and mould us - but Lord, whatever You do, fill us and come down. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered on a day of fasting and prayer at The Iron Hall Assembly, Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "A Refreshing Prayer" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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