Clearing the Way
‘Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle out of the way of My people.’ For thus says the high and exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’ Isaiah 57:14-15
Isaiah the prophet was preaching between 740 and 701 B.C. to both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom split in two. Jeroboam took the ten northern tribes and established worship centres in the north and south, in defiance of God’s ordinance. Israel was to worship in Jerusalem. They immediately went into idolatry and never recovered. The wicked Assyrians were breathing down the necks of Israel, eventually conquering them in 722 B.C. Judah experienced the same judgment in 586 B.C. at the hands of the Babylonians. But Isaiah had a two-fold message to God’s covenant people. On the one hand he repeatedly pronounced judgment, while on the other he gave words of comfort.
In the passage noted above Isaiah is stressing three things – preparation, proclamation, and saturation. Just as a road construction company, when building a new, limited access, four-lane superhighway must make the grade as level as possible by lowering mountains and raising up valleys, so God must prepare his people for revival. For those who have mountainous pride, he must bring them low. For those in the slough of despondency and despair, he must lift them up. The Holy Spirit always works to build up or tear down when God wants to bring revival. Isaiah also commands that every obstacle be removed. When in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, landslides that deposit large boulders on highways are common. Thus the roads become impassable until the Department of Transportation removes the debris.
So God is telling us to deal with our pride. We are to remove anything, any sin, that could be blocking the way of the Spirit in ourselves, our families, our churches, and our communities. Richard Owen Roberts, in his book Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, suggests the root sin that stops revival in any day is pride. The best of us, the most moral are still far worse than we can imagine. My friend, you bring absolutely nothing to the table for your justification or your sanctification. I define poverty as ‘an absence of options.’ If a poor man’s old car car breaks down he has no money in a savings account to repair it. So he cannot get to work, so he loses his job. Likewise, you have no saving account of righteousness or holiness upon which you can draw to gain or maintain God’s favour. You are spiritually bankrupt. That’s the foundation of gospel holiness which can lead to revival. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their’s is the kingdom of God’ (Matt. 5:3).
I suggest, however, that our pride is insidious, far worse than we can imagine, and the very cause of the absence of God’s smile on our lives and ministries. Both James and Peter say that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5-6).
While preaching recently, I made a disparaging and unedifying statement about a certain theological genre. I had made this statement many times before and it never bothered me to say it. This time, however, God pierced my heart, showing me something of the pride that resides there. When I bristle at rebuke from my wife or a friend, then I know pride is there. God hates pride. It is repulsive to him. He resists, inhibits, blocks, dissuades the prideful.
Let’s be clear about something – generally speaking, we lack power in our ministries and in our lives. I can’t speak for you, but when I read about the power in the preaching and evangelistic efforts of men like Jonathan Edwards, Duncan Campbell, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, then I know, without question, that I am a spiritual pygmy. Those men filled and dominated by the Spirit see things happen. People are saved, marriages are helped, people repent and pursue holiness. People see specific answers to prayers. Do you regularly see these things happen in your church and personal life? If so, then praise the Lord! If not, then isn’t it time we begin asking ourselves, ‘Am I the problem here? Is my pride a mountain on which God the Holy Spirit will not dwell? Are there obstacles in my life which are prohibiting a mighty movement of the Spirit in my family or church?’ I wonder if we are so proud of our Reformed Theology, looking down our noses at Arminians or Pentecostals, that we have grieved or quenched the Holy Spirit? Is our pride keeping us from expressing genuine emotion in worship services? Do you secretly size people up and down when you meet them, showing favoritism to the ‘pretty people’ but discounting those who, in your mind, are lacking?
Isaiah declares that God dwells in two places – in a high and holy place (heaven) and in the hearts of the lowly and contrite. David says that God does not despise a broken and contrite heart (Psa. 51:17). Isaiah also says, ‘To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite in spirit and who trembles at My word’ (Isa. 66:2). And this preparation of seeing our sin of pride, repenting of it, and seeking the holiness of Jesus, promises the saturating work of the Spirit. Revival, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, on a person, family, church, community, or nation can be defined as being saturated or soaked by the Spirit.
My friend, I challenge you to do something really frightening and unsettling – ask God to reveal to you something of your pride, that sin which is so easily entangling you, that which is impeding the mighty flow of the Spirit in your life! The revelation of your pride will devastate you, but God will visit you in mercy. First, he will only show you something of your pride. If you saw all your sin you could not live. Second, he will meet you with a fresh sense of his marvellous grace and mercy, enabling you to imbibe afresh and anew of the living waters of the Spirit and the sanctifying blood of Jesus.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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