Some time ago, Pew Research released the results of a survey of 35,000 American adults, showing a decline in individuals identifying themselves as Christians. In the past eight years, nearly 8% fewer Americans self-identify with the faith. One out of three Millennials, those with birthdays from the 1980’s to the early 2000’s, identifies with no religion whatsoever. The news represents a significant shift in the American outlook toward Christianity.
What does this mean for the American church? What is this saying to us as believers? Is this merely a poll showing whose flavor of God is winning? “Oh well, at least Christians are still number one.” No. Every percentage point represents several million people that are missing the reality of a relationship with Christ Jesus. These are desperate times. How can we find hope to turn such a tide? These statistics represent a profound spiritual gap; no amount of buildings, programs or pageants has a “prayer” of closing it.
I graduated from high school in 1973. Like the world in which we live today, the 1960’s and 1970’s were a similarly distressing time. In a few short years, we saw John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinated. Our nation watched the Viet Nam war grind slowly to a painful end. Vice President Agnew resigned his office over bribes he took as a governor and a few months later, President Nixon resigned in complete disgrace. I remember how those days bore a weight of hopelessness. The outlook of Americans was world-weary, cynical, bitter, and fearful. Young people, myself included, turned away from organized Christianity, finding it irrelevant and unpalatable. In a remarkable turnaround that has come to be known as the “Jesus Movement,” God brought millions of young people face to face with the person of Christ.
Can We Surprise God?
A few years ago, I opened Isaiah 59 and discovered it reads as if it were describing events of the present day. I see in it the story of the 1970’s. More importantly, I see in it the story of countless times through history when people in bondage cried out, sometimes not even knowing to whom they were calling. Isaiah 59 begins with a description of a helpless, hopeless world. The chapter painfully recounts the violence and injustice that have overtaken God’s disobedient people. The oppression is so fierce and boundless that the Scripture says, “truth is gone, and anyone who renounces evil is attacked.” (Isaiah 59:15 NLT).
“And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to intercede;” (Isaiah 59:16 NASB).
God is “astonished that there was no one to intercede.” Think about that for a moment. How is it that an all-seeing, all-knowing, time-transcending Deity can be surprised? Can we sneak up on God at the dinner table and tap Him on the shoulder? That’s ridiculous, of course. Nevertheless, the passage is clear. In the atmosphere of despair described in the chapter, God is amazed and disappointed that there is no one to intervene. Rather than leave us without an intercessor, however, God takes on the role Himself.
“… Then His own arm brought salvation to Him, And His righteousness upheld Him. He put on righteousness like a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.” (Isaiah 59:16-17 NASB).
God’s intervention brings light and life into a formerly hopeless situation. There is no doubt, whatsoever, as to the outcome. The next chapter begins with the exultation,
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth And deep darkness the peoples; But the Lord will rise upon you And His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. “Lift up your eyes round about and see; They all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, And your daughters will be carried in the arms.” (Isaiah 60:1-4 NASB).
In 1976, I was one of those sons who came from afar, drawn by the light of God in the Jesus movement. I remember the relief I felt, coming to Christ. I am still amazed at the anointing of the Holy Spirit, as I hear the Word of God read aloud.
A Turning Point in History
We are standing at another pivotal moment in human history, and we have, once again, surprised God. I feel as though I am anxiously watching Elijah versus the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, as Elijah proclaimed,
“Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” (I Kings 18:24 NASB).
Now, in this twenty-first century, we are about to witness once more, as God answers with power. I owe this life and the life to come to the fact that God rose to answer my generation’s desperation. My heart is aching to see it happen again.
“A Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” (Isaiah 59:20 NASB).
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