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Unstopping the Wells of Revival – the Post-Modern Philistines
“Isaac accumulated flocks and herds and many, many servants, so much so that the Philistines began to envy him. They got back at him by throwing dirt and debris into all the wells that his father’s servants had dug back in the days of his father Abraham, clogging up all the wells.
Finally, Abimelech told Isaac: “Leave. You’ve become far too big for us.”
So Isaac left. He camped in the valley of Gerar and settled down there. Isaac dug again the wells which were dug in the days of his father Abraham but had been clogged up by the Philistines after Abraham’s death. And he renamed them, using the original names his father had given them.” – Genesis 26:13-18, Message Version
Over the last few weeks, we have been exploring the theme of redigging the wells of revival. We are doing so by looking back to this story from the life of Isaac because of its usefulness as a metaphor for the present state of the Christian Church in our post-Christian, secular milieu. Isaac and his family face a life and death situation. It is a time of famine, and they are exiled in the Valley of Gerar in the Negev Desert.
The existential challenge they face is the lack of water, without which no person or community can survive. If they don’t find water, they will die. And in the same way, the Western church today faces its own existential challenge. We need spiritual water, we need God Himself. His presence, his power, his infusion of divine life…or we will waste away. In our state of existential threat, we are so often tempted to look for a novel solution (eg. A new strategy, technology, or approach that will somehow reverse the snowballing decline of the church in our current moment. A silver bullet that will change things. Is it a better website? Is it cooler sneakers for the preacher? Do we need more smoke machines during worship?)
Isaac responds to the crisis with great wisdom. He does not look for a novel solution. He doesn’t send for prospectors. He doesn’t send for water diviners. He doesn’t seek out a new location to dig a well. Because Isaac knows his father has been here before, and that he found water. And so Isaac thinks ”in our crisis we must go back to those old wells because we know we will find water there.”
In our current moment, this is what we must do. The church has found water before in past seasons of decline. She has been renewed by the presence and power of God. She has been refreshed with past seasons of revival. In Providence, for example, there was a mighty revival in the year 1820. Somewhere between 5 and 10% of the city’s population joined the church in that one year. Today, if we consider the population of our metro area, this would be equivalent to somewhere between 75,000 and 150,000 men, women, and children joining the church. In a year. Can you even imagine? But this is what happens when the church finds water.
But when Isaac goes back to those old wells, what does he find? He doesn’t find water. He finds the well, but he can’t get to the water. Why? The Philistines, in their envy and antagonism towards the people of God, took revenge on Isaac by “throwing dirt and debris into all the wells that his father’s servants had dug.” The wells are clogged and useless. Isaac knows the water is down there somewhere…but it is hidden beneath all the rubbish of the Philistines.
As Martyn Lloyd Jones notes in his book Revival. The ‘Philistines’ have been very busy not just in Isaac’s time, but in ours as well. Our need is the same as it was 200 years ago. God is the same as He was 200 years ago. The gospel is the same as it was 200 years ago, just as relevant now as it was then. The same water is in the wells, but when we go back to these wells, we find them clogged. What has happened? Over the past 200 years, since revival swept Providence in 1820, the enemy has thrown dirt and debris and rubbish in the wells of revival. This is the work of the Philistines.
It is important for us to go back to these ancient wells. To look there for the same power and life of God that has renewed God’s people in the past. But we have work to do as well. We must also clear away the ‘work of the Philistines.’ What is the work of the Philistines? This is some of what we will explore in future weeks as we continue to pray and seek God for revival. We must unearth the false ideas about God that we have unwittingly embraced. Popular beliefs that contradict the gospel but which dominate the spirit of the age. And there are sins, and patterns of sin that are contradictory to the gospel that we have agreed with and participated in. As we continue to pray for revival, a large part of that work involves repenting, renouncing, breaking agreement with the work of the Philistines.
What are the false unBiblical ideas about God that are floating around in the atmosphere? That you and other believers are tempted to agree with (knowingly or unknowingly) embrace or live by? What vital truths about God have been lost or forgotten in the 200 years since revival came to Providence in 1820? Ask the Holy Spirit to shed light on these things? What habits or patterns of life are preventing the church (you included?) from experiencing more of God.
Let’s name and renounce these lies about God we and the church have agreed with and declare the truth as we pray. Let’s repent for ourselves and on behalf of the wider church for the patterns of sin we have allowed in? One sanctuary Intercessor had an image of a whale caught in a net and slowly dying – where have we as God’s people been caught in the patterns of the world? Start by asking this about yourself and breaking these attachments.