07 May Miracles Follow the Plow, A.W. Tozer
Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he comes and rain righteousness upon you. –Hosea 10:12
Here are two kinds of ground: fallow ground and ground that has been broken up by the plow.
The fallow field is smug, contented, protected from the shock of the plow and the agitation of the harrow. Such a field, as it lies year after year, becomes a familiar landmark to the crow and the blue jay. Had it intelligence, it might take a lot of satisfaction in its reputation; it has stability; nature has adopted it; it can be counted upon to remain always the same while the fields around it change from brown to green and back to brown again. Safe and undisturbed, it sprawls lazily in the sunshine, the picture of sleepy contentment. But it is paying a terrible price for it tranquility: Never does it see the miracle of growth; never does it feel the motions of mounting life nor see the wonders of bursting seed nor the beauty of ripening grain. Fruit it can never know because it is afraid of the plow and the harrow.
In direct opposite to this, the cultivated field has yielded itself to the adventure of living. The protecting fence has opened to admit the plow, and the plow has come as plows always come, practical, cruel, business-like and in a hurry. Peace has been shattered by the shouting farmer and the rattled of machinery. The field has felt the travail of change; it has been upset, turned over, bruised and broken, but its rewards come hard upon its labors. The seed shoots up into the daylight its miracle of life, curious, exploring the new world above it. All over the field the hand of God is at work in the age-old and ever renewed service of creation. New things are born, to grow, mature, and consummate the grand prophecy latent in the seed when it entered the ground. Nature’s wonders follow the plow.
There are two kinds of lives also: the fallow and the plowed. For examples of the fallow life we need not go far. They are all too plentiful among us.
The man of fallow life in contented with himself and the fruit he once bore. He does not want to be disturbed. He smiles in tolerant superiority at revivals, fasting, self-searchings, and all the travail of fruit-bearing and the anguish of advance. The spirit of adventure is dead within him. He is steady, “faithful”, always in his accustomed place (like the old field), conservative, and something of a landmark in the little church. But he is fruitless. The curse of such a life is that it is fixed, both in size and in content. To be has taken the place of to become. The worst that can be said of such a man is that he is what he will be. He has fenced himself in, and by the same act, he has fenced out God and the miracle.
The plowed life is the life that has, in the act of repentance, thrown down the protecting fences and sent the plow of confession into the soul. The urge of the Spirit, the pressure of circumstances and the distress of fruitless living have combined thoroughly to humble the heart. Such a life has put away defense, and has forsaken the safety of death for the peril of life. Discontent, yearning, contrition, courageous obedience to the will of God: these have bruised and broken the soil till it is ready again for the seed. And as always fruit follow the plow. Life and growth begin as God “rains down righteousness.” Such a one can testify, “And the hand of the Lord was upon me there.”
Corresponding to these two kinds of life, religious history shows two phases, the dynamic and the static.
The dynamic periods were those heroic times when God’s people stirred themselves to do the Lord’s bidding and went out fearlessly to carry His witness to the world. They exchanged the safety of inaction for the hazards of God-inspired progress. Invariably the power of God followed such action. The miracle of God went when and where His people went; it stayed when His people stopped.
The static periods were those times when the people of God tired of the struggle and sought a life of peace and security. Then they busied themselves trying to conserve the gains made in those more daring times when the power of God moved among them.
Bible history is replete with examples. Abraham “went out” on his great adventure of faith, and God went with him. Revelations, theophanies, the gift of Palestine, covenants and promises of rich blessings to come were the result. Then Israel went down into Egypt, and the wonders ceased for four hundred years. At the end of that time Moses heard the call of God and stepped forth to challenge the oppressor. A whirlwind of power accompanied that challenge, and Israel soon began to march. As long as she dared to march, God sent out His miracles to clear the way for her. Whenever she lay down like a fallow field, He turned off His blessing and waited for her to rise again and command His power.
This is a brief but fair outline of the history of Israel and of the Church as well. As long as they “went forth and preached everywhere,” the Lord worked “with them…confirming the word with signs following.” But when they retreated to monasteries or play at building pretty cathedrals, the help of God was withdrawn till a Luther or Wesley arose to challenge hell again. Then invariably God poured out His power as before.
In every denomination, missionary society, local church or individual Christian this law operates. God works as long as His people live daringly: He ceases when they no longer need His aid. As soon as we seek protection outside of God, we find it to our own undoing. Let us build a safety-wall of endowments, by-laws, prestige, multiplied agencies for the delegation of our duties, and creeping paralysis sets in at once, a paralysis which can only end in death.
The power of God comes only where it is called out by the plow. It is released into the Church only when she is doing something that demands it. By the word “doing” I do not mean mere activity. The Church has plenty of “hustle” as it is, but in all her activities she is very careful to leave her fallow ground mostly untouched. She is careful to confine her hustling within the fear-marked boundaries of complete safety. That is why she is fruitless; she is safe, but fallow.
Look around today and see where the miracles of power are taking place. Never in the seminary where each thought is prepared for the student, to be received painlessly and at second hand; never in the religious institution where tradition and habit have long ago made faith unnecessary; never in the old church where memorial tablets plastered over the furniture bear silent testimony to a glory that once was. Invariably where daring faith is struggling to advance against hopeless odds, there is God sending “help from the sanctuary.”
In the missionary society with which I have for many years been associated, I have noticed that the power of God has always hovered over our frontiers. Miracles have accompanied our advances and have ceased when and where we allowed ourselves to become satisfied and ceased to advance. The creed of power cannot save a movement from barrenness. There must be also the work of power.
But I am more concerned with the effect of this truth upon the local church and the individual. Look at that church where plentiful fruit was once the regular and expected thing, but now there is little or no fruit, and the power of God seems to be in abeyance. What is the trouble? God has not changed, nor has His purpose for that church changed in the slightest measure. No, the church itself has changed.
A little self-examination will reveal that it and its members have become fallow. It has lived through its early travails and has now come to accept an easier way of life. It is content to carry on its painless program with enough money to pay its bills and a membership large enough to assure its future. Its members now look to it for security rather than for guidance in the battle between good and evil. It has become a school instead of a barracks. Its members are students, not soldiers. They study the experiences of others instead of seeking new experiences of their own.
The only way to power for such a church is to come out of hiding and once more take the danger-encircled path of obedience. Its security is its deadliest foe. The church that dears the plow writes its own epitaph: the church that uses the plow walks in the way of revival.
NOTE: The Chapter for Why Revival Tarries is hard-hitting. If you think it’s too much—I’ll defer to your opinion.
REVIVAL TARRIES—BECAUSE, Leonard Ravenhill
HARNACK defined Christianity as “a very simple but very subline thing: To live in time and for eternity under the eye of God and by His help.”
Oh that believers would become eternity-conscious! If we could live every moment of every day under the eye of God, if we did every act in the light of the judgment seat, if we sold every article in the light of the judgment seat, if we tithed all our possessions in the light of the judgment seat, if we preachers prepared every sermon with one eye on damned humanity and the other on the judgment seat—then we would have a Holy Ghost revival that would shake this earth and that, in no time at all, would liberate millions of precious souls.
The heady, high-minded, incontinent truce-breakers of this hour, the tottering of thrones, the smoldering fires of Communism, and the bid for world dominion that Rome make should fill us with alarm. It has been well said that there are only three classes of people in the world today: those who are afraid, those who do not know enough to be afraid, and those who know their Bibles. Sodom, which had no Bible, no preachers, no tracts, no prayer meetings, no churches, perished. How then will America and England be spared from the wrath of the Almighty, think you? We have millions of Bibles, scores of thousands of churches, endless preachers—and yet what sin!
Men build our churches but do not enter them, print our Bibles but do not read them, talk about God but do not believe Him, speak of Christ but do not trust Him for salvation , sing our hymns and then forget them. How are we going to come out of all this?
Almost every Bible conference majors on today’s Church being like the Ephesian Church. We are told that, despite our sin and carnality, we are seated with Him. Alas, what a lie! We are Ephesians all right: but, as the Ephesian Church in the Revelation, we have “left our first love!” We appease sin—but do not oppose it. To such a cold, carnal, critical, care-cowed Church, this lax, loose, lustful, licentious age will never capitulate. Let us stop looking for scapegoats. The fault in declining morality is not radio or television. The whole blame for the present international degeneration and corruption lies at the door of the Church! It is no longer a thorn in the side of the world. Yet, it has not been in times of popularity but of adversity that the true Church has always triumphed. It is passing strange that we are so “simple” as to believe that the Church is presenting to men the New Testament standard of Jesus by such a substandard of Christian living.
Why does revival tarry? The answer is simple enough—because evangelism is so highly commercialized. The tithe of widows and of the poor are spent in luxury living by many evangelists. The great crowds, great lines of seekers, great appreciation by the mayor, etc., are shouted to high heaven. All get publicity—except the love-offering! The poor dupes who give “think they do God service,” while all they are doing is keeping a big-reputationed, small-hearted preacher living in Hollywood style.
Preachers who have homes and cottages by the lake, a boat on that lake, and a big bank balances, still beg for more. With such extortioners and unjust men, can God entrust Holy Ghost revival? These dear, doll-like preacher-boys no longer change their suits one a day, but two or three times a day. They preach the Jesus of the stable, but themselves live in swank hotels. For their own lusts they bleed the audience financially in the name of the One who had to borrow a penny to illustrate His sermon. They wear expensive Hollywood suits in honor of One who wore a peasant’s robe. They feast on three-dollar steaks in remembrance of the One who fasted alone in the desert. Today an evangelist is not only worthy of his hire (so he thinks), but of compound interest. How fearful will all this be in the judgment morning!
Revival tarries because of cheapening the Gospel. We now have church hymns played strictly to dance tempo on our sacred records and over the radio, as well as in the churches. We have the precious blood of Jesus set to “boogie woogie” time. Imagine! We have the Holy Ghost syncopated! The platform has become a shopwindow to display our gifts, and the “visiting team” look like a mannequin parade. I would as soon expect a frog to sit down and play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata as expect to see some of the slick preachers of this hour preach with an anointing that would cause godly fear among the people. The evangelists today are very often prepared to be anything to anybody as long as they can get somebody to the altar for something. They glibly call out: “Who wants help? Who wants more power? Who wants a closer walk with God?” Such a sinning, repenting “easy believe-ism” dishonors the blood and prostitutes the altar. We must alter the altar, for the altar is a place to die on. Let those who will not pay this price leave it alone!
Revival tarries because of carelessness. At the altar, too little time is spent with those souls who come to do eternal business. The evangelist is happy seeing his friends; and while sinners groan at the altar, he is drinking in the rich cream of men’s praises. Thus America and England are strewn with spiritual derelicts, confused and confounded.
Revival tarries because of fear. As evangelists, we are tight-lipped about the spurious religions of the day, as if there were more than one name whereby men must be saved. But Acts 4:12 is still in the Scriptures—“there is none other name under heaven.” To the modern preacher, does this seem tinged with bigotry?
Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal and sneered with derisive scorn at their impotence. Better to run out in the dark (as Gideon did) and cut down groves to false gods—than fail to do the will of God. The Christ-less cults and deity-dishonoring mushroom religions of this midnight hour tempt the Lord God. Will not once sound the alarm? We are not Protestants any more—just “non-Catholics”! Of what and of who do we protest? Were we half as hot as we think we are, and a tenth as powerful as we say we are, our Christians would be baptized in blood, as well as in water and fire.
Wesley saw the doors of the English churches closed against him, and Rowland Hill says of him, “He and his lay-lubbers—his ragged legion of preaching tinkers, scavengers, draymen, and chimney sweepers, etc.—go forth to poison the minds of men.” What scurrilous language! But Wesley feared neither men no devils. If Whitefield was burlesqued on the English stage in the basest way, and if, in the New Testament, Christians were stoned and suffered every ignominy, how is it then, since sin and sinners have not changed, that we preachers no longer raise the wrath of hell? Why are we so icily regular, so splendidly null? We can have riots without revival. But in the light of the Bible and Church History, where can we have revival without riots?
Revival tarries because we lack urgency in prayer. A famed preacher entered a conference the other day with these words, “I have come to this conference with a great burden for prayer on my heart. Will those who will share this with me, please raise their hands; and let none of us by hypocrites.” There was a good response. But later in the week when a half night of prayer was called, the big preacher went to bed. Not much of a hypocrite! Integrity has passed away! All is superficial! The biggest single factor contributing to delayed Holy Ghost revival is this omission of soul travail. We are substituting propaganda for propagation. How insane! The New Testament adds a valuable postscript concerning Elijah when James 5:17 says “he prayed!” Had it not been for that, we should have seized the Old Testament story and, noting the omission of prayer, have said: “Elijah prophesied!”
We have not yet resisted unto blood in prayer; nay, we “do not even get a sweat on our souls,” as Luther put it. We pray with a “take-it-or leave-it” attitude; we pray change prayers; we offer that which costs us nothing! We have not even “strong desire.” We rather are fitful, moody and spasmodic.
The only power that God yields to is that of prayer. We will write about prayer-power, but not fight while in prayer. A title, undeniably true of the Church today, would be “We Wrestle Not!” We will display of gifts, natural or spiritual; we will air our views, political or spiritual; we will preach a sermon or write a book to correct a brother in doctrine. But who will storm hell’s stronghold? Who will say the devil nay? Who will deny himself good food or good company or good rest that hell may gaze upon him wrestling, embarrassing demons, liberating captive, depopulating hell, and leaving, in answer to his travail, a stream of blood-washed souls?
Finally, revival tarries because we steal the glory that belongs to God. Listen to this and wonder: Jesus said, “I receive not honour from men.” And, “how can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:41, 44). Away with all fleshly backslapping and platform flattery! Away with this exalting of “My radio program,” “My church,” “My books!” Oh, the sickening parade of flesh in our pulpits: “We are greatly privileged, etc.” Speakers (who are there really by grace alone) accept all this, nay–even expect it! The fact is that when we have listened to most of these men, we would not have known they were great if they had not been announced so!
POOR GOD! He does not get much out of it all! Then why doesn’t God fulfill His blessed and yet awful promise and spew us out of His mouth? We have failed. We are filthy. We love men’s praise. We “seek our own.” “O God, lift us out of this rut and this rot! Bless us with breakings! Judgment must begin with us preachers!”