Nehemiah was a man of great intensity for God. “Hannai, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:2-4).
The remnant had returned to the holy place, but reproach and lethargy had crept in. Things were still in a dilapidated condition—no spiritual progress was being made.
Scripture says Nehemiah began to weep, mourn and “pray night and day” (verse 6). It was not a matter of being awakened by God in the middle of the night and a burden being dropped into his soul. No! This man of God initiated the burden! He asked for it! “I asked my brethren about the remnant” (see verse 2).
Likewise Daniel spent hours, days and weeks studying God’s Word. God did not drop a supernatural burden into his heart; rather, Daniel chastened his own heart. He developed and nurtured a true burden for God’s people by diligently studying and gaining an understanding of what God was saying. “I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).
Talk about intensity, mourning and weeping! Daniel said, “I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled. . . . I retained no strength” (Daniel 10:2-3, 8).
When the hand of God touched Daniel, these words came from the throne: “From the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words” (verse 12). In Hebrew, the word “chasten” means to browbeat the flesh in order to bring it into submission. Paul also said, “I bring my body under subjection!”
The Lord is going to have a people today who are wholly given to His work—intense, passionate and broken—giving every spare hour and dollar to that which represents His interests on earth.
When God is about to do a new work, He pours out a spirit of intensity upon His people. We can no longer be spiritually lazy, complacent, nonchalant and easygoing. We must become intense, full of heat and passion toward Christ, feeling deeply and seriously about the work of God. Today God is raising up a people who hate sin and tremble at His Word. His remnant must hear and believe in holy prophets. They must not vacillate and grow lukewarm; instead, they must grow more serious for God as the days go by.
Consider the intensity of Ezra. Look closely at his passion against anything that hurts God, and you will see his utter hatred of mixing with the world. “And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonished. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice” (Ezra 9:3-4).
What a scene! Ezra was sitting as a heap of godly sorrow, pulling out his hair and beard “because of the transgression of those that had been [swept] away” (verse 4). One by one, all who had a trembling heart gathered around him. God had just one man who would blush over sin—and through him a body of mourners was brought forth.
“Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore” (Ezra 10:1).
Whole households of God’s people are cozying up to the world but many of you are crying for holiness and separation! You feel God’s grief for sin and you blush in shame. You know it is time to get serious about walking with Him.
“For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. . . . Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 6:13, 15).
The prophet Jeremiah saw a horrible condition coming upon God’s people. To hide their sins they had begun living behind a facade of superficial peace and security. Greed and covetousness had so overcome their hearts that they camouflaged their hurts with a phony brokenness. Their entire lives had become superficial—superficial tears, superficial repentance, even superficial healing.
God’s people had lost their sense of shame and grief for sin—sin in society and sin in their own lives. They no longer felt God’s hatred and wrath against iniquity. Sin had become “just one of those things.”
Jeremiah cried out, “Were they ashamed when they sinned? No! They were not at all ashamed—neither could they blush!”
Holy Ghost blushing is not just red cheeks from simple modesty. It is feeling wounded, ashamed, devastated—grieved that the name and purity of Jesus our Lord has been trampled, that His reputation has been smeared.
God’s people sat under a message of searing truth yet they turned away from it. They rebelled against it! “They have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return” (Jeremiah 5:3). They were committing adultery by romping with harlots and lusting after their neighbors’ wives. In verse 11 of the same chapter, Jeremiah called it outright treachery against the Lord!
In spite of all the prophetic warnings by Jeremiah, these people went their merry way, saying, “Neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine” (verse 12). “Judgment is not God’s message for us,” they said.
God warned His people to heed the instructions of the word being delivered to them or He would depart from them. “Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee” (Jeremiah 6:8). And again God said: “I am speaking clearly! I am warning! But who is listening?”
Do you sense that God is about to unleash something tremendous in your life? Perhaps He has spoken to your heart: “I have prepared something special for you. You’re about to enter a walk with Me that you’ve never known before.” Maybe your life has already been greatly blessed by God. Now the Holy Spirit is telling you that His longstanding promise is about to come into full fruition—and that it will amaze you.
If this describes your life right now, I can tell you with the authority of Scripture: Get ready to examine your heart.
Let’s talk about what I call experiencing “crazy faith.” Crazy faith is believing that no matter how good things are, the best is yet to come. It’s a faith that says, “As much as we dream and do big things for God’s kingdom, His vision is always greater.” What the Lord has done in the brief existence of the church I pastor has exceeded my wildest expectations. Not a week has gone by when someone has not given his or her life to Jesus—and most weeks it’s multiple people. Whenever we distribute food to the poor, many of them ask, “Why are you doing this?” We answer, “It’s Jesus,” and they give their lives to Him.
This is all happening miraculously. In a few short years our church attendance has grown phenomenally. New believers are quickly maturing into faithful disciples, growing in their knowledge of God. They are well on their way to our ultimate goal for them: to become radically devoted missionaries for Jesus, wherever He may lead them.
God isn’t just exceeding our expectations, He’s showing us what His expectations are, and it is amazing to see. There are still a quarter of a million people in our area alone who don’t know Christ, and the Lord stirred us to plant two new churches here, one in a troubled area of the city. I’m simply astonished by God’s great works.
Here is the craziest part of all: I believe greater things are yet to come.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).
Maintaining doctrinal purity is good but it is not the whole picture for a New Testament church. The apostles wanted to do much more than simply “hold the fort,” as the old gospel song says. They asked God to empower them to move out and impact an entire culture.
In too many places where the Bible is being thumped and doctrine is being argued until three in the morning, the Spirit of that doctrine is missing. William Law, an English devotional writer of the early 1700s, wrote, “Read whatever chapter of Scripture you will, and be ever so delighted with it—yet it will leave you as poor, as empty and unchanged as it found you unless it has turned you wholly and solely to the Spirit of God, and brought you into full union with and dependence upon Him.”
One way to recognize whether we suffer from this disconnection is to look at our concern for people who are dirt . . . people who are “other” . . . people who don’t fit the core group’s image. The idea that a church could be called to serve just one designated class is not found in the New Testament. The ravages of sin are not pleasant—but they are what Jesus came to forgive and heal. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). The Spirit of God is a Spirit of mercy, of compassion, of reaching out.
Yet Christians often hesitate to reach out to those who are different. They want God to clean the fish before they catch them. If someone’s gold ring is attached to an unusual body part, if the person doesn’t smell the best, or if the skin color is not the same, Christians tend to hesitate. But think for a moment about God reaching out to us. If ever there was a “reach” that was it: the holy, pure Deity extending Himself to us who were soiled, evil-hearted, unholy. God could have said, “You’re so different from Me, so distasteful, I would really rather not get too close to you.” But He didn’t say that. It was our very differentness that drew His hand of love.
Jesus didn’t just speak the healing word to lepers from a distance . . . He touched them. “And He put forth His hand and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him” (Luke 5:13).
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn and longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.