When I read about the exploits of godly men in the Old Testament, my heart burns. These servants were so burdened for the cause of God’s name, they did powerful works that baffle the minds of most Christians today.
Those saints of old were rock-like in their refusal to go forward without a word from God. And they wept and mourned for days at a time over the backslidden condition in his house. They refused to eat, drink or wash their bodies. They tore out clumps of hair from their scalp and beard. The prophet Jeremiah even lay on his side in the streets of Jerusalem for 365 days, continuously warning of God’s coming judgment.
I wonder, where did these saints get the spiritual authority and stamina to do all they did? They were men of a different sort, servants of a totally different type from those we see in the church today. I simply can’t relate to them and their walk. I know I’m not totally of their kind. And I don’t know a single Christian who is.
Something about this troubles me. The Bible says these men’s Old Testament exploits were recorded as lessons for us: “All these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Their stories are meant as examples, to show us how to move God’s heart, or how to bring a corrupt people to repentance.
So, were these saints a special breed? Were they supermen, with a pre-determined destiny, endowed with supernatural powers unknown to our generation? Not at all. The Bible states emphatically that our godly forebears were people just like you and me, subject to the same passions of the flesh (see James 5:17). The fact is, their examples reveal a pattern for us to follow. These men possessed something in their character that caused God to lay his hand on them. That’s why he chose them to accomplish his purposes. And he’s urging us to seek that same character quality today.
I’m troubled by another difference between these men of old and most Christians today. We live in the most wicked time in history. Our present generation is many times worse than that of Nineveh or Sodom. We’re more stiff-necked than ancient Israel, more violent than in Noah’s day. If ever there was a time the world needed godly saints of intense faith, it’s now. And I believe God is seeking the same kind of devoted servants today. He’s looking for men and women who’ll strive to know his heart, do mighty exploits in his name, and bring entire societies back to him.
Think about it: why would God raise up men of deep brokenness and holy pursuits in times past, and yet neglect to do the same today? Why would he arbitrarily leave the neediest generation in history without holy voices? We know God hasn’t changed. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever (see Hebrews 13:8). And we serve the same Lord as those past generations. So, where are the intense servants today who will carry his burden and speak for his cause?
Finally, what troubles me most is that we possess something those godly men of old didn’t have. In these last days, the Lord has poured out on us the gift of his Holy Spirit. Therefore, our generation has access to more sustaining power and heavenly gifts than ever. In short, we’ve been given everything needed to rise up in faith as men of another sort. And God is calling for just such servants to step out and be set apart.
The question for us is, why did God touch and anoint these particular men so powerfully? Why were their ministries able to change the destinies of entire nations? The Bible reveals how these “men of another sort” became so enraptured with the Lord and his cause. And it sets forth how their path can be tread by any servant of God.
Scripture says Ezra was a man who had God’s hand on him. Ezra testified, “I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me” (Ezra 7:28). In other words, God stretched out his hand, enveloped Ezra and turned him into a different man.
Why would God do this with Ezra? There were hundreds of scribes in Israel at the time. They all had the same calling to study and explain God’s Word to the people. What set Ezra apart from the others? What caused the Lord to put his hand on this one man, and give him charge over 50,000 people to rebuild the fallen city of Jerusalem?
Scripture gives us the answer: “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it” (Ezra 7:10). It’s simple: Ezra made a conscious decision. He determined above all else to seek God’s Word and obey it. And he didn’t swerve from that decision. He told himself, “I’m going to be a student of the Word. And I’m going to act on everything I read.”
Ezra didn’t have some supernatural experience that gave him a love for the Scriptures. He wasn’t stirred by God’s Spirit in the night and told, “You’re going to lead 50,000 to repent and do my work. And to do that, you’re going to need power, fortitude, purity, spiritual authority. Yet this comes only by knowing and obeying my Word. So, to fulfill my plan for you, I’m going to endow you with a love for the Scriptures. Tomorrow, you’ll wake up with an ever-growing hunger to study and obey my Word.”
That’s not the way it happened at all. Long before God laid his hand on Ezra, this man was diligent in searching the Scriptures. He allowed himself to be examined by it, washed by it, and cleansed of all filth of body and spirit. As a result, God saw in Ezra a man who was saturated in his Word. Ezra hungered for the Scriptures and rejoiced in them. In short, he allowed them to prepare his heart for any work God chose for him. That’s why the Lord laid his hand on Ezra and anointed him.
Yes, God’s anointing is supernatural. But he lays his hand only on those who are wholly given to knowing and obeying his Word. That’s where all anointing begins. No one can expect God’s touch in his life if he isn’t passionate about the Scriptures.
Like Ezra, David was a “man of another sort” who changed the course of his nation. And, like Ezra, David saturated his heart in God’s Word. He wrote Psalm 119, which contains 176 verses, nearly every one extolling the glory of God’s Word: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee…. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word…. O how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day…. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path…. Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it” (119:11, 16, 97, 105, 140).
“Then I proclaimed a fast…that we might afflict [humble] ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance” (Ezra 8:21).
At this point, Ezra was leading the congregation back to Jerusalem. The journey was going to be dangerous, filled with robbers, thieves and murderers. So the king of Persia offered to send a militia along with them. But Ezra wouldn’t accept the offer. Instead, he testified to the king, “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his wrath is against all them that forsake him” (8:22).
Ezra’s response tells us several things about the mindset of a “man of another sort.” First, Ezra confirms again that God’s hand isn’t just on a destined few. The Lord extends his touch to all who determine to seek him: “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him” (italics mine).
Second, Ezra tells the king, “(God’s) wrath is against all them that forsake him.” He was saying, in essence, “Thanks for your offer, king, but we serve a mighty God. He’s able to preserve us through every aspect of the work he has called us to fulfill.” Ezra felt so strongly about this, Scripture says he was actually “ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way” (8:22).
Finally, Ezra called the people to observe a fast. This means he wasn’t merely telling the people to accept God’s promises by faith. He didn’t just say, “We have to stand on God’s Word that he’ll protect us. Meanwhile, let’s move on.”
No, according to Ezra, there was something more to be done. He was saying, “Yes, we believe God’s Word to us. But now we have to fast and pray until we see his Word come to pass. And we won’t go a step further until that happens.” So, Scripture says, “We fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us…. And the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way” (8:23, 31).
This same character quality is found throughout the Old Testament. Moses, Joshua, the elders and prophets all fasted and prayed. They didn’t just casually accept God’s Word by faith. They acted on it in faith. And that meant not just haphazardly going forward, but fasting and praying first, in utter trust to see God’s Word come to pass.
This same biblical pattern is meant for us today. The Salvation Army was founded by General Booth through prayerful fasting. Likewise, our own Teen Challenge ministry was birthed over forty years ago out of prayer and fasting. The same is true of countless ministries that are thriving to this day. The Lord calls to fasting and prayer anyone who sets his heart on God’s cause.
Ezra and those of his kind wept and rejoiced under the hand of God. Yet, how did these devoted men get to this condition? How did they come to share God’s broken heart over the sins of their generation?
We find the answer in Ezra’s ministry. Once the people arrived in Jerusalem, Ezra was used by God to bring about a thorough, sweeping repentance. “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands” (Nehemiah 8:6).
Ezra then read God’s Word to the people. And “all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law” (8:9). Yet as soon as the people had repented, Ezra urged them to rejoice. “[He] said unto all the people…mourn not, nor weep…neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:9-10). So “all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them” (8:12).
I ask you, why was there rejoicing? It was because one man had already taken on the burden of sharing God’s heavy heart over the people’s sin. Ezra already knew of their transgressions, how they had mingled with the pagans and tolerated their abominations. What was Ezra’s reaction to this?
“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 (speechless)…. I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, and said, O my God, I am ashamed and blushed to lift up my face to thee…for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens…. We cannot stand before thee because of this” (Ezra 9:3, 5-6, 15).
Ezra was shaken to the core once he saw the depth of the people’s sin. Yet, how did he know how deeply they had wounded God’s heart? It was because Ezra had a clear vision of God’s wrath. The Word of God was a hammer to his soul, causing him to cry, “I’m ashamed, I have to blush in your sight, because of our sins.” No one can experience the kind of brokenness Ezra had unless he’s been hammered by the Word.
The same is true for every lover of Jesus today. If we’re saturated in his Word, we know personally the effect of his hammer. It pounds and breaks every rock of pride and defilement in us. And our hearts end up broken over how our sin has wounded him. “Is not my word…like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29). Then comes true joy.
We find these same biblical patterns to be true in Jeremiah’s life. This man also set his heart to seek the Lord, and the Word of God came to him. Over and over we read of the prophet, “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.”
Many commentators call Jeremiah the weeping prophet, and that’s certainly true of him. But this man also brought us the happiest, most praiseworthy gospel in all the Old Testament. After all, he foretold the coming glory of the New Covenant: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good” (Jeremiah 32:40). “I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord” (31:14). “I will cleanse them from all their iniquity” (33:8).
Now, that’s good news. The New Covenant is full of mercy, grace, joy, peace and goodness. But, you see, there’s a personal history behind each of Jeremiah’s words here. And that history includes a brokenness far beyond the capacity of a human being.
Jeremiah wrote, “My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war” (4:19). “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (9:1).
Jeremiah was weeping with holy tears that weren’t his own. Indeed, this prophet actually heard God speak of his own weeping, broken heart. First, the Lord warned Jeremiah that he was going to send judgment on Israel. Then he told the prophet, “For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation” (9:10). The Greek word for lamentation here means weeping. God himself was weeping over the judgment to come upon his people.
When Jeremiah heard this, he shared the burden of God’s weeping over his people. I also have known godly believers who have taken on this burden. Sister Basilea Schlink, the founder of the Lutheran Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Germany, was a devoted servant of Christ. We became friends over the years, and this devoted woman seemed to know firsthand the weeping burden of God’s heart.
Often when I visited the sisters’ ministry center, I went into the chapel and found them crying. They mourned over many things, including their nation’s role in Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews. They wept for hours over such transgressions. At first, I couldn’t understand why believers would choose to weep for hours at a time. Then I began to learn from Sister Basilea the depths of woundedness God feels over our sins. Her many writings are a moving expression of those depths.
I also felt something of this weeping burden of the Lord myself, during a recent preaching trip to the British Isles. As I spoke on the fallen condition of the church, a British reporter asked me, “Don’t you have anything good to say about religion?”
His question made me think of the awful condition of so many young people there. They’re living on the streets, going on drunken binges, drugging themselves totally out of their minds. Meanwhile, the Church of England is “de-sanctifying” church after church — that is, closing the doors to houses of worship that had stood open for centuries.
When I spoke at Westminster Chapel, the church of the great preacher E. Stanley Jones, young people jammed into the balconies. They were hungry to hear something, anything, that spoke of hope in God. When I gave the invitation at the end, they streamed into the prayer rooms, weeping and wailing over their broken, hopeless lives. One eighteen-year-old girl was glassy-eyed as she stood in line for prayer. She told me, “Mr. Wilkerson, I can’t cry. The church has taken my faith. I feel nothing now.”
In this scene and many others like it, I was overcome by a brokenness beyond my own grieving heart. It was the weeping of God’s heart, telling me, “David, if ever I needed prophets who will mourn over my house, it is here and now.”
So, what happens when we share God’s burden of weeping? The Lord shares with us in turn his very mind and thoughts. Jeremiah testified of this. He was given a discerning knowledge of his times that enabled him to see what was coming. “The Lord of hosts, that planted thee, hath pronounced evil against thee… and the Lord hath given me knowledge of it, and I know it: then thou shewedst me their doings” (Jeremiah 11:17-18).
Any broken, Word-saturated saint will be given a discerning sense of the times. In fact, many in the church were not surprised by the attacks of September 11, 2001. For months prior to the disaster, Times Square Church had been holding intercessory services where weeping broke out, without knowing where the judgment was coming from. But we were made aware that judgment was coming. Likewise, I believe every godly minister who knows the weeping heart of God also had an awareness of impending judgment.
Daniel was also a “man of another sort” who speaks of being broken: “I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: and I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession” (Daniel 9:3-4). In turn, Daniel was able to discern the times, because he knew God’s heart. “I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah” (Daniel 9:2). Moreover, it was Daniel who interpreted the vision of the stone coming down the mountain to crush all the kingdoms of the world.
How did Daniel come to this path of brokenness, knowledge and discernment? It began with his study of God’s Word. Daniel allowed the Scriptures to lay hold of him fully. And he quoted them often and at length, because he’d hidden them away in his heart: “As it is written in the law…” (9:13).
In chapter 10, this godly prophet was given a vision of Christ. “I lifted up mine eyes…and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz…and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire…and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude” (10:5-6).
Now, there were other men with Daniel when he saw the vision. And these men had to be believers. In his captivity, Daniel had set a standard for himself not to associate with the wicked. Yet these believers who were with him now weren’t “men of another sort,” like Daniel. So when the vision came, those men fled. “I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision: but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves” (10:7).
God’s holy presence had sent these men running in fear. And we know that only hearts full of hidden sin can cause such a fear of the Lord’s presence.
This brings me to a final word on the matter of being a believer “of another sort.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the day when we’ll all appear before the Lord, at the judgment. On that day, we’re going to stand before Christ, both man and God. Like us, Jesus walked the earth, talked with other men, and was touched by all human feelings. And now, as each of us appears before him, we’ll immediately see either a pleased twinkle in his eye or a wounded gaze.
I think of Samuel’s words to Saul: “Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
Saul will be there on that day, along with the rest of us. I wonder what the Lord will say to him then. Will it be something like the following?
“Saul, let me show you what I had in mind for you. You would have been a gentle father to David. And the nation you ruled would have been on its knees in humility before me. You would have earned for Israel the respect of surrounding nations. And my people would have enjoyed peace like a river. I would have given you honor and a name that bore the very stamp of God on it.
“But it all turned out differently. You aborted my plans for you, because you didn’t take my Word seriously. Instead, you allowed jealousy, bitterness and unforgiveness to rob you of everything. Saul, look at what you lost.”
I dread the thought of having Christ say to me those words: “David, look at what could have been. Behold the reservoirs of divine blessings you missed, because you walked in pride. Your ministry was but a shadow of what I had planned. Yes, I forgave you and redeemed you, but you lived far below my desires for you.”
Dear saint, we’re living in life-and-death times right now. And it’s time to choose between the path to spiritual life and obedience, or the path to spiritual death and hypocrisy. Consider the words of Moses: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
I urge you, set your heart today to seek God with all diligence and determination. Then go to his Word with ever-increasing love and desire. Pray with fasting for brokenness, to receive his burden. Finally, confess and forsake everything that hinders the Holy Spirit from opening heaven’s blessings to you. The path of “men of another sort” is open to everyone. Will you walk in it?