Working in a church publishing house, I have the privilege of being able to access many of the church’s publications either as they are printed or newly arrived from our sister publishing houses around the world. As someone who appreciates books and magazines, there is something about picking up a finished product and leafing through it for the first time.
It is remarkable that the spirit of Jesus and the heart of faithfulness to God are so other-focused that even our spiritual renewal is not about us, reaching out instead to the poor, the oppressed, the hurting, and the hungry . . .
But it isn’t just the items themselves, it’s also about their ideas and themes; and one theme I have been following over the past few years in church publishing has been that of revival. I am intrigued how the repeated call to revival is being defined and lived out in the life of the church and its members.
Earlier this year I grabbed a copy of the current Sabbath school quarterly from the end of our production line and flicked through it with some anticipation. I was looking for a Bible passage that I had felt missing from earlier publications, and it seemed a more comprehensive Bible study of the topic might lead us there. As I have been in reviewing much of the revival-focused material, I was disappointed. I have been back to check more thoroughly.
I was looking for Isaiah 58. It seems a chapter ripe for consideration on this topic. In Isaiah 58, these good religious people—the people of God, no less—are seeking God with fervor. They worship Him daily and “delight” to know His ways (verse 2). They are described as fasting and repenting. But somehow God seems unmoved and unresponsive, even silent.
Then, speaking through Isaiah, God responded in a way that confronted them, and must confront us. The kind of revival I want from you, said God, is to serve those who need your help. Release people from the things that hold them back. Help the oppressed find freedom. Feed the hungry. Provide shelter to those who are homeless and those who need it. Share clothes with those who don’t have enough (see verses 6, 7). Even if we have only a little, God calls on us to be generous to those around us with whatever resources we have—and, as God explained it, that’s the revival He’s calling for.
Such revival is not inward focused—either personally or as a church—but something that brings blessing to all those around the worshippers of God. It is remarkable that the spirit of Jesus and the heart of faithfulness to God are so other-focused that even our spiritual renewal is not about us, reaching out instead to the poor, the oppressed, the hurting, and the hungry: “The true purpose of religion is to release men from their burdens of sin, to eliminate intolerance and oppression, and to promote justice, liberty and peace” (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 306).
In Isaiah 58:8–12 God promised blessings in response to this kind of revival. In effect, God said that if the people were less focused on themselves they would find God working with them and through them to bring healing and restoration. This was the revival the people were seeking, a renewal of their hope and purpose as found in God with a real sense of His presence in their lives and community.
We don’t know much about how those first hearers of Isaiah’s call to this truer revival responded. As demonstrated by the fact that Jesus confronted these same issues (see Matt. 23), perhaps there are always those who are content with mere religion, while others hear the call to revival in a way that truly changes us and those around us. Perhaps that is why Isaiah’s voice still echoes and challenges us today.
Ellen White urged that the principles and action described in Isaiah 58 were important for the church she cared about, and for revival: “Read this chapter carefully and understand the kind of ministry that will bring life into the churches. The work of the gospel is to be carried by our liberality as well as by our labours. When you meet suffering souls who need help, give it to them.
When you find those who are hungry, feed them. In doing this you will be working in lines of Christ’s ministry. The Master’s holy work was a benevolent work. Let our people everywhere be encouraged to have a part in it” (Welfare Ministry, p. 29).
If we are serious about revival, we will be serious about serving others. If we are following Jesus, we will minister in practical ways as He did. If we are transformed people of God, our communities and world will also be changed.
Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing Company, based near Melbourne Australia.