Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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What Makes a Nation (Truly) Great? Day 2

Leslie Basham: Pride comes before a fall. It’s true individually, and Dan Jarvis says it’s true of nations.

Pastor Dan Jarvis: Pride brings them low. It’s the very struggle to be great that brings a nation down.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, as Americans, we have so much to be thankful for: freedom to talk about the Lord on programs like this one and the freedom to vote and to make our voice heard. We also have the responsibility to vote and to pass on freedoms to the next generation.

On this voting day in the United States, we’re going to be listening to part two in a series from Dan Jarvis on what it means to be a humble nation. Dan serves on staff with Life Action Ministries, the parent organization for Revive Our Hearts, and he’s also the teaching pastor at Berrien Center Bible Church here in southwest Michigan.

Yesterday, Dan gave us some helpful insight into what it means for a country to be great. He explained that true greatness comes from humility. Today, Dan is here to pick the series back up. Let’s listen.

Pastor Jarvis: Every nation has a choice—a choice between humility or humiliation, a choice between bowing before God or walking on the path of pride.

Today we’re looking at the second of a three-part series on what the Bible says about being a humble nation, knowing that great nations are humble nations. In God’s economy, the more humble a person is, the more He’ll exalt them. It's so opposite the way of the world that we live in.

Sometimes when we talk about nations, people will ask, “Does God really even care about nations anymore, or is He just interested in individual hearts?” And of course, in eternity, we’re most interested in people’s standing before God justified by His grace, entering heaven with those that they love. That’s the primary call of the New Testament—that you would repent and you would be able to experience the gospel and walk with God.

But God gives us the opportunity to be a part of nations for a reason. I believe there’s some important reasons why we should not only look at what the Scripture says to us personally or to our churches, but to think of it in reference to the people group that we are among, the nation that we live in, and seek the blessing of God in that context as well.

I’d like to outline for you four reasons in the Bible why I think God cares about nations. The first one we find in Acts 17. This is that setting where Paul is confronting the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill. This was a place where people were used to discussing ideas and considering whatever the latest and greatest concept might be for religion or philosophy.

Paul comes in and kind of blows up their meeting with some truth that they’d never heard. In the context of that discussion where he was confronting them about their idolatry and calling them to look to the Creator God of all who gave them life and breath and being itself, he throws in a little nugget about the purpose of nations. I know for many years I read over this and didn’t really think about it in the context of my nation.

Let’s read it together, and you can see what I mean. It’s Acts 17:26. Paul says,

From one man [Adam of course] God created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided before hand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he’s not far from any one of us (vv. 26–27).

I believe that God has a purpose for every people group, every nation. Now, ultimately, He’s looking forward to the day when people from every tribe and tongue and nation are gathered around His throne, worshiping Him and praising Him for eternity. That’s what we look ahead to. We know that the gospel is given for all nations so that every person everywhere would have the opportunity to walk with God as they were created to do.

But why did God put you in the nation you’re living in today? Why is that nation in existence today and not 500 years ago or 2,000 years ago? Why is it that when you read a history book you see that there were great empires and nations that used to be dominating the world and now we don’t hear of them? Or that all you can do when you look in some of the ancient empires you just find a ruins where they used to be great? What is God’s function for all of that?

I think in Acts we find that God has this purpose in mind for nations. It’s not specifically outlined nation by nation, obviously, but the plan of God is that as people are organized into groups and into nations that this would cause them to seek God and that together they would be able to walk with God.

So you might ask very simply, “Is my nation fulfilling God’s purposes?” Now there could be purposes that you don’t fully understand or that we don’t see, and maybe we won’t know until heaven whether that was fulfilled. But as a function of considering that we want people to seek God, to seek the gospel, I think that nations are a part of the story. That’s why I don’t think that we should ignore what they mean.

The second reason that I think God cares about nations and that God thinks of them is as we read in Psalm 67, God expects the nations to honor Him. He doesn’t just say “the people who live in the nations.” He says the nations are supposed to honor Him.

Psalm 67 says this. It’s a prayer, but listen to what the author infers about the nations of the whole world, not just Israel.

May God be merciful and bless us.
    May his face smile with favor on us. 

May your ways be known throughout the earth,
    your saving power among people everywhere.
May the nations praise you, O God.
    Yes, may all the nations praise you.
Let the whole world sing for joy,
    because you govern the nations with justice
    and guide the people of the whole world. 

May the nations praise you, O God.
    Yes, may all the nations praise you.
Then the earth will yield its harvests,
    and God, our God, will richly bless us.
Yes, God will bless us,
    and people all over the world will fear him.

God expects every nation and every person in every nation to glorify Him. Again, you could kind of do a little test and say, “Is my nation glorifying God?” Now, before you criticize the people around you, think of your own life and say, “Am I glorifying God? Am I giving Him the respect and the honor that He’s due? Am I fearing Him and obeying Him?”

But then you can look out to the people group that God has placed you in and say, “As a nation, what would it take for us to be a people that genuinely bring glory to God; a people that are praising Him and honoring Him and then enjoying His blessings?”

A third reason that nations matter to God is because He tells us that. In Proverbs 14:34 the Scripture tells us that righteousness exalts a nation.

Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a reproach to any people.

Sin is a disgrace. I was reading a book published not that long ago, 2013 by David Cobb of Hillsdale College. His book title was Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue. Now, right there, that’s a little different from what you hear in the media. This is obviously going to take us down a road we don’t usually walk.

Here’s what he said.

Our age of arrogance obscures the idea that humility is the indispensable virtue for the advancement of greatness. The personal significance of this idea is radical. To be truly great, one has to be humble. The political significance of this idea is profound. To be truly and enduringly great a nation’s hallmark must be humility. For Americans, this idea should have immense consequence for some of our greatest moments have been marked by humility. Our future should be informed by that past.

You see, it’s righteousness, godliness, and humility that exalt nations, but sin brings them down. Pride brings them low. It’s the very struggle to be great that brings a nation down.

The fourth and perhaps the most important reason that I think that God is interested in nations and that we should be paying attention to the trajectory of our own nations is found in Jeremiah 18.

Many of the prophecies of the Old Testament in context are written directly to the nation of Israel. But occasionally, as God is speaking to His chosen people in that time, the veil is lifted a little to the heart of God for all nations. And Jeremiah 18 is one of those moments. Here is what the Scripture says:

Then the Lord gave me [Jeremiah] this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would” (vv. 5–10).

That Scripture tells me that every nation has a choice. Even if we’re already on the downhill slide and even if it already seems like the outcome is fixed and that there’s no hope of rescue, repentance could change the game.

And in the same way, it tells me that nations have a choice when they’re on the ascendency. If things are going great, if things are prosperous and free, if things are secure and people are growing in wealth; well, in that moment, if they turn from God, they lose that opportunity for blessing and God could reconsider the good that He had planned for those people.

Now, what’s interesting is what happens next in the narrative in Jeremiah 18. God says:

Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, "This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right." But the people replied, "Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires" (vv. 11–12).

What a heartbreaking statement. Even with a direct warning from God that they were nearing the end of the line, they would still stand in prideful defiance against Him, willfully choosing the path of pride that leads to humiliation rather than the path of humility that would lead them to ultimate honor.

Verse 13:

So this is what the Lord says: "Has anyone ever heard of such a thing, even among the pagan nations? My virgin daughter Israel has done something terrible!"

And it’s as if God is expressing this shock at the defiance of people even while being warned that they needed to repent. Still defying God. Still defying His commands.

"They have stumbled off the ancient highways and walk in muddy paths. Therefore, their land will become desolate, a monument to their stupidity. All who pass by will be astonished and will shake their heads in amazement. I will scatter my people before their enemies as the east wind scatters dust. And in all their trouble I will turn my back on them and refuse to notice their distress" (vv. 15–17).

What’s sad is that all of that did play out for the nation of Israel. After Jeremiah’s ministry where no one listened, where at least from the people’s perspective, Jeremiah was wasting his breath. They had no intention of following God or repenting. In the end, Israel was carried off in exile and defeated by their enemies.

The best and the brightest of their generation and even generations following were lost because of pride, because of a refusal to submit to God even when He gave them warning that their time had come.

There’s one other note in this story that intrigues me and that sets off a little bit of an alarm in my own heart as one who seeks to be a voice for the gospel, and I want my friends and neighbors to hear the truth. It’s what the people said about Jeremiah even as he was trying to tell them the truth. Here’s what the Scripture says:

Then the people said, "Come on, let’s plot a way to stop Jeremiah. We have plenty of priests and wise men and prophets. We don’t need him to teach the word and give us advice and prophecies. Let’s spread rumors about him and ignore what he says" (v. 18).

In summary, what does God actually think about nations? About your nation and my nation? Well, first, we learned in Acts, He has a purpose for them. The second thing we learned is that He expects honor from them. We see that in Psalms. Then in Proverbs we learned that He blesses and exalts any who will walk in righteousness and humility. And finally in Jeremiah we discover that He invites nations to life and joy, but He always reserves for Himself the final decision regarding their destiny.

And you say, “Well, that sounds right. But how does that apply to me? How does that apply to us in our situation or in my church?”

Well, of course, as Christians, we are part of a new nation that’s beyond the kingdoms of this world and that will far outlast America or Russia or China or anything else that we might see on the map today. Even though those nations matter, their geography matters, the people groups that are in them matter, and there’s different ways we reach out to them and serve them. We pray that all of the nations of the world would join a great chorus of loving and praising and worshiping God. While we know this isn’t our home, that we’re citizens of a much greater and eternal nation, that should be our first priority.

So, what can we do? Maybe we’re living in a nation where we see cultural decay around us, and we’re worried about the future for our kids or grandkids. We’re also worried about our neighbors and their eternal destiny, their souls. Where do we begin seeing healing come to the nations of this earth and ultimately inviting people to join the heavenly nation?

Here’s a few things that I believe. First of all, all of this good begins with personal brokenness. Not brokenness in the sense that your life is broken and messed up, but brokenness of your heart. That you see what’s really happening.

It’s as if you get the eyes of the Lord on the situations you’re in and you recognize how heart breaking cultural decline is and the breakup of families and the pride in people’s hearts that keeps them from fulfilling the purpose of their lives.

In your heart, you become broken before God. And you say, “Lord, I don’t want to resist You anymore. I want the best that You have to offer to me. I recognize I’m never going to find that walking down the road of pride or doing things my own way. I want to kneel before you.”

It’s kind of like you’ve heard of breaking a horse. The horse is wild and free and running around on the hills. Its hair is waving in the wind and all of that. It looks pretty, but it really can’t be used for anything. But when a horse is broken, when its will is broken, then it can be used by its master for good.

And in much the same way, God invites us to be broken—to give up our will to Him and say, “Lord, I’ll submit to You. I don’t want to hold on to my own rights or my own pride anymore. Instead I really want You to use me.”

As we face a culture that we look around and we say, “Yes, this place is . . . there’s pride everywhere. There’s arrogance. There’s immorality. What do I do?”

First we start with saying, “Lord, would You use me and my broken heart, my broken spirit that is ready and willing to do as You say?”

The second thing we have to do is very personally repent. We talked about this in the first part of our series that national turnaround doesn’t happen unless there is a personal turn around. You and I have to turn around. We have to repent.

We look at our lives and the sins that we commit or the compromises we make or the things that we’re watching or doing or the attitudes we’re maintaining. We say, “Lord, in all of those things, I want to turn toward You. I don’t want to walk my own way anymore. I want to walk Your way. I want to follow Jesus.”

The third thing that’s critical is fervent prayer. Anytime throughout the Scripture when you look back and you see God’s people in great need or in great peril or surrounded by their enemies, sometimes those stories end with disaster because the people kept thinking that they didn’t need God.

But occasionally as you’re reading Scripture, you see a moment when people came together and they prayed with all of their hearts and they asked God for deliverance. They asked Him for mercy. They asked Him for some sort of transformation, something that would change the situation, change the game.

I believe that this is a moment in our world today, really in many of the nations of the world, where it seems like the pressure is on and there is so much difficulty and strife and racism and anger and the potential for war and collapse—aall of that you could look at and be really worried about.

We could take all of that and instead of carrying those cares, we could cast them on Jesus. We could pray together and cry out for His help, His mercy, His grace, for His wisdom on a situation where we have none.

The final thing that I think is important if we care about the nations of the world the way God does . . . We’re not just caring about whether their political institutions survive or whether they’re great or not depending on which chart you’re looking at. No, we’re caring about the souls of those nations and the people in them.

I really think that takes us back to one of the core commandments of Jesus, the final commandment of His earthly ministry in Matthew 28, the Great Commission, where Jesus said to His disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I’ll be with you always even to the end of the age” (vv. 19–20 paraphrased).

That was the commission for the disciples to take the gospel truth, the opportunity to walk with God and be a follower of Jesus—to take that opportunity to the nations so that all people, all people groups, everyone everywhere, Jew, Gentile, slave, free—everyone would have the opportunity to give honor to God, to walk with Him.

As we pray, and as we think of our own station in life, I suppose we can commentate on what’s happening politically around us, or we can worry about different trends in the world and the geopolitics of things.

But I wonder if our time wouldn’t be better used leaning into the Great Commission saying, “Lord, if You have a plan for nations, if Your purpose for all of this the way that humanity is organized, if Your purpose is for people to seek You and find You, Lord I want to be a voice for Your gospel. I want to make it very apparent that Your Word is the truth that people need to follow and obey and that there is a better way to live than the way that the world is offering us.”

I don’t know if that results in instant transformation for a country. Certainly if millions of people at one time decided to follow Jesus it would change everything. But I can’t control that. I don’t have the power to change millions of people at one time.

  • But I could reach out to one more person around me.
  • I could love one more person who’s in need.
  • I could look for one more neighbor that hasn’t heard the gospel and share it with them.
  • I could be very intentional about praying for the people around me that they would find Jesus and that I could be a light to them.

I really believe that if that was our attitude as Christians, if we were thinking of ourselves as on a mission and we’re not just worried about what we might lose if our nations might not work out so well on earth, if we’re thinking about eternity and we’re thinking about people’s souls (I think that’s more important, first of all), that might actually be the earthly answer as well.

I wonder if today if you would pray along with me that God would work in our hearts. We can pray for the big changes that we all know are needed in the nations of the world. We can pray for peace and for justice and for things like that. But why don’t we pray that God would mobilize us and send us out and put a fire in our heart to complete that great commission task that He’s put before us so that all the nations of the world at least have the opportunity to love and follow Jesus.

Let’s pray. Lord, we see throughout Your Word various messages that You give to nations—sometimes very specific to a particular people group or a specific nation or a king; sometimes more general where You lay out a principle for what all of the nations of the world should do. Lord, we also see throughout Your Word how those nations matter to You not so much because of their politics or their geography, but because of the people that You created and that You love who live within those people groups.

I pray, Lord, that first and foremost, You would use us for Your purposes and that even if we don’t fully understand what’s going on around us or even what Your ultimate aim in the way that nations rise and fall might be, that we would have our faith in You.

And then, Lord, as we look around us and we see cultural rot and decay and we worry and we fret about what we see, help us to turn all of that toward prayer and toward personal repentance and brokenness and to not be satisfied with simply watching others fall into the trap that sin has laid before them.

Instead, Lord, help us to be a part of the answer to all of this by shining Your light, by sharing Your gospel, by being Great Commission Christians. That’s our hope, Lord. And that one day, as we do gather around Your throne in eternity, in a new nation, an eternal kingdom that You’ll establish, where people from every earthly kingdom, representatives from every tribe, tongue, and nation are gathered around the throne; Lord, in that moment we’ll sing praise to You as one people with one voice.

Until that day comes, Lord, help us to stay on mission and to be a light no matter how dark the world around us gets. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Nancy: Pastor Dan Jarvis has been giving us a message on what makes a nation great. It’s not jobs or innovation or strong military or national security. It’s humility before the Lord.

On this election day, would you cry out to the Lord and ask Him to make the United States a global leader in humility? And would you pray that humility would begin with you and with me? And then that it would spread to our churches and then to our nation and our world.

I’ve often said that what happens in God’s house is even more important than who’s in the White House. I’m praying that God will revive His people. I’m praying that when we show an attractive picture of the gospel the world will take notice and they’ll want what we have.

You know, to say that this election season has been tumultuous is an understatement. And here on this election day, you may be feeling troubled, worried, frustrated by this year’s process. A lot of people are. But let me remind you that God isn’t surprised and that He is still in control.

So on Thursday and Friday of this week, we’re going to look at God’s Word together and get some important biblical perspective on this election. You’re going to hear some firm truth that you can stand on when everything else seems out of control.

Now, to close out our time together today, we’ll hear from some of our friends who are here to pray for our nation on this important day. Here’s Janet Parshall.

Janet Parshall: Will you join me in praying for the nation? Our gracious heavenly Father, we stand before You fully cognizant of our sins as a nation. We have turned our backs on Your principles and Your precepts, and we have done what is right in our own eyes. We have beaten our chest, Father, and said that we would be like gods. We’ve taken Your perfection and we’ve turned it into the profane, and we are worthy of Your judgment.

So, Father, we stand before You pleading for mercy, begging for forgiveness, requesting Father that You would forgive us of all of our sins. You are a God who hears. Daniel petitioned for the sins of Judah. Father, and like Daniel of old, we ask that You would hear, that You would listen and You would act. We love You Father. We believe that You will forgive us of our sins. We ask again for profound forgiveness and beg You for healing in our land. We pray this all in Jesus’ name.

Nancy: Continuing in prayer, here’s Keith Getty. 

Keith Getty: Our heavenly Father, we think of that beautiful hymn that Frank Houghton wrote that we bear the torch a flaming, that fell from the hands of those who gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus died and rose, that ours is the same commission, the same glad message, the same ambition. To You we yield our fires.

And Father, we thank You that we stand here today as people who are British and who are American. We stand on the heritage of generations of people who have in some cases risked their lives for their faith. We stand in the heritage of those who have been faithful teachers, faithful educationists, faithful artists, faithful scientists; faithful pastors, faithful parents.

And Father, as we turn today to our own families and communities and churches, we acknowledge that we are a country that is increasingly living as if You don’t exist. And so, we pray for Your people that we will bow the knee to You, that we will repent of our sins, and that we will turn and walk lives that are worthy of You. We pray that we will be fearless in both living out Your gospel and in sharing it with other people, and that the concentric circles of all those around us, Father, will be changed over time by the power of Your Spirit, amen.

Nancy: To close our time in prayer, here’s Blair Linne.

Blair Linne: Heavenly Father, we just come before You in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, crying out on behalf of this nation, Lord. God we need You to move in this nation. We ask that You would have mercy upon us. Lord, we just lift up before You Your people throughout the United States. We ask that You would revive Your people. Revive Your Church. Lord, help them to be set on fire for You.

I pray that Your Church would stand firm upon Your Word, Lord and be led by Your Spirit. When we look out into the world and we see the world’s perspective which is pressing up against us, I pray You would help us to be faithful. Help us to persevere. Help us to have our eternal hope in view, that resurrected hope which will never perish, spoil, or fade.

I pray, Lord, that You would raise up leaders who fear Your name and who would do good for Your people. God, I pray also that You would forgive us for all of our sins. Forgive us for the sin of abortion and murder. I pray that You would transform the hearts of the leaders that they might see every child is made in the image of God—that they might see it, Lord, and that they might repent and turn to You.

Lord, I pray for Your Church. I pray that You would raise up elder-quality men to lead Your Church. I pray that the men would be holy and would fear Your name. I pray, Lord, that Your truth would be proclaimed through the pulpits. I pray that many would come to know Jesus through their witness. Help us as Your church to make disciples to all nations. I pray all of these things in the name of Jesus, amen.

Nancy: We’ve been praying for our nation with some friends of Revive Our Hearts. Tomorrow, our guest speaker, Dan Jarvis, will be back to wrap up his series on what it means to be a great nation—that is a humble nation before God. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the NLT.

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About the Teacher

Dan Jarvis

Dan Jarvis

Dan serves on the leadership team of Life Action and is managing editor of Revive Magazine. He loves his wife, Melissa (a True Woman!) and his adopted six kids, while also serving as a teaching pastor in Michigan. His recent book, Commissioned (IGL: 2015) explores spiritual movements in South Asia, and draws lessons for believers across the world who wish to engage in Great Commission living.