Revive Our Hearts Podcast

What Makes a Nation (Truly) Great? Day 3

Leslie Basham: What makes a nation truly great? Here’s Pastor Dan Jarvis.

Pastor Dan Jarvis: If we want our culture to change, we have to change. So humility, I believe, is always the first step we take when we’re moving toward God. That’s for nations or for individuals.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Wednesday, November 9, 2016.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: All this week, Pastor Dan Jarvis has been taking us to God’s Word and showing us what it means to be a truly great nation, that is, a humble nation. This series has been so timely and helpful for this election week here in the United States. So far, we’ve seen why humility is the path that will make a nation really great, and Dan has shown us God’s plan for the nations of the world.

Today we’ll look at some practical implications for becoming a nation that embraces humility before the Lord.

Dan Jarvis is on staff with Life Action Ministries, the organization that launched Revive Our Hearts. He’s also the teaching pastor at Berrien Center Bible Church here near our office in Southwest Michigan. Here’s Dan on what it means to be a humble nation.

Pastor Jarvis: Well, today we’re concluding our series on what the Bible says about being a humble nation, recognizing that humility is what makes a nation great, much in contrast to what we hear in the media or, really, what we even do in our lives. The path to greatness we often think has to do with power, fame, or money. But in God’s economy, greatness is really all about humility, and the more humble we are before God, the more He lifts us up in honor, the more we’re a part of what He’s doing in the world.

So that’s why it’s so important to talk about brokenness and repentance and prayer because those all indicate that we have a humble heart.

When we think about nations humbling themselves before God, sometimes that seems maybe like a dream. I can’t imagine my nation actually collectively coming to a place where most of the people were glorifying God. We just seem so far away from that right now. I think there’s a lot of hope in the Scripture.

There’s not some sort of cookie-cutter formula. There’s not something you can say or pray or do that will change millions of opinions at one time. But each one of us can be a light, and each one of us, in our own lives, can live out that life of humility and repentance before God. We can pray. We can share the gospel. And as we do, we anticipate that one at a time, one family at a time, maybe one church at a time or one community at a time, change can happen.

I was studying, personally, this idea of being a humble nation, and it led me to a question, just to try to define what that even looks like. If you saw a nation that was humble before God, what would they do? How would it be different than the nations we live in today?

Here’s a few things that I discovered:

First of all, I believe that a humble nation would be one that celebrates moral character and respects God’s law. A humble nation wouldn’t be trying to set up its own law against God or saying, “Hey, we can do whatever we want to do, and you can’t tell us differently.”

No. We would be surrendering our own will to God’s Word, and saying, “Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, You made us. You put us here for a purpose. So we’ll live by Your moral principles. We’ll respect the laws that You’ve set in place.”

The Bible, of course, says that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach, or a disgrace, to any people. That plays out time and again throughout history. I think if you go back through even in biblical history with the nation of Israel, the times in that nation’s life cycle, when they really did respect the law of God, well, those were times of great blessing and honor and joy for the people.

But as soon as they got off that track, as soon as they started going their own way and trying to set up their own laws or even worshiping idols and making up their own religion; well, that’s when disaster would come upon them. That’s when evil would run rampant in the streets. That’s when leadership was lost.

So anytime throughout history you can see evidence that when people, either one person or one family or a whole nation together, decide to honor God’s law, well, there is a blessing that comes with that.

A second thing that I think you could see if you were looking at a humble nation is you would see that it credits God’s grace and provision for its successes. Think of it: a prideful person thinks that they’ve got it all together. That they’re the captain of their own ship. They’ve forged their own destiny. All the success is because of how great they were.

But a humble person looks around them, and they don’t absorb credit like that. They give credit where it’s due—to the people who helped them get to where they are today or to the factors, the blessings of God, or being raised by great parents. They deflect some of that praise to others.

I think that a humble nation would be doing the same. They wouldn’t be lifting themselves up and trying to prove how great they are to the world. Instead, their actions would speak for themselves. They would be humble. They would be inviting other people into that success rather than pushing everyone away.

Another thing that I note about humble nations is that they serve, liberate, and protect others.

See, prideful nations conquer. If you go back and look at the ancient empires of the world, the Romans or the Babylonians or the Assyrians, what you see in their stories is just a story of prideful kings conquering the next land. There’s not a lot of humility you read about. In fact, it’s very bloody and terrible, ultimately. It’s so sad that history has been defined by conquest.

But if you look at nations that are humble. Nations that are not in it for their own growth. I mean, of course, every nation looks out for its own interest, in the sense of security or something, but the point of what they’re doing isn’t simply to exalt themselves.

An example I see of this would be if you could look at the allied nations in World War II. There was a time in the mid-1940s when the allied nations of Britain and the U.S. and then France and a few others, they essentially had conquered most of the planet. It would have been very easy if the leaders had been filled with pride and self-interest to just go ahead and say, “You know what? We’re not going to give power back to the indigenous peoples of the various nations we’ve swept through to liberate. Instead, we’re just going to be the new occupiers.”

Well, that would kind of be the historical norm, but that’s not what happened. There was a sense of which, “We need to give back what was taken. We need to liberate rather than conquer.” And I think that’s a good quality. That’s one we should celebrate, and one we should build upon.

Another mark of a humble nation is that it acknowledges God in public and private affairs. I think back to my nation’s history and the Constitutional Convention. When America was first forming and the Constitution was being written, the people who were the delegates to that convention came to an impasse. There was a certain sticking point of law that they couldn’t get past, and so it looked like that single disagreement was going to unravel the whole convention and bring an end to the whole American experiment.

In that moment, Benjamin Franklin, one of our founding fathers stood up in the convention and gave the delegates some perspective. Here’s what he said. He said,

Have we now forgotten our powerful Friend? [He was talking about God.] Do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see in this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?

We have been assured, sir, in the Sacred Writings, that "except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it." I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial, local interests. Our projects will be confounded. And we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down through future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

Then, listen to what Franklin said. This is where I sense his humility, and I’m so grateful that at the founding of the U.S., there was this sense that, “We can’t do this on our own.” He said,

I, therefore, beg a motion that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business.

I believe humble nations are filled with gratefulness. They don’t look at their achievements as evidence of how well they’ve done. Instead, they say, “Thank You.” Thank you is an oft heard word in a humble nation.

Romans 1 tells us that a lack of gratefulness is often the first step down the road of cultural decline. If a nation won’t acknowledge God or won’t say, “Thank You,” to God, it’s not that long before that nation’s morality just falls apart. Certainly, we see this in many of the nations in the world today. The further they get from God, the less thankful they are, and the more societal problems start to surface.

I think a humble nation studies and follows God’s principles of wisdom.

When I think about what Proverbs says, and the promises made there, the principles that would lead to prosperity, and then I look back and think, Is it possible that the blessing that we might experience in any given nation—and it’s not just a function of what politician is in power at that time or how the government is structured—it could be that God has given blessing to those who have walked the path of wisdom?

I was looking back in Proverbs. There are many examples throughout the whole book of what it means to walk with God in wisdom. But think of this, and as we look at this text in Proverbs 3, instead of just thinking of yourself, think of your nation here, and ask if these truths wouldn’t just apply individually but they might apply nationally.

The writer of Proverbs says,

My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Then you will have true healing for your body and strength for your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the best part of everything you produce. Thenhe will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine (vv. 1–10).

Jumping down to verse 13, Proverbs says,

Joyful is the person [or we might say in this context, “Joyful is the nation”] who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. Wisdom is more profitable than silver, and wages are better than gold. Wisdom is the one who offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly (vv. 13–18).

The final evidence of a humble nation, I believe, is its ability to change course; its ability to repent when it recognizes it’s going the wrong way.

You see, prideful people don’t like to repent. Prideful people don’t admit they’re wrong. Prideful people think they got it right the first time, and, “How dare you challenge me!” or “How dare you tell me that I’m going the wrong way!”

A humble person is willing to ask for directions. A humble person is willing to admit that they stepped off the path, and they’re willing to repent. And I think that humble nations are the same way.

But it’s not enough to talk about repentance on a national sense. We have to make it personal because it really is personal. Humility is personal. It wouldn’t make any sense for our cultural institutions or political leaders to feign humility in front of everyone but be prideful in secret. It wouldn’t make sense for us to think that the nation we live in can be a humble nation, but we still get to be a prideful person. Well, certainly not. Humility and repentance, these are very personal traits. So if we want our culture to change, we have to change.

Humility, I believe, is always the first step we take when we’re moving toward God. That’s for nations or for individuals.

So how do we take that step? How do we humble ourselves before God so that He can lift us up in honor?

Three things . . . three key words that, really, throughout the whole Bible define what we need to do if we decide that we’re ready to walk with God, we want to humble ourselves, we need to change course.

The first is choose to repent. Repentance isn’t a feeling. It’s not an academic pursuit. Repentance is a choice, when you decide that you’ve been walking one direction, and you’ve turned around, and you walk a different direction. It’s changing your mind about what you should do. It’s letting go of your pride, and having, rather than an arrogant heart, having a broken heart, a humble heart before God.

We would turn from our self-sufficiency, from our sense of entitlement, from our lack of gratefulness. We would turn from those things, and instead, we would humble ourselves before God and recognize who He is, and recognize who we are; that He is God, and we aren’t. And when we recognize that, that’s the first step. We get that relationship right. We repent. We turn, and we say, “All right. I’ve been walking down the road that leads to darkness and to death and despair. And now I want to turn and walk down God’s road of life and light and truth.”

Personally, we have to make that decision when we become a Christian, that we want to turn from our old way of life and embrace the new. Nations are no different—that we would recognize that we’ve been heading down a road that’s leading us to disaster. “It’s not satisfying. It’s not wise. It’s not going anywhere good. This isn’t the story I want to be a part of.” So we turn. We just admit that we were wrong, and we change our mind, and then we change our direction.

The second choice we have to make after repentance is faith. You have to choose to believe something different than you used to believe because prideful people and prideful nations believe in their own understanding. They believe in their own way.

But humble people, they believe in Jesus. They recognize that they can’t save themselves. They aren’t trying to prove something to the world, that they can be good enough for God or for one another. Instead, they’re just willing to admit the truth about themselves; that they need a Savior, and they need mercy and redemption.

So the choice to believe, I think, leads us to the gospel—so directly, so obviously. If we’re going to be a humble nation and if you’re going to be a humble person, you start by surrendering your life to Christ. You start by putting your faith in what He did to save you because you couldn’t save yourself.

When Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the grave, that wasn’t just an exercise for legal purposes. That wasn’t just a historical event. That was for you. That was for me. That was for my nation and your nation. That was for all of us together. Jesus made a way possible for us to be close to God, for us to be reconciled to God.

It takes some humility to admit that, “Lord, I’ve sinned. I don’t deserve to be close to You on my own, and I can’t forge my own way anymore. Instead, I’m going to put my faith in You to save me.”

So we would choose to believe what God’s Word says. We would choose to believe the promises and principles of His Word. We would choose to believe in Christ to save us and to redeem us.

The third choice, and the one that I think all of us have to reckon with in a world that increasingly pushes us away from doing the right thing. I think we’ve grown up in a world where it’s not necessarily popular to do the right thing, but increasingly, we find that we face resistance for doing the right thing. We face potentially persecution for doing the right thing.

And that’s where the third choice comes into play. We’ve repented. We’ve put our faith in Jesus. Now we have to choose to follow Him every day. We have to choose to embrace God’s leadership for our lives—rather than standing in prideful opposition to God, or even trying to say, “God is just my co-pilot. I take advice from God.”

No, that’s not what this is. We’re going to follow Him as the leader. That is, “I’m not going to be a pilot at all anymore. Lord, You can direct my life. I’ll surrender to Your will.” We choose to follow the wisdom, read in the Scripture, even if it contradicts culture, even if it makes us seem strange or crazy or radical. We're saying, “Lord, this life isn’t about me. It’s not about me looking good to other people or my reputation. This is about trusting in You and following You.”

We’re choosing to follow Jesus as our Lord because He’s rightfully the Lord, and that storyline spans far beyond the existence of any earthly nation or empire. We know that one day all of us—every person everywhere, every nation, every king, everyone—will bow down before Jesus and recognize His Lordship. We have a choice to do that here on earth voluntarily, or we can wait for Judgment Day where rather than bow our knees gracefully before Him and embrace His love; instead, we’re forced to bow in a moment of fearful truth.

In Philippians 2, Paul writes of Christ that after Jesus’ humility, humbling coming to earth and taking on the form of a servant, dying on the cross, Paul says, “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 9–11 NIV).

That decision, that acknowledgment is more important than any other. If we know that history is heading toward that moment, and if we look around us at a lost and dying world, and if we think about the people in our own nation, our neighbors, our communities, our friends, our families, and we see they’re not ready for that moment to come, the right answer isn’t a political answer. It’s not an issue of rearranging the economics of things or educating people a little better or having a scientific breakthrough.

We welcome all that stuff, but that doesn’t answer this. This is eternity. This is what matters the most. As a believer in the midst of the nations, we set our sights of eternity. We look ahead, and we say, “Lord, we know You have a purpose for the nation that I live in. I have a responsibility as a member of that nation to follow You and to seek You and even to encourage my fellow citizens to walk with You, but this world is not all there is. I want to make sure that I’m ready and that all the people I love are ready for that final moment when we do bow before Jesus on Judgment Day.”

In my own personal study of God’s interaction with nations and God’s vision for the nations, I came across a text in Psalm 22. For me, this verse defined something that I just never quite put it together before. I believe God loves everyone. He loves America. He loves China. He loves Europe. He loves the nations of Latin America. Of course, God loves all of us. But what is God’s vision? How is all of this supposed to add up?

I found the answer in Psalm 22. I wonder if you’d like to read along with me. Starting in verse 25, the psalmist writes,

I will praise you in the great assembly. I will fulfill my vows in the presence of those who worship you. The poor will eat and be satisfied. All who seek the Lord will praise him. Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy. The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to him” (vv. 25–26).

Boy, when I read that, I thought, I’m reading a prophecy here because that hasn’t happened yet. I would love for that day to come, but we’re not there. “The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to him.”

And then get this:

All the families of the nations will bow down before him. For royal power belongs to the Lord. He rules all the nations. Let the rich of the earth feast and worship. Bow before him, all who are mortal, all whose lives will end as dust. Our children will also serve him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done (vv. 27–31).

I long for the day when it can be said that, “The whole earth acknowledges the Lord,” when all the families of the nations are bowing before Him. That’s our vision. That’s the Great Commission vision that Jesus left us on earth to accomplish, that in the midst of the nations, no matter how dark things get, or how twisted things are, or how disappointed we are in earthly leaders, that we would have this vision in front of us and know that the story doesn’t end here.

We’re just a little footnote in the story of history, what we’re living now. The big picture is still to come. I’m excited about that. Are you? There’s a day coming when all of us together can joyfully sing the praises of God in His presence.

That gives me some power to walk in my life today when I am faced with trouble or persecution or difficulty, when I’m tempted, or when I go through a trial, to know that God has created me for something a lot bigger than what I see. There are things happening in the world today that I don’t fully understand, but they are going to add up to this glorious moment.

I wonder if you would pray with me for your nation. If together we could lift up our voices, not just in prayer that God would change someone else, but saying, “Lord, would You change us? We want to be a humble nation before You. We want the people around us to recognize that they don’t have to struggle and toil in pride anymore, but they could walk the path of real greatness. They could walk the path of humility.”

It’s just a choice. A choice to repent. A choice to believe and have faith in Jesus. A choice to follow Him and His Word. We start by saying, “Lord, make that true of me. I don’t want to be a hypocrite here. I want to be one who really repents and believes and follows You.”

But then we look out, and we say, “Lord, You put me in the nation I live in for a reason. Maybe I don’t even like it here. Maybe I wish I could live somewhere else. But, Lord, I want to embrace Your purpose and understand that I’m supposed to be a light in my nation for Your glory until You come and make everything right.”

Let’s pray together.

Lord, we can study all throughout Your Word, so many passages about what You say to the nations and what Your vision for the nations is. And, Lord, we can be pretty excited about that. I know I am. I’m looking forward to how this all resolves and how Your kingdom really does come and Your will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

But, Lord, until all that comes to pass, I want to be faithful. I want to be humble. I want to make the choice to repent and to believe in You and to follow You. And even in the moments when I want to give up, or in the moments when the politics of things or the economics of things look hopeless, and it seems like all is lost, that’s the moment, Lord that I want to cling to You and to see Your heavenly promise for what it is, not just something that impacts us in the future, but a promise that changes our lives and our perspectives right now.

So, Lord, here we are, as Your people, asking You to do a mighty work of spiritual awakening and change in our nations and across the world. Of course, we want that, Lord. We want that to impact every aspect of life. But we also know You’ve called us, regardless of what happens in the world, or in our own nation, You’ve called us to be faithful followers. You’ve called us to humble ourselves, and then trust that You’ll lift us up when the time is right.

So we trust You, Lord, and we look forward to serving You with the balance of our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Nancy: Dan Jarvis has been showing us what a humble nation looks like. If you’ve missed any of his teaching this week here on Revive Our Hearts, you can hear the whole series on “What Makes a Nation (Truly) Great?” by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com.

Now, the United States has just been through a tumultuous election season, to say the least. I think a lot of people are coming out of it with a sense of fear and dread about the future, maybe a sense of frustration or cynicism, with the whole political process. I think all of us are wondering how we can heal from hurts and from deep divisions as a people.

Well, tomorrow I’m going to look to God’s Word and remind us of some solid perspective we can count on after the election. God’s Word is true, no matter who is in the White House. We’re going to explore a truth that will give us hope and remind us who is really in control.

If you appreciate the way Revive Our Hearts helps you connect God’s Word with the practical issues of day-to-day life, would you help us be able to continue this ministry? We’re able to keep bringing you this podcast thanks to listeners like you who support this ministry financially.

When you make a donation of any amount this month, we’d like to say “thank you” by sending you a copy of the 2017 Revive Our Hearts Wall Calendar.

The theme of this year’s calendar is “Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together.” It includes quotes from my brand new book that will come out in the spring that’s also called Adorned.

I think you’ll love the way that this calendar will adorn your home, and that the quote attached to each month will minister to all those who come into your home. It’s a beautiful calendar. We’d love to send one to you, and we’ll do that when you make a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts.

Thank you so much for your encouragement and for all you do to help Revive Our Hearts keep calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

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

All Scripture is taken from the NLT unless otherwise noted.

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