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When God Withdraws His Glory

By Del Fehsenfeld, Jr.

    As I study Scripture and the history of the church, I can only conclude that nothing short of genuine revival will spare us from God’s judgment.  We need true revival – not revival meetings properly scheduled and advertised – but genuine revival in which God’s people humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways.  We need to be convicted, cleansed, and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, so He can display His glory through us to a lost world that desperately needs His grace.

    A self-centered, backslidden church has no interest in evangelizing the lost and no power to be used of God to convict people of their sin.  We cannot remain as we are and hope to capture the world for Christ.  Only when we adopt the values, priorities, and concerns of the heart of God can we be empowered by His Spirit to fulfill our true calling to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

    Revival is needed to bring the church back to New Testament Christianity and release the power of God in our nation.  Such a revival will sanctify and cleanse us by bringing greater repentance of sin in our lives.  It will empower us with the power of the Holy Spirit, not with our clever human devices, remedies, and gimmicks.  It will cause our hearts to pursue God with renewed vigor and devotion.  And finally, such a revival will give us a new vision for God’s work on this earth.

    When revival comes it will sweep away all that does not glorify God and will leave us transfixed, focusing on Him and Him alone.  The wood, hay, and stubble of human effort will be consumed by the presence of God.  Only the gold, silver, and precious stones, which are the result of supernatural activity, will remain.  As God builds His character in His people, He will display the glory of His presence in their lives.

    The heart cry for revival was expressed by the psalmist when he wrote, “Wilt Thou not revive us again: that Thy people may rejoice in Thee?” (Psa. 85:6).  When God is glorified in our lives, we experience the true purpose for which we were created.  Then and only then can we know the power of His presence and the joy of our salvation.

    God’s glory is the manifestation of His presence.  Wherever God is acknowledged, worshiped, and obeyed, He will display His glory.  The Israelites in the Old Testament called it the shekinah or the glory of Jehovah.  Moses saw it and glowed from being in the presence of God.  Later the shekinah rested on the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle for nearly five hundred years.  Eventually, the ark was placed in the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.  There it remained for over four hundred years.

    For nearly a millennium, God’s glory dwelt with the people of Israel.  But there came a time when God withdrew His glory and departed, leaving Israel without hope against her enemies.  If America’s Christians do not repent of their sins, I fear that He will do the same to us.  In fact, God already may be withdrawing from us.

When the Glory Departs

     Ezekiel, who was both a prophet and a priest, was captured by the Babylonians.  He tells us that while he was being held captive, God appeared to him out of a whirlwind in a great cloud of glory and fire, similar to the one which led the Israelites while they journeyed through the wilderness.  Ezekiel’s vision takes us on a strange journey into the land of Israel as he is caught up by the Spirit of God and taken back to Jerusalem.

    The Babylonians had risen to power in the Near East and threatened the kingdom of Judah.  Prophets like Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel spoke out to warn the people of impending disaster if they did not repent of their sins, but the people did not heed their warnings.

    Jerusalem was at the brink of disaster.  One more act of rebellion and the Babylonians threatened to return and destroy the city and its beloved temple.  During the next ten years the people refused to repent and seek the Lord.  Instead, they went even further into idolatry and sinful corruption.

    Captives, like Ezekiel, hoped for some word of spiritual revival.  Perhaps Jerusalem could still be spared, but no word of such a revival ever came to their ears.  Instead, the Scripture tells us:

    “Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which He had hallowed in Jerusalem.  And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling place:  But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chr. 36:14-16).

     What could possibly have been so bad that there was no remedy?  Ezekiel would find out firsthand.  God told him that He had set Jerusalem in a strategic place “in the midst of the nations” (Ezek. 5:5).  But instead of remaining faithful to God as a witness to those nations, she had changed His commands into wickedness and rebelled against His laws.  Therefore, God announced, “I…am against thee…because of all thine abominations” (5:8-9).

    The Spirit of God then lifted up Ezekiel and transported him to Jerusalem, to the temple.  The prophet testified that the glory of God was still there (8:4), but he was shocked to see what else was there.  First, he saw a pagan Babylonian idol (an “image of jealousy”) at the gate of the altar.  Then God tore a hole in the wall of the Holy Place to let Ezekiel see into the house of God (8:7).

    When the prophet went in, he saw the animal-like “idols of the house of Israel” (the northern kingdom) painted on the walls (8:10).  At the door of the sanctuary, he saw women “weeping for Tammuz,” an Assyrian goddess (8:14).  Finally, he came upon twenty-five men facing east, worshiping the Egyptian sun god (8:16).

    I believe God wants to tear a hole in the wall of the church today and expose its sin.  We are weak and powerless to stem the tide of secularism because we are not a holy people of God.  If we could see into the lives of God’s preachers, leaders and people, we would be appalled.  Recent revelations of moral and financial corruption in the lives of some of our prominent spokesmen are but the tip of the iceberg of spiritual and moral decay in our churches.

    America is in trouble today because her churches are in trouble.  We lack spiritual leadership in this hour of crisis because we lack spiritual leaders.  Many of our most renowned preachers are more interested in promoting themselves than Jesus Christ.  They are more concerned about their own material prosperity than they are about the spiritual welfare of the church.  Tear a hole into the wall of hypocrisy in today’s church, and you will see people bowing down to the idols of this century as well.

    All of this must have seemed incredible to the prophet Ezekiel.  How could the people of Jerusalem sink to such corruption and expect to continue in God’s favor?  Perhaps they had simply come to take it for granted.  Many of them believed God would never allow His temple to be destroyed; there, they had a false sense of security.  They were trusting in the building and not the Lord.  Others knew that the shekinah glory dwelt on the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies.  So powerful was the glory of God that no one dared to look into the ark or even approach it.  Even the high priest could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement.

    Certainly, Ezekiel must have wondered how God could remain with His people when they had violated His temple so severely.  Then something happened that Ezekiel never thought he would see – the glory of God departed!  In four distinct stages God’s glory lifted from the ark of the covenant (9:3), moved over the cherubim (10:4), departed from the temple (10:18), and finally ascended back to heaven from the Mount of Olives (11:23).

    I can just imagine the shekinah glory beginning to move from the ark for the first time in a thousand years.  Oh, how God must have grieved!  Gradually the glory cloud lifted off the wings of the cherubim and began to ascend above the ark of the covenant.  Higher and higher it rose until the cloud filled the outer court and then began to drift away from the temple, leaving it empty, lifeless and dark.

Nobody Noticed God Was Gone

     Gradually and reluctantly, God departed from Jerusalem, and nobody noticed except Ezekiel.  They were all too busy with daily routines, busy schedules, and religious rituals to observe that God had left them.  We can only assume that for the next five years, they went right on playing religion without God.  Perhaps the high priest lied to the people when he entered the Holy of Holies that year to discover that it was dark and God’s glory was not there.  After all, he could not tell the people that God had departed.  What would they think?  So he lied to them and claimed that God was there.

    I am deeply troubled that American Christianity is at similar crossroads today.  Our churches are filled with idols of modern civilization.  We think we can have all this world has to offer and somehow hold on to God too.  While Ezekiel’s prophecy was directed to the nation of Israel, which enjoyed a unique covenant relationship with God, it still bears a striking resemblance to the church in America today.  The accusations of God’s prophet were not leveled against the pagan Babylonians, but against the people of God.

    Too many people today are going through the motions of religion without God.  We have services, programs, projects, weddings, funerals, and fellowships, but we do not have the presence and power of God.  Billy Graham once said that if we took the Holy Spirit out of the church today, 90 percent of all its activities would keep right on going!

    Much of what happens in our churches can be explained by self-effort, hard work, and psychological manipulation.  I will never forget hearing Adrian Rogers say to a conference of four thousand men, “We have no right to be believed so long as we can be explained.”  Only the unexplainable intervention of God in the hearts of His people can demonstrate His real power to our world today.

    The problem is that things are not getting better.  Charles Colson said:  “We sense that things are winding down, that somehow freedom, justice and order are slipping away.  Our great civilization may not yet lie in smoldering ruins, but the enemy is within the gates.  The times seem to smell of sunset.”

    It is the eerie awareness that the darkness is upon us that concerns today’s Christian leaders.  Like children afraid of the dark, we want to run and hide from it.  But in our fear we forget that our greatest weapon against the darkness is the light of God’s Word and the presence of His Spirit in our lives.  We, like ancient Israel, have been the receptacles of His glory because He dwells within us.  But somehow like Israel, today’s church seems to be losing the glory, and so few are willing to admit it.

    The problems facing today’s church are not just a matter of a few shysters.  I fear we are dealing with a cancerous malaise that is eating away at the very fiber of Christianity.  Our condition is deep and serious, and it is not just going to go away.  God is departing from our midst for the same reasons He departed from Israel.  If we do not repent of our selfishness and wickedness, He will likewise leave us to our own devices until there is “no remedy.”

    – Taken from Ablaze With His Glory by Del Fehsenfeld Jr.  Copyright©1993 by Life Action Ministries.