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Revival in the nation must start at home, Elliff says

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Spiritual awakening in America will not occur unless Christians have a spiritual awakening in their homes, and spiritual awakening in Christians’ homes will not occur unless they have a spiritual awakening in their hearts, Oklahoma pastor Tom Elliff told students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Despite the desperate need for a great, revolutionary revival in America — something God has chosen not to do in the past century — a national awakening will not occur unless the fallow, hard ground of Christians’ hearts is softened, said Elliff, focusing on Hosea 10:12, a passage which calls on God’s followers to “break up their fallow ground” in preparation for God to “come and rain righteousness” on the land.

Elliff has served as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., since 1985. A former Southern Baptist Convention president, he has chaired the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life’s development of the Kingdom Family Rally June 16, 2003, in Phoenix, during the Monday evening of the national SBC Pastors’ Conference session. At the rally, the Council on Family Life, in conjunction with LifeWay Christian Resources, will unveil a convention-wide strategy calling for Southern Baptists to commit themselves to the development of “Kingdom Families.”

For revival to occur in families, Christians must have a genuine awakening in their own hearts, Elliff said. To illustrate, he shared a story about another pastor who once confessed to him his inability to preach on the topics of judgment and holiness, not because the congregation was against such sermons, but because the man’s wife — who knew everything that he had done, places he had gone, shows he had watched — sat in front of his pulpit to listen to his weekly sermons.

“In the same way, God knows what you have done, what you are doing,” Elliff told the seminarians in a Nov. 7 chapel message. “It’s time to break up your fallow ground; it’s time to seek the Lord.”

Pointing to a prairie exhibit in his Oklahoma city which features a sod hut made with soil so hard that it had to be chopped with axes into brick-size pieces, Elliff illustrated, “[Our hearts can be] just like the hard, hard ground that for all of its existence had laid fallow.”

With that word picture, he shared several ways to observe whether a Christian’s heart has become fallow:

— A heart that has become hard is no longer stirred. Though there may be a momentary wash of emotion during a special event, Christians with fallow hearts will lose the emotion as soon as they walk out the door, he said.

— A heart that has become fallow has become impervious to God’s Word. It’s one thing to be aware of the Bible and another to live by it. “Just ask the sons of Eli,” he said, referencing the Old Testament priest whose sons committed great sinful acts despite their upbringing around Scripture.

— A heart that has become fallow has become barren or fruitless, though it once did produce fruit. “Perhaps it has been a long time since you have bore fruit,” Elliff told his listeners, pointing out that even John Bunyan, the great 17th-century Christian author, fought in prayer against fruitlessness.

— A heart that has hardened is noted more by its stubbornness, resistance and skepticism than its hunger, eagerness and receptiveness. “How are you known?” he pointedly asked the seminarians. “Are you known as a Christian who is hungry for the Lord, passionate to serve him or … as a guy who hardly believes anything he hears … a skeptic?”

— A heart that has become fallow will require a major work of God’s Spirit to be broken and receptive again. “What major work will God do because he loves you and is doing a work in you to conform you to the image of his son?” he asked. He gave a strong word of caution: “Apart from this breaking, your greatest days of usefulness and fellowship are already over.”

— Lastly, a heart that has become fallow will be scarcely touched by sermon messages. In contrast, a heart that is open is attentive to the way God speaks through his people, he said.

There is a command to be followed, Elliff continued, pointing to where the Hosea passage tells followers to break up, plow or turn up their fallow ground.

Elliff noted that the hard soil that is turned up glistens and shines. In the same way, Christians must turn everything up to the light of God, even the “creeping sins” of omission — ingratitude, lack of genuine love for people, neglect of personal devotional life, prayerlessness, lack of passion, poor stewardship, neglect of your family, and refusal to sacrifice or have change in one’s life — and of commission — love of possessions, envy, bitterness, slander, lying, hypocrisy, infidelity, moral sins and long-standing habits.

“If you refuse to break up the fallow ground of your heart, your walk with God can only get worse, it cannot get better,” Elliff warned. “There is a choice to be faced. You can simply choose not to break up the fallow ground in your heart — to become increasingly hard, useless. If so, your best days are over.

“Or you can choose to submit to God and break up your fallow ground,” he offered.

To do that, he suggested that Christians develop a “sin list,” like missionary Bertha Smith once did, to write out all the sins that God reveals in their lives. “Write it down the instant that God tells you,” he said. “Be very specific. Write it out by its street name.”

Across the top of the page, he suggested writing 1 John 1:9, which promises that if Christians confess their sins, God will forgive them and cleanse them of all unrighteousness. Afterwards, destroy the sheet and purpose to keep short accounts with God from that moment on, he said.

Drawing from Proverbs 28:13, he reminded the seminarians, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”

“If you choose not to break up fallow ground of your heart, it could very well be the final choice in the matter,” he said, pointing to the Israelites who could have easily gone into the Promised Land, but missed their one opportunity. After learning they would remain in the wilderness for 40 years instead, they repented of their decision to not heed the Lord right away. By then, it was too late.

Postponing a decision is making a decision, Elliff cautioned. “You come when God calls or you don’t come.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HEARTS AT ISSUE.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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