The Church Captive (15)
LORD, You have been favorable to Your land;
You have brought back the captivity of Jacob.
You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people;
You have covered all their sin. Selah
You have taken away all Your wrath;
You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger.
Restore us, O God of our salvation,
And cause Your anger toward us to cease. Psalm 85.1-4
“This psalm, it is probable, was endited to be sung by the people when they were persecuted by the cruel tyranny of Antiochus; and from the deliverance wrought for them in the past, they were encouraged to expect in the future, fresh and continued tokens of the divine favor, ― God having thereby testified, that their sins, however numerous and aggravated, could not efface from His memory the remembrance of His covenant, so as to render Him inexorable towards the children of Abraham, and deaf to their prayers.”
- John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 85
Chronic, but not permanent
The condition of captivity is chronic within the Christian movement, flaring up, disabling, distracting, and causing churches to lose sight of their calling as Kingdom signs and outposts for a season. At such times, blown off course by unfavorable winds of doctrine and practice, and drifting from the moorings of our great salvation, churches find their worship lagging, their zeal for evangelism dried up, their unity with all believers fractured, an unhealthy fixation on numbers predominating, and assorted other ills suggesting that the Body of Christ has become captive to views and ways that have caused it to lapse into a period of poor health.
But while the condition of captivity may be chronic, it is not permanent. Churches do not need to languish in captivity to the ways of the world, the demands of the flesh, or the deceptions of the devil. Church leaders at all times should maintain vigilance over their flocks, taking corrective action whenever it appears that the Lord’s vine is not yielding fruit, or that His vineyard is being overrun by worldly ways – as we saw Asaph doing in Psalm 80. Whenever we discern signs of captivity, and especially should such indicators be widespread, church leaders must come together, and call the people of God together, to begin seeking deliverance from captivity and restoration of spiritual health.
And the place to begin that seeking is in prayer, using psalms that have been especially provided for such situations. When we begin praying for revival – for deliverance from whatever may be our current captivity, whether mild or severe – we can know that it is God Who has moved us to prayer, and that His great work of deliverance and restoration has commenced: “Revive us, and we will call upon Your name” (Ps. 80.18).
As we seek the Lord to deliver us from our captivity and restore health and growth, we should be encouraged, as the sons of Korah were, to remember that God has oftentimes brought deliverance to His captive people. Great seasons of revival are as pronounced throughout Church history as seasons of captivity; and, indeed, the dawn of new Gospel surging and Kingdom advance seems always to follow dark times of setback and unfruitfulness.
Psalm 85 can guide and encourage us in calling on the Lord to remember such seasons of renewed favor.
Seeking deliverance from captivity
In Psalm 80, Asaph called on the Church in his day to look around at the condition of captivity into which they had drifted, and to seek the Lord urgently for deliverance. In Psalm 85, the sons of Korah look back at the faithfulness of God in times past, to see that, while we may in many ways deny Him, He will never deny Himself, His Word, or His promises, and is always ready to forgive, renew, and re-energize His people (2 Tim. 2.13).
The sons of Korah – probably contemporaries and colleagues of Asaph – recalled the many seasons, from the book of Judges through David, Hezekiah, and Josiah, that God had visited His captive people to restore them to Himself. They knew that their present captivity had brought the anger of God against them, taking away their joy and depriving them of the fullness of His salvation (vv. 3-7).
They also understood that seeking restoration meant seeking it on the Lord’s terms, and not their own. They looked to the Lord, to hear what He would say about how the nation might be restored to His peace (v. 8). They led the people who prayed this psalm to renounce all the forms of folly that had caused them to lose their way and to become separated from the favor of God (v. 8). And they reminded them that restoration from captivity means getting back on track with the great salvation of the Lord, that He might be glorified in all the earth (v. 9).
The promise of restoration
But the sons of Korah went beyond a merely immediate restoration, and looked toward a glorious and fuller restoring of God’s people in the days to come (vv. 10-13). They cast a clear and compelling vision for a great restoration in which God’s people would know His mercy and truth, which would fuse righteousness and peace and bring the rule of heaven to bear throughout the earth (vv. 10, 11). They led the people to pray confidently that God would bring “what is good” to the land, so that the people might be fruitful in all their ways (v. 12). They set before the people a vision of righteousness increasing, and the people of God, free from false teachings and ways, walking those paths once again (v. 13).
The sons of Korah remembered such times of revival in the past, and they called on the Lord to remember them as well, that He might renew His promises and covenant, and come with power to humble, cleanse, reorient, redirect, and restore His people once again.
We can see Jesus in that vision of mercy and truth fused, righteousness and peace united, and the world being blessed with the advancing rule of His glory. From the days of the early Church, through the Celtic Revival, the Reformation, the First and Second Great Awakenings, and great periods of revival – local and worldwide – over the last century, God’s people have turned from their captive ways to seek the Lord Jesus, and the freedom that comes from knowing and serving Him (Jn. 8.32). And, precisely as the sons of Korah have taught us to pray, God has been faithful to break the chains of His people’s captivity and set them on a course of revival, renewal, and awakening once again.
But only as we recognize our captivity, confess our failings, repent of our sinful ways, and seek the Lord earnestly in prayer – only then may we expect the Lord to remember mercy and grace and cause the winds of His pure Spirit to fill our sails for revival, renewal, and awakening.
Although to the eye of sense and reason there may be no apparent ground to hope favourably as to our condition, it becomes us to believe that our salvation rests secure in His hand, and that, whenever He pleases, He can easily and readily find the means of bringing salvation to us.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 85
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).
Look Back: Prayers for Captive Churches (2)
- T.M. Moore
- August 22, 2019
God will remember. Will we?
The Church Captive (15)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.