It’s amazing how time and circumstances alter the popular definition of terms. The next generation may never know of any different connotation for words as diverse as “evangelist” or “gay”, other than those which have become common in recent days. Such is the word, revival. Today, the mention of it conjures up mental images of all kinds of strange, inexplicable backwoods happenings. But what is it really? What in the world is a revival?
Revival is a divine intervention in the normal course of spiritual things–God revealing himself in awesome holiness and transforming power. It is such an obvious working of God that human personalities are overshadowed and human programs abandoned. In revival times, there is a deep, renewed awareness of the presence, glory and wonder of God. There is a rekindling of “first-love” among Christians resulting in the stirring of saints and the conversion of sinners. Revival is an awakened consciousness of sin, an awakened consciousness of Jesus.
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, made a frightening prediction about the time in which we live. “The chief danger of the twentieth century will be religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.” Whatever it may be, revival is what we need.
Judgment begins in the house of God. We cry and moan and groan about the wickedness in our country today. We cry out against the dishonesty of our politicians, the sexual immorality that has gutted the moral fiber of our country, the prolific abuse of booze and drugs that has baked the brains of our people, the tentative attitude toward marriage and the convenience store approach to divorce that has ripped the heart out of the American home. We cry out against wickedness in our country.
But God cries out against wickedness in the church. The early church was born in the midst of a tremendous spiritual awakening. In that electric atmosphere, charged with the fires of revival, sin in the church was absolutely intolerable. A holy awe, a great terror, a strange dread seized the church. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The unhindered moving of the Holy Spirit is frightening.
Revival is war! Before revival, Christians are in a state of rebellion in which they have taken over the control of their lives and are seated on the throne. That is anarchy! We are not our own, but have been bought with a price, and to usurp the authority of God and enthrone ourselves as the king of our lives is the most despicable form of rebellion. Revival then, is war on the flesh, the spirit dethroning self and giving Jesus the preeminence that is rightfully his.
During revival, individual desires and idiosyncrasies become secondary and the people of the church develop common goals: to glorify God, to win the lost, to build disciples, to worship and praise, to fellowship with one another.
A person with cerebral palsy has a body that doesn’t cooperate with itself. The arms, the legs, the neck, won’t coordinate together to accomplish the simple task of moving the body forward. Sometimes the Body of Christ seems to have spiritual palsy. We have different denominations, different movements within each denomination, different factions within the local church. Some of the differences are important, some vital. Most are trivial, childish, born in the heartless heart of Satan. We need to be melted, molded together, one in heart, effort and purpose. Only one thing melts–fire!–the fire of severe persecution or the fire of the Holy Spirit in a spiritual awakening. Which is it going to be? It may have to be both. It was in the early church.
Christ is the head, we are the body. If all the members are obedient to the head, they will move together in a beautifully coordinated symphony of love and cooperation, and great things will be done for the kingdom’s sake. Does the community marvel at how we love one another, or are they amused at our childish bickering?
Some say, optimistically, if not naively, that America and her churches are in the midst of the greatest spiritual awakening the world has ever known. Hardly. Charles Colson has said that in North America, “Christianity is 3000 miles wide and about a half an inch deep.” The country is drowning, desperate for reviving, while the lifeguard, the church herself needs resuscitation. The kingdom of God is not advanced by our churches being filled with people, but by the people in our churches being filled with God.
Revival is the infusion of new spiritual life into the church. Christians are moved out of apathy and disobedience. The moral climate of the nation is improved remarkably. Large numbers come to Christ.
What does it take to bring revival? Brokenness over sin – personal sin, sin in the church, national sin. Hunger of the heart to see God. Unconditional surrender to the Holy Spirit. Commitment to follow Jesus whatever the cost.
What in the world is a revival? It is that which is needed in the world, and in the church, more than anything else.