There’s a big party going on down in Southern California as the celebration of the Azusa Street Revival, and prayer for another great move of God, commences. Revival is something we desperately need in the church, but it has to be more than just an emotional fervor that amounts to little more than a well attended event and some warm fuzzy memories of what God did (versus what God is doing).
Revival is something often preached, but, it seems to me, little understood and that lack of understanding causes either a setup for great disappointment as we sell something we can’t produce, or a nervous avoidance of the topic altogether. Even the most conservative churches recognize the reality of revival and even the need for it — in other words, you don’t have to be a whirling charismatic to believe in revival, or even desire it — and yet, it seems that so many misunderstand what revival is and how it works, and our part in seeing it come to fruition. And that is the primary reason we don’t see revival much in the church. I long to see it, to be a part of it, and so I’ve been thinking about this a little.
First of all, revival is for the church. You have to be “vived,” before you can be revived. The “vive” part of revive is the same root word as viva or vida, which means life. Lifeless things aren’t revived. People dead in their sin aren’t revived … they are resurrected. The church has been given life in Christ and it needs to be revitalized. As the church awakens to the full and abundant life given us in Christ, the world sees and responds. Revival is for the church, and the church is for the redeeming purpose of God. As the church is awakened in revival, light and life is brought to raise and redeem the lost.
Revival is the work of God. It is not something we can manufacture. Our church is Southern Baptist, and in that tradition holding revival services are common — usually a week’s worth of evening services. The problem is, revival is not something we can plan or produce. Revival comes when God awakens our soul to our continual and desperate need for salvation (not just eternal salvation, but continuing salvation, or preservation), and when the people of God respond with confession and genuine repentance — like what John the baptizer spoke of, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Revival and renewal happens when the people of God are awakened to their real need for God because, honestly, we very easily loose sight of that. We become dull and our vision is dimmed. The things of earth grow more vivid while Jesus and the things of the kingdom become strangely dim. Our religious observance and habits — whatever they may look like — keep us feeling like we’re okay, but we’re not. God must awaken our hearts and shed his glorious light on our compromises, failures, and rebellion. We must have the desire for true, God-honoring holiness rekindled in our hearts and a great and holy discontent for the status quo. This is the job of the Holy Spirit, to convict all of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. In that moment, we can justify, excuse, and diminish our sin no longer. We simply confess and cry out to God for healing. Revival is brokenness brought on by a renewed realization of the holiness of God and of our desperate need.
We are not without responsibility in revival. It is our part to position ourselves to be revived. We need to position ourselves spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Obviously, revival begins as we grow unsettled with the status quo. God’s conviction stirs our hearts and convinces us that we have settled for less and that all we have experienced is not all there is. Emotionally, we are broken and grieve over our disobedience and complacency, often having made an idol out of the god we’ve settled for rather than seeking to know the true God for who he is. Intellectually, we must ready ourselves to receive God’s conviction, determining to regard the word of God as weightier than our reason, logic, and cultural norms — no longer trying to convince God why he is wrong and we are right, or why we are the exception to his eternal, immutable truths. We also position ourselves physically: in a time and place where we are ready to hear from God, as well as our actual posture. Body language is important, and it is important to present ourselves before God with our body in a posture of openness and surrender, communicating with our heart, soul, and spirit our willingness and desire to hear from God and receive from him. Planning an event is a part of this positioning of ourselves, to be sure. But we cannot think that the event in itself is revival. If we show up, yet are not surrendered, we will not experience revival.
Revival doesn’t always look the same, but will have similar results. Some revival is personal. I’ve experienced personal revival, where no one else was affected but me by the moment and movement itself, yet it changed my life forever and that change has impacted many. We may also have corporate revival. Whether its Asbury or Azusa, corporate revival gets attention as many people are directly affected. True corporate revival has a lasting, ripple effect. It isn’t just an emotional dervish in that moment and then a fond memory in the weeks to come. People and communities are changed forever as God moves, glorifying himself, reviving his church, and redeeming the lost. The ripple of revival is felt for lifetimes.
I’ve talked to many people in our area that agree, separately, that God is stirring revival and that this revival will not look like it has in the past. Rather than being identified with a particular church (oh, are you with Azusa?), it will be identified with God alone (You’re from there? Which church are you with?). I am praying for this, that God would revive his work in the midst of our years and that we would be swept up into his glory and never look back at what we might have at one time perceived as loss. Let us “count all things as worthless that we may know Christ and the power of his resurrection…” in our cities, counties, states, and nations. Amen, and amen.