In today’s world of endless wars, failing economies, corrupt politicians, rampant secularism and unbridled cultural perversions the Lord knows we need a fresh global move of the Holy Spirit. The world has a multitude of problems but God’s ultimate solution has always been to invade mankind with His grace and power through an awakened church. Revival is the cure of all man’s ills.
The church in the west is already rising from the ashes of unbelief, idolatry and theological nit-picking by restoring the New Testament pattern of faith and life. It is waking up with an eager longing for a new Pentecost. Revival is back on the agenda again. There are books on revival, prayers for revival, preachers’ revival anecdotes and special conferences devoted to revival. This is an exciting phenomenon because such an emphasis on revival has often preceded genuine spiritual awakenings in the past. So, who knows? We may well be en route to a massive spiritual upheaval across the world!
But what would revival look like? How would we recognise revival if it came? Is revival always the same in effect, experience and extent? Are there discernable revival characteristics? Can we promote or prevent the onset of revival? We will try to answer these questions in the next few articles.
Let’s try to answer this fundamental question. Does the idea of revival reflect the life and Spirit of the New Testament or is it merely a three-centuries-old fad, promoted by deluded fanatics and totally incompatible with a mature 21st century church?
It will be argued that the word ‘revival’ is not found in the Bible but the sacred scriptures proclaim the concept and principles of what we call ‘revival’ from Genesis to Revelation. They are everywhere in the Old and New Testaments.
Isa 64:1-3 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Hab 3:2 Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy. KJV
Mal 3:10 “see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
Joel 2:28-29 I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
In the New Testament the activity of the Spirit in blessings believers and arresting the attention of the lost was not confined to the Day of Pentecost. It is similarly everywhere. Luke records a number of events where the Spirit was outpoured and Paul writing to Timothy describes the common experience saying ‘the Holy Spirit which he poured out upon us richly.’ Outpourings of the Spirit are part and parcel of New Testament Christianity.
I know this takes some swallowing but history speaks for itself!
Jonathan Edwards got it right when he said "Though there be a more constant influence of God's Spirit always, in some degree, attending His ordinances; yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always has been by remarkable effusions of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy…" (History of Redemption p30)
Revivals are His normal and most common way to advance the quality and quantity of the church. This is His major antidote for decline and the foremost method of reviving dying churches, achieving mass evangelisation and reaping huge harvests of souls. Revival makes an indelible mark on society and thrusts out zealous evangelists onto the field securing the future for God’s work.
When revival comes everything is affected and nothing remains the same. The church is revitalized and the world is impacted.
Christians become preoccupied with the things of God. They become intensely prayerful, attending God's house more frequently for fellowship and worship. They develop a hunger for the preached word which illuminates and powerfully penetrates the hearts of its hearers, bringing conviction, repentance and life transformation. During times of revival God's people are restored from backsliding, carelessness and inactivity. The church is restored to her mission and ministry-training institutions become overcrowded with fresh pastoral, evangelistic and missionary candidates. Bible and Christian literature demands excel and new humanitarian societies are spawned. In every revival the Christian church receives fresh life and impetus which usually lasts for a generation. Consequently, every generation needs a fresh awakening.
In times of revival believers develop a passion for souls and become deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of the lost. Prayer for the lost and gospel preaching has extraordinary effects. The normal traits of ungodliness disappear. Blasphemy and filthy language, drunkenness and immorality, dishonesty and selfishness are all replaced by a sweet sense of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Sometimes entire towns or areas are affected. At other times whole nations are so blanketed with God's renewing activity that hardly any inhabited places are without some evidence of His glorious workings.
As in the Book of Judges the church goes through cycles of sin – suffering – supplication – salvation. Frequent revivals are needed to bring the entire church back to its vitality and mission.
"It is most significant that since the Reformation revivals have recurred with increasing frequency. Again and again God has rescued that which had gone beyond all human aid: what could have saved the church but these gracious interventions of almighty power? The need can but grow more urgent as the age draws to its close." (D. M. Panton - quoted by Arthur Wallis In The Day of Thy Power p24)
Revival, then, is what the church and the world needs. And revival is just what God wants to give. He is not unwilling to open the heavens and send us 'times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.' Indeed, it is true to say that seasons of revival have always been the major means that God has employed to advance His cause and the cause of the church in the world.
If this is true then it requires our proclamation to our people, our praying for it consistently and preparing ourselves for it continually.