Revival - God's Way
Over the past years, I've had a number of questions directed to me concerning the subject of revival, most of those questions relating directly to Toronto, Pensacola, and now Lakeland.
Rather than just delve into one, or two, I thought it might be more helpful to begin with a look at how the Bible describes revival, what the results were, and then compare that with some other revivals that have occurred through history.
Revive and revival have a wide range of meanings to most people. While there is a general agreement that it means something like "bringing back to life," I've heard as many different definitions as there are people. According to the dictionary, revive means to restore to consciousness or life, to restore from a depressed, inactive or unused state, or to become active or flourishing again. All of which are excellent definitions when applied to the Church!
To make sure we're all on the same page, the basic definition we're going to use for "revival" will include both new conversions (bringing to life from a dead state) and renewing (waking up what had gone to sleep, but already existed). In terms of what currently goes on within the Church, this will cover it, since most "revivals" encompass both the wake-up and the get-saved sermon approach.
In the Bible, there are roughly 23 different scriptures that refer either directly or obliquely to revival. Strangely enough, though, there are three prime examples that never seem to be mentioned when the subject comes up, and those are the three we're going to concentrate on.
Arguably, the biggest revival in the history of man occurred about 2,800 years ago. One single man, a prophet of God who didn't want to obey God because he hated the people God wanted him to preach to, finally gave in and did what He was told.
Located in what is now northern Iraq, the city of Nineveh was home and capital to the Assyrian empire. At this time (about 890 BC), Assyria held sway over a very large portion of the middle east. Israel, in particular, had been tormented for years by the Assyrians, and Jonah's disliking for his mission was particularly fed by his desire to see the Assyrians perish utterly. However, God had different plans, and wanted Jonah to go preach to them. Jonah's main reason for running the other way to begin with was because he knew that IF the Assyrians repented, God would forgive them, and bring "revival" to them, and Jonah didn't want even the slightest chance of that happening.
Nineveh, as described in the Bible was a "great city" consisting of more than 120,000 people. Jonah describes the city itself as being "3 days journey." This could possibly mean that it would take three days to walk around the city, or three days to visit every quarter, or three days to walk from one side to the other. Modern excavations indicate that the "three days around" was the most likely, since it measures about 1800 acres. Old Nineveh has been supplanted by the modern city of Mosul. Historically, the founding of Nineveh is attributed to Nimrod, and throughout the centuries the Assyrians worshiped a panoply of gods, ranging from Dagon to Ishtar.
Jonah wandered into town somewhere around 862 BC with a very simple message. "Yet 40 more days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown". That's what you call short, sweet and to the point! No beatin' around the bush for this guy. I'm sure that there was a great deal of emotion and conviction in his delivery, because that's exactly what he wanted.
However, the result of that declaration was that the Ninevites "believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them." Even the king got in on the act, putting on sackcloth and sitting in ashes. He also declared to the people that everyone (and everything) was to "turn (repent) of his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands." The king did this (and the people joined in) EVEN THOUGH they did not know "...if God will turn away from his fierce anger, so that we don't perish."
Now that's what I would definitely call a revival of Biblical proportions! Over 120,000 people repented and were saved (at least for a while), including the heads of government!! While the book of Jonah is somewhat sparse on details, it does appear that there were three elements central to the issue. One, God wanted the Ninevites preached to. Two, the preacher said what God told him to say, and three, the people repented and prayed.
The second "greatest" revival that scripture speaks about is found in the book of Acts. Beginning in chapter 2, then going throughout the rest of the book and covering a period of about 30 years, we see a revival beginning in Jerusalem with the saving of "about three thousand souls" in one day. It apparently continued on from day to day, with more being "added to the church daily such as should be saved". In short order, we also find that many more were saved, this time "about five thousand". That particular revival then spread outward, transforming Jerusalem, then Samaria, then into the Gentile nations. As the Bible puts it, the Apostles, with their preaching, "turned the world upside down." In the course of the revival there were many miracles manifested, from healings and casting out of demons to the taking out of Ananias and Saphira for lying and the jail break by the Apostles. It does appear, though, that the miracles spoken of were peripheral to and a result of the dedicated preaching and teaching centered around Jesus.Through it all, though, the common thread that we find is that the preaching (and teaching) centered around one thing...the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it's meaning for our atonement and reconciliation. The result of that preaching and teaching is also summed up in one word...repentence. We see again and again that "they were pricked in their hearts" (that's conviction of sin), repentence (conviction of righteousness), and salvation (conviction of the judgment to come). Isn't it amazing how this "formula" seems to so closely match what Jesus said would happen in John 16?
The third revival we want to examine is one that is not spoken of in revival circles. As a matter of fact, it is extremely difficult to even put it in the same category as "revival" as we know it. However, it was a revival nonetheless...a revival of evil.
Hezekiah was a king of Israel who was a little wishy-washy. Back and forth he would go, between being obedient to God, and doing his own thing. In the later years of his reign, he did manage to humble himself, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem followed suit, and there was a "mini" revival that occurred. Unfortunately, Hezekiah had a son who didn't learn much from his father, and when Hezekiah died, twelve-year-old Manasseh ascended the throne, and ruled for 55 years. Manasseh did everything wrong, or as the Bible puts it "he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, like unto the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel" (2 Chron. 33). Manasseh restored the "high places" (altars to idols) that Hezekiah had torn down, he raised up altars to Baalim, and he made children to be "passed through the fires in the valley of the son of Hinnom (Molech)", and he practiced witchcraft, dealing with familiar spirits and wizards, and even placed an idol in the Temple. All this while "building altars for all the hosts of heaven" in the Temple. I suppose that Manasseh felt he had to maintain some slight appearance of religiosity. The end result of this "revival of evil" was an invasion by the Assyrians, the capture and imprisonment of Manasseh "in fetters", and being carried off to Babylon. While in captivity, Manasseh humbled himself before God, repented of his deeds, and was subsequently restored. Unfortunately, Manasseh's "revival" didn't communicate itself to the rest of Judah, and they continued to make sacrifices in "the high places."
I have heard it argued that revival occurred during the 4th century under the leadership of Constantine, Emperor of Rome, but I will have to respectfully disagree. When Constantine declared Christianity to be the states officially sanctioned religion, he did not institute revival...he instituted legislative morality and superficial obedience. He did manage, however, to ring in the "dark ages" which lasted until the 1500's.
While there were a number of "revivals" that occurred during the dark ages, they were very limited in scope, usually being confined to at most a few households, and only occasionally encompassing a small village. In approx. 1517, and lasting until 1560, the Reformation began, sweeping throughout Europe, and led by Zwingli, Huss, Luther and Calvin. During this period there was a wholesale movement by the common people back toward the essentials of Christianity, with many of the false doctrines and dogma that had built up over the preceeding 1200 years being denounced and repented of. Technically, this period was a revival, although in many ways it did not fit what we tend to think of revival as being.
In 1734, the first "Great Awakening" began in New England, led by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. It quickly encompassed the entire town of Northhampton, Connecticut, but died out after the first year. However, it quickly re-ignited in 1738, and spread quickly enough to cause numerous newspapers to report the "success" of the revival, and increasing numbers of conversions. The revival had basically died out by 1750, mainly because of what Edwards had warned about early in the revival, and that was "excesses" in "manifestations and phenomena". Central to Edwards preaching were an insistence upon returning to "piety", or biblical morality, the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and emphasis on the necessity of true heart-felt repentence and reliance upon the Grace of God.
About the same time, Wesley and Whitefield in England were emphasizing the same basics, and realizing increasing numbers of conversions. While Wesley was Arminian, and Whitefield a Calvinist, both placed great emphasis in their early preaching on the efficacy of Jesus' shed blood, atonement and resurrection. Wesley's preaching was instrumental in establishing the Methodist church, it's exportation to America, and many years of success as the Methodist circuit riders helped spread the Gospel as the frontiers expanded.
In 1781, on Christmas Day, a small group met in St. Just church in Cornwall, England to pray and sing. Beginning at 3am, they did not finish until 9am, being caught up in the Spirit of prayer and praise. They regathered that evening, and from that day forward continued to meet, with people from miles around being drawn to the church. It rapidly spread to Wales, then Scotland, the US and Canadal. Again, central to the revival was a recognition of self in relation to God (humbling themselves), prayers of repentence, and reliance solely upon the Grace of God through Jesus Christ.
October, 1821...Charles Finney had just spent the day deep in the woods, praying and repenting, and beseeching God to bring revival to him and to the town. As he walked back into town, still deep in prayer, people on both sides of the street began to fall prostrate upon the ground, crying out for mercy from God. Revival began, and spread throughout the area for a number of years.
1859, Natal, South Africa. Beginning with a prayer service in a Zulu tribe that lasted all night, revival began, spreading to the Bantus and then into the Dutch Reformed Church. The revival produced deep conviction of sin, immediate repentance and conversion, and resulted in a mighty wave of evangelism that spread throughout South Africa.
In south Wales, Evan Roberts began speaking in 1904 to increasing numbers of people. Over the following weeks, they reported over 70,000 conversions in three months, over 100,000 in the following year. Crime rates dropped, many taverns went bankrupt, and the courts and police had no cases to work on.
There are, literally, hundreds more examples of revivals of varying sizes occurring throughout the world, but all of them, just as in those listed above, have certain characteristics that are similar.
First, there is a period of indeterminate length, when one or more people gather together truly seeking God and His will. Generally, these people have first sought to purify their hearts so that nothing can stand in the way of approaching the throne of God boldly. Recall if you will the story of the first disciples preceeding the day of Pentecost. There were over 500, but only 120 gathered together in the upper room, where they gave themselves over to prayer and waiting.
Second, the revival begins, and invariably, it begins with a preaching of the pure Word of God, centered around Jesus...His sacrifice (shed blood), atonement for sin, the necessity of repentence, and the declaration of belief in Jesus as Savior. This stage is usually accompanied by heartfelt repentence, weeping and confession, followed quickly by an unspeakable sense of the presence of God and great joy. Many times there are manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit as healings, miracles and utterances occur.
Third, the revival begins to wane due to difficulties that arise. Among those difficulties are the inability of the leaders to adequately disciple and fulfill the needs of new believers, and the tendency of unscrupulous and unstable people being drawn to the excitement. Most often, these people begin to cause confusion by what they say and do. Unscriptural practices begin to develop, and a fear of "quenching the spirit" prevents leadership from stopping those practices dead in their tracks. This is the point at which counterfeit signs and wonders begin to be manifested in increasing amounts.
Fourth, because of the various problems that arise, leadership find themselves in the position of feeling they need to "serve tables," and begin organizing the various facets of the revival. Because of this organization, leadership becomes a dominant theme, and heads start to swell. At this point, the revival is effectively dead, even though it may continue for a period with the appearance of revival.
Revival, throughout history, has occurred during certain periods of time, and with certain "preconditions." Revivals are always preceeded by a time of great moral darkness, a time when sin and iniquity is rampant, and a need for new life is required. The history of the Israelites sheds much light on this. During the period of the Judges, the Israelites fell into sin thirteen different times. Thirteen times, God sent judgment upon them (after warning them), and thirteen times they repented and cried out for mercy. Thirteen times God raised up someone to lead them back to Him. Sometimes, revival occurs after a protracted period of spiritual decline, such as may be found in the mechanical performance of some liturgy or ritual which has no real meaning. Such can be found particularly in the church at Laodicea, which thought it had everything covered, and did not recognize that it was "blind, poor, and naked."
All revival is preceeded by prayer. There is no known example when it was not. And that prayer is not just a prayer of "Lord, we need revival". It MUST be accompanied with a fulfillment of the conditions clearly set out by God in 2 Chronicles 7:1-4. "When my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways..."
Notice the requirement to humble oneself. God resists the proud and the arrogant, but hearkens to the right heart that seeks Gods mercy. Once one has humbled themselves and has that right heart, and has repented of (turned away from) all sin, then they may pray and approach the throne of Grace boldly, seeking God and HIS righteousness, HIS mercy, HIS grace, and HIS forgiveness. It is only at that point that God will "...hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and HEAL THEIR LAND."
No revival, anywhere or at anytime, has ever occurred without the presence and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that "...when he (the Comforter) is come, he will reprove (convict) the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come." (Jn. 16:8) In vs. 13, Jesus tells us that "...he will not speak of himself;...He shall glorify me..." (Jn. 16:13a; 14). These elements (conviction of sin, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and a coming judgment) are the essential elements to which the Holy Spirit pays attention and uses to convert sinners and re-awaken those who slumber.
Every real revival that has occurred has been founded on the Word of God, and nothing else. When the Holy Spirit awakens people, He also awakens a desire in them to know more of the Word. Jonathan Edwards made an observation as to how to assess the reality of any movement that claims to be of the Holy Spirit: "what place is given to the authority of Scripture?" True revival rests solely on the Word of God, and not on any "private interpretation" of that Word. When Peter preached his first sermon, we find that it was, in almost its entirety, a recitation of Old Testament prophecy, and the tying of that prophecy to Jesus Christ. Moses and Joshua constantly reminded the people of the Word of God written on tablets of stone; Josiah listened to Huldah the prophetess recite the "curses written in the book", repented and caused the book to be read to the people resulting in a national renewal of the covenant. Nehemiah began a revival when he made the people return to reading the Word of God.
A great hunger and commitment to evangelism accompanies true revival. When people are truly "lit on fire" for the Lord, they have a "burning desire" to tell others, and that is the primary vehicle by which revival spreads. It is not so much the people coming to hear an anointed preacher as it is the newly revived person being so full of joy that they can't contain that joy, and MUST share it.
To spark revival, God uses people of HIS choosing. Notice I didn't say angels, or animals, or buildings, or musical instruments. People are His vehicle. Some are trained, some are not. Some are brilliant, some are not. Some can sing, some can not. Jeremiah was a priest, Amos was a herder and fruit picker. Paul was a lawyer, and Matthew a fisherman. John Wesley once prayed for a young boy and prophesied over him that he would be used of God. The child grew up severely retarded, and so physically oversized that he had to have iron boots made to support his weight. No one would hire him, so he dug a cave and lived in it. He went to Methodist class meetings, but the leaders would not let him "testify" due to his retardation. One day, however, he did, and when he did....WOW. He spoke with such clarity and power that he was then invited to preach. He did, and hundreds in church after church came to saving faith in Jesus. In Kentucky, a ten year old boy preached for an hour to over 25,000 people from a perch on a tree limb. He spoke with such power that when he finished with the words (while dropping a handkerchief from the limb) "thus, oh sinner, will you drop into hell unless you forsake your sins and turn to God;" that (according to J. B. Finley) "sinners fell as men slain in mighty battle and the cries of mercy seemed as though they would rend the heavens; and the work spread in a manner which human language cannot describe." As Paul explained in 1 Cor 1:27-29, "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen....that no flesh should glory in his presence."
One element that is endemic to historically provable revivals, and noticeable absent from many of the modern ones, is fear and conviction. The presence of the Holy Spirit first causes an immense conviction of the sin, and recognition of the Holiness of God. Recognition of the Holiness and perfection causes (or at least it should) a desperate fear of a righteous God to arise in the heart, and knowledge of His just reward to those who do not (judgment). John Newton penned the words "twas Grace that taught my heart to fear..." After God judged Ananias and Saphira for lying, "great fear seized the whole church." The revivals of New England and Wales were marked by the persistent confession of sin and crying out for mercy. In many instances, the work didn't just stop with the confession. People who had stolen restored goods to the victims, funds were repayed, bad relationships were made right. People's hearts are made right, and an understanding of Gods concern for relationships between family, friends, neighbors and churches becomes more pronounced.
The main work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ, to bring people to the cross and to illuminate the cleansing power of His shed blood. For this reason, the cross and the shed blood of Jesus are central to any real revival. It is only through the "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace" (Eph. 1:7) that sinners can begin to understand the depth and breadth of what God has so graciously done for us. "and without shedding of blood, there is NO remissionÉ" (Heb. 9:22). It is only by His shed blood that we begin to "appropriate" any of the other blessings of God through Christ Jesus, such as: peace, love, temperance, joy, patience, and healing. Any revival that places an emphasis on, for example, physical healing or temporal riches is not a revival that meets the standards of God and scripture. While they may be fun, and God may use them to achieve a certain purpose (just as He used Pharaoh), there is a tendency for such revivals as this to be not only short-lived, but those who participate in them are like "seed on stony ground," because they have no real root.
However, they do tend to have one of the results of real revivalÉand that is great joy. The fruit of the Spirit is joy, and God definitely intends for His people to have joy. Jesus promised it, and God does deliver it. When Philip preached and healed in Samaria, there "was great joy in that city" (Acts 8:8). Peter talks about "inexpressible and glorious joy" (1 Pet. 1:8). Many times, revival meetings go on for hours while the people raise their voices in joy and praise.
Every right-thinking Christian who is in tune with God wants to see real revival - in themselves, in their church, in their neighborhood, in their town or city, in their country and in the world. Most, though, go for the finish line first. They skip the first steps and themselves, and concentrate on "all them sinners out there," not recognizing how short they fall in comparison to God.
If you really want revival, begin "in Jerusalem" (that's within your own heart), THEN after taking care of that business, move on to "Samaria" (your own locality). No revival, as I noted above, has ever either begun or continued without prayer - and not the kind we are usually used to, but "fervent and effectual prayerÉwhich availeth much."
Finally, my opinion on the modern "revivals" that have been taking place; notably, Toronto, Pensacola and most recently, Lakeland. These "revivals", and others similar around the world, have been emphasizing manifestations and miracles. They have been noticeably lacking in the scriptural emphasis on repentence, the shed blood of Jesus, and the necessity of true conversion. As a result, these "revivals" have NOT shown themselves to be of any lasting nature: indeed, most of these "revivals" have failed miserably in doing what the scriptural and historical examples of GOD's way of revival have done...bring about a marked and drastic change in the MORAL climate of their towns, cities, and regions...much less the entire country! Have there been any conversions? I'm sure there have - God is more than capable of using anyone to achieve His purpose (think Pharaoh here). Have there been any miracles? I'm also sure of that...however, the "leaders" have failed miserably in bringing forth the "proofs" they have promised. What these "revivals" HAVE done is to succeed in moving the focus from Jesus and the cross to manifestations and noise - a lot of smoke with no real fire.