It's a new year and everyone wants a new start. People want to be thinner, more energetic, more productive, and to enjoy life more. We writers want to write more regularly and crank out some really inspired stuff. Pastors like myself want to reach more people with the Gospel and to feed our sheep a diet of rich, biblical truth. But more than that, we want to see God moving in our midst. In short, we want to see Revival.
The word revival, of course, is not found in the pages of Scripture (at least not in any version I’m familiar with), but the concept surely is. Despite the evangelistic thrust of “tent revivals” and the like, the biblical notion of revival begins with those inside the church, the saints. For example, in Psalm 85:6, David asks, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Re-vive means to return life to something. Now, I certainly don’t pastor a “dead church,” but I do believe that any of us could stand to re-discover the New Life that we have in Christ, the joy of our salvation, and the certain knowledge that we have been rescued from the darkness and now dwell in the light. All of us can use a re-infusion of that sense of life. Revival is when a whole congregation re-discovers this at once.
Praying for revival is an essential pursuit for any congregation wanting to be used by God and to see his power to save the lost and transform us more and more into His image. We pray for it, because the movement of the Holy Spirit is not something we can control—not with emotional music or human excitement or perfectly written statements of purpose or doctrine. But I’ve realized that simply praying for revival may be akin to an able-bodied young man who wakes up every morning and prays for food, but never gets off his couch to go earn some money, purchase the food, bring it home, and prepare it. He just sits there and prays. One of my favorite preachers of all time, A.W. Tozer had a few things to say on this very subject. In his book, Born After Midnight, he writes:
"Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late - and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work. To pray for revival while ignoring the plain precept laid down in Scripture is to waste a lot of words and get nothing for our trouble. Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience."
Tozer is just echoing the words of Jesus who complained of a generation of religious people whose lips were working double time in the religious department, but whose hearts were far from Him. (Matt 15:8) To obey, He reminds us, is better than sacrifice. If we pray, “Lead me not into temptation” while willfully leading ourselves into temptation, we’re acting like spiritual schizophrenics. Again, Tozer writes:
"Revivals come only to those who want them badly enough. The problem is not to persuade God to fill us, but to want God sufficiently to permit him to do so. The average Christian is so cold and so contented with his wretched condition that there is no vacuum of desire into which the blessed Spirit can rush in satisfying fullness."
I think this is why the Bible never refers to salvation simply in terms of something added to our lives. It’s never just “Jesus coming into my heart” . . . it’s much more violent than that. It’s the upturning of everything, the expelling of many things, and the rearranging of all things under the headship of Christ.
For Christmas this year, I received a little gizmo called a “Boogie Board,” which basically lets me jot down notes to myself and then erase them with a push of a button. (No more little scraps of paper and sticky notes floating all over the place). When I came into my study at church the following day, I brought the new device with me and set it down right next to my tape dispenser. Everything on my desk—my lamp, my blotter, my cards and pens and such—is still there and very much organized in the same way. I’ve just added one more thing. Salvation is not like this. Salvation does one of those cinematic moves where you clear the whole desk in one big motion, knocking books and papers to the floor, then it starts over from scratch. Some items are placed back on the desk in a different spot. Some are tossed in the trash. And when habit kicks in and we find ourselves slowly putting things back the way they were, that requires repentance, asking God again to swipe everything off and put it back in order.
Revival brings this about on a larger scale. When the Holy Spirit moves to convict Christians and we don’t plug our spiritual ears, entire congregations can find this process taking place—both individually and corporately. And when that happens, there’s no question of whether revival has taken place.
Church history scholar J. Edwin Orr has written about a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Welsh Revivals of the nineteenth century. As people sought to be filled with the Spirit, they not only looked to add some spiritual passion and excitement to their lives, but to expel anything that was not in keeping with their faith. This led many people to make reconciliation and restitution. This caught on to the point of creating a serious problem for the shipyards along the coast of Wales. Over the years workers had stolen all kinds of things, from wheelbarrows to hammers. However, as people repented of their “addition-only” Christianity and listened to the Holy Spirit, they began to return what they had taken, with the result that soon the shipyards of Wales were overwhelmed with returned property. There were such huge piles of returned tools that several of the yards put up signs that read, If you have been led by God To return what you have stolen, Please know that the management Forgives you and wishes you to keep what you have taken.
Would that we had such problems today! In 2013, I’m praying for revival—huge revival—and I hope you’ll join me in doing so. But I’m also, with God’s help, going to obey in the little things as well as the big. I’m going to ask the Holy Spirit to move, but also to move me. And I hope you’ll join me in that as well.