As early as I can remember in my Christian walk I was fascinated by the subject of revival. My fascination compelled me into avid study and ultimately birthed a hunger in my soul to see a true, God-birthed revival in our day and time. I love the stories of the old revivals – Cane Ridge, Wales, the Scottish Hebrides, Azusa Street, and so many other places. Each story is a a precious pearl in the history of God’s movement in the earth – a continuing testimony of the wave of kingdom power that continues its course throughout the ages ultimately pointing us to the final outpouring of the Spirit that will precede the Lord’s return (Acts 2:17-21).
I’ve honestly lost count of how many books I’ve read on revival…somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty, I guess. In the last fifteen years, I’ve also had the amazing blessing of being a part of two smaller, localized revival movements. Both seasons were times of incredible blessing. Hundreds came to the Lord in repentance and God moved in power with signs and wonders and healing. In both cases the church was convicted of sin, the lost were saved, and many were refreshed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
These experiences along with the testimony of the historic moves of the Spirit have brought me to the following definition of revival – Revival is when God restores life to the church, through mass conviction, repentance and refreshing of the Holy Spirit. Notice I specifically identified the church. The reason is that revival, by definition, means that something that was once alive has regained its vigor and vitality. Revival is a word that identifies God’s activity in resuscitating His church. In times of revival the lost do get saved, but revival is primarily a work of God to re-awaken His Bride. Real revival has a sweeping affect upon the church in a region, nation or the nations, over an extended period of time.
There’s a different word that describes what happens when the lost come to know the Lord in mass numbers – Reformation. Reformation is when God brings masses of unsaved people to conviction, repentance and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. In reformation the society bends under the weight of God’s glory. Laws change, culture shifts, and public policy is transformed. In reformation, God literally reforms the society in accordance with His values and kingdom, by His power.
Often revival and reformation go hand in hand. A revived church can make a powerful impact upon society. The Welsh Revival of 1904 and the Hebrides Revival of 1948 are good examples of this. In both instances the church was touched so powerfully that it spilled over and affected society in mighty ways. In Wales, for instance, many of the local pubs were closed because the number of patrons had greatly decreased as a result of them coming to know the Lord through the revival.
True God-birthed revival is a precious gift from heaven. The outstanding feature of every revival is that God draws near. His manifest presence is unmistakable and men wilt under the power of His presence. The signs and wonders He does in revival are wonderful. The salvation of the masses is glorious. But the most precious part of revival is His nearness. In revival God comes down. Everything else takes a back seat as He takes the stage.
In light of all this, I have a concern regarding revival and the way the term is being used today. Often I hear people referring to happenings as revival, that just are not. I’m not talking about the country church that puts “Revival this Wednesday through Sunday” on their sign. I’m talking about how those who long for the real thing treat the idea. I want us to be very careful not to dumb down the meaning of the word by calling everything that God does revival. We’ve misused the word revival and in affect lost it’s meaning. At times, too often, we’ve exaggerated what God has done and called something revival that wasn’t. It was a spark, not a bonfire. Our tendency to exaggeration ends up being a great enemy of apprehending the real thing. Here’s a couple reasons why:
1) If we call something revival that is not, we inadvertently instruct others that the sparks of God’s presence are THE bonfire. If we believe a spark to be the bonfire, we will not seek God for more because we believe we have all that is available. A spark is awesome. It can start a fire. But let’s be honest, a spark is a spark. It’s not a fire.
2) When we exaggerate by calling something revival that isn’t, we give people a sugar high that wears off in a short period of time and leaves them in a funk. I never want to be guilty of exaggerating what God has done. And the truth is, you never have to exaggerate God. He’s well able to manage His own reputation.
Since I briefly identified what revival looks like, let me give a few thoughts on what it isn’t. These are things that are great, but let’s not call them revival.
1) Evangelism and salvation – Believers doing evangelism and getting people saved are normative parts of Christianity. We should all be regularly sharing our faith and the outcome of that should be salvations. After all, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. If we share it, people will get saved. It’s glorious, but let’s not call it revival.
2) Signs and Wonders and Gifts of the Spirit – The activity of the Holy Spirit in manifestation should also be normative in our assemblies and through our lives. Prophecy, Word of Knowledge, Gifts of Healings and Miracles, should be operating through the lives of Spirit empowered believes. Let’s pursue love and desire spiritual gifts as Paul admonished (1 Cor 14:1), and celebrate when we see them, but let’s not call it revival.
3) Large Conferences – Large gatherings of believers are often wonderful. Many times God moves in great ways when many are gathered to seek Him passionately. I love when God touches a conference with His power and presence. But just because a lot of believers gather to a meeting and God moves, let’s not call it revival.
Don’t mistake my purpose for this blog. I’m not here to criticize, but rather help my friends be a little more precise in what we call revival and what we’re believing God for in our day and time. I’m jealous for the real thing. I want a God-birthed revival of epic proportions. I want to see the church alive and in love moving in the power of the Holy Spirit. I want to see the lost come to the Lord in masses. I want to see society changed by the unleashing of the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to settle for less and I don’t want you to run to a false finish line. I never want to exaggerate what God does. I’m convinced if it’s a real revival, everyone will know.
I encourage you to read some of the historic accounts of revival and calibrate what you call revival with what God has done historically in revival. Let’s believe together for the real thing, celebrating every activity of the Holy Spirit along the way. I am convinced that God wants to send a Third Great Awakening to the United States. Let’s believe for the greatest move of the Spirit the earth has ever seen.
Lord, we pray, send revival in our day and our time. Send Revival, Send REVIVAL, SEND REVIVAL!