Interact Magazine 1998
Volume 9 Number 2
Revival seems to be something of a buzzword at the moment. Christians are speaking expectantly of the happenings at the Brownsville Assembly of God church in Pensacola, Florida. Ministers from around the world have been visiting Brownsville in the hope of catching the spirit of revival.
Prior to this we have seen the phenomenon of the Toronto Blessing with all of its unusual manifestations. Many believed that the Toronto Blessing was the precursor to full-blown revival, but it has largely come and gone.
All of this interest highlights a growing hunger for genuine revival. I think it is fair to say that an increasing number of Christians are deeply concerned about the spiritual tenor of the church in Australia. However, whilst this renewed interest in revival is very encouraging, it is important to understand what revival really is and how it comes about.
The history of revival clearly demonstrates that prayer is the non-negotiable prerequisite. For example, in 1904 John Hyde, along with a number of other like-minded missionaries, formed the Punjab Prayer Union. As Wesley Duewel states in his book Revival Fire, the purpose of this group was to pray for revival and conversions in the Punjab and India.
Each member of the Prayer Union was asked five questions:
Are you praying for quickening in your own life, in the life of your fellow workers and in the church?
Are you longing for greater power of the Holy Spirit in your own life and work, and are you convinced that you cannot go on without this power?
Will you pray that you may not be ashamed of Jesus?
Do you believe that prayer is the means for securing this spiritual awakening?
Will you set apart one half hour each day as soon after noon as possible to pray for this awakening, and are you willing to pray until the awakening comes?
These questions reveal the intense desire John Hyde and his fellow Union members had to see revival come, and when it came hearts across India were melted. This was accompanied by open confession of sins and deep repentance.
The word ‘revival’ comes from the Latin word revivo, re meaning again and vivo meaning to live. It brings a new wind of Holy Spirit conviction, repentance and joy into the church. It is not something that is subject to a formula, or can be manipulated, but a sovereign working of the Holy Spirit in response to God’s people praying.
True revival deals with the declining state of the church. It gets down to the core issues of sin and rebellion in the lives of Christians. Anything less than this is not revival. However, it is not only about dealing with sin. It is also about freeing the church from the grip of sin and equipping it to more effectively reach the lost.
Brian Edwards sums up what revival really does in the life of the church: ‘A true Holy Spirit revival is a remarkable increase in the spiritual life of a large number of God’s people, accompanied by an awesome awareness of the presence of God, intensity of prayer and praise, a deep conviction of sin with a passionate longing for holiness and unusual effectiveness in evangelism, leading to the salvation of many unbelievers.’
So we must see that revival deals first and foremost with the church. It is really a process of getting the church back into shape to perform the tasks that God has called it to do. For many, that process can be a difficult and humbling experience, as they come to grips with where they are at spiritually.
There are at least seven occasions of revival recorded for our instruction in the Old Testament, which indicate what the marks of genuine revival are.
In 2 Kings 23 we read of King Josiah who was profoundly affected after having the words of the Book of the Covenant read to him. His deep grief and repentance were marked by him ripping his robe. He was immediately concerned about Israel’s condition as a result of the conviction of his own heart.
Josiah then instructed Hilkiah, Ahikam, Shapan’s son and Asaiah to consult with Huldah the prophetess regarding the consequences of Israel’s backslidden state. His worst fears were confirmed. However, because of his ‘tender heart’ Josiah would not see the judgment of God, as it would come after his death.
From this rather challenging account we can glean a number of key marks of revival. Josiah’s response to the word of God, I believe, revealed his growing conviction that things were not what they should be. Thus a key mark of revival is a God-given dissatisfaction with the status quo, accompanied by a desire for something much better. Time and space won’t permit me to quote from revivals past, but suffice it to say that this God-given discontent with spiritual apathy is a consistent feature of them. Maybe this is what we have seen recently with the interest shown in Brownsville and the Toronto Blessing.
Then Josiah had the elders, the priests, the prophets and all the people, both great and small, go up to the house of the Lord where the Word of God was read to them.
So with genuine revivals there is a return to the foundation and authority of the Word of God. Israel had a privileged position as God had given them the Scriptures, but such was the degree of their backslidden condition, that the Word of God had lost its pride of place in the spiritual life of Israel, who no longer read or studied it. But worst of all, it had been lost amongst the pagan idols and junk in the house of the Lord. Ironically, the place where Israel should have felt closest to God, where God should have been truly worshipped and adored, became the very place where the Word of God was lost.
Sad as it may seem, many Christians have abandoned the reading and study of God’s Word and as a direct result our churches are being ravaged by all kinds of sin. This is happening despite the plethora of different translations and topical niche Bibles available today. Revival renews our love for God and His Word.
Having read to the gathering, Josiah stood and proclaimed his heart’s desire not only to read the Word of God, but to obey it. As one preacher put it, ‘To read the Word of God and not obey it is as much a contradiction as a heavenly devil.’
The Hebrew scholars used a word to bring home the significance of this important combination. The Hebrew word for ‘hear’ and ‘obey’ is exactly the same – shama, so we have not truly heard the Word of God until we have obeyed it. Hearing and action go hand in hand.
Josiah was moved to action, and in verses 4 to 25 we read of the removal of the idols. An idol is anything that causes us to have split loyalties, that removes God from first place in our lives. Revival deals with the idols of the heart such as materialism, prestige, pride, envy and lust, and with the choices we make and the way we live. True revival transforms these areas. It is not just a flash in the pan, but has a deep, lasting impact within both the church and the community.
Notice Josiah’s systematic approach to this cleansing process. It is highly significant that the first place cleansed was the temple of God. Genuine revival deals first and foremost with the church. The apostle Peter brings this home to us in 1 Peter 4:7: ‘For the time has come for judgment to begin at the household of God.’ If we are not willing to judge our own sin then God will do it for us as He did with Israel. Revival is not theoretical but practical because it deals with the way we walk with God and worship Him.
After the temple, there came the cleansing of the households followed by the city and the countryside. Revival is not a superficial scratching at the surface, but a divine excavating work to remove deep-seated sin and rebellion.
Once this cleansing was complete then Josiah was able to bring back a right God-honouring worship of Jehovah. When revival comes God’s people get excited about their worship. Gone is the ‘services as usual’ mindset. It is replaced by a sense of excitement and expectation, with an increasing awareness of who it is we are worshipping. Gone is the frivolous, laid-back acknowledgment of God. It is replaced by an awesome awareness of His presence and holiness, which not only revolutionises our worship, but has a transforming effect on the worshippers. In revival our eyes are taken off what is temporal and brought back to what is eternal.
When revival hits the church it has an incredible effect on evangelism. Why? Because the non-Christian community will always respond to genuine Holy Spirit life. For example, in one five week period in the 1904/5 Welsh revival, twenty thousand souls were added to the church.
We can see our desperate need of revival when we glance at denominational yearbooks and see the struggle they are going through. One church I was in recently has had only two baptisms in five years. The majority of churches are in a similar plight. I pray we may develop a discontent that will move us to pray for revival in these days of spiritual dullness and apathy, so that once again we may see God transform His church, and as a result see many brought into the Kingdom.
Carl Carmody is Managing Editor of Challenge Literature, in Perth, WA
© Carl Carmody (1 July 1998)