Saturday, January 11, 2014

What is revival?

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Ezekiel 37 (NIV)

“Oh,” he says, “things are getting kind of slow. Let’s have a revival.” So says the non-thinking American, when he looks at his church. Is that attitude Biblical? Can we have a “revival” anytime we want? American Christianity seems sometimes to think so. The prophet Ezekiel, in the above passage, is asked of God, “Can these bones live?”, and he answers, not affirmatively, neither negatively, but looking toward his God, he says, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

So it ought to be with us. When we look at the dead bones cluttering the church pews, of which we are one, we ought to look to God for revival. American Christianity has its own flavor, not to be found anywhere else. Here we suffer the popular televangelist to own his own Lear jet, and many houses, yet we never seem to want to know why he seems to preach that which he so obviously does not believe. If we successfully avoid his hooks, then we are captivated by the world we live in, and the outside observer would wonder rightfully what distinguishes us from non-believers. American Christianity has come to show a blandness that offends no one, a gospel that is adaptable to fit every lifestyle, and a message changed from a rock of stumbling to a pebble of no notice.

Revival is rightly said to start with the first person who comes to the Bible, and starts believing what is actually said. I was saved in the 1970s, when there was a great revival sweeping through America, perhaps the last revival to do so. Keith Green, saved during the same period, sang his hard words,
To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights.
Cause if you can't come to me everyday,
then don't bother coming at all.

I believe Keith was pointing at the easy believism taught in American churches, where we Christians seem to be able to act quite religiously during church times, and then change our masks, as it were, when we go out into the world. In America we are taught that we can compartmentalize, and we become experts at it, until the Master comes to us, waking us up with the question, “Son of man, do you think these bones can live?”

I want to suggest something to ponder a bit. I do want to point out that we are known by God equally—the sacrifice of the Son has made us all to be one, says the scripture, whether we be Jews or Greeks, male or female. We are known by God equally. But do we know God equally? I do want to offer the idea that some of us know God differently. Some of us are more aware of the greatness of our God. It is those that we will find revival starting with. It is those to whom God will make them to recognize that those around them are indeed dead. It starts with those who really get it—the ones who seem to believe in God really means what he says.

Revival does not start with men; it starts in the loving heart of our God. It does not start with programs, nor with inviting a famous evangelist to our church; rather it starts with the heartbeat of God, plucking strings in the hearts of his listening saints, and awakening them to their dead state.

I find it remarkable that zombies are making a comeback in television and movies these days. The Bible teaches of those who are dead in their trespasses and sins, and we do see churches who seem to be leading the dead in their sins. It only takes one man, recognizing that God means what he says, to bring the fresh breath of God back to us, to make us remember who we are. It starts in the one soul of Elijah, desperate to show his God to his people. “Surely revival delays because prayer decays.”1

D. L. Moody heard someone say, “It remains to be seen what one man, wholly dedicated to God, can do.” Moody determined to be that man. He certainly was not what I would call doctrinally circumspect, but had a heart toward his God. I believe Keith Green to be the same way, coming from a Christian Science background, with his intermingled Jewishness, and was not doctrinally correct, yet his zeal for God was not to be outdone. He worked with scores of people personally, sheltering them, and, at the same time, teaching them urgently of the parts of the gospel that he that he had just learned. He so reminds me of Moody, whom I am told, brought hundreds of children to Sunday School even before he had fully absorbed the gospel message. I do wonder what blessings the church has missed with Keith’s seemingly early departure. We do desperately need men and women who know the greater God, that they might remind us of what we have forgotten.

Revival thus begins with God, placing the awareness in the hearts of his praying saints. I was in Biola, in the late 70s, when three men began to feel the need to come together and pray for revival and growth of Biola University. From those three men, God brought great revival, doubling the size of the physical campus, and sending out many students as missionaries. These three professors knew of a greater God.

Revival starts as a need in the hearts of a few, whom God seems to bring together, and before you know it, smoldering fires turn bright with the heat of renewed zeal of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of many. It comes as people awaken once more to the fact that God has given them a high estate, and that those who are lost around them are doomed to perdition if they know not the gospel. “The law of prayer is the law of harvest: sow sparingly in prayer, reap sparingly; sow bountifully in prayer, reap bountifully. The trouble is we are trying to get from our efforts what we never put into them.”2

The mission of the church is always to proclaim the gospel; she forgets her mission, and God must renew her from time to time. That is revival. “Fundamentally, then, the personal element in true soul-winning work is more a service of pleading for souls than a service of pleading with souls. It is talking with God about men from a clean heart and in the power of the Spirit, rather than talking to men about God.”3 Men when they see as God sees, begin to have a renewed effort to proclaim the gospel, and this first must always start with prayer for the lost. Revival, I think, never starts until saints begin to cry to God to save the lost.

And that brings us to the church today. If we have no need of revival, where, I ask, are those tears for the lost? Until we have men and women in our churches, weeping and praying for the lost in their communities, we will have no revival. The heart of God is toward the lost; where are our hearts?

1. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (p. 85). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 195-198). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
3. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 929-931). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.

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