Revival is not a calendared event in a church. It is not an evangelistic crusade, although evangelism is an expected result of revival. It is not confined to a place or a time outside of the human heart.
Revival is best defined as what happens to God’s people when He is present. It is truly the birthright of every child of God…
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ
What happens when God manifests His presence in an experiential way among His people? In the first decade of the twentieth century, believers around the world encountered the presence of God in a well-documented, global event. Here is one description, drawn from the revival in the Khassia hills region of India in March 1905:
Shillong is a fashionable Hill station, and the seat of Government; a difficult place in which to lead a truly spiritual life. Here a large proportion of the Christian community consisted of young people born of Christian parents, instructed in Scripture truth, yet who had never come into living touch with a personal Saviour…
Many felt that the Glory of the Infinite God was actually visible in the building. Special prayer had been offered up here as elsewhere. Attendance became larger and expectancy grew. Then one night while a not very prominent member of the church was leading in prayer, he prayed for the Spirit and pleaded so earnestly, as if his soul was parched with thirst, and faint with hunger. Then others began, while he still prayed, to pray in whispers, which went on to loud cries, and the greater part of the congregation burst out in piercing cries for mercy; while others shouted with ecstasy at the sight of a Saviour “able to save.” . . .
Another young man, a Christian, but irreverent, felt great terror. The trifling, jocular way he had so often used in handling the holy things and words of God, appeared now in its true light. Fear and trembling seized him. He felt as if some unseen hand was twisting him, and for days was unable to leave his bed He arose a thoughtful, earnest, God-fearing man. . . .
Many present in the chapel that night–witnesses whose word can be relied on–state that they saw clouds hanging over the brother who stood praying at the commencement. To some the clouds appeared so dense that the light of the lamp was not visible. Others saw them as fiery clouds. After that came reviving and precious times; wayward and prodigal children coming home crying for mercy…
The presence of God… He is the author, source, and sustainer of life as He intends it to be.Source: Helen S. Dyer, Revival in India: Years of the Right Hand of the Most High (New York: Gospel Publishers, 1907), 35-36.
Twenty-five years later, the experience remains vivid. The Lord still whispers the lyrics of that time across my heart, “this is My church”. Church as He intends it to be. It was an ordinary church retreat, until He touched us with His presence. Five hours later, we were closer to each other. We were closer to Him. He had come. It was only a small taste of what happens in the presence of God. Why do we need revival? Because we need Him!
Revival is essential. Revival is the restoration of God’s presence to His people. In Exodus 33, God threatened to remove His presence from His people. Understanding that there is no real life apart from God’s presence, Moses pleaded for God to return to His people. In verse 15, Moses said, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.” God’s presence is essential. We need Him, and we were never intended to do life or church without Him.
Revival is also experiential. In other words, when God is present, life is different. In Acts 3:19, Peter said, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Peter understood that the presence of God alone could refresh and renew the hearts of His people.
Why do we need God’s Presence?
- We need Him if we are ever going to recover a biblical sense of fear and awe. In Revelation 1:17, John fell on his face in the presence of God. He simply could not stand. More than a physical response, the bowing of our bodies reflects the yielding of our hearts to His rule in our lives. When God is present, our lives are reoriented around Him and not ourselves.
- We need Him if we are going to do real battle with sin in our lives. In Isaiah 6:1-5, the prophet had a life-defining encounter with the holy presence of God. The result was that he became intensely aware of his own sinfulness. Like raising the lights in a darkened room, God’s holiness will highlight all the impurities in our lives. Isaiah wanted to deal with the sin in his life and so will we!
- We need Him if our land is going to be healed. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God says that if His people are repentant, then He will “heal their land.” Our land is suffering. Secularists are forecasting the loss of U.S. economic and military influence around the world. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods… from natural disasters to national debt, it seems clear our nation is in trouble. Not only has infertility doubled in the U.S. since 1992, the World Health Organization believes the infertility will be the third most serious disease of the twenty-first century, following cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Is God getting our attention? This was similar to what the people of Israel were experiencing in the days of Haggai the prophet: “You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” (Haggai 1:6)
- We need Him if we are going to love the world the way He does. In Luke 9:36-38, Jesus has compassion on the masses of people without God. He feels something that is visceral, engaging all the emotions in a desire to release others from spiritual darkness and disorientation. When He is present among us, our hearts will come into alignment with His heart.
- We need Him if we are going to answer the heart cry of our generation. All around us, people have questions about God. Who is He? What is He like? Can He forgive me? Can He help me? They are interested in talking to someone who really knows God, but studies indicate that they are not looking to churches for those answers. They are not moving away from an interest in God, as much as they are running away from the institutional church. They have questions about God and a real hunger for spiritual reality, and they want those answers from people they know and trust.
- We need Him if we are going to recover the hearts of students and young adults. Recently, I was talking to a young couple I met in a coffee shop, asking them to share their thoughts about God and church. He was a second-year law student; she was a nurse. Although they had been raised in evangelical churches, they understood very little about God or the gospel message. They had not been discipled by parents or the church to walk with God. Youth are “graduating” from church at the same time they graduate from high school. Last November, Barna Research reported that almost 60 percent of young people age 15 to 29 have left active involvement in a church. Only God’s presence can turn this around.
- We need Him if we are going to see more people giving their lives to Christ, trusting Him for salvation. In the presence of God, lives are changed and resistance to the gospel melts away. However, today we are seeing the fewest number of people coming to Christ since the 1950s. In 2010, Southern Baptists baptized 332,321, the lowest number in sixty years. Baptisms in Southern Baptist churches have been in decline for over a decade.
- We need Him if we are going to impact our nation for Christ. During the First Great Awakening, 20 percent of the colonial population came to Christ and joined churches. Today, less than 20 percent regularly attend church. Discussed at length in his book The American Church in Crisis (Zondervan, 2009), David Olson conducted research showing that only 17.5 percent of the population attends church on any given weekend in America. In their book Comeback Churches (B&H Publishing, 2007), Mike Dodson and Ed Stetzer explain that less than 5 percent of churches are experiencing significant conversion growth—most churches are simply reshuffling existing members. Although Southern Baptists boast having more than 16 million members, only one-third will attend church this coming Sunday. One observer concluded that the church has become nothing more than a symbolic place for “hatching, matching, and dispatching” (i.e., baby dedications, weddings, and funerals).
Everything changes when God comes among us! Let us pray that He will revive each of our hearts with Himself, transforming our nation as we are transformed as His people.
Things happen. People change. God’s presence accomplishes something in our lives. For example:
- You will have a sense of awe (Revelation 1:17). John fell on his face in the presence of God.
- You will have a sense of His love (Ephesians 3:17-19). His love is not only a fact; it is also experiential and defies verbal description.
- You will have a crushing awareness of your own sinfulness (Isaiah 6:1-5). Like raising the lights in a darkened room, God’s holiness will highlight all the impurities in our lives.
- You will have a deep desire to confess your sin and make things right with others (Luke 3:8-14). Under John the Baptist’s anointed message of repentance, the people, tax collectors and the soldiers all asked, “What shall we do then?”
- You will begin to share His heart for a broken and lost world (Luke 9:36-38). If His heart is moved with compassion, how can ours beat in any other way?
On August 8, God broke through. Less than a year later, Brainerd had baptized 77 and led a congregation of 150.
The converts immediately abandoned animism, alcohol, and adultery. The change of life was permanent and dramatic.
In less than two years, Brainerd died – at age 29.
Are you losing hope that God could do a mighty work in your life or in your church? This might be the very time He is about to move! Don’t quit now… keep praying until He shows Himself strong to you and your church.
These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness… It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea. Now it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel…
Deuteronomy opens at the end of 40 years of wilderness wanderings. In verse 2, Moses notes that a normal journey from Sinai to the Promised Land was only 11 days.
However, because of their obstinacy and rebellion, it took Israel 40 years to experience what God was willing to give them in just 11 days! I don’t have that much time – do you?
We can talk about praying for revival. We can preach about it, write books about it, teach classes on it and even hold an occasional prayer service focusing on it.
I am suggesting the time line for revival may not be nearly as long as we think. We ought to pray and not give up – but we also ought to pray as if God was about to come soon. I mean really, really soon!
Ask God to help you boldly obey everything He asks you to do – unlike the generation of Israelites who lost their inheritance in the wilderness – so that you do not miss anything God wants to accomplish in your generation.
Colossians 3:9 – Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds.
James 5:16 – Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
It had been a fairly ordinary retreat experience. The mountain setting made it easy to reflect and evaluate my walk with God. During our final session, the leader of the retreat led about 25 of us in a time of sharing: what had God done in our lives through our study and time together?
No one said anything for a long time. Finally, one of the single women stood and moved to the front of the group. She was trembling – obviously scared and nervous about what she wanted to say. Tears welled up in her eyes as she began to speak. “I’m pregnant,” she confessed. She had been dating an unbeliever and the unthinkable had happened. After sharing her story she said, “I am so sorry everyone, please forgive me — I need you right now so much…”
Immediately one of the women spoke, “We forgive you.” The group surrounded her for prayer and encouragement. After many minutes, we sat back down. It was only the beginning of what God wanted to do that afternoon… soon someone else spoke up. Another confession was made. Then another. And another… and still another. Relationships were mended. Deep needs and fears were expressed. Wrongs were uncovered through confession, covered over with forgiveness, and then put away forever.
For almost 5 hours our group became honest with each other and before God. The sharing was discreet (no unwholesome details), but open and full. Little was held back as God’s Spirit took us to a new place of trust and oneness as the people of God. How refreshed and alive we felt when it was over!
Back in our home church the next day, worship was different. Our greetings were transformed — less casual, more personal — more like family. More like heaven. More like home. We were made for this and finally were experiencing a taste of our privilege as God’s children! It was glorious.
Twenty years later, the experience remains vivid. The Lord still whispers the fragrance of that time across my heart, “this is My church”. Church as He intends it to be.
When we hide from each other it is safe and comfortable, but it is also lonely. We are missing so much. We live in a world of people looking for a safe place to be open and honest. A place where they can be known… and still be loved. Individual spiritual growth explodes in the fertile soil of mutual love and trust. How can we help create a place like that?
- Become a truth-seeking person — pray that God will open our hearts to each other. The retreat situation described above was the result of several years of asking;
- Become a truth-keeping person — what is shared stays with you and goes no further; and
- Become a truth-telling person — when you feel led to take the risk, honestly share your weakness and need with other brothers and sisters.