What is a revival? Many think of them as meetings held in some fundamentalist churches where an "evangelist" comes to whip everyone up into a frenzy of emotional excitement in order to get more people to join the church or give more money. Admittedly, there have been and still are instances where this happens, but these are not true revivals. A true revival occurs when God's people wake up to face the fact that their love for Christ has considerably cooled and that they are not being fully obedient to His will. This leads them to heartily repent, amend their ways and return to a faith that is indeed warm, joyous and infectious in a good way.
There are sincere, well-meaning critics of revivals. They say that the thing we aim at should be a steady, patient going forward in what the Lord desires of us rather than bouncing back and forth between obedience and disobedience. Indeed, our aim should always be to fervently and faithfully serve the Lord. But what if we have not persisted in a joyful, willing obedience to God? Then it means we need revival! And what if a whole church or churches generally, have gone to sleep, spiritually? Does anyone deny that this happens, and in fact is more often the case than not? And can anyone deny that if the individuals comprising those churches were to return to a faithful, active pursuit of God's will that this would constitute a revival?
I think these critics are simply ashamed that it often takes extraordinary means to wake us from spiritual apathy and a worldly spirit. It is indeed shameful that God should have to take so much trouble to persuade us to truly trust in Him and love Him. After all, consider who He is - the Creator, the Self-existent One, the almighty, all-wise, infinitely holy and glorious Being who sustains all things by the word of His power and provides all things needful to His creatures. And beyond this, when some of these creatures, created in His image (that's us), chose to rebel against Him and go their own way, He became one of them (Jesus), took the guilt of their disobedience upon Himself and died in their stead! What wondrous love is this?! And then He sent down upon His blessed, Holy Spirit, to plead with us to turn from our sinful ways and receive full pardon and a glorious position in His eternal family! Now if that isn't something to inspire adoring love and fervent service to God, I can't think of what could!
So when our ardor has cooled and our faith has become more an intellectual acceptance than a heart-felt experience so that we find ourselves increasingly failing in our duty to God and man, we need a revival! The New Testament Church was born in a revival as a reading of the book of Acts will abundantly confirm. The disciples themselves had but recently forsaken their Lord and Master in His greatest hour of need; one had denied Him and one had even betrayed Him! After His resurrection, where did Jesus find them? Were they out proclaiming His word on the streets, fearlessly confronting the world with its sin and need of redemption? He did not so find them. No, rather, they were cowering in a room with the doors locked; having scornfully dismissed the testimony of the women who were the first to see Him after He arose.
The disciples needed a revival. The strange thing is, it took more than seeing Jesus risen from the dead. That certainly helped, to be sure, but Jesus Himself told them to wait in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high. By this, He was referring to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit's work to convict us of "sin, righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8), and to glorify Christ, taking the things of Christ and revealing them to us (16:14). The disciples prayed for ten days, not knowing when the Spirit would come but trusting that He would, according to Christ's promise. I am sure that during those days, many sins were brought to their minds and much repenting and receiving of God's forgiveness was going on. But when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, the Spirit was poured out upon them in mighty power, transforming them from fearful, timid, closet Christians into fiery missionaries for Christ and His kingdom!
They were revived! Immediately they poured out into the streets at nine in the morning and began to proclaim God's word to all who had gathered for the festival. Yes, God gave many of them miraculous ability to preach in languages they had never learned but the main focus was upon Peter's message which was a revival message. He was not preaching to the pagans but to the Jews and converts to Judaism, his "brethren" (Acts 2:29). As God's covenant people, they too had fallen from the faith of their spiritual ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the example of their prophets, such as Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah and Isaiah. They needed to repent and return to the Lord, which three thousand of them did on that day!
What fervency of faith, what willingness to obey the precepts and follow the example of Jesus these early, revived disciples displayed! We read about them with awe today and wonder if we could ever live as they did. Not that they didn't need times of correction and refreshing from the Lord as time went on but God sent faithful servants to revive them whenever they showed the need for it. And we certainly show the need for it. By "we" I mean myself, first and foremost. In fact, revival happens only when someone, somewhere, somehow (by God's grace of course), takes personal responsibility for it. As the great evangelist, Gypsie Smith once observed, "If you want to start a revival, take a piece of chalk. Then draw a circle on the ground around your feet and pray, "Lord! Please send a revival to everyone within this circle!" Yes, true revival is the work of the Spirit. We are so slothful, so prone to rebellion that it takes a powerful work of the Holy Spirit to blast us out of our status quo. God also uses external circumstances. As we recently saw from our look at the book of 2 Kings, it took the carrying away into exile of the northern tribes to finally get the attention of the remaining Israelites, primarily of Judah. Thereafter followed the two greatest periods of revival in Israelite history prior to the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, that is, under King Hezekiah and later, under King Josiah. Revivals in Old Testament times primarily happened under kings because God's people then were a political nation but today, God's people are a spiritual nation and need not wait for a king to repent. Rather, they should look to their risen, Redeemer King, Jesus Christ, who always obeyed His heavenly Father and today ever lives to make intercession to the Father for us. He is always ready to revive us! The ball, therefore, is in our court.
As we look at a world that is increasingly hostile to the word of God and very full of man-made religion, whether "spiritual" or atheistic, we may be tempted to despair. But, in fact, the world's condition is a tell-tale sign of the condition of the church. Jesus said that His disciples are "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world." If the world is decaying it is for lack of salt and if it is in darkness it is for lack of light. If we have lost our saltiness and we have hidden our light under a bushel basket, this is the inevitable result. (Read Matthew 5:13-16.) Thankfully, we can become salty once more and we can take our light out from under the basket, by God's grace. Let us make haste to do so! "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…" (Acts 3:19)