What is Revival?
As I write this article our annual revival at Columbia Christian Church has not yet arrived. You may be reading this during it or even after its completion. But a revival like the one we will have begs the question… What is revival?
While there is no mention of the word “revival” in the Bible, we do see believers asking God to revive them. For example in Psalm 85:6 we read, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Or Habakkuk 3:2, “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”
We also see biblical examples of periods of revival. For example, the way King Josiah led the people of Judah back to following God’s law. Or perhaps the entire nation of Nineveh repenting and turning to the Lord after hearing the preaching of Jonah. In the New Testament we may think of Acts chapter 2, where 3,000 people were saved on the day of Pentecost.
So as we look at these examples from Scripture, and at events in the history of the church that many would consider revivals or awakenings, what can we learn?
One clear lesson is that for revival to happen God must act. This means we cannot schedule revival for the second week of September each year. We can certainly schedule what we might call revival meetings, but whether or not actual revival happens during those meetings is up to the Lord. Just like Elijah on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18, we can set up the alter, and place the sacrifice on top, but in the end God must send down the fire. Therefore we must pray and plead with God to do it. He’s done it before. He can do it again. When will he do it next? During our revival meetings, or some other time? This year, or ten years from now? We do not know. Where will he do it next? At our church? The church down the street? In the US, or some other country? We do not know. It’s up to him.
During the 1800’s in America, Charles Finney began to teach that any faithful preacher could produce a revival as long as he followed the right steps to draw a crowd, manipulate their emotions, and secure decisions for Christ. He essentially made revival into a formula and tried to tame it and bottle it. To him, what produced revival was human ingenuity, instead of God deciding to pour out his Spirit. While there is much in the life of Charles Finney for which the church should be thankful, his teachings on revival were unhelpful at best and extremely harmful at worst.
So what can we do? We can pray. We can plead with God to send revival. But on top of that, we can begin to seek the Lord with all our hearts. When we do that, God promises he will be found by us (Jeremiah 29:13; Deuteronomy 4:29). In his book, Revival, Martyn Lloyd-Jones rightly said, “The inevitable and constant preliminary to revival has always been a thirst for God.”