My heart has recently been “strangely warmed,” (to use John Wesley’s phrase), by a desire for revival. I’m not referring to week of prayers or evangelistic efforts, but rather, God moving among His people as only God can do.
I recently attended a seminar on church renewal and revival. The speaker started by saying, “After you pray, I have 21 strategic points to revitalize your church.” I listened to some of what he had to say, but my heart felt empty and I left. I could give you 42 or 84 strategic points, but it will not work. Revival and renewal was, is, and will always be the work of the Holy Spirit.
Promotion or slick publicity cannot bring about real revival. All of our ingenuity cannot create it. Only the manifestation of God’s power among His people can make us different; can change us so we will never be the same again.
We remember the first revival of the New Testament church in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit came like a wind upon those 120 who were praying in the upper room and gave them cloven tongues of fire that covered them. The Bible account records that those followers of Jesus were radically transformed, fanned out and preached the Gospel with thousands being saved. Those believers are referred to in the Scripture as world-changers. “These men [the Christians] who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here” (Acts 17:6). That was revival in the Book of Acts.
Revival refers to a spiritual reawakening from a state of dormancy or stagnation in the life of a believer. It encompasses the resurfacing of a love for God, an appreciation of God’s holiness, a passion for His word and His church. There is also a convicting awareness of personal and corporate sin which inspires a spirit of humility, and then a desire for repentance and growth in righteousness. Revival invigorates and deepens a believer’s faith, opening their eyes to the truth in a new way, marking a fresh start of a life lived in obedience to God. Revival breaks the charm and power of the world, which blinds the eyes of men, and generates both the will and power to live in the world but not of the world (John 15:17).
But even the early church lost this experience quickly and drifted into a lifeless state because of its human failings. By the time the book of Revelation was written in the second century, some churches were already in a rut, in need of a reformation (Rev 2:5). They needed to allow God’s Spirit to operate—to call, gather, gift, nurture and keep people in the faith. It doesn’t take long for roadblocks to appear—barriers that hinder what God wants to do in and through His people.
"Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion." Hebbel
In Paul’s letters to the seven churches, he outlines for us some of these obstacles to revival; losing our first love, complacency, compromise with the world, incorporating worldly values to our belief system, tolerating false teaching, going through the motions without power, getting bogged down in ritual, and apathy. In order to break through these hindrances, we need to be open to letting God move in and through us. The result will be a restoration of that first love and passion for Him, a new hope and faith and right discernment of the values we should hold. This revival will resuscitate our spiritual life (Revelation 2 and 3).
Revival replicates the believer’s experience when he or she is first saved. It is initiated by a prompting of the Holy Spirit, creating an awareness of something missing or wrong in the believer’s life that can only be righted by God. In turn, the Christian must respond from their heart and acknowledge their needs. Then the Holy Spirit draws back the veil the world has cast, allowing the believers to fully see themselves in comparison to God’s majesty. Such comparisons bring great humility, but also great awe of God and His amazing grace (see Isaiah 6:1-9). However, unlike the original conversion experience that brings about a new relationship with God, revival represents a restoration of fellowship with Him.
The evidence of revival and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is confession of sin, repentance and changed lives. Great movements toward righteousness, evangelism, and social justice occur. Believers are once again spending time in prayer and reading and obeying God’s Word. They begin to powerfully use their spiritual gifts.
The Spirit of God must move on us and bring the refreshment of His grace and awaken us spiritually and create in us a passion for God and for the lost. This is the greatest need of the church, renewal, and new life from the inside.
S. Joseph Kidder is professor of church growth and leadership at the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University, Michigan, USA.