Servant Scratchings
July 2013

Who Needs Revival Anyway?

Weíve all had that experience where we go to a party or a family function and at some point we find ourselves engaged in a conversation that involves a person who is just not very talkative.  Maybe they are introvert, or maybe they just arenít the talkative type, or maybe they just think the topic of conversation is not interesting or important to them.  Have you ever noticed how that as soon as you touch on a subject that the silent person has a passion or strong interest in, they come alive and open up to talk for hours about the topic at hand.  In reality itís true of all of us isnít it?  We all have subjects that hold our attention, things we are passionate about and can talk for hours about.  Often, these passions can change over time as well, so that in one phase of our lives weíre keenly interested in something, but over time other things become more important to us and our passions and interests change.  When once we could have talked for hours about sporting interests, now it just doesnít seem so important anymore, and social justice is now the flavour of our season.  Sometimes though, we have passions and interests that stay with us for a long time, even the most of our life.  What I have found is that for Christians there are some topics that seem to always grab peopleís attention and foster lively discussion.  As soon as the topic is raised, their eyes light up and they want to have robust and excited conversations around the subject matter.  All of a sudden everyone is a Greek or Hebrew scholar, or a theological expert in a particular area of study.  Theyíve read dozens of books, watched dozens of DVDs or video tapes and listened to hundreds of sermons and teaching series about this particular topic, and even done innumerable hours of personal study on the subject and all of the finer points, peculiarities and vagaries involved.  Iíve done it myself, and Iím sure many of you here have done so too. Another thing Iíve found is that there are subjects that almost everyone is interested in, regardless of whether theyíve studied it or not, or even if theyíve ever really discussed it or thought about it much.  One of those subjects for Christians, and one weíll be looking at today, is Revival.  Now please understand that I donít claim to be any kind of expert on the subject, so I wonít be surprised if you donít agree with what I have to say here, but please, bear with me because I believe we will be going on a bit of a journey, and it may cover quite a lot of territory and it may involve some rough terrain, but if you can stick with me I think there will be something in it for us all, and I believe weíll end up at a place where God can have His say if we are open to it.

I would doubt that there are too many christians who wouldnít like to see a revival.  Why wouldnít we?  The thought of churches alive and full of people, with all manner of visible and miraculous Holy Spirit activity where previously there has been very little, if any.  Thereís something in all of us that wants to see a revival like this.  The thought of being a part of a larger community that is very much Christian in numbers and thinking is very exciting, like a dream come true.  We all want that donít we?  The very idea that hundreds or thousands of unsaved, unchurched people in our local community start coming to church and enquiring of the things of God, is just such a wonderful vision to have isnít it?  But instead, what do we see?  Whatís the reality we live in, and why do we believe we need revival? We see a society that grows more and more narcissistic and hedonistic.  Itís always been there, the selfishness and pursuit of carnal pleasures because that is intrinsic to our very nature, our fallen state and brokenness, but increasingly it is not just accepted, but encouraged and openly promoted as the most fulfilling way to live life.  We see the pursuit of superficial, temporal happiness and satisfaction; instead of seeking God which ultimately results in the eternal and deeper joy and peace that He gives.  Happiness and satisfaction, or joy and peace?  The shallow temporal quick fix, or the deeper eternal meaningful journey?  If we pursue the carnal and superficial we end up having to continue pursuing it in different things all the time because it never lasts.  Isnít that what drugs are about?  They give false peace or false joy donít they?  It doesnít last though and the user needs to keep going back for more and more.  If we pursue God, we will ultimately gain the eternal and deeper more meaningful joy and peace, and maybe even the happiness and satisfaction as well, but they will no longer be so important to us, they will be a bonus.  Even in the church weíve been suckered into believing the warm fuzzy pop psychology of the 60ís and 70ís that tells us that everyone is basically good, and that life is about whatever makes you feel good.  We might not say it as plainly as that, but our lives and how we respond to daily issues gives us away.  Indeed, we now focus so much on feelings that truth, reality, rationale, reason and responsibility seem to be irrelevant to many of us in the way we live our lives.  Itís a lie, and weíve taken it on board whole heartedly because itís what our flesh wants to be true, and this is in the church, not just the world where it is expected to be that way.  We want the easy wide road, not the narrow challenging path of the gospel.  Whatís this got to do with Revival?  As revivalist Leonard Ravenhill said, "The only reason we don't have revival is because we are willing to live without it!" and, "Todayís church wants to be raptured from responsibility.".

In being evangelised by the world more than the church has evangelised the world, the church has taken a steep dive.  Churches are empty, being sold off to become nightclubs and all kinds of businesses.  To those outside of her, the church has become devoid of integrity and relevance.  The number of people claiming to be Christian, let alone attending church regularly, has plummeted since the second world war to a point where the church of Jesus is a small minority, not just in number, but in voice and influence in our society.  Yes there are some churches that show some growth in numbers, but in reality, most of that growth is through migration from other churches, not new believers coming to Christ. We talk of godlessness in the world as a need for revival, but what about godlessness in the church?  In actuality, godlessness is expected in the world, but not in the church.  The unsaved are just living according to the nature of being separated from God, and so it shouldnít be surprising that they live like this, but we the church should know and live better, shouldnít we?  We want revival.  We pray for revival.  Revival doesnít come, not the real revival that results in hundreds and thousands flocking into the church.  The kind of revival weíve all read about or heard of.  Why doesnít it happen here, with us in our churches and our community?  The Bible tells us that God is not willing that anyone should perish, and yet daily we see the church in decline and people around us taking hold of all kinds of beliefs and idolatries, but turning and running from the God we as Christians have faith in.  Why is God not doing His bit?  He can just click His fingers and it can happen.  But it doesnít.  Can it be possible that God isnít interested in revival or the saving of the lost in our community and beyond?  I have great difficulty believing that.  So whatís going on?  Is revival a real phenomenon or are we deluded or mistaken to think it can happen? The evidence suggests that it certainly is a very real occurrence.  Throughout the centuries God has mercifully visited His people and revived them again and again.  Weíve all heard stories about the great revivals of past times.  Stories of wonderful men and women of God like Jonathon Wesley, George Whitfield, Charles Wesley, Charles Finney, Charles Spurgeon.  Itís not just a New Testament phenomenon either, it goes way back.  When we take a look at scripture we can see revival amongst Godís people right from earliest times, and Iíd like to have a look at one such occasion now.

1 Samuel 7:1-6 [NASB] And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took the ark of the LORD and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD.  (2) From the day that the ark remained at Kiriath-jearim, the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.  (3) Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, "If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines." (4) So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the LORD alone.  (5) Then Samuel said, "Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray to the LORD for you." (6) They gathered to Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day and said there, "We have sinned against the LORD." And Samuel judged the sons of Israel at Mizpah.

Here we have a picture of the people of God opening their eyes to see that the destruction they feared, the trouble they saw coming upon them, was due to their idolatries.  They had supplemented God with other deities and idols.  Itís important to note that they didnít turn fully away from God because they had consecrated someone to look after the ark of the Lord, and they lamented after the Lord, but that they had added to their worship of Him with other gods and idols.  They saw the errors of this way of life, repented and had revival.  Samuel makes it very clear what the issue was when he says ďdirect your hearts to the LORD and serve Him aloneĒ.  This raises another point though doesnít it?  What after all, is an idol?  An idol is not merely something tangible, something we can see, hear, touch, smell or taste.  An idol is something other than God that we put our hope and trust in, something we feel gives our lives purpose and meaning and value.  Idolatry is a state of the heart, not merely an action or set of actions or beliefs.  In todayís western world, the world we live in, there are innumerable idols.  Iíve already mentioned the idols of happiness and satisfaction, but there is also money, houses, technology, cars, travel, sports, fame, power, influence, control, position, education, career, beauty, fitness, knowledge, information, science, recognition, feelings; the list goes on and on.  If we think these idols donít exist inside the church, we delude ourselves, and maybe church itself is our idol.  Come to think of it, there is a whole list of things that can be idols that for all intents and purposes seem like righteous pursuits.  At the end of the day, anything that takes a higher place in our thinking and life than God Himself is an idol.  It is totally possible to worship the things of God more than we worship the God of the things.  This is subtle, but I believe very real.  We can worship the worship of God more than we worship the God of worship.  We can worship the Bible more than the God of the Bible.  We can worship prayer more than the God we pray to.  We can worship position or calling in the church more than we worship the God who calls us.  Itís all about a state of the heart isnít it, and after all, we would do well to remember that God sees the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, our attitudes and motives, not just our actions or words.  When we misrepresent ourselves like this, we lie to God, and He knows it more than we know it ourselves.

1 Samuel 16:7 [NASB] But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

We can pray holy sounding prayers, or sing praise and worship with all our might, or read the Bible 6 hours a day, but if in our hearts our hope, trust and faith is more centred on prayer or praise and worship or the Bible than it is on Christ, then we have actually turned the things of God into idols havenít we?  Maybe itís difficult for us to recognise our idols.  How do we know what our idols are?  There are two ways I believe that can help us to pinpoint our idols.  One way is to examine what fills our thoughts and desires the most?  What is it that takes up the majority of our thoughts and desires all day every day?  Chances are that in there are our idols.  It stands to reason doesnít it that if we place our hopes and dreams, trust and faith in something to give us purpose, meaning or value in life, then we are going to think about that something a lot arenít we?  Do we spend large amounts of time thinking about money, hoping for more, thinking about how to get more?  Then maybe money is an idol for us.  Always thinking about a bigger flashier house or car?  Maybe they are idols for us as well.   You get the idea.  Where is our mental and emotional energy being directed?  The other way I can think of to recognise our idols is to consider what it is that we most fear not having in our lives.  What is it that we are most afraid of losing or not gaining?  They are quite likely our idols.  This is kind of the inverse of the first recognition method, but can often make it clearer to determine the realities of our idols, especially if we apply both methods in our lives.  This is quite confronting stuff, but I believe we are foolish to not go there.  Foolish or cowardly, and in Revelation 21 the cowardly are in the same category as unbelievers, abominable, murderers, immoral persons, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars. I have no doubt that some of you are thinking Iíve gone off track.  I started talking about revival, and now here I am talking about idolatry.  The thing is though, when I think about revival, a visitation of God, and when I look at the great revivals of times gone past, it seems to me that revival is not about God clicking His fingers and all of a sudden hundreds and thousands of unsaved come flooding into His church, but it is more that God in His mercy visits His people, the church with a flood of His Holy Spirit.  Revival it seems to me, is primarily God bringing His people to their knees in repentance, being revived from a state of lifelessness.  The unsaved are doing as is expected of them, living as lost and unsaved people.  That shouldnít surprise us, because it surely doesnít surprise God.  Revival therefore is not about God dealing with the godlessness in the world, itís more about God dealing with godlessness in His church.

As Leonard Ravenhill said, God is not concerned about filling empty churches, Heís concerned about filling empty hearts.  Once that true Revival comes upon the church, the lost world will see and will want to know what it is the church has.  The flooding of people into the church is a flow on effect, not the primary motive or purpose of God.  This is reflected in scripture.  The early church had a visitation of God that changed their motives and attitudes towards how they lived life together, and the flow on effect was that people were added to their number every day.  You can read about this in the Book of Acts, especially chapters 2 to 6.  They had Revival.

Acts 2:41-47 [NASB] So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (42) They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  (43) Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.  (44) And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; (45) and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  (46) Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, (47) praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Thatís Revival!  Thatís a people without idols in their lives.  Thatís what Revival is.  Itís the removing of idols from the hearts of Christians.  Itís the same pattern in all the great Revivals across the centuries.  The Spirit of God visits His church, bringing a fresh wave of repentance and a renewed dedication of hearts to Christ, and then the flood of unsaved comes to the church.  Is that what we want to see?  We wonder why God doesnít answer our prayers for Revival.  Maybe the answer is here.  Maybe it is because weíre asking the wrong question.  After all, why should God click His fingers and have the lost come flooding to the Church?  He has asked us to do the work of spreading the gospel and bringing the unsaved to Him hasnít He?

Matthew 28:18-20 [NASB] And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  (19) "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

So maybe itís not God who is not doing His bit, but it is us, His church.  Maybe when we pray for Revival, when we pray for the unsaved to be brought into the church, we are praying the wrong prayer.  It seems to me that if this is true, we shouldnít pray at all because He has commissioned us to do the evangelising work for 2000 years now.  As is often the case, God doesnít answer us not because He doesnít want to, but because we are asking the wrong question.  When we pray for Revival, maybe what we should be praying for is that He would visit us, the church, and change our hearts.  Maybe what we should be praying for is for the Holy Spirit to revive us.  God is not the problem, He never is.  We are the problem.  So, do we want to see Revival?  Do we REALLY want to see Revival?  When we think it through, revival is something that happens in the hearts of individuals, so maybe next time we pray for Revival, we should pray ďLord, send Revival, and Lord, please start with me, and my heart.  Lord, have mercy on me and deliver me from my idols.  Lord, give me the courage to overcome my fears.  Lord, revive me!Ē.  If we pray that kind of prayer, Iím confident that if we mean it from our hearts, He will move on us and in us, and we might just be surprised by revival. Isnít that more important?  That we are concerned more about the integrity of our own relationship with Christ than the relationship that others have with Him?  If we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.  Thatís His promise.  His promise is what He reminds me of regularly,

Philippians 1:6 [NASB] For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.