“Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord…. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 6:3)
A revival of God’s people is like a rainy season when Heaven’s blessings are poured out upon a dry and thirsty land. So said the Prophet Hosea nearly 3,000 years ago. Nothing has happened since to challenge that image.
The result of such an outpouring of “spiritual rain” is new growth and a bountiful harvest.
As a teenager on our Alabama farm, one Spring I saw what abundant rain can do. We had planted string beans in the bottomland alongside a creek called Bunkum. This was rich soil, made all the more productive by the occasional overflow of the stream. No sooner had the seeds sprouted than several weeks of heavy rain followed. When we were finally able to get back into the bottoms, the weeds were almost waist high, but the green beans were incredible. I could reach under a plant and could not wrap my hand around all the beans. That’s what rains can do for a crop.
Hymnwriter Daniel Whittle liked this image. “There shall be showers of blessings,” he sang. “Mercy drops round us are falling; but for the showers we plead.”
Scripture abounds with metaphors for revival.
The prophet Ezekiel envisioned a valley of dry bones–the typical church of his day? as well as ours?–stirring, joining together, being resurrected and made alive and restored to usefulness. (Ezekiel 37)
Our Lord Jesus looked out upon the cities and communities of His day and thought of them coming to the Father. He said, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest?’ Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are white for harvest.” (John 4:35-36) Anyone who–like this preacher–has ever dragged a cotton sack down row after row as he tried to pick the white stuff falling off the bolls, knows about ripe harvests. (In a similar vein, the songwriter sang of revival as a time of “Bringing in the sheaves,” a reference to Psalm 126:6.)
Long before the harvest, and even prior to the Spring rains, the ground must be prepared. So the Prophet Hosea said, “Break up the fallow ground” (Hos. 10:12), a call repeated by Jeremiah nearly 200 years later (Jer. 4:3). Fallow ground is a field that has lain untouched, neglected, and unproductive with nothing but weeds. The farmer invades that field with a deep turning plow, with which he breaks it up and then breaks it down. When he’s finished turning that hard soil into a sweet, moist, soft ground, only then can he plant seed and grow a crop.
That is revival, too. Breaking down the barren, tough, resistant, hardened soil is all about repentance and humility. This is a necessary part–an absolutely essential component–of any revival.
A revival can mean breaking up the soil, the rains from Heaven coming, the fields sprouting new growth, and a harvest being gathered in. It can mean deadness and dryness being transformed into new life and energy for God.
You may have your own metaphor for revival. Here are some of ours.
1) Revival shines God’s light into every dark corner, unlit closet, locked off and boarded up space, and into the neglected attic of memory.
2) Revival disgusts you with the junk food you’ve been feeding your immortal soul, and hones your taste buds to appreciate the good stuff again.
3) Revival moves Jesus from the guest room into the master bedroom, and then gives Him the key to the whole house.
4) Revival takes the “available at any price” sign off you, and posts a “reserved for Jesus alone” notice on you and everything concerning you.
5) Revival puts an edge on convictions and commitments.
6) Revival dusts off pedastalled truths and returns them to daily life.
7) Revival runs God’s leaf blower into every corner of life to get rid of dust, debris, and cobwebs.
8) Revival means both tears and laughter will become more frequent in your life and your church.
9) In revival, the church gathers up a head of steam and runs ahead of the pastor. It’s all he can do to stay up.
My favorite mental picture of revival comes from the time I was about 15 and my brother Charlie 11. On our small Alabama farm, our coal-miner dad was raising a few acres of cotton and corn as well as typical garden items, and our pasture held a few animals. But mostly, he was raising six children.
One day, the bull broke out of the pasture and a few hours later, the neighbor on the back side of our farm penned him up. From that barn to ours was no more than 2 miles, but there were no roads, not even a trail. Since we had no truck, Dad drove Charlie and me by the highway, at least five miles, to the neighbor’s house. Dad tied a rope around the bull’s horns and handed it to me.
“Joe, you lead the bull and Charlie, you push from behind.”
Those probably weren’t his exact words, but you get the idea. The bull, we need to point out, was nobody’s friend, was not halter-broke, and would not be led. Little did I know the Lord was using this to prepare me to work with deacons. But I digress.
Dad drove home and left us on our own. I was pulling, Charlie was pushing or twisting the tail or something, maybe using a switch on the animal’s backside. Little by little, we made it off that hillside, headed toward the bottomland with the tiny creek. Then, suddenly, the bull decided to take the lead.
If this were a cartoon, you would draw the bull running ahead with the rope straight out behind him and Joe hanging on for dear life. That bull pulled me through the briars and bushes, across the creek, up the next hill and into the barn. I was determined not to turn loose, and didn’t. But I paid a price in scratches and bruises. Poor Charlie was a half hour behind us getting to the house.
Often a pastor feels like me pulling that bull or Charlie pushing it. Lots of effort and little movement. But in revival, the church gets up a head of steam and charges ahead. It’s all the pastor can do to hang on for dear life.
“Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in Thee?” (Psalm 85:6)
Pastors and church members should not miss that revivals are for God’s people, not for the outside world. An ingathering of souls (the evangelistic harvest) is often the result of this new thing God does in the lives of His people.
Whatever metaphor you use, or if you use none at all, pray for revival.
The church needs revival.