[This is a repeat of an article we did in July of 2008. Please feel
free to pass it along to your church leadership. There is no more
timely subject or greater need in our congregations.]
Ask any church leader why America–or the churches in general or a denomination in particular or all Christians–does not (do not) have revival and the answers will usually come out to something like: “We’re not praying,” or “We’re not praying hard enough,” or “This takes prayer and fasting.”
Today, I spent an hour on the internet reading some of the hundreds of websites on the subject of revival. Those that attempt to cover the subject of why we are not experiencing revival usually attribute it to sin, complacency, or prayerlessness.
Maybe they’re right, but it seems to me those answers are missing the point.
The reason we’re not having revival may indeed be that we’re not praying for one. After all, Scripture assures us that “you have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2)
But that just leads to the question of why we’re not praying for revival. The answer, I strongly suggest, is simple: we don’t want a revival. We like things the way they are.
I said it and will stand by it: we do not want revival. The churches don’t, the church members don’t, and very few of the pastors want a genuine Heaven-sent revival.
After all, revival means change, and we don’t want change. We’re too comfortable the way things are at the present.
I used to have an elderly man in my last church who showed up for services from time to time mainly because of his wife. Once when I was visiting in their home, I learned that five years earlier, he had had a heart bypass operation. His wife said, “And pastor, the doctor ordered him to walk several blocks a day, but he won’t do it.”
I tried to shame him a little. After all, the walking was for his own good and might prolong his life. He said, “Preacher, the reason I don’t walk is simple. Walking interferes with my routine.”
His wife scoffed, “What routine! Pastor, he goes to the casino!”
He lived two more years, still spending his days with the slot machines.
That, in a word, is why the great masses of Christians do not pray for nor desire revival: it would interfere with their routine.
By “revival,” we mean an across-the-board movement of the Holy Spirit as He touches hearts, changes minds, melts pride, and transforms sinners.
In a revival, the hearts of God’s people are broken in repentance and humility, the Lord’s people come together in love and service, and the Lord’s work of ministry and giving and witnessing and missions moves forward at warp speed.
Now, logically, most Christians would like these things to occur. In our heart of hearts, we know this is what is going to be required for God to transform the modern church and make it once again a missionary organization. We know the people of our community are not going to be reached in numbers big enough to have any kind of impact until the Lord’s people have a new touch of God in their lives. And we confess we want that, that we desire revival.
But we don’t. Not really.
Everything inside us resists change. Our ego resists Anyone else sitting on the throne over our lives. Our spirit rebels at Another calling the shots. Our bodies are afflicted with inertia, which we learned in the chemistry lab means a resting body prefers to remain at rest.
Now, I’ve seen revival and perhaps you have, too.
When the Lord’s Spirit moves in and begins to touch lives, you can throw away the schedule and the printed order of worship. Everything else goes out the window when the Holy Spirit sets up shop.
People get confronted with their sinful ways. Hearts are broken over their wickedness. Husbands confess to their wives and mothers apologize to their children and children start obeying their parents. Friends reconcile with friends, and then turn to their enemies in humility. Bosses ask employees to forgive them. Employees confess to wrong-doing and face up to their poor work ethic. Pastors get saved; pastors’ wives get saved; deacons and their wives get saved.
Tears are shed by the buckets. Prayer meetings become loud and long and unstructured. Meetings get interrupted by church members walking in with a neighbor or co-worker they have just led to Christ.
The pastor is no longer the only one hearing from God. Church members testify of what God told them this morning in prayer time. Those who never headed anything in their lives now find themselves leading Bible studies and witnessing projects. The timid suddenly become outspoken.
The lid is off their faith. They now believe God can do anything and that they can do all things through Him. Nothing is off-limits any more, nothing out of bound, nothing unthinkable. They are free in their giving, loving, serving, and most of all, in their thinking.
Invariably, spectators and outsiders–those untouched by the Holy Spirit and uncertain the Holy Spirit has had any part in these shenanigans whatsoever–condemn the excess, resent the disorder, suspect the new people who have begun coming to church (“Not our kind of people!” and “Let’s see if they stick!”), and look for occasions to attack the ringleaders.
Revivals drive some people away from the church. On the other hand, revivals attract a lot of new people in, frequently the kind who’ve not been brought up in a religious tradition and do not know how to behave in a sanctuary. Revivals disrupt the flow of things, end the tyranny of the calendar and the clock and the Pharisees, and rearrange a church’s priorities. Revivals produce an entirely new set of leaders for a church.
In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that revival kills off the old church and leaves an entirely different one in its place.
All of this is painful, uncomfortable, disruptive, and even expensive.
And, being human, we don’t like pain, discomfort, disruptions, and expense.
We like our comfort. We prefer our complacency. It feels good to see the same faces at church every Sunday, all of them occupying the same pews they have held down for ages. There’s a warmth about sitting in the Bible study class with the same 8 people we’ve known for years; newcomers and visitors are an intrusion. The pastor may not be saying anything we haven’t heard him say time and again, but even the drone of his voice carries a certain kind of comfort, too.
None of this is new. God’s people have dealt with this love for laxity and resistance to the Holy Spirit from the beginning.
“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule on their own authority,
And my people love it so.”
Ah, yes. Something inside our rebellious hearts love it when the preachers and television evangelists say what we want to hear, when they calm our anxieties about the future by their platitudes, when they tell pleasant stories and find just the right interpretation of Scripture to agree with what we had always hoped. We give them our full support when they minimize our sin, omit the need for repentance, and remind us again just how wonderful we are.
Jesus put His finger on the problem when He said, “No one, after drinking old wine wishes for new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough.'” (Luke 5:39)
Therein lies the problem. We’re satisfied with the old when God wants to do a new thing in our midst. I can hear some church leader say about his congregation, “We may not be doing much, but we’re good enough.”
And that’s the problem.
So, what is the answer if God wants to send revival and we don’t want one? Where do we begin to address this stalemate?
I have three suggestions for the people of God, the ones commissioned to represent the Lord on this planet, to bring worship to Him, and to carry His gospel to the ends of the earth. They and only they have a concern with the matter of revival. Revival is only for believers. After all, you cannot revive what never was alive in the first place.
1) REMEMBER THE BIG PICTURE.
The object of spiritual revival is not the emotional outbursts, unstructured services, excessiveness in enthusiasm, bigger budgets, or even the crowded churches which often accompany revival. These things may occur and often do, and they tend to frighten away those of us who like worship to be completely predictable and identical to the way we did things last week.
The whole point of a movement of God’s Spirit which we call revival involves great concerns, matters like a) glorifying God in this world, b) magnifying the Lord Jesus Christ, c) the spiritual rebirth of millions of lost people, d) the restoration and health of families, e) the healing of society and the redemption of our culture, f) rescuing the futures of vulnerable little children, and g) reviving and re-aligning the Lord’s churches.
When we get hung up on the emotional excesses of revival, we fail to look at the big picture, that the whole point of revival is God transforming this world, one person at a time, for His own purposes and glory.
2) MAKE THE BIG DECISION.
If revival is about re-establishing God’s glory and Christ’s honor, about transforming lives and homes and churches and society, don’t you want that? Surely we do, even though we like our comfort and hate being “messed with,” we who call ourselves disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ can be said to desire these things.
In fact, David Mains points to the restlessness of church members today as a sign that God’s people are indeed yearning for a genuine revival. He says, “Step one to any kind of revival movement is a deep-seated sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are. People who are already satisfied with life seldom aspire to something more, so I’m glad if there is a restlessness going on.”
The kind of restlessness Mains refers to can be seen in the way believers run from one church to another, crossing denominational lines, soaking up Bible studies in conferences, and pressuring their leaders toward more relevant and productive ministries.
Dr. Mains emphasizes that these “yearnings for more than meager fare have a tendency to go in one of two directions. The first is a negative bent and results in a carping or complaining spirit….” The other is to drive us to our knees in praying for a great movement of God’s Spirit, a movement we call revival.
If we can admit that we want God’s transformation in our world, our institutions, our people, our churches, and our homes, then, where is the starting place to achieving that?
3) PRAY THE BIG PRAYER.
We’re now at the point where we can pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can pray for His will to be done in Washington, D.C., as in heaven; in my town as in heaven; in my church, my home, my own life.
That’s the simplest definition of revival you’ll ever find: God putting into place His will for vast numbers of His people.
And so the prayer we pray for revival may come down to being the simplest prayer one can ever lift heavenward: “Lord, we want thy will. Thy will be done in us.”
In so saying, you are handing Him the keys, moving out of the driver’s seat, yielding your will to His.
Now, if it happens that the pleasures of this world have you in a death grip and will not let go–you could not possibly imagine leaving home on a Tuesday night and helping at the homeless shelter because you would miss your favorite television show–and you cannot honestly pray for God’s will to be done in your life, then there’s another prayer for you.
This one is the key to the other. Try praying this: “Father, I cannot say I want thy will to be done in my life. But I wish I could. Therefore, I pray that I will want thy will to be done. I ask you to change my heart and give me a desire for Thee.”
Many Christians today have no clue what a critical hour we are living in. The hour is urgent, the Lord is willing, the devil is hard at work, and too many church members are sitting in the grandstands enjoying the view when they should be suited up and on the field.
“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion.” (Amos 6:1)
One Saturday, the pastor was having trouble with his sermon and decided to go for a drive in the country to clear his mind. Soon he came upon a scene unlike anything he had ever seen. Fire trucks and emergency vehicles were everywhere and crowds were blocking the streets. He pulled his car over to the side and got out. Down the block, a large house was burning down, and everyone was working to rescue the people inside and extinguish the blaze.
Later, when the pastor drove home, he knew he had found exactly what his sermon needed for the next day. Sunday morning at church, he preached the sermon God had given him. Toward the end, he told about driving through the country and coming upon this great old house, of the trucks everywhere and the crowds blocking the street, the frantic activities and the ambulances. To his surprise, the congregation sat there impassively, completely unaffected by his story.
On the way home, the pastor expressed his disappointment to his wife. “The congregation didn’t react at all the way I thought they would,” he said. “I really thought hearing about that burning house and all would have affected them.”
His wife was quiet a moment, then she said, “Well, honey, it might have. And it should have, but for one thing. You forgot to tell them the house was on fire.”
Someone needs to tell God’s children today that the house is on fire. It’s time for us to get up off the couch and get busy.