Revival is not the pursuit of any manifestation or aspect of ministry whether it be miracles, signs, wonders, visions, shaking, trembling, falling down, weeping, laughter, healing, deliverance, appearances of gold dust, and anything else you could possibly hear of. Most of these kinds of manifestations are frequent in times of revival, but they are not the revival. They may accompany revival or lead to revival, but they are not necessarily evidence of revival.
Revival is a definite outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church and then those she is called to reach.
Revival is a restoration of Divine life from deadness and dullness. It is a return to spiritual health, vibrancy, and vigor.
Revival awakens us from a sleeping heart and stirs us from our slumber. We become conscious of heaven and of eternal things.
Revival means to flourish after a time of decline; to come back into use; to become valid, effective, and operative again.
Revival is when the saints return to normal, when the Holy Spirit becomes their oxygen, when a hunger to know God is the norm, when being conformed to His image is their focus, when evangelism and discipleship become a lifestyle.
The primary purpose of revival is not initially for the enjoyment of the Church but for her cleansing, renewal, and refreshing. A cleansed, renewed, and refreshed Church in the hands of God will do the most good.
I believe one of the final moves of God’s Spirit on the earth will be to ignite His people with an intense, burning passion for God that will yield true holiness and prepare it for the glory and harvest to come, as well as the Lord’s soon return. It is only a revived Church that will accomplish the full purposes of God.
Charles Finney defined revival as, “A renewed conviction of sin and repentance followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God.” It is only under the influence of the Holy Spirit that conviction and repentance are birthed. God, working through the preaching of men (Acts 20:21), commands people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), and then grants repentance as a gift (Acts 11:18).
There is always a man-ward part and a God-ward part in the promotion of revival. “One plants, another waters, but it is God that brings the increase” (1 Cor 3:6-7). A farmer prepares his field, plants seed, and waters that seed, but sown seed is no guarantee of a harvest without God’s blessing on the laws of nature. Just as a good farmer has tools to produce a harvest so praying, preaching, and the power of God are tools God has given us as a means to revival. However, it still takes God’s grace and blessing to produce it.
For example, in the wilderness journeys of Israel when the waters of Marah had become bitter God told Moses to cast the tree into the waters. When he did, the waters were made sweet (Ex 15:22-25). So what or who caused the sweetness? Was it the tree or was it Moses? It was neither. Actually, it was God’s power that did it, and the obedience of Moses triggered it.
It is human nature to attempt to imitate revivals of the past or depend on some blueprint or strategy that worked in the past. We should endeavor not to do that, but instead put our dependence on God. Our part is to simply obey the written Word and what the Spirit of God is saying to us and use the tools and means God has given us. If we do this we can expect revival.
Methods and men cannot produce revival without the Holy Spirit’s orchestration. There are two extremes here: The first being that some people work in their own strength trying to produce revival through imitation, hype, or programs of one kind or another. The second extreme is that some wait endlessly for what they refer to as “the sovereignty of God” to bring revival. Neither is correct. No doctrine endangers the Church more than this last extreme.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A REVIVAL
The greatest fruit of a true revival is when backsliders and sinners are delivered from their sinful practices and begin to conform to Christ. The first work of the Spirit is not to tell people how to be happy but how to be holy. As stated above, revival begins with the conviction of sin; conviction that people can feel, conviction that hurts, and finally a conviction that culminates in repentance and then obedience.
My first introduction to the Pensacola outpouring (1995-2000) that lasted nearly five years was a deep conviction of sin and people weeping and wailing over their sins. Even the elementary age children could be heard in one service moaning and groaning with a consciousness of sin and an acute awareness of the lost condition of mankind. Uncontrollable weeping, trembling, confession of sin, and united prayer marked many of the services. People came from nearly every state in America and around the world and would stand in line from early morning until evening to attend the services. Man cannot produce that kind of overwhelming response and expectation from the people by putting a sign out in front of the church building advertising the services, or by devising human methods to promote revival.
In one meeting large trash bins were placed on the altar and many who were turning from their sins came forward and threw away what the evangelist called, “articles of affection”. Drug paraphernalia, marijuana, cigarettes, condoms, pornographic magazines, and the like were carried forward by many in tears and discarded once and for all. When their repentance culminated with this type of action then their tears of godly sorrow would turn into tears of wonderful joy. “Blessed are those who mourn”. That is a picture of what happens in true revival.
Revival throws light in the dark places of our lives. It removes deception and deals with attitudes of our hearts the naked eye cannot see. In revival people weep over sins they once entertained.
Revival results in a thorough removal of sinful practices, like the grinding to powder of Aaron’s golden calf (Nu. 32); like King Josiah’s crushing of the pagan altars and then scattering them into the Kidron Valley (2 Kings 23); like the burning of the magic books in Ephesus (Acts 19). True revival offers no compromise with the devil, the flesh, and sin. It reserves mercy only for the truly repentant and gives grace to help the needy. One cannot read the story of the revivals of old without understanding this. There is no honor to God in a revival that does not produce the fruits of holiness.
When revival comes our priorities change. Pleasing God becomes more important than pleasing ourselves. Sin and doubtful habits begin to trouble us. The fear of God is restored in us, and there is a wonderful cleansing from all sin and a fresh infilling of the Spirit of God.
In revival the fire of God burns away the roots of sin and molds our hearts to God’s heart. It purifies our motives and ignites us to action.
Holiness is the one outstanding mark of revival. If a so-called revival does not produce the fruits of holiness then it is not true revival. If there is not lasting change in the lives of the people then it is not the real thing. If it does not alter our appetites and passions and give us a greater hunger for God and for Biblical holiness then it is not fulfilling the purposes of God regardless of how many people attend and how much excitement it generates.
Duncan Campbell, who experienced the glory of God in extraordinary ways in the Hebrides revival off the coast of Scotland (from 1949-1952), said: “Revival is always a revival of holiness.”
When you have renewal and refreshing without fundamental repentance and obedience, you quickly return to your old ways once the experience wanes. You get touched by God, you get excited, but a few days later you are the same. If your encounters with the Lord don’t lead you into a deeper fellowship with Him, into the Word and prayer, and a greater life transformation then all you got was a skin-deep experience.
Understand that revival does not begin with the glory. Revival does not usually begin with the joy of the Lord. Instead, it often begins with holy conviction, sometimes with tears, and always accompanied by godly sorrow. Revival then culminates with the continued manifestation of the presence of God that aligns our hearts and lives with the Father’s will.
In effect, 5 of the 7 letters written to the churches in Revelation were with an emphasis on repentance so these churches could be revived. Repentance is usually a precursor to revival. Blessing and reward was promised on the truly repentant churches of Revelation, but a certain judgment was declared on those who refused change.
The God who allowed the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) is the same God today. The God who judged Uzzah (2 Sam. 6) is the same God today. The God who judged Achan (Joshua 7), and before him Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10), is still as holy now as He was then. Remember, without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
Revival fire creates a hunger for God and for prayer which is the basis and foundation of revival. A church that is consumed with a spirit of prayer is a church in revival. Once the operation of the flesh drops below the operation of the spirit, when spiritual activity supersedes fleshly activity, you are experiencing revival and what is considered normal Christianity. Revival wanes when the opposite happens and this process is reversed.
Let me conclude with a sober warning from one of America’s great revivalists.
“Let Christians in a revival beware, when they first find an inclination creeping upon them to shrink from self-denial, and to give in to one self-indulgence after another. It is the device of Satan to “bait” them off from the work of God, and make them dull and gross, lazy and fearful, useless and sensual; and so drive away the Spirit and destroy the revival.” Charles Finney
“Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You” (Ps 85:6).