The key to the true meaning of the word “revival” is found in Psalm 85:6, where David prays, “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?”
The word “revival” means “to make fresh and strong again; to bring back to a good condition.” Revival is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s own people, whereby they turn to a closer walk with God and with each other.
It is the nature of all created things to wear out and wind down. It is the nature of a fire to go out; of sheep to wander; of love to wax cold; of the church to drift; and of people, to forget. Therefore, from time to time, all of us need to be revived, and restored to the early devotion we had for Jesus.
Most churches today have a number of non-committed members who merely give lip-service to the Lord. They attend church services—if it is convenient; if the weather is nice; if company doesn’t come; and if there are no special services on television. They are haphazard about Bible reading and prayer and family worship in their homes. They often have not separated themselves from the questionable activities of the world. Most of us wish our local churches did not have those kinds of members—but most readers are familiar with such indifference on the part of church members.
I have intermingled with Christians in many parts of the world. I have spoken with some who were tortured and imprisoned for their faith, and whose loved ones disappeared simply because they were committed to faith in Jesus Christ. There is something about hardship and persecution that brings out the best in people! Christians in America tend to be lazy, careless, and complacent. J. I. Packer says that Christianity in America extends from Maine to California; it is 3,000 miles wide, but often it seems to be only one-half-inch deep.
All of us need to experience times of special awakening, and of fresh commitment to Christ. Christ’s last word to the church is not the Great Commission in Matthew 28; it is instead the message found in Revelation 2 and 3, where the church is called to repent. What can be done to stir up the fires of revival in the church? For a genuine revival there must be a major emphasis on a number of areas. We want to look at some of those areas.
1. We must embrace biblical authority
We will never build a strong church unless it is Bible-centered. Only as we respect and seek to obey the written Word of God will the church be revived. We must repeatedly renounce our own human opinions, and gladly accept God’s instructions as given in the Bible.
Jesus accepted the Bible as authoritative. He spoke of:
- the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4)
- the Flood in Noah’s time (Luke 17:27)
- the miracles performed by Elijah (Luke 4:25)
- the big fish that swallowed Jonah (Matthew 12:40)
- the life of David (Mark 2:25)
- the glory of Solomon (Matthew 6:29)
- the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:28-30)
In all this record of Jesus’ words, there is not even the slightest intimation at any time that the Scriptures may be inaccurate at any point! Jesus never contradicted anything in the Old Testament. Sometimes He expanded upon Old Testament truths, but He never contradicted the message of the Old Testament. As for the New Testament, He expressly declared that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles, and bring to their minds all that He had said to them (John 14:26). To Jesus Christ, the Scriptures were the infallible Word of God; not one word could be broken. When we discover what Jesus thought about the Scriptures, that is what we are to think about them.
If we believe that parts of the Bible contradict other parts; if we wonder whether the Red Sea actually parted during the Exodus from Egypt; if we doubt that Jonah could have been swallowed by a big fish—then we can hardly help but wonder whether or not Jesus is really the Son of God.
If the Bible is wrong about Jonah—it might be wrong about Jesus! There can never be a genuine revival among God’s people as long as the Bible is not accepted as the authoritative Word of God.
2. We must rediscover human depravity
All of us are human beings, and as such we are damaged, scarred, and lopsided—to a far greater extent than we often realize.
Early in the history of the human family, there was a great fall. It is described in Genesis 3. The effects of that transgression have been passed down from generation to generation. Each person from birth inherits Adam’s sinful nature. As a result, there are tendencies in each of us to rebel and to go the wrong way.
The tensions in families, the strife between races, and the misunderstandings among nations—are all the result of a corrupted nature in human beings. We don’t have to teach a child to be selfish. In fact, a great deal of our time and effort as concerned parents goes toward trying to overcome this tendency from the child’s early years.
But when a person believes the message of the gospel—his sins are forgiven; he’s given a new nature; he sets out on a spiritual journey with the Holy Spirit in his heart.
Sometimes, after conversion, we testify about the fact that once we were blind, but now through Christ we have been brought to life. We’ve been transformed and given a new nature—and indeed our lives should be different! The old nature has been crucified (put to death), but remember that death speaks of a separation, not of extinction.
When a person dies, he does not go out of existence; he’s not extinct. And just so, when the old nature is crucified, it doesn’t go into extinction. The old nature still exists and occasionally rears its ugly head (even in the best of God’s saints). Therefore, the spiritual health about which we testify is only partial and relative.
All of us (because of our partial sanctification) are prone to damaging delusions:
- There is the delusion of doubt and unbelief. If things go well, fine, but if something terrible happens, we are inclined to doubt, and conclude that perhaps God has forgotten about us.
- There is the delusion that interrupts good relationships. We sometimes misunderstand each other’s motives and purpose, and find it easy to blame others for generating hostility—when all the while we are blind to our own part in provoking trouble.
- There are delusions about the nature of the Christian life. We sometimes are given the impression that serving the Lord is easy and exciting—and that temptations to get angry, and to be envious, and to lust after persons of the opposite sex—that those things don’t bother genuine Christians.
If we are inclined to think that we are strong—then we need to take special heed, lest we fall. We still discover that the Christian life is a warfare that will not end until we are safe in the arms of Jesus. If we want to experience revival, we must come down off our high horse of pride and humble ourselves, recognizing that we are but redeemed sinners saved by the grace of a merciful God.
3. We must resolve internal conflicts
If we want God to send the showers of revival blessing, then we must resolve to become a united community. Too often, petty little differences among us stifle the work of God in our churches.
One source of internal conflict in the church is related to what are called “neutral matters.” In the early years, the conflicts centered on the issue of observing special days and eating certain foods. There are many issues that fit the category of neutral matters today.
Some genuine Christians hold complete faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, but they think that Jesus died on Thursday instead of Friday—and they make much ado about it. Others wait eagerly for the return of our Lord Jesus. They believe sincerely in His Second Coming, but they don’t see the chart of end-time events in the same order that many Bible teachers do. Should parents send their children to a public school, or to a Christian day school, or is it better for the parents to home-school? (You can get temperatures to rise on that subject in some quarters today.) Or, how should parents discipline their children? There are many different opinions about what to do when children disobey.
In Romans 14, Paul says that we should “receive” that brother (with all his scruples); count him as a brother; don’t argue with him just because he has some viewpoints that differ from yours. Accept him without trying to settle all the petty differences. But Romans 14:3 says that those who hold many scruples about debatable issues (that is, the “weak” brothers in the church) should not “judge” (harshly condemn) those who don’t share their convictions.
God wants us to get along with each other. He urges Christians to be at peace with each other. Second Corinthians 13:11 says, “Finally brethren . . . be of one mind, live in peace,” and Jesus says that we are to be peace-makers (Matthew 5:9). If we want to experience revival in the church, there must be a warmth of love between fellow-believers in the congregation.
4. We must practice ethical behavior
Research done by one of our nation’s polling groups has concluded that “there is no significant difference in ethical behavior, between church and unchurched citizens of America.” When it comes to things like honesty, integrity, diligence, and moral uprightness, the church and the world have about the same values.
Nearly half of all the younger people in the United States see nothing wrong with:
- calling in sick when you’re not really sick
- spending time secretly looking at pornographic pictures
- going on a credit-card spending spree
- occasionally telling a lie to members of one’s family
- stealing from an employer (under some circumstances)
Compare the looseness and carelessness and dishonesty that I have just described with the ethical behavior of many people one hundred years ago. The following letter was written to the President of the United States in September, 1895. It came from a youth, addressed to President Cleveland. This is perhaps the most quaint letter in the whole White House collection:
To his majesty, President Cleveland: Dear President: I am in a dreadful state of mind, and I thought I would write and tell you all. About two years ago I used two postage stamps that had been used before—and put them on letters. Perhaps I used more than two stamps, but I can only remember of doing it twice. I did not realize what I had done until lately. My mind recently has been in constant turmoil on that subject, and I think about it night and day. Now, dear Mr. President, will you please forgive me, and I will promise you I will never do it again. Enclosed, please find the cost of three stamps, and please forgive me—for I was then about 13 years old. I am heartily sorry for what I have done. From one of your subjects.
May all believers in our local congregations have the same earnest desire to be carefully honest in all that they do. That kind of honesty will be a mark of genuine revival.
5. We must downplay sports and television
The sports mania around us today borders pretty close to idolatry. Time magazine describes the Super Bowl games each winter as “a religious holiday.” People worship a 250-pound idol wearing cleats, and dressed in a football uniform. A single 30-second advertisement at the 2006 Super Bowl game cost $2.5 million.
Many a pastor wishes that his church members could muster up as much enthusiasm for Bible study and family worship and visiting the sick—as they do for the ball games.
Interest in sports is not all wrong—but it is harmful if it becomes so demanding that there’s not a greater amount of time for devotion to the things of God. I’ve had dates for preaching services changed because the local high school had a football game that night—and the pastor said, “We might as well change the date; hardly anyone will come out that night!”
Our society pays a prize fighter $10 million (for one evening)—to see him pound his fists into another man’s face and body. Some baseball players are paid $25 million a year (ten times as much as the President of the United States makes in a year). Does any believer really think that it’s right to give financial and moral support to a system that pays exorbitant sums of money to its performers?
And as for television—almost every minute of the programming (commercials, entertainment, and even the news) is a tremendous wasteland, which really incriminates human intelligence. Advertisers know that television has a wide influence on the habits of audiences, or they would never pay $2 million for a one-half-minute of advertising ($66,000 per second).
People who watch a regular diet of television get a grossly distorted view of the real world. On TV programming, women are the weak satellites of powerful men; doctors, athletes, and lawyers are glamorized; farmers, preachers, and factory workers are considered eccentric. One news magazine writer describes the TV talk shows as “loaded with sleaze” and “filled with nasty trash.” The emphasis is on consumption and greed and shallow entertainment.
People who are hooked on television spend less time on Bible reading and prayer. They find it easier to stay home from evening church services. They discover that it’s increasingly difficult to censor what they watch. Violence and immodesty become less shocking than it seemed at first. The church will never experience genuine revival as long as the loyalties of its members are focused on sports and television.
6. We must experience repentance for sin
To have a great revival there must be honest repentance for sin. Second Chronicles 7:14 concludes by saying, “If my people which are called by my name shall humble themselves, and pray, . . . and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven . . . and will heal their land.”
God will never send revival as long as we tolerate open sin in our midst. Nothing short of a broken heart over sin (with full confession and repentance)—will lead to revival in the church.
Several decades ago there was a young brother who worked for a boat construction company. His boss was an unbeliever who made fun of Christianity and laughed at the people of God. The young man, in his spare time, began to build a boat for himself—at home in his basement. He wanted to use copper nails (rather than iron nails) because copper nails don’t rust. But he felt he couldn’t afford to buy them. And so, every day he put a few copper nails (belonging to the company) in his lunch box—and took them home with him.
But one Lord’s Day, he heard his preacher speaking about the matter of repenting and making restitution, and restoring things that were wrongfully taken. The young man was convicted of his sin, and after confessing his sin to God, he went to his boss, told him what he had done, and made restitution by paying for the nails he had taken.
Can you guess what the boss said? He said, “Jim, I always thought you were an old humbug (a religious quack), but I’m beginning to think now that there’s something real in your religion after all.”
If we want to experience revival in our churches, we must get rid of those “copper nails” on our consciences. God will never send revival as long as we cover up sin! Maybe the sin is bitterness against other people, maybe it is dishonesty at work, maybe it is playing around with another man’s wife, or perhaps spending time on the Internet (which is far more dangerous than time with television). Whatever it is—the answer is to repent, to confess, and to turn from our wicked ways.
All of us would like to see a fresh breeze of revival flowing across our churches—but revival must begin with each one of us as individuals. Maybe you are a member of a local church. You have been baptized and received into church fellowship, but you’re just play-acting. Your heart is not in it. You haven’t even been trying to walk close to the Lord. This is a good time to start over. Draw a circle of chalk; step into the circle; and ask God to start a revival inside the circle!
Keep in mind too that you cannot be revived if you have never received Christ in the first place. If you have never given your life over to Jesus and in simple faith promised to live for Him—then, the invitation is simply this: come to Jesus and find forgiveness and rest for your soul. You will never regret stepping out on the Lord’s side.