There are lessons from the Scriptures and church history where God’s wonderful works are told and retold which rekindle the expectations of faithful intercessors. This awakening in the hearts of the saints prepares the way for another revival. Over and over in the Scriptures the Israelites were told to remember what God had done in their lives and nation. As we read the Scriptures we, too, are told to remember and be thankful, keeping our hearts and lives close to God. However, just as the Israelites wandered from God’s Law, so do Christians wander from their first love with Jesus. This is why revival is so important. Revival brings a heightened Presence of God into our lives resulting in a spiritual awakening, rebirth, recovery, renewal, regeneration, realignment, restoration, and so on. In recent years the idea of welcoming a visitation of God has matured into a habitation for God’s presence.
Qualities of Discipleship:
Before we look at revival characteristics, let’s consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We remember what Jesus said to his disciples after he rose from the dead. Matt 28:17-20 - Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." This is a foundational verse of the Foursquare Gospel Church. This practice of making disciples developed in the early church and can be seen in Acts 2:42-47 - They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Based on these two passages of Scripture, a follower of Jesus is captivated and committed to Jesus and his cause. There is hunger and passion to abide in Jesus. They engage with a community of faith, in small group and larger contexts, and grow in their spiritual character and capabilities. A genuine and growing follower of Jesus develops an influential and invitational lifestyle in everyday relationships, contagiously attracting others to follow Jesus Christ. They are being transformed into the spirit and character of Christ, and are able to interact with religious, political and societal systems with increasing discernment, giving primary allegiance to God’s Kingdom by being “in the world, but not of it.” This kind of discipleship is a lifelong journey of increasing responsiveness to God, embracing the perspective that we are on a path toward maturity, that having a relationship with Jesus is our greatest treasure, and that heaven is our real home. However, there are times when our journey of faith becomes routine or religious and we fall short of God’s glory and purposes. This is why we need to be revived…
Classic Revival Qualities:
Just as there are qualities of a growing disciple, there are traits of revival that can be discerned in the context of the Old and New Testaments. As well, Church history records various encounters between God and his people as related to the on-going advancement of the Kingdom of God. These accounts teach us much of the moving of the Spirit of God and the responsive obedience of the church.
1. Deep Awareness of the Love and Mercy of God:
Revival most often begins with the revelation of God’s love and his mercy towards our sin. The focus is not on sin first. It is an unquestionable knowing that God loves me even though I am struggling with sin or just find myself distant from God. This knowing of the love of God becomes experiential and visible. David Brainerd, a revivalist to the First Nations People of America, tells of revival breaking out among Indians at Crossweeksung in August 1745 when the power of God seemed to come like a rushing mighty wind. Mr. Brainerd was moved upon by the revelation that the Lord Jesus Christ was a kind and compassionate master. He would be moved upon with deep distress, pleading with his hearers, to accept the everlasting love and mercy of God, as tears would stream down his face. Idolatry was abandoned, marriages repaired, drunkenness practically disappeared, honesty and repayments of debts prevailed. Money once wasted on excessive drinking was used for family and communal needs. Their communities were filled with love.
2. Revelation of God's Greatness and Holiness:
The Scriptures speak over and over of God’s greatness and holiness. These two aspects of God bring great awe, joy and holy terror (good fear) into the hearts of believers. I Peter 1:16 tells us, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” In other words, believers are to be examples of God’s greatness and holiness to the world around us. The revivalist, Jonathan Edwards preached under this conviction in the 1700's. Jonathan Edwards, the preacher and scholar who later became a President of Princeton University, was a prominent leader in a revival movement, which came to be called the Great Awakening as it spread through the communities of New England and the pioneering settlements in America. Converts to Christianity reached 50,000 out of a total of 250,000 colonists. He describes “an extraordinary sense of the awful majesty, greatness and holiness of God, so as sometimes to overwhelm soul and body, a sense of the piercing, all seeing eye of God so as to sometimes take away bodily strength.” Revival returns the church to a standard of holiness that is not based on legalistic laws or liberal tolerances. Holiness revivals have the fire of sanctification touching people’s lives. John 16: 6-8 states, “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.” We all love the Holy Spirit but we must remember that Holiness and Holy Spirit go hand in hand. Conviction and confession, repentance and weeping, are all aspects of God squeezing our hearts with his holiness.
3. Increased Awareness of Eternity:
One of the significant realities of revival is that of knowing with certainty the truth about heaven and hell. The Holy Spirit brings into men’s hearts the love and mercy of God, and his greatness and holiness. One of the revelations of revival history is that of the beauty and awful understanding of eternity. Heaven is a popular topic, whether you are a believer or not. Movies are made about the beauty of life to come in eternity. However, when hell is mentioned people become anxious and troubled. Why would God send people to hell, is a common question? In the midst of some historic revivals, there is an uncanny perception of heaven and hell that goes beyond one’s thinking or theology. Rev 20:11-15 describes this reality as follows: “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were it, and death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” The awareness of heaven and hell has ushered thousands and thousands into the Kingdom of God. George Whitefield and John Wesley were two fiery revivalist preachers in the 1740’s. They were accused of being too enthusiastic when they began to preach in the open air, outside the four walls of the church; their open air preaching continued for 50 years with many hearing the message of eternity.
4. Demonstration of God’s Kingdom:
Many revivals have been “marked” by the supernatural signs and wonders of God’s Kingdom. The Scriptures reminds us that “these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and the will get well” (Mark 16:17-18). There are many reports of sinners and saints being overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures and throughout church history. The following are a few modern examples of revival:
· Powerful revival touched America in 1800 with thousands being converted. Many strange reactions accompanied the move of the Spirit then, including strong shaking, falling down and unable to get up, tears of repentance and loud cries.
· William Seymour began a Mission at Azusa Street in Los Angeles on Easter Saturday, 14 April 1906 with about 100 attending, both blacks and whites. It grew out of a cottage prayer meeting. Revival there drew people from around the nation and overseas and launched Pentecostalism as a worldwide movement. One of the accompanying signs was “speaking in tongues.”
· The famous cricketer and missionary, C T Studd reported on revival in the Belgian Congo in 1914: “the whole place was charged as if with an electric current. Men were falling, jumping, laughing, crying, singing, confessing and some shaking terribly. This particular one can best be described as a spiritual tornado. People were literally flung to the floor or over the chairs, yet no one was hurt. ... As I led in prayer the Spirit came down in mighty power sweeping the congregation. My whole body trembled with the power. We saw a marvellous sight, people literally filled and drunk with the Spirit”.
· One of the signs and wonders often used by the Spirit of God is that of physical healing. It is estimated the through the ministry of John G. Lake that thousands of people were healed and over 1,000,000 people were saved. He organized “healing rooms” in Spokane Washington, his hometown, in the early 1900’s. It was reported that Spokane was the healthiest city in the USA because of his healing ministry. Aimee Semple McPherson saw thousands healed with crutches and wheelchairs being left behind at her revival meetings. Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, and John Wimber saw the gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation during revival times. The heightened activity of the Holy Spirit during times of revival releases amazing graces for the church to enjoy, experience and employ in their ministry. The demonstrations of God’s Kingdom are meant to excite faith in the hearts of those overcome by the Holy Spirit. Such encounters are used by the Spirit of God to bring thousands to the awareness of the love and mercy of God, the holiness of God in light of eternity and the conviction of sin.
5. Restoring of Society:
One of the primary experiences a genuine revival of the Holy Spirit within the church is that the benefits begin to transform society. Authentic and lasting revivals have affected both rich and poor. As seen through church history, revival released amazing compassion for the poor and the needy. Early Christians were known for rescuing abandoned babies, taking in widows and orphans and helping the poor and needy. The pagan Roman Empire showed little or no compassion for the less fortunate. James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” In the early centuries of the church monasteries were formed. In these communities, believers gathered together for learning, hospice or medical work, care for the poor and evangelization. Revival motivated the Quakers and the Wesley brothers, and the Methodists to oppose black slavery. Revivalists confronted the British government to the abolish child slavery. John Howard reformed prisons. Today, there are believers who are changing society, whether in government or on the streets, one person at a time. We must understand that secular society will never be fully restored this side of eternity. None-the-less, God is wanting a revived church to influence society with his love, mercy and righteousness.
The lessons we learn from church and revival history are significant for us today. We must learn to be more like Jesus, as well as, agree with the history of the Church as related to being salt and light in this world. These distinctive qualities I spoke to this morning are not complete in and of themselves (love and mercy, greatness and holiness, eternity, supernatural signs, restored society). God is always adding to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. The next revival may or may not have some or all of these qualities. One of the dangers of revival thinking is this, many times, we are so focused on hitting the "grand slam” of revival, that we miss the call to genuine and growing discipleship. We are to be faithful in the small things and not to despise the days of small beginnings (Luke 16:10; Zech 4:10). God is looking for faithful and prayerful sons and daughters of God who are seeking his face for a new and greater outpouring of God.