What Happens when Revival Comes?3
Everyone, it seems, has their own definition or description of revival. Here I want to identify ten features of biblical revival. Among the many who have influenced my thinking on this topic, I have to mention J. I. Packer, on whom I am greatly dependent. This week at Bridgeway we embark on four days of prayer and fasting. There are many things for which we are praying and seeking God, chief among which is a revival of his people and his church. So, here is what happens when revival comes.
1. God draws near. God comes down. This is certainly the imagery found in Isaiah 64:1-2 where God's presence is portrayed in terms of a brushfire. “It is with this searching, scorching manifestation of God's presence that renewal begins, and by its continuance that renewal is sustained” (Packer, 26).
During the Welsh revival one pastor said: “If one were asked to describe in a word the outstanding feature of those days, one would unhesitatingly reply that it was a universal, inescapable sense of the presence of God. . . . . the Lord had come down! A sense of the Lord's presence was everywhere. It pervaded, nay it created the spiritual atmosphere.”
2. Sin is sensed. Sensitivity to sin is intensified. Conviction strikes deep. Conscience is tenderized; calloused hearts are broken; fresh wounds are opened. Things that once were tolerated or ignored suddenly become intolerable. Complacency is shattered. All of which produces heart-felt repentance. When God draws near in revival, the soul is turned inside out. One's spirit is suddenly confronted with just how sinful sin really is. When Isaiah drew near to God, conviction for sin which he had never before known suddenly erupted from within his heart (Isa. 6:1ff.).
3. God's Word is embraced. People fall in love with the Bible and experience a sudden passionate responsiveness to the Scriptures. See 1 Thess. 1:5; 2:13; Neh. 8; 2 Chron. 17:9. The message of the Bible is more deeply cherished and its commands more radically obeyed.
4. The Church becomes the Church. There is a sudden increase and vitality in community. There is a renewed sense of love, unity, generosity, self-sacrifice, and a desire for corporate gatherings (see Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37). When revival comes Christians are actually miserable when they aren't together!
5. Evangelistic zeal is intensified. Love for the lost deepens. The commitment of the church to missions is always increased during times of revival. It is estimated that @ 50,000 were saved in New England during the Great Awakening and an additional 300,000 throughout the 13 colonies.
6. Biblical justice is pursued. Micah 6:8 (the love of justice and mercy) becomes real. There is renewed concern for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the homeless, the hungry, and the victims of injustice. The truth of Luke 4:16-21 (ministry to the poor, the captives, the downtrodden) grips the church.
7. Routine things occur rapidly. In times of revival there is an acceleration of spiritual growth and of individual maturity. Two words characterize everything that happens during revival: intensification and acceleration. Listen to how Jonathan Edwards explained what he saw happening in New England during the First Great Awakening:
“God has also seemed to have gone out of his usual way in the quickness of his work, and the swift progress his Spirit has made in his operations on the hearts of many. 'Tis wonderful that persons should be so suddenly and yet so greatly changed; many have been taken from a loose and careless way of living, and seized with strong convictions of their guilt and misery, and in a very little time [emphasis mine] 'old things have passed away, and all things have become new with them' (2 Cor. 5:17). God's work has also appeared very extraordinary in the degrees of the influences of his Spirit, both in the degree of awakening and conviction, and also in the degree of saving light, and love, and joy, that many have experienced” (Faithful Narrative [Yale, 1972], 159).
Edwards went on to observe that “when God in so remarkable a manner took the work into his own hands, there was as much done in a day or two as at ordinary times . . . is done in a year” (Ibid.).
8. God is enjoyed. That simple thought was stunning to me the first time I heard it. The idea that God enjoys being enjoyed jolted my traditional sensibilities. But look at what the psalmist says:
"Wilt Thou not Thyself revive us again, that Thy people may rejoice in Thee?" (Ps. 85:6)
Don't miss what he is saying. This isn't simply a command to rejoice. It is a prayer that God would revive his people precisely so that they might enjoy him! It isn't simply rejoicing that the psalmist has in view, but finding joy and delight and happiness in God. This invariably occurs during times of revival and refreshing. Much the same thing is promised in Psalm 16:11, where David declares that “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Thus the reason God wants us to enjoy him is because he is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him (Piper).
9. Worship is revitalized (see 2 Chron. 29:25-30). Edwards reported that during the revival in New England “many express earnest longings of soul to praise God; but at the same time complain that they can't praise him as they would do, and they want to have others help them in praising him: they want to have everyone praise God, and are ready to call upon everything to praise him” (Faithful Narrative, 184). His own wife, Sarah, experienced much the same thing. Edwards described her as having
“a great delight in singing praises to God and Jesus Christ, and longing that this present life may be, as it were, one continued song of praise to God; longing, as the person expressed it, to sit and sing this life away; and an overcoming pleasure in the thoughts of spending an eternity in that exercise” (Some Thoughts, 337-38).
10. Shining faces! I'm not talking about an artificial image or pretense to make others think all is well when it isn't. Nor do I mean a naive, flippant refusal to face the harshness of reality. By “shining faces” I have in mind what Martin Lloyd-Jones described as a pure, unadulterated joy that builds from within and bubbles over onto others. Surely this is what the apostle Peter meant when he spoke of “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pt. 1:8).
Lord, would you be pleased to pour out the Spirit of revival on us yet again!