Revival. Such an evocative word. It brings to my mind images of big tents, bellowing preachers, swaying choirs and enthralled crowds. I don't hear the word that much these days, perhaps because of the perception that much of what men call revival may simply be more hype and emotionalism than a genuine move of God. That said, I've found myself reading more about revival recently and feel a fresh longing and faith for it. We need it desperately in our churches. In our nation. In our lives.
In particular, I've been reading about the revivals that sparked the Great Awakening in New England around the early 18th century. Jonathan Edwards, the New England Puritan, was one of America’s foremost Christian thinkers and became the president of Princeton College. He was a thinking man, but he vigorously pursued, prayed for and preached towards revival in the Great Awakening.
While many people at the time were skeptical about the strange physical manifestations in these revivals, Edwards resisted the idea that religion had to be morbid or subdued, claiming that true religion consisted of holy affections. Although he admitted that these affections required discernment, he was an advocate of the possibility of physical and emotional phenomena when people encountered God’s presence. “‘Tis no wonder that when the thoughts are so fixed, and the affections so strong, and the whole soul so engaged and ravished . . . that all other parts of the body are so affected as to be deprived of their strength, and the whole frame ready to dissolve.” I'm not sure if you have ever watched a paramedic revive a body back to life, but it is often dramatic and messy. Are we open to revival being a little messy? I'd rather have messy life than orderly lifelessness, wouldn't you?
So while Edwards didn't dismiss these physical phenomena, he called people to look for what he called the Distinguishing Marks of the work of God’s Spirit in revival. "Distinguish between the essential and secondary work of the Spirit. The essential work of the Spirit is love of Christ, obedience to the Scripture, holiness and love of our neighbor. The secondary work may include physical manifestations but these are not essential. Revival should be sought. If it is revival, it will result in the salvation of the lost and the awakening of God’s people."
History tells us that the Great Awakening touched and changed every facet of our nation, from politics, to commerce to education to church life. These revivals could not be dismissed as mere emotionalism. They were transformational. How we need this in our day!
God is Sovereign and we cannot force Him to repeat what He did 300 years ago. However, we can pray for an awakening in God's people that spills over into our world. Let's pray on the first day of the fast that the Sprit would awaken us to these marks of revival: love of Christ, obedience to the Scripture, holiness and love of our neighbor. This is the heart of revival.
We cannot ask for God an awakening in our nation if we are living in hypocrisy and idolatry as His people. Let's remember that His promise in 1 Chronicles 7:14 begins with His people and overflows to the nation." If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. "
In the inimitable words of of Matt Redman, "Send revival, start with me."