There is a plethora of “churchy” words that, when invoked, sounds like little more than meaningless jargon in the ears of most people outside of the church.
On the other hand, even inside the great family of God there are some expressions that have become so muddled under layers of generational over-familiarity that the original convictions or spiritual insights that they represented have been lost in antiquity.
The word “revival” may be as good an example of this as any other word of which I can think. Even in areas or among populations where the word is widely used, its real significance is generally entirely overlooked. Most of the time, when the word “revival” comes up, we refer to a set of meetings (usually running about a week and often featuring various singing groups and certainly fiery speakers). And if we as Christians tend to miss the point of the word, “revival,” it should come as no surprise that the world, too, can have some funny ideas about what we mean when we throw up our banners and advertisements promoting them.
The word “revival” itself simply refers to the restoration of life. As Christians, we use the word to refer to God’s restoring His people to an exciting and satisfying relationship with Himself after they had repented from falling away from Him, having been either distracted or enamored by other things.
“Revival” therefore does not refer to a meeting. Contrary to some opinions, it does not even refer to a large number of people receiving the Lord Jesus as their Savior and becoming Christians. Such a response can be a fruit of revival but is not revival itself. After all, how can one “RE-vive” something (that is to say “to bring to life again”) when that something was only just then receiving life for the very first time?
Today, as we look across the spiritual and moral wasteland that besets our vision, we might wonder if the church has a diminishing capacity to make a difference in the world. If so, it is because we need revival. We are no longer living with the power of Christ Who, in His earthly ministry, left people knowing that somehow life would never be the same for them because they had been confronted with the presence of God.
“When Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29 ESV).
Authority? Yes … He did not instruct them as we often do in the presumption of our own intellect and limited abilities. He came sanctioned by the Father to bring the message of God’s love and the glory of His manifest (unveiled) presence. He came in power and that power, produced in His life by both the presence of the Holy Spirit within Him and the approval of the Father upon Him, radically engaged people with the spiritual facts of life: 1) that there is a Holy God in charge of the universe, 2) that humanity is woefully and eternally separated from Him by the reality of sin (selfish willfulness in our own lives), and 3) that God has mercifully provided Himself as the object of justice in the form of His Son that we might receive forgiveness and restoration with Him provided we truly turn to Him in faith.
And it is still the Father’s will that such power continue to engage the world today. Access to that power has been entrusted to God’s people “to preach good news to the poor … to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to recover sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (from Luke 4:18-19 and Isaiah 61:1-2).
Consequently, as we walk humbly with Him through life, cultivating our relationship with Him, He Himself dwells within us, assaulting bastions of hatred and despair with love and hope. In reverse, if we do not walk with Him, we lag behind His activity in the world, we become disconnected from the lifeline of His love and our hope becomes eclipsed by cares from the world. When God is not first place in our lives, the whole world suffers for it.
But thankfully, He has promised that, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV).
Perhaps we as the church of today are losing our ability to powerfully and effectually conquer the world with love and faith because we’re allowing our lifeline (relationship with Him) to become detached. Perhaps we’re ceasing to be a living “body” of believers and are little more than dry and barren structures upon which spiritual flesh once hung. Maybe we’re dangerously close to being a great mass of “dried up old bones”.
Amazingly, God’s people have stood on the brink before and been brought back. As God in a vision stood with His servant Ezekiel before a great valley of dried up old bones, He asked the man, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel watched as God answered His own question. He stood and watched as, at God’s command, “there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone … flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them” And then the Lord spoke and “the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army”. He listened as God explained to him that this was God’s people who thought that their hope was gone and that they were cut off forever from God’s favor. But God declared that He would open up their “graves” and raise them from their spiritual deadness. He would restore them to life and a place of blessing. They would know that the LORD had truly spoken to them and that only He could bring them back to spiritual life again (from Ezekiel 37:1-14).
That is what revival is. It is God gracefully bringing us back to spiritual life when we’ve finally despaired of all the deadness that the “alternatives” to faith in Christ offer us. Once we’ve repented of our own waywardness and have returned whole-heartedly to Him, we allow Him to take His rightful place in the throne of our hearts. As Lord of our lives, He brings healing, hope and fulfillment once again to not only His children but to the rest of the world, too.
“Revive us again; fill each heart with Thy love. May each soul be rekindled with fire from above. Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Hallelujah! Amen. Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Revive us again (“We Praise Thee, O God” by William P. Mackay, 1839-1885).
Pastor Thom Mollohan leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.