Pastor's Blog

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Rumors of Revival

Revive v.: to return to life: become active or flourishing again.

On February 8th at Asbury University, a Christian school in Wilmore, Kentucky, a revival-like phenomenon broke out. At the end of a typical chapel service that some students attend mainly to fulfill their required chapel quota for the semester, many students felt prompted to return for an extended time of worship and prayer. This unplanned and mostly unguided spiritual gathering has lasted more than 400 hours, attracted tens of thousands of visitors, and become the topic of national and global attention and debate. I use the term, revival-like, in an attempt to tread carefully among the opinions of both the critics and the champions of whatever it is that is happening at Asbury. Whatever is happening at Asbury, I’m confident from the reports I’ve read and second-hand accounts that have been passed on to me that the ongoing gathering is genuinely spontaneous and seems free of manipulation and exploitation.

While much of the nation's attention has been focused on the happenings at Asbury, The Jesus Revolution has hit theaters throughout the country. The movie recounts the well-documented revival among young people that began in Southern California in the late ’60s and early ’70s and spread throughout North America and much of the Western world. Similar to Asbury, The Jesus Revolution has sparked passionate discussion and debate and has its detractors and defenders.

As I have not traveled to Kentucky, and I have yet to view The Jesus Revolution, my comments here are not about the quality and accuracy of the movie, nor the legitimacy of the movement on the Asbury campus. Rather, I find the timing of these two events to be of interest (possibly more than a coincidence?), which affords the opportunity to speak about the history, the need and the effect of revival.

For many Christians, any talk of revival or spiritual renewal brings to mind the Apostle Peter’s words in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first came upon the early disciples of Jesus in wind, fire and tongues. As recorded in Acts chapter two, Peter addresses the crowd that had gathered, some of whom were accusing them of being drunk even though it was only nine in the morning. Quoting from the Old Testament, Peter declares:

These people are not drunk…No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy…and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:15-21, NIV)

In the United States and the larger Western world, there is a long history of revival similar to what happened during the Jesus Movement and what seems to be taking place at Asbury. These were times when there was an undeniable, sovereign move of God by the Spirit of Jesus that led large groups of people – both Christians and unbelievers – to repentance, faith and unity at a time when faith and love had grown cold, church attendance had waned, services had become stale with tradition, and politics and pleasure had replaced passion for God and love of neighbor.

In our own time of division and polarization politically, culturally and religiously, when it has become national news that church attendance throughout the country is plummeting, and faced with the seemingly intractable problems of homelessness, gun violence, drugs, disease, etc., it seems evident to me that we are desperately in need of and ripe for revival; for fresh wind and fresh fire, as Pastor Jim Cymbala has written about in his book by that name.

As a pastor, husband, father, grandfather, uncle and neighbor, I have felt impressed for some time now – before the movie or the movement in Kentucky – to pray specifically for revival; for a direct outpouring of the Spirit of God on all people as Peter quoted from Joel. And from various conversations, I have discovered that I am not alone in my prayers or my longings. Others have shared with me their desire for a deeper move of God in their own lives, and an awareness that we are at a tipping point on many fronts in our communities and our world which petty politics and mere religion will not begin to address.

As mentioned briefly above, some of the immediate effects of revival are genuine repentance, renewed faith and, especially, a boundary-breaking, self-sacrificing love that leads to lasting unity and that flows from a fresh awareness of God’s love and acceptance of each of us, despite our sins and weaknesses. Additionally, as Joel’s prophecy asserts and as is evidenced in past revivals, a genuine move of God is grounded in the passionate proclamation of the Word of God – your sons and daughters will prophesy – and in large numbers of people turning away from selfish pursuits toward mission and service to the least and the last in word and deed locally and internationally.

Finally, and most importantly, authentic revival is a sovereign work of God, by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, rather than anything we can conjure or control at a personal or corporate level. To revive is simply but profoundly to bring back to life. The dead or dying are utterly dependent on outside help. And so are we!

While I am not suggesting that all is lost, it does seem to me that we are at a critical juncture on many fronts, both within and outside the Church and that a Jesus Revolution including unexpected moves of God’s Spirit on our campuses, in our churches and even in our places of work might be exactly what we need.

In Ezekiel 37, God commanded Ezekiel as he looked over the Valley of Dry Bones, Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life…Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Rather than wring our hands in despair or hide our heads in the sands of pleasure, or join in with the angry voices of condemnation on this or that issue, could it be that God is looking for modern-day Ezekiels – men and women who will hear the word of the Lord to themselves first, then speak his word of life to the dead places in our families, churches and communities, and pray that the reviving Spirit of God will bring us all back to life?

—Pastor Scott