For years, Christians have talked about ‘revival’. Sermons have been preached on it, books written about it, theologies built upon it, prayers prayed for it and hearts have longed to see it.
The word ‘revival’ is most commonly used to define the idea of a seemingly lifeless Church being revived back to vitality, and the subsequent ushering in of a spiritual awakening in the nation/nations.
Having reflected much on this for quite some time now, I personally find the concept of ‘revival’ biblically questionable and even at times profoundly unhelpful to a healthy understanding of God’s grace. For a start, the word itself does not appear anywhere in the bible. While some might point out that other terms like ‘Trinity’ aren’t mentioned either, the concept of the Trinity is clearly seen throughout scripture – Father, Son and Spirit. But the concept of ‘revival’ is not clear at all. How could it be? After all, the Church had only just been birthed in the New Testament, something which happened after the cross (i.e. the event which changed everything.)
The heart of revivalism is in many ways admirable. It focuses on what we would seem to lack and says ‘We need MORE – more faith, more fire, more blessing, more anointing, more prayer, more deliverance etc etc’. But what often happens in revivalist thinking is that an unhealthy negativism creeps in which has the effect of undermining faith, leading to introspectiveness and insularity. This is because it’s focus is on what we DON’T seem to have rather than what we DO actually have. Often, the result is that layers of guilt are unwittingly piled on revival seekers, with the subtle suggestion that it is their bereftness that is the cause of all spiritual deadness. However, this type of thinking is not only unhelpful – but it leads to an intense form of guilt driven religiosity that feels so condemned that it diminishes the joy of evangelism and loses sight of God’s immeasurable grace.
Perhaps the most quoted bible verse regarding ‘revival’ is 2 Chronicles 7:14. It says ‘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.’ However, as with any bible passage, it’s important to clearly understand the context of this statement before jumping to formulaic conclusions about it’s application (something that we Christians can be very good at). It’s wise to bear in mind that 2 Chronicles 7:14 was a specific word to a specific king at a specific time.
While ‘revival’ nobly cries out for more, the shocking truth is that we don’t actually need MORE. As followers of Jesus, we have already been entrusted with MUCH. Ephesians 1:3 tells us that we are ‘blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ‘. Just think about that verse for a moment. How amazing is that? The point is…faith isn’t about sitting around waiting or even praying for the ‘more’ of revival. It is leaning into the ‘much’ of God’s abundant grace, a grace which God has poured out with unrestrained extravagance at the cross. What ‘more’ could we possibly need? This is why Ephesians 2:8 says ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is NOT from yourselves, it is the gift of God.’
It’s important to understand that ‘revival’ is not a biblical doctrine. Rather it is a well intended aspiration, but one which struggles with a paradox – one moment, deeply conflicted by a sense of utter inadequacy and the next, desperately striving to earn God’s life-giving power. However, if the former is true then the latter makes no sense whatsoever. What on earth could bereft people possibly offer God? It appears profoundly spiritual but is actually peppered with the dangerous traits of self-righteous religiosity, something that is driven by the idea that our striving can justify us before God. Even the faintest hint of this type of thinking completely misses the point of God’s grace. This is something which can NEVER be earned, only received by faith (see Eph 2:8 again).
The irony is that ‘revival’ thinking can actually distract us from the good that God is doing where you are NOW. This is because of the bias of it’s pre-conceived notions, a way of thinking which limits God and leans in the direction of it’s own negativity, often feeding off it and in a strange way, even gleaning comfort in it too. Faith will never thrive in this kind of environment. Remember, it is faith in His grace that God is really looking for.
No, we don’t need ‘revival’. Jesus himself once said “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” – (interestingly, this is a reference to the idea of spiritual death). Instead, the faith journey is about constantly leaning into the abundance of God’s grace. What he has given us is huge. When Peter spoke to a man in need of healing in Acts 3, he didn’t focus on what he lacked. Instead he said ‘look at us‘ (three words which challenge pretentious religiosity which is always quick to point out that it’s ‘not about us’). After saying this, Peter proceeded to tell the man ‘What I DO have, I give to you.’ (Acts 3: 4&6). And that’s the point. When all of us catch a revelation of the immensity of what God has already entrusted to us, the world had better watch out.