Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Revival is Not the Word Part 1

by S. Michael Durham

If you watch some Christian TV, you may be persuaded that revival is coming. For several years self-appointed prophets have been announcing, “This is the year of the greatest revival in history!” Sooner or later, if they keep announcing it, maybe they’ll get it right. Some, I’ve noticed, have given up on 2008 being the year. Now they are claiming that the revival is coming in 2009. I suppose they don’t think God can bring a revival with only 50 days left in the present year.

Revival is a word that can conjure up certain feelings. It’s often used to motivate saints to do better or heap upon them much guilt: “You backslidden people—you need revival!” And so the preacher hammers away on his theme of revival. It is the hope of most, the prayer of many, and the longing of churches and churchmen.

But what is revival? One answers, “It is a great move of God’s Spirit manifested by an upswing in the miraculous.” Another responds, “Revival is when Christians are revitalized from sin unto sanctification.” While someone else answers, “Revival is an unusual work of God that ushers thousands of souls into the kingdom.” Yet another says, “Revival is a special protracted meeting with an evangelist.”

As you can see the word revival either wears many hats or a great many people don’t know what they are talking about. I think it’s probably a little of both. Many don’t know what they’re talking about and, while revival doesn’t really wear many hats, it does have varying degrees. There are different kinds of revival.

It’s only in the Old Testament that you find the word revival. It is translated from a Hebrew word that means to live, to quicken, or to recover. But even though the English word revival is not in our New Testament, the idea is prevalent throughout it. The Greek Old Testament word for revival is the root of the word quicken in Ephesians 2:5, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” The concept is to make alive, which is the meaning of the Old Testament word, revival. So even though the word is not translated revival in English New Testaments, it’s there nonetheless. It’s just used differently.

Old Testament Scriptures give us several different kinds of revival or recovery. First, there is a corporate national revival. In Ezra 9:8, the priest Ezra prays "And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.” The measure of revival that he is speaking of is the return from Babylonian exile. Jerusalem had lain in ruins but new life returned to the home land with the rebuilt city walls. This revival was not necessarily spiritual but rather a recovery of the people from bondage.

Second, there is a corporate spiritual revival. The Psalmist cried out after the return to Israel from the Babylonian captivity, “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalms 85:6). The prayer was for God to recover their spiritual prosperity. There had been a day when the people of God delighted in Him. Their joy had taken flight. It eluded them. His prayer was for a recovery of joy.

Also, sometimes during a corporate spiritual revival is the phenomenon most often associated with revival, the ingathering of an extraordinary number of souls. Often historic revivals have seen a harvest of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people in a relatively short span of time. This is illustrated in Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones. What should have been a barren wasteland was covered by sun-bleached bones. But God showed Ezekiel what was seemingly gone forever could be restored. The command of life went forth. The bones came together, breath was granted, and an army was made. It was a revival of physical life typifying the revival of spiritual life that God brings to those dead in sin.

Third, there is also a personal revival. David prays for personal revival in Psalms 143:11, “Revive me, O LORD, for Your name’s sake! For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.” Can’t you hear David’s spiritual privation and hunger earlier in the psalm?

. . . My spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart within me is distressed. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands. I spread out my hands to You; My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah Answer me speedily, O LORD; My spirit fails! Do not hide Your face from me, Lest I be like those who go down into the pit. Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, For in You do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, For I lift up my soul to You (Psalm 143:4-8).

There are times in the believer’s journey that He does not sense the presence of God. His enemies (hell and its cohorts) have planned their attack and have executed with fierce rage. The pilgrim becomes weary with the struggle. His heart faints. His song of praise is replaced with the dirge of sorrow. He needs the grace of recovery. He needs reviving.

These are the different kinds of revival, and of course, they come in varying degrees. In our next post, I will discuss misconceptions about revival and what must occur before you or your church can experience any kind of revival.

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