The last 120 years have been years of massive change both for the world and for the Church. I believe that the majority of the changes in the Church have been good ones, particularly the growth in the numbers of Bible-believing Christians.
In his Systematic Theology Wayne Grudem claims: “Between 1950 and 1992, Bible believing Christians went from 3% of the world population to 10% of the world population.” Behind that are the exciting changes of the growth of Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement.
In the last 50 years we have seen the widespread restoration of belief in the importance of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit; signs and wonders; an increased interest in prayer; growth in missions; a multiplicity of worship experiences; waves of renewal; development of small groups; widespread acceptance of lay/body ministry; the appearance of some very effective evangelistic tools e.g. the Alpha Course, and a new measure of unity and working together. It has been a good time to be alive and to be part of Jesus’ Church. But from a U.K. or Europe perspective, we still haven’t seen Revival!
By ‘Revival’ I mean what would be considered the classic definition: ‘a general awakening of religion in a community’ i.e. large numbers of people being saved and, as a result, communities being changed. Michael Brown (Pensacola) put it succinctly: ‘If it’s confined to one church, it is not Revival. If it’s confined to the meetings themselves, it is not Revival. If it does not ultimately affect society, it is not Revival.’
History shows us that Revival is rarely switched on like a light. Certainly the more substantial Revivals appear to develop and grow. Like a heathland fire, they smoulder and burst out here and there before taking hold! Although we cannot claim to be living in Revival there are signs that a big one is building up. There have been a number of outbursts here and there over recent decades, and God is clearly at work in His Church. It is an exciting time to be living in the U.K.
Many writers, even those of a Calvinistic persuasion, observe steps or stages on the way to Revival, so let’s look at some;
Revival always starts with the Church, technically you can only revive something that has been alive. The Church gets ‘revived’, the unbelieving society around gets ‘awakened’ through the revived Church. The Church is God’s chosen agent for bringing the gospel to the world. You cannot get out of the Church what is not in it, so Spirit-filled, revived believers are a essential for true Revival.
One of the most fundamental principles is a growing spiritual hunger and thirst. “The inevitable and constant preliminary to Revival has always been a thirst for God.” Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones. A burning desire amongst Christians to know the living God better, to see Him acting and manifesting His power!
Revivals often occur where there are disjunctions of old beliefs and new realities, in periods of social and cultural turmoil and change. These things don’t cause Revival but they prepare the way. They are evidence of the hand of God in history moving in the affairs of men to prepare them for His purposes. These times shake people’s security in human institutions and material things. This in turn can open their hearts to spiritual things. Britain at the end of 2017 fits this pattern perfectly. If you include the associated conditions of moral decline and open ridicule of Christianity, which again are common features of pre-Revival times, we seem ripe for Revival!
An important part of any period prior to Revival is the realisation, by a significant minority of the Church, of what a dangerous thing it is to neglect the great, central truths of the gospel. There is often a tendency amongst the broader church to want to ape the culture, a desire to be acceptable. The general impression the Church gives in such times is that it doesn’t really believe it’s own doctrines. However, in that context a significant minority need to show a growing passion for the central truths of the Bible, and a growing boldness in preaching them. I would observe that both the problematic attitude and the counter movement are evident today.
A key element on the way to Revival is prayer and intercession. No Revival occurs without prayer. In the best documented cases of Revival prayer gatherings, large and small, are the forerunner to Revival. The size of the prayer meeting is less important than the passion and commitment to seek God. I believe there are encouraging signs of many prayer movements in recent decades, yet I remain nervous that we may lack something in this area.
Another discernible step on the way to Revival is a growing sense of expectation among those attuned to the Holy Spirit. There have been many prophecies concerning Revival in recent decades and, to be frank, some have led to cynicism amongst Christians. Yet we cannot ignore the sheer weight and variety of such prophetic pointers. We also need to bear in mind that prophetic words often take a long time to be fulfilled.
Many students of Revival observe that in the run up to Revival there is a growing desire to preach the gospel, the emergence of genuinely enthusiastic evangelistic endeavors. I see evidence of this in recent decades e.g. Alpha Courses, Christianity Explored Courses, Just 10 missions, Treasure Hunting, Healing on the Streets, large evangelistic Christmas events and many other things. You have to be evangelising for God to move in and give you a harvest.
Finally, we cannot bring about Revival any more than we can ‘make’ someone a Christian, it’s a sovereign work of God. Our gospel events are often well planned and bring a measure of fruitfulness, but nothing compares to when God powerfully turns up and his fire falls. Again and again we learn from history that the course of Revival is a mystery. The Holy Spirit truly does move like the wind.
So let’s not lose focus or give up seeing biblical life and truth restored. Let’s not quench the fire burning within or become complacent. Let’s not wait until things get even more desperate before we pray. Let’s not lose the sense of expectancy and hope of prophetic promises of Revival being fulfilled. Let’s not be passive.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6 v 9.