While visiting America in 1994, I was told that a pastor had gone on a revival campaign. I was initially confused by the term ‘revival campaign’, but later found out that a ‘revival campaign’ is a preaching tour with evangelism the focus. So, what is a revival? In the strict sense, a revival is when God comes down in power, visiting His people in a special and unique manner. This is when the church (the people of God) is brought back to the Lord Jesus in full sincerity, seeking repentance and committing to live a holy life under His Lordship.
In the 1866 edition of the Sword and Trowel magazine, C. H. Spurgeon defined revival: ‘The word revive … may be interpreted thus—to live again, to receive again a life which has almost expired; to rekindle into a flame the vital spark which was nearly extinguished.’ The article then says, ‘Notice the condition for revival. You can only revive something that was once healthy. While I agree that we need a new revival in our churches to sweep the land, something needs to come first.’ Later in the article, the writer says that revival can only come after reformation.
So, what is Reformation? The focus of the Protestant Reformation was a return to the Bible as the absolute authority of God. What the church needs today more than anything else is a ‘new reformation’. We don’t need to redo the Protestant Reformation … but we need to return to the authority of the Scriptures as the sole rule for life, church, family, marriage, career, politics, etc. Before revival must come reformation as a church and as individuals where we return to live under the Word of God, truly believing the Word to be fully of God without error and contradiction, God’s fully inspired rule for our lives. We must prove this belief through changing our behaviour (living according to God’s way), our mindset (where our thoughts and desires and plans allow our worldview to be based upon God’s Word) and our desires (where a passion for holiness becomes a top priority). Then, the church and Christians will be ready for revival … for God coming in great power by His Spirit. Revival cannot come without reformation.
Through Jeremiah, God spoke to a people who had strayed:
Jer 7:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 ‘Stand at the gate of the LORD’S house and there proclaim this message: ”Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. 3 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!’ 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”‘
See that? The call is for personal and corporate reform and this reform is a return to God through obedience to Biblical principles! Then there is Jeremiah chapter 26:
Jer 26:12 Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: ‘The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. 13 Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God. Then the LORD will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you.’
Again, the reformation is a personal and corporate calling for obedience to the true God. Once this happens, God will relent and disaster will be avoided. However, the Israelites would not reform, and God fulfilled His commitment to send them into exile. By the time we get to Ezra and the return from exile, we find godly men who are committed to the Word of God, ready to lead people back to God … setting the platform for revival.
The Great Awakening was a religious revival that impacted the English colonies in America during the 1730s and 1740s. It was a time where many preachers and people had reformed their ways and sought nothing other than the glory of God in their lives and in their places of worship. In his journal, George Whitefield writes: ‘As I was riding out of town, a gentleman met me, and with tears said: “I have never felt God’s presence in the sanctuary like this before; it had been a blessed time for my soul.”‘ In other places, he write of how, without coercion, whilst he was preaching, people were cut by the Word of God, falling in agony to the floor because of sin. On one occasion, a boy of 8 was crying bitterly. After the sermon, Whitefield asked the boy why he was crying. The boy responded: ‘My sin.’
In the wake of revival, the church is cleaned up radically, where people return to God and separate themselves from the things of the world and the flesh … but at the same time, God uses revival to graciously bring many people into His Kingdom.
Now, is it possible for man to usher in revival? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, in that we can usher in revival through genuine reformation; through leaving our sins, even those petty, repetitive sins. No, in that true revival is all of God. He and He alone is the one who controls spiritual awakenings … but when His people return to Him and reform their ways, He is more likely to bring spiritual revival to individuals and churches! Apart from personal reformation, true, intelligent, heart wrenching prayer to God for self and the church is required.
Dear God, graciously help me to reform myself through taking and loving and using Your Word in a new and exciting way that transforms my heart, life and behaviour. Lord, please send a revival to Your church, causing Your people to be passionate for Your Word. O God, please hear my plea. In Jesus Name, Amen.