Revival is one of those words that gets mentioned a lot from the pulpit. We do a lot of talking about wanting revival. But the real question is do we really? I mean do we really want what revival entails? This is a question that has been nagging at me for a while now. I say I want revival, but I do know what I’m really asking for? The next series of devotionals will be on revival. Now let me be blunt: revival is something we should want, and want desperately. A read of Jonathan Edwards’ remarks on his personal experience with the Great Awakening should be enough to get us hungry for revival. For instance:
“There was an appearance of a glorious progress of the work of God upon the hearts of sinners in conviction and conversion this summer and fall; and great numbers. I think we have reason to hope, were brought savingly home to Christ.”
How could we not want something like this to occur? Those who had thus far proven unreachable for the cause of Christ suddenly become overwhelmed with the conviction of their sin, causing them to turn towards Christ? In great numbers, even. Isn’t that what we want to see? If we are sincere in our faith, this is definitely what we want. We want the lost coming to Christ. We want a massive outpouring of conviction and repentance. But the question is, would we be able to recognize the first stirrings of revival when it was upon us? And would we be willing to allow God to deal with us as He sees fit in order to bring about and sustain that revival? Those are the real questions in determining how much we really want revival.
Obviously we’re not going to get to the bottom of those questions in a single message. Let’s begin to explore the first one, “Would we be able to recognize the stirrings of revival?” A parallel question that is relevant that we need to ask is, “Can we tell that a ‘revival’ is genuine?” That’s an important question, and that one is a answered along with the first. So let’s start with that one. How can we tell if a revival is genuine? We must have a real sense that it comes from God, that it is led by God, and that if you were to remove the key earthly leaders from the mix, it would still carry on because God would sustain it. For instance, look at the great teacher Gamaliel’s words towards the rest of the religious authority after the arrest of Peter and the rest of the apostles:
But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” – Acts 5:34-39, NASB
Gamaliel had pointed out that there had been previous “rebel-rousers” who have started movements and attracted followers. He gives two by name: Theudas and Judas of Galilee. In both cases, the men were killed and their followers scattered and their movements squashed. If the latest movement was solely on the shoulder of Peter and the other apostles, they’d get themselves killed off in fairly quick order and the problem would fade away. But if God was behind the movement, then the religious authorities were fighting against God Himself, and that was a battle they were destined to lose. As a result, Gamaliel asked them to take a wait and see attitude, to judge the validity of the movement.
When it comes to revival, we must do the same. We must verify that it is indeed from God. What are some of the things we can use to test?
- The Gospel is preached accurately and without fear or shame.
- No message contrary to the Gospel or any part of the Scriptures is preached.
- When we take emotion out of it, we see real spiritual change in people’s lives.
- We receive confirmation through prayer and Bible study.
These aren’t the only things we can use to test whether a revival is true or not.We’ll look at more about revival in the coming days. Basically, we must come to understand the characteristics that are seen when God has brought forward a genuine revival or awakening in the past. If we know what is going on with His people before the revival, we can establish similar conditions and hope that He will bring about the awakening we yearn for. And if He does, we’ll see it for what it is and then it is our opportunity to respond accordingly.