Now that I’ve been a Christian for 29 years as well as a pastor for 21 years, I have seen a lot of trends in American Christianity over the past few decades. One of the more disappointing trends has been the amount of hype surrounding certain books, movies, conferences, movements, Bible studies, and, even, “revivals.” I cannot recall how many times a of these various mediums were going to possibly usher in a revival which would transform our nation.
Let me mention a few examples. From each of these examples, God has certainly done a whole lot. People have been saved. Lives have been changed. I do not want to minimize that fact. Praise the Lord for how He used these tools to reach people!
In each of these cases I can recall Christian people enthusiastically suggesting, or hoping, that this particular “thing” would be the catalyst for national revival or spiritual awakening.
(1) 1990… A Bible Study… “Experiencing God” featured the teaching of Henry Blackaby, and consisted of a VHS video series matched with a workbook. The premise of the study is to find out where God is at work and to join Him there. Excellent counsel! But national revival from the study itself? Twenty-five years and counting… not yet.
(2) The ’90s… A movement called “Promise Keepers” swept American evangelicalism in the 1990s peaking in popularity in 1997 with the “Stand in the Gap” gathering in Washington, D.C. Started by college football coach Bill McCartney, the now global men’s ministry is built around helping Christian men live by seven promises which reflect a godly, serving life. Millions of men went to the rallies. Souls were saved, marriages were rescued, men were taught to be men. All great stuff! But no national revival.
(3) 2000… A book titled The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson. Published in 2000, the book has sold well over 10 million copies (I couldn’t find an official number). Based on an obscure Old Testament prayer, I recall some Christians saying that if enough would pray the prayer of Jabez daily, revival will come. While prayer is certainly a key ingredient to revival, I don’t think praying a 7-second prayer daily like a mantra will usher in revival. Wilkinson himself thought his application of the prayer would result in the transformation of Africa. I applaud his audacious faith, but reality kicked in as he quietly came back to America with his tail tucked.
(4) 2004… A movie… The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson. A press release for the movie actually said: “A Revival is Coming: Will you be ready?” While the movie surely created opportunities for Christians to share the Gospel, and people did come to faith in Christ as a result of those witnessing encounters, national revival never came.
(5) 2008… A revival… “The Lakeland Revival” captured America’s interest with reported healing and miraculous phenomena. The revivalist, Todd Bentley, was not your typical preacher, decked in t-shirts and jeans, and his body covered in tattoos. Bentley. But the finances were suspect and the revivalist himself ended up separating from his wife and subsequently divorcing.
There are many other examples I could have listed, but honestly, I pretty much have reached a point where I don’t pay a lot of attention to the hype.
How then will revival come?
I’m convinced that revival will come to our nation as a result of some very simple “things” that don’t come with merchandising:
#1 – A Sovereign Move of God’s Spirit. Look up what Jesus said in John 3 and verse 8. I’d put it here, but I’d rather you take the time to look it up… it will stick more when you work for it. 🙂
#2 – A Return to the Word of God as Primary and Central. Not some breakthrough best-seller by the latest cool author. Not a series of fiction books or documentaries which “make the Bible come to life.” But the Bible itself is read and loved by God’s people.
#3 – Genuine Humility. If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves…. Probably the most quoted verse on revival and spiritual awakening is 2 Chronicles 7:14 and it starts with God’s people humbling themselves. Notice it’s something we, as God’s people, are capable of accomplishing in ourselves. God certainly can successfully humble us, but He is first giving us the opportunity to humble ourselves.
#4 – True, Desperate, Prayer. I’m not sure this will happen until we get more desperate. We need more discomfort and persecution. We American Christians have been so spoiled with wealth and freedom for so long, we’ve made Christianity more about personal prosperity and comfort than following Christ on mission to a lost and dying world. Suffering will bring us to our knees. And then, God will show up!
#5 – Repentance from Sin. This includes repenting of taking sin lightly. The pendulum has swung toward grace in American evangelicalism, and I’m thrilled that people are waking up to the fact that God is gracious and everything is by grace. But the pendulum can swing so far that grace becomes misunderstood and license to sin kicks in. Holiness becomes forgotten. Sin is celebrated. The only solution to this malady is repentance by God’s people.
#6 – Empowering of the Holy Spirit. Again and again we see in the book of Acts that mass conversions of people was proceeded by God’s people praying, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and then being bold in their witness. Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1.8)
#7 – Boldness in Gospel Evangelism. Successful evangelism in the Bible is not the result of carefully crafted evangelistic strategies or slick presentations. Successful evangelism is portrayed in God’s Word as God’s people lovingly speaking the truth without apology, in the power of the Spirit. Also, successful evangelism is clearly Christ-centered, declaring His person (God and Savior) and His work (perfect life, substitutionary death, glorious resurrection, and certain return).
What’s my point? Simply this… the spiritual awakening our country and world so desperately needs is not going to come through a best-selling book, Bible study, movie, or the like. It’s going to come God’s way… by the seven means listed above.