If you have ever lived in an arid or semi-arid climate, you know how precious water is. Or maybe you don’t! What I mean by that remark is that in some of the drier regions of our country, fountains, water parks, and green golf courses seem to abound. But such use of a seeming abundance of water is, to a great degree, made possible by the preservation of the water they do have. When the rains come, a system of waterways and reservoirs retain water for future use.
Revival can be much like that rain. It doesn’t happen all the time. Revival is not a continuous state, as much as some people like to claim it is. Revival is a season of refreshing, an outpouring of God’s Spirit that has a fairly definite beginning and end. The results of revival don’t have to be temporary, though. The aftereffects of revival can actually be more powerful than the effects experienced in the revival itself! I’ll have to write more on that dynamic in a later post. The point I’m emphasizing, though, is that there must be some reservoir for the aftereffects to be available post revival. Fortunately, we don’t have to fret over what the reservoir might be, or try to come up with an elaborate scheme for revival benefit preservation.
God’s simple plan for preserving the benefits of revival is this:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
I love 2 Chronicles 7:14. I believe it’s powerful in its promise. It gives me hope for the healing of an entire nation. But it’s not enough. Preachers have proclaimed 2 Chronicles 7:14 as a promise from God that if only the church in America would do what it says, then America would be healed. But that’s not true.
In the Spring of 1996, before revival hit the church I pastor, we began recruiting men to attend our first Promise Keepers event, to take place in Washington, D.C. We had about 25 guys sign up–a great size group for the size of our church at the time. Then, revival came to Victory Church, and not everybody was happy about it. We actually lost fifty of our one hundred official members (even as we gained more than that back in new members). It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. There was lots of excitement about what God was doing. Every morning I would wake up excited and ask, “God, what are you going to do today?” But it was also relationally painful to endure severed relationships. I blamed myself for a lot of the trouble, but God wanted me to see that it wasn’t all on my shoulders.
During the tumult, someone asked me: “How many men who signed up for Promise Keepers are not going because of the revival?” The Holy Spirit must have led that man to ask that, because the answer provided a shocking revelation to me: NOT A SINGLE MAN WHO HAD SIGNED UP FOR PROMISE KEEPERS WAS AMONG THE GROUP THAT LEFT BECAUSE OF REVIVAL. I know, I shouldn’t shout in print, but what are the chances of that? Miniscule!
I’m a middle-aged white man born in Mississippi, raised down South, and living in Greater Philadelphia (the one in Pennsylvania, not Mississippi) for twenty four years. Unfortunately, the racial tension I observe is higher now than at any time in my adult life. Fortunately, I have the amazing privilege of being the pastor of a very multi-ethnic church. Such a church gives me a perspective on race that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Only by the grace of God, I haven’t had the “liberty” for the last twenty years to develop my thinking in line with a monocultural view.
Recently our church had a Sunday devoted to “hot-button” issues. People in the congregation could text their questions anonymously and I would answer as many as I could get to. After the services, the most feedback I received by far was regarding my response to questions on Black Lives Matter. Here are my thoughts:
I remember as a kid watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which a dog catches a train. For some reason that image has stuck with me, and occasionally it comes to mind when I think about chasing after big goals and dreams. I can still see that dog, hanging on to the front of a train, exclaiming, “I caught a train.” Maybe the dog didn’t so much catch the train as the train caught or whacked the dog. A great spiritual revival can be a little bit like that.
We chase after a move of God and when it happens, it’s a lot like being hit by a train! It’s not something that we catch as much as the move of God catches us. And when it hits us, it can really give us a big wallop. We can’t carry or control a genuine revival. We can’t make it happen just like we want it to happen. And not every aspect of revival is going to be pleasant. It’s a lot of work and a lot of disruption to our lives. Some people who have led in previous revival movements know what I’m talking about. Some may even question whether they want to go through all that again, wondering if it’s really worth it. Well, it is worth it.
Every four years, it seems that a lot of American evangelicals get really serious about prayer. Many who don’t pay too much attention to prayer efforts in other years start paying attention during presidential election years. I would like to suggest that an urge to pray just during election cycles is not a result of faith in God. It’s really the opposite of faith in God.
The motive behind the newfound attention to prayer in an election cycle appears to be a desire to get the “right” politician into office. That is not an expression of real faith in God. It’s faith in a political leader! It’s almost as though we’re telling God, “Just help us get the right person in the White House and we’ll handle it on our own after that.”
Why on earth would I ever say that maybe we should stop praying for revival?
Last night I heard a powerful message by Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong Church New York City. It was a moving biblical sermon on the importance of making spiritual progress as followers of Jesus. People left encouraged, but also challenged to stop making excuses for our failures to be and do all God has planned for us.
While I fully agree with the main thrust of the message, I want to nitpick a little bit, realizing that my differences are very minor. (It’s important to learn how to listen to a sermon and still hear what God is saying, even when you don’t agree one hundred percent.) The statements I want to address were something like this: “Stop praying for revival to come down from heaven,” and, “You don’t have to pray for boldness; you got boldness 2,000 years ago!” Those aren’t exact quotes, but they’re pretty close.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I know that there are plenty of opinions on this question, and I don’t intend to weigh in on the topic myself. However, the question is intended to be representative of circumstances in which we can’t be totally sure of cause and effect. So in the case of revival, who starts it? God? Or do we? I have a strong opinion on that, and I’ll share my thoughts on it, but first I want to acknowledge why there would be some confusion.
Last week I had the best conference experience of my entire ministry life. Over the years, I’ve been to more conferences and seminars that I can count. I’ve attended preaching conferences, prophetic conferences, leadership development conferences, spiritual growth conferences, coaching conferences, pastors conferences, denominational conferences—you name it. Some were Pentecostal, some were Evangelical, some were Charismatic, and a couple might have been crazymatic. Most were really good in terms of achieving their intended purpose. But the best by far was the 2016 Hillsong Conference in Sydney, Australia.
Are you ready for what God has in store for your future? I firmly believe this: God has a wonderful plan for your life! I also believe that the devil has his plans, too, and that he doesn’t want to make it easy on you. Why should he? You are a threat to the kingdom of darkness, and he knows it. I hope you know it, too. So we shouldn’t be too surprised when, even as faithful followers of God, we face adversity. A time of revival might just be God’s way of getting you ready for facing down your enemy, the devil. Remember, Jesus went straight from being filled with the Spirit at his baptism into a time of testing by Satan. (Keep reading to the end for a key insight on what God might be up to in our expectation of a national spiritual awakening.)