Why do we need revival? Part 3

Too much of a good thing!

This post actually scares me a little bit. The reason I’m so hesitant about the topic I’m going to cover is that one of the primary reasons churches need revival is because we can overdo a good thing. And when we overdo this good thing, revival movements can lead us to throw out the good thing altogether rather than just getting it back in proper order. And yes, the good thing is about proper order; that is, it’s about organization. 

Why do we need revival? Part 2

"Pastor, you don't preach enough against sin!"

“Pastor, you don’t preach enough against sin!” During my early days in pastoral ministry one of the church leaders challenged me on this point. He then rattled off a number of sins being committed by specific people in our church—and I needed to preach sermons dealing with their sins.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in many respects he was absolutely correct. I needed to preach more against sin. But, if you are someone who believes pastors ought to deal with sin more directly in their sermons, be careful what you wish for. The sin your pastor preaches against just might be your own!

Sin in the church is a major reason for the need for revival. Old Testament “revivals” tended to occur after a period of Israel’s disobedience to the Lord. Israel would fall into sin and would then fail to experience God’s blessings and protection. In their distress they would repent of their sins and cry out to God. Then God would raise up a deliverer who would, at least temporarily, restore Israel to right relationship with God.

When we drift from right relationship with God, we are more likely to give in to our sinful desires. Then, our guilt, or perhaps simply our preference for disobedience, will keep us from experiencing God the way we should. The prevalence of sin among Christians is ample evidence that we need a fresh move of God.

But here’s my question: What sins are evidence of our need for revival? Usually we think of the “big” sins, more likely than not to involve some sort of sexual immorality. Those sins, when rampant in the church, are clear indications of the need for revival. There’s another kind of sin, however, that is just as big an indication that we need revival. It’s a sin that the Bible tells us brings us into an oppositional stance with God. What sin could that be? It’s pride. “God resists the proud.” When Christians become full of pride, comparing themselves with one another, gossiping about one another, becoming smug about their spirituality, we are in big danger, often without even realizing it. That was certainly the case with me before my first experience with revival. (I look forward to sharing that story at another time.)

After experiencing my first taste of revival, I realized that I did indeed need to preach against sin. The sin God put on my heart to confront was the sin of spiritual pride. Was the church leader who reprimanded me happy about that? No! His intention was that I preach against other people’s sins—not his own. Let’s get right with God in expectation of another Great Awakening!

If you receive this post through email, click the link in the title. That will take you to the actual blog site where you can leave your comments. I’d love to hear from you on reasons we need revival, your own revival stories, questions you might have about revival, or anything else you have on your heart.

Why do we need revival? Part 1

Some of the reasons will surprise you

“We need a revival!” I’ve heard this cry in pastors’ prayer meetings many times. I believe it is as true today as at any point in the last few decades: We need a revival! But why do we need revival? I hope to provide some answers in a series of posts starting with this one. A few of the answers will be surprising to you, so make sure you keep reading over the coming weeks.

Of course, one of the first and most obvious reasons we need revival has to do with the hearts of individual Christians. We were made for an experience with God, the most important experience being so radical in nature that Jesus referred to it as being born again (John 3). Vital Christianity doesn’t settle for a one-off, though. We have the ongoing experience of Romans 8:16, God’s Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. God’s Spirit doesn’t just bear witness with our minds. He impresses the truth of our identity as sons and daughters at the deepest level of our being, our spirits. This is experiential knowledge that involves more than intellectual assent to doctrinal truth. What a blessing to live in continuous awareness of how much God loves us!

The problem for most of us, however, is that we don’t live in that continuous awareness. Intellectual assent to scriptural truth is very important–God wants us to love him with all our minds as well as with all our hearts. But, it’s easy to slip into an approach to God that is too dependent on our minds. We no longer depend on the Spirit’s witness.

When my daughters were really young, every once in awhile I would abruptly say, “Guess what!” My daughters would respond, “What?” as they eagerly anticipated some exciting news. Then I’d say, “I love you!” After some time, though, whenever I said, “Guess what!” my daughters would automatically say, “You love me!” Thankfully, they always said it with a smile. They were glad to receive the affirmation. They never seemed bored or dismissive in any way.

“Guess what! I love you!” always seemed to be exciting news for my children. How much more exciting when God the Father speaks it to our spirits. It’s important for dads to affirm their love for their children. It’s also important for us as children of God to keep listening to God’s affirmations.

Our God is a good Father and has never stopped saying, “Guess what! I love you!” But I think we sometimes get bored and dismissive. We take it for granted because we know it intellectually. Most of us have been taught to believe the truth: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That’s good! Many have never been taught, however, to remain open spiritually to God’s direct affirmations by his Spirit. When we reduce God’s affirmation of fatherly love for us to a doctrinal truth only, we are in danger of losing the excitement of an ongoing experiential grasp of the truth. We are in danger of being dismissive, indifferent, or just bored with our faith. If we have taken on the attitude that says, “Yeah, yeah, I know: You love me,” then we need a fresh touch from the Holy Spirit. We need revival.

Revival is needed for other reasons than this, though grasping God’s love for us is primary. What’s your experience? What are some reasons you can think of that we need revival, either as individuals or as the body of Christ at large? I’d love to know your thoughts! Scroll down to share your insights in the comments section.

Experiential Christianity

Experience with God is at the center of our faith

I love the fact that our Christian faith is not just a set of teachings or rules. Even more, I love the fact that our God allows us to have an experiential relationship with him.

Of course, we don’t just reduce our faith to an experience apart from what God teaches us through the Bible. We don’t want to be guilty of making an idol out of a feeling or an experience. But, over the course of the history of the Church, we have proven over and over again that it’s easy to slip into a rule-centered or doctrinally-centered religion devoid of real spiritual experience. When that happens, God has been faithful to restore true, experiential Christianity. That’s the essence of revival.

If you think about your own walk with Christ, you’ll probably have to acknowledge that you started out with a real experience with God. You may have heard a presentation of true doctrine, but your life change didn’t occur just because you were intellectually convinced; God revealed himself to you experientially. Your times of greatest spiritual vitality were when you experienced the presence of God in your life. That’s when you were most eager to read the Bible and learn the truth, to be in church and in relationship with fellow believers, to serve others and to witness to your faith.

I think spiritual experience is so important to me personally because of the role of an experience with God in my return to faithfulness to him. I had been raised in church and attended faithfully most of my childhood. I had even given my life to Christ in an altar call when I was about twelve years old. But at age fifteen I fell away from the Lord and began to try to fit in with my peers through alcohol and drug abuse.

At the beginning of my junior year in college, I realized that I was on the wrong path and would not attain my goals if things continued as they were. I was in a fraternity best known on campus for our drug abuse. Instead of calling us “Phi Taus,” students called us “Fried Taus” or “High Taus”—names we embraced gladly. Experimentation with hard drugs was too much a part of my life, and I came to believe the key to getting on track was to escape by transferring to another college.

Instead, I ended up joining the Army, motivated primarily by the educational benefits, and became an MP in Panama. When it became clear that drug abuse would not be tolerated, alcohol became my crutch. My antics while drinking caused my leaders to threaten to send me to alcohol treatment a couple of times, but my high level of performance otherwise kept me out of trouble. Aside from the alcohol issues, my military experience was so positive I considered staying in as a career.

Oddly, for a period of about four weeks, I started going to church because somebody invited me. That wasn’t a long time, and it didn’t result in a serious return to the Lord, but I do remember praying and asking God for guidance for my future. It seemed that God was leading me to do what I had intended to do in the first place: use my military benefits to return to my college.

After three years, I returned to the college I had left. I also immediately returned to drug abuse along with the alcohol abuse. During the first or second week back at Centre College, a classmate, Mary, asked me if I knew anyone who could give her a ride to her hometown that weekend. With all the partying at the beginning of the school year, I was astounded that anyone would want to leave campus. “Why do you want to go home with so many parties here on campus?” I asked. “Oh, I just have things I have to do,” Mary politely responded. As she turned and walked away, a fraternity brother poked me in the ribs and chided, “You shouldn’t have said that to her about partying; she’s real religious.” I was immediately intrigued by the fact that Mary hadn’t tried to make me feel bad about partying by saying something like, “Well, I don’t party!”

Several days later, I crossed paths with Mary near the dorms on campus. We stopped to talk, and I brought up the religion issue: “Somebody told me you were religious.” “I’m a Christian,” she said. That led to further talk about church, including my own church experience as a kid, and to Mary’s inviting me to the campus Christian fellowship that met weekly. I agreed that I’d try it sometime, and we began to go our separate ways.

When we were only a few paces apart, Mary stopped, turned around, and called out after me, “Ed, before you go, could I pray for you?” I hated that question! (Now, I’m so thankful that Mary was being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. What if she had resisted, or been too fearful to do what came next? Where would I be?) I was so embarrassed at the prospect of being seen praying there on that busy walkway by the dorms! But I also had just had a religious talk with Mary, I didn’t want to come across as the complete heathen I was, and I didn’t want to say no—so I reluctantly said OK to the prayer.

Thankfully, Mary decided it would be better to pray a little ways removed from the busy path. She placed her hands on my shoulders and began to pray. I have no clue what Mary said. I was just hoping that she would be done soon! But then Mary prayed these exact words: “Lord, use him as you’ve called him to be used.” I will never forget those words.

When she said that, it was as though scales were removed from my eyes! I was immediately reminded of that prayer time a couple of years before, while I was in the Army, when I felt God wanted me to return to that college. I hadn’t thought of that prayer at all since then. But all of a sudden, I was under the realization that God had brought me back there, that I was right where God had planned for me to be at that very moment, and that he indeed had a call on my life! I was absolutely amazed that God had a plan for me in spite of my rebelliousness. I had just had an eye-opening experience with the presence of God! That experience changed my life forever.

I remain convinced that an experience with God will change anyone’s life. I’m also convinced that, while we can’t become dependent on experience for the sake of experience, a degree of ongoing spiritual experience is necessary for Christian vitality. Also, a time of heightened spiritual experience, or revival, becomes necessary when we drift too far from the experiential essence of our relationship with God.

Paul says to us in Romans 8:16, “God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” In other words, we are best convinced of our relationship with God by having an experience with the Holy Spirit. We will all benefit from a renewed experience of who we are in Christ by experiencing a fresh work of the Holy Spirit. We need revival.

I welcome your stories of the experience of God that brought you into relationship with him. Please share your story in the comments.

Get In on It While You Can!

My family and I have had the wonderful privilege of visiting Hawaii for vacation. Our trip took us to the Big Island, home of the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. I had seen some beautiful pictures of fiery lava spewing into the air and pouring into the sea, and from what I read, people could actually get close enough to see a magnificent display of nature’s power. I was excited!