I grew up in Southern Ohio. In that place Revival was a planned event. Revival was scheduled. The big name speaker would come from out of town. The band would be assembled. The church would be open on Friday night and Saturday night. Emotions would fly, and, yes, people would have their lives changed… at least for a little while.
The speaker would leave town. The tent would come down. Church would return to its normal Sunday morning routine. And eventually, some of the people who were all excited would start to miss Sunday services and then not really come back at all.
“I backslid!” someone told me. And he had. The revival was over, and after a couple of weeks of transformation….he returned to the hard living, hard drinking ways of how he used to be. Someone might say, “You need another Revival!”
But he was too smart for that. “I can’t go back, I’ve backslid.” There was nothing left for him but booze and damnation. The Revivalist preacher probably quoted from Hebrews: For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened…and have tasted the good word of God, if they should fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.
If only the Revivalist preacher had kept going. He would have read this: But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you…
But the preacher didn’t. The revival was over, and the backslider didn’t think there was any grace left for him.
I remembered this event after listening to Rev. Tim Keller speak about revival. And Keller challenged many of the assumptions that I had about it. Here are a couple of my assumptions.
1. While Revival services were happening around us. I never attended. I was a Reformed Christian after all, committed to infant baptism and the assurance of faith. I didn’t need to go down to the altar for a big turn around moment. Revivals were not for me.
2. Revivals tended to be short lived with many casualties in their wake. My friend was one such casualty. With no Christian brothers and sisters to pick him up, with no one to disciple him, with no one to encourage him to confess again when he yielded to temptation, he was lost as soon as he was found. Revivals do not seem like a good outreach and discipleship plan.
But, Keller says, we should not give up on the concept of revival. We should strive to understand it properly.
- A Revival cannot be planned because it is a work of the Holy Spirit. Revival happens.
- Revival happens first among the faithful before it spreads to the nominal and then ultimately to those who have not heard the Good News. As Keller says, “Sleeping Christians wake up, Nominal Christians get converted, and new believers are added.”
- Because Revival happens among believers first, they become ready to receive those, like my friend, who come into the faith.
- Revival begins with a rediscovery of the Gospel and with prayer.
- You can watch the whole thing here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/entry/a_biblical_theology_of_revival
I believe that revival of this kind is possible at anytime and anywhere. For this kind of revival would welcome the backslider, along with all others, into the kind of relationship with God that does transform lives, not just temporarily, but forever. I am on the look out for signs that such a revival is coming.
Over the past month I have had two individuals suggest new songs for us to sing at church on Sundays.
The first one is Awake My Soul, by Chris Tomlin. The second one is Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God by Getty and Townsend.
Both songs are prayers which express a desire for the Spirit of God to give new life and to awaken the soul. Here is a sample:
Breathe new life into my willing soul
Let the presence of the risen Lord
Come renew my heart and make me whole…
Awake awake awake my soul
God resurrect these bones
From death to life for You alone
Awake my soul…
These sound like the songs of a people anticipating revival. I take this as a sign.