I had the privilege last week to meet a man convinced we are headed for revival. He is a gentle man, who thinks often of God, wishing for a return to some semblance of the way things used to be – minus the overt sins of racism and sexism that were so widely tolerated in days gone by. But the basic reason for his certainty is simple: We are in desperate need of revival. He had other reasons, of course; supporting reasons. Among them, through his examination of of history he has concluded that God works cyclically, and that we are presently overdue for the next revival.
I share his desire to see God bring revival. I can’t argue that we are overdue and in desperate need. And it is not just America that needs to be “revived”. More than our culture, I believe the American Church needs to experience revival. And when God works, he works through his church. So if revival is to occur, reorienting the cultural drift, renewing God as the rightful object of our collective affection, it is going to be at work in and through the Church.
But still, what does revival actually mean? Of course it means “to make alive”. But what does it look like? Do all revivals look alike? What are the characteristics?
I suspect the answer the the question “Do all revivals look alike?” is likely a “No”. Cultures are different. God seems to bless different expressions of evangelism and ministry approaches from one generation to the next; one culture to the next. So to assume when revivals hit they will be uniform seems a bit of a stretch to me.
J.I. Packer,defines a revival this way:
“Revival is God accelerating, intensifying, and extending the work of grace that goes on in every Christian’s life!”
In his book God in our Midst, Packer suggests that, among the variety of God’s ways, there are at least five constants that seem to always appear in biblical revivals:
1. Awareness of God’s presence: “The first and fundamental feature in renewal is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy and might.”
2. Responsiveness to God’s Word: “The message of Scripture which previously was making only a superficial impact, if that, now searches its hearers and readers to the depth of their being.”
3. Sensitiveness to (Our Own) Sin: “Consciences become tender and a profound humbling takes place.”
4. Liveliness in Community: “Love and generosity, unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer, and a passion to reach out to win others, are recurring marks of renewed communities.”
5. Fruitfulness in Testimony: “Christians proclaim by word and deed the power of the new life, souls are won, and a community conscience informed by Christian values emerges.”
I hope my new friend is right, that God – who is always at work – will soon be at work in unusual ways. These are some of the signs I will pray will be evident in our culture, and in our church.