If you’re like me and you grew up in the charismatic movement, you heard prophecies all the time about revival. It wasn’t unusual for a traveling evangelist, prophetic voice, or a writer or teacher to talk about revival, prophesy great revival for America, or encourage the church that they were speaking at to prepare for revival because “it is coming.”
I came to Christ in the midst of this revival fervor, so I’m certainly no stranger to it. I’ve made significant life decisions believing that the revivals that people were predicting were going to happen. While I don’t regret a single of the decisions I’ve made, the lack of revival can be discouraging. I know friends who have been deeply wounded or at least left wondering where the revivals that were promised are.
Some of these promises made weren’t inspired by the Spirit. Some of them came and we didn’t recognize them because they came in a form we weren’t expecting. Some of the promises of revival were true and we are still waiting for them to happen because their time hasn’t come yet. Regardless, all of these things can discourage a person.
I’ve said it before: I still believe in the movement of the Spirit. I believe we need to keep praying for revival. But I also know there is a certain amount of revival fatigue that has hit the body of Christ. It can be the promise that is kept dangling in front of us and that can make us heartsick.
So, this morning, as I was praying and journaling, the Lord brought this verse to my mind:
For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea.
So in a way that only the Holy Spirit can do, He took the words of the Bible and made them alive in my spirit. It was as if in reading the words of Scripture, He was saying “I know you hunger for people to turn to Jesus and live holy lives. I know there have been promises of revival. Some of those prophecies have come and gone just like the prophets who gave them. But my word doesn’t come and go. I promised that the Earth would be filled with the knowledge of my glory like the waters cover the sea. There is no way that this cannot happen.”
Think about it. Where do you see the water not covering the sea? Nowhere. Everywhere there is sea, there is water covering it. According to the Bible there is a day coming where the knowledge of the Lord’s glory will cover the Earth in that way. While the prophecies of your favorite speaker may or may not come true, the Bible has proven true over and over again and you can trust in its promises.
So friends, you who have believed in the promise of revival, the prophecies of revival may have failed you, but you can trust the Lord. He will fill the Earth with the knowledge of His glory. Don’t let your heart grow weary. You can give your life for this reality and even if you don’t see it in your day, you can trust knowing that God will cause it to come to pass. It will happen.
You can count on it.
I came to Christ in the midst of a spiritual revival that was sweeping through sections of the church in the mid-90’s. I watched my mom get miraculously healed of cancer in front of my eyes and it was shortly after that I gave my life to Christ. It was during this time that Brownsville, Toronto, and other places were experiencing moves of the Holy Spirit. We treasured that season because we were watching things that happened in the Bible regularly occur before our eyes. For us, this was what Christianity was supposed to be about.
Somewhere around the year 2000 many of those movements faded a bit and it was during this time I started feeling called to church planting. After college I moved to Kansas City to learn church planting and how to follow the Holy Spirit like I had seen others do. I got a bit more than I bargained for, though. Not only did I learn church planting and following the Holy Spirit, but I got introduced to the concept of house churches and my thinking about the body of Christ was turned upside down. Shortly after this I moved back to Iowa.
Since that time, I’ve mostly given myself to starting house churches in our region and raising up disciples that will make disciples. And even if you’ve read my blog, it’s largely focused on the idea that the church is a people who meet simply and make disciples.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about revival, the movement of the Spirit, and how that all functions in the context of movements and making disciples. You could think from posts I’ve written like Awakening, Harvest, and Broken Nets Part I, II, and III that I don’t believe in revival anymore. But that’s not the case. I believe (and am asking) for a movement of the Holy Spirit in our country, I just think it looks different than what most people are expecting.
What I mean is this: revival and awakening have typically happened in the context of existing structures of church. Because of this, these movements of the Spirit seem to draw people to a location, a church building, one or more dynamic leaders, etc. Men and women are born again, miracles happen, existing believers are convicted of sin, and renewal comes to the church. But the outpouring of the Spirit is based around a place, a few places, or a few dynamic individuals. The everyday person doesn’t expect to participate, other than to help or receive from those who are leading the meetings. And when trouble or turmoil comes to the places where the Spirit is moving, the revival or awakening inevitably ends.
But even yesterday as I was reading St. Patrick’s Confession I was reminded that movements of the Spirit happen in the context of disciple making movements that change whole nations. These empower every believer, not just the anointed few, to take the gospel to every sphere of life. This type of awakening can be passed to others with a simple version of church that allows the Gospel to spread like a virus among the lost. Instead of a few places experiencing awakening, it can move from person to person and have a much greater impact.
The Holy Spirit isn’t confined to our church meetings. He’s not just interested in elevating the spiritual intensity of the existing church for four or five years every decade. He is interested in the Gospel touching the hearts of lost men and women who don’t even know how lost they are. Imagine a movement of the Spirit that is able to invade a gang-ridden inner city that would never darken the door of your local Assembly of God or Vineyard church. He WANTS to release his power for miracles AND godliness among them as well. Holy Spirit even wants to spawn church planting movements that are filled with dreams and visions and signs and wonders and people coming to Jesus in every context!
How do I know this? Because it’s the testimony of church history. It happened with the first century church: THERE WAS BARELY A CHURCH TO REVIVE! All there was were lost people who needed this kind of movement of the Spirit. It happened again with guys like Patrick, It happened in this country with a couple of guys named Wesley. It’s been happening in China since the 1950’s. It happened in this country as recently as the late 60’s and early 70’s. We call it the Jesus People movement. And all over the world it’s currently happening in countries where you can be killed for following Christ. These are normal movements of the Spirit!
Friends, I believe God still wants to send the Holy Spirit in unprecedented ways*. But the way that that we package the outpouring will affect how far it will go and how deeply it will impact us. So let’s keep asking and keep believing for a movement of the Spirit, but let’s contend for it knowing it will not be something that shouldn’t look like a more zealous church service. It looks like a grass-roots movement of people coming to Christ, churches being formed, and missionaries being sent out.
*For example, I believe Joel 2 was fulfilled partially in Acts 2, but I don’t we’ve seen the ultimate fulfillment of “I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” yet (see Acts 2:17-21).
By and large, the church that is contending for revival and awakening isn’t ready for it. Yesterday, I gave at least one contemporary example of the problem. The question is, what do we do?
First, we don’t stop contending for revival and awakening among the lost. Holy messes that God sends are better than any dead answer to the problem of not being ready. Keep contending. We need more people coming to Christ! We need more of the church awake to what God is doing in the Earth!
But beyond that, we have to ask ourselves how do we prepare? I’d like to put forth at least a few suggestions for your consideration:
- We fix out eyes on Jesus and continue to cultivate our love for Him. This seems so logical, so basic that you would think it would go without saying. But in times of pressure like what revival and awakening cause, it’s easy to let our eyes get off of the Lord and on to the pressure. The only answer for this human condition is to continue to give time and attention to our relationship with Jesus. Become so rooted and grounded in Him that nothing can tear you away.
- We devote ourselves to practices that multiply, not just add. Paul tells Timothy “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Timothy 2:2). We have to constantly be training people and training those people to train people. Much of the church is not equipping the saints for ministry and those who are are doing it by addition. They equip one or several men to teach or care for the body. Multiplying practices are principles that allow us to not only to train a few saints, but train those saints in concepts that are easily transferable to other believers who can transfer them on even further. Neil Cole’s LTG is a great example of a transferable, multiplying discipleship plan.
- We make revival about more than the meeting(s). I know this isn’t exactly what we mean, but often we declare a revival to have started when we extend a series of meetings and we declare it over when there isn’t enough people any more to keep the meetings going. All of it revolves around a church building or meeting space. In reality revival and awakening have much more to do with what God is doing in human hearts in a particular location. Are people coming to Jesus? Is the church becoming more alive? Then it doesn’t matter how many meetings are being held or whether there’s enough people to fill them. God sent an angel to tell Phillip to leave the revival to share the gospel with an Ethiopian (Acts 8:26) and this tells me that God is more interested in His ongoing plan than continuing a series of meetings.
- We practice spiritual family. I can’t emphasize this enough. Spiritual family is the wineskin Jesus designed to carry the new wine of the gospel. God, who is a father, builds his Kingdom on the building blocks of family. So it shouldn’t surprise us that Kingdom-oriented spiritual families are the “mechanism” He uses to raise spiritual sons and daughters that are birthed through a move of the Spirit. And while spiritual family can mean many things, I find the apostolic nature of house churches lend them to being the best context for spiritual family to be expressed.
- Remember that Jesus wants the gospel to go forth to the ends of the world. The revival in Jerusalem after Pentecost was ended when God allowed Saul to persecute the church and scatter it. The goal had always been for the gospel to go from Jerusalem, to Judea, and then to the ends of the Earth. Saul’s persecution was the mechanism used to trigger that movement. Many of the great revivals of history were catalysts for missionaries going to people who had never heard about Christ, but recent church history is silent on the subject of new converts and revived souls planting churches and taking the gospel to places it has never been. We must always remember that Jesus launched a movement of the gospel that is destined to travel to the ends of the Earth, not wait for the ends of the Earth to come to it. We have to have faith that the same Holy Spirit who moves on us here and now will empower us in the same way where He is sending us.
I believe that the greatest moves of the Holy Spirit are still ahead of us. I think we should pray and ask God to move again in our day. But only a people with hearts fixed on Jesus who are multiplying ministry, not meetings, and living in spiritual family will be able to contain what the Lord wants to do. And these coming moves of the Holy Spirit must not just stay with us, but touch those who have never even heard the name of Jesus.
Friends, these are not little changes. These sort of statements can be said quickly but it can take years to unlearn old habits and learn Kingdom ways that need to replace them. The time to begin is now. Let’s continue to ask for God to awaken the lost and revive the church. But even today, let’s begin to by faith build a different kind of church–a better, sturdier net–that will be able to handle the harvest when it comes in.
The time to prepare is now.