More on the Topic of Revival
Updated: Sep 12, 2018
One thing I've learned about revival in my study of it is that it's finicky, or in more plain words, it's elusive or hard to come by. Generally speaking, specific things need to happen with the right timing. This doesn't mean that God necessarily has a list of requirements that we must check off in order for Him to reveal Himself in a powerful way, but it does mean that things have to be just right (on our end) to experience it. Revival has exacting standards. If it didn't, then we would have more than a few dozen significant revivals to speak of historically, but we do not. Revival's price is also high. As the late Leonard Ravenhill used to say, "the reason we don't have revival is because we're not willing to pay the price to get it." This coming from a man who admittedly didn't see revival in his time - at least the style of revival that he often spoke of - the type that could and would change the moral atmosphere of a location.
This blog series has covered a portion of these great moves of God, from the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, to the reformation periods in Medieval Europe, to the Methodist Revival in Great Britain, the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd Great Awakenings, the Camp Meetings of the American frontier, & Azusa Street. There are others, like the Welsh Revival under Roberts, intense moves of God in places like China and Scotland, and also most recently the "Toronto Blessing" of the mid-1990's. Some of these revivals were quite short, Azusa St. and the Welsh Revival being the best examples, and some of them were more sustained, although none were exceptionally lasting. The reason this is the case, I believe, is the same reason that they're hard to come by, which I've already mentioned.
I don't want you to misunderstand my use of the term "formula." Fellowship with God, and the exercise of love, which is the goal of our instruction, isn't a method or formula. I'm using this term, rather, to try and explain the several ingredients that are part of the right mixture that attracts the presence of God in a corporate setting. The "big three" forerunners for revival have proven to be prayer, repentance, & unity. These three elements together have been essential to every revival I've studied. There are other supplementary traits that are imporant too like hunger, humility, the selflessness to sow so another might reap, and maturity, which according to Philippians is necessary in achieving unity.
"Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let's hold fast to what we have attained." PHILIPPIANS 3:15,16 - NRSV
Let's talk about Maturity
The word used in the Greek (Teleios) in Philippians 3 for "maturity" has one main synonym: Perfection. In can also mean 'coming of age,' or 'full age,' but perfection is actually this term's closest neighbor. There are a few feelings that may rise up in you when you hear the word: perfection. It may seem like it's unattainable, not for you, reserved for Jesus, or something else. But it is there, and it is a very close relative of what Paul meant here when he said "mature."
Here's what I get out of this passage:
A. Being of the same mind, or being unified, requires maturity. The passage implies even that one, or a group, cannot achieve unity without maturity.
B. Maturity is a goal, and it's attainable. This may seem obvious, but we should have the goal of being mature, and we can rest in the fact that it's possible. Plus, if enough of us have this quality of maturity, then we have access to unity. We know how instrumental unity has been in revival culture, so we know where we have to start to get there.
C. Defining Maturity/Perfection - There are a few contextual clues in this verse and other supporting clues in the New Testament to help us define this. First, the phrase "and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you" implies that a mature person probably hears from God. Second, the phrase "Only hold fast to what we have attained," implies that the Philippians had attained something. What did they attain? The answer lies in the first third of Philippians 3. It's actually laid out nicely for us.
PHILLIPIANS 3: 1-14
- Loss for the sake of Christ - verse 8
- Knowing Christ Jesus our Lord - verse 8
- Having righteousness that is through Faith in Christ - verse 9
- Knowing the power of His resurrection - verse 10
- Participating in His sufferings - verse 10
Further, Paul, in Ephesians 4 records this amazing statement:
"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
It seems as though Paul supplies a nice, packaged definition here of maturity: to attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. He also bundles maturity with 'unity in the faith.' It's easy to see how important both of these variables are to an atmosphere rich with the trappings of heaven.
Sowing & Reaping - WC Burns & Jonathan Goforth
One of the humblest traits that I've come across in my study of revivals is the willingness to sow so that another, at some other time or season, might reap a harvest. Such was the case with Burns & Goforth, and their particular roles in the Chinese & Pyongyang Revivals of the early 1900's. Burns, from Scotland, came first, reaching China in 1847. His ministry in China was somewhat revivalist in nature but not in any measurable way dramatic. However, as his friend and famous colleague, Hudson Taylor, would posit about Burns: his prayer life was something to behold. It was Leonard Ravenhill's scholarship on this topic that suggested the many hours, days, weeks, months, and years of prayer that Burns sowed into Chinese revival actually paved the way for Goforth's arrival years later. Goforth, a Canadian Presbyterian, arrived in China in 1887, and after a time of struggle and national turmoil, ushered widespread revival. The Manchurian Revival and Pyongyang Revival followed. This particular move of God was similar to other revivals but seemed to have a special focus in the public confession of sin and repentance. As a result, hundreds of thousands came to know Christ, even amid times of persecution. In addition, the revival fires in the far East spread across the world, even affecting America. Revivalism, too, became common practice in missionary work after Goforth's time in China, as presumably a "demonstration of the Spirit's power" (1st Cor. 2:4) was useful in presenting unreached people with the Gospel.
"I love those that thunder out the Word. The Christian world is in a dead sleep. Nothing but a loud voice can awake them out of it." - Jonathan Goforth
The less public call to intercede and sow seeds of secret prayer is a very underestimated tool to attract the presence of God. Think about the saints throughout history whose names don't appear in the books we read, those who sowed so that another could reap. It's not as flashy as prophesying, healing, or casting out demons, but it's no less important, and it has preceded all of the revivalist phenomena that I've documented.
- Please check back for a later installment of our revival blog series, as I'm sure I'm not done with this topic yet!
-JF D'Orsie - Communications Director